An effective second generation human security policy that would actually improve everyday security, both in conflict zones and in Europe, may well be critical for the very survival of the EU.
At the June Summit, which will take place after the UK Referendum, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, will present the results of her global review of external strategy. As part of the review process, the Human Security Study Group, which we convene, has presented a report entitled From Hybrid Peace to Human Security: Rethinking the EU Strategy Towards Conflict together with twelve background research papers .
Conflicts are at the sharp end of contemporary crises. Refugees, extremist ideologies, criminality and predation are all produced in conflict. Contemporary conflicts are sometimes known as ‘hybrid wars’ or ‘new wars’ in which classic distinctions between public and private, government/regular and rebel/irregular, and internal and external break down. They are best understood not as legitimate contests of wills (the twentieth century idea of war) but as a degenerate social condition in which armed groups mobilise sectarian and fundamentalist sentiments and construct a predatory economy through which they enrich. Identifying ways to address violent conflict could open up strategies for dealing with broader issues.
In this special openDemocracy series, we outline the main conclusions of our report in our introductory essay together with six essays based on some of the background papers. These essays include: an analysis of the conceptual premises of the Global Review (Sabine Selchow); three essays on specific conflict zones – Syria (Rim Turkmani), Ukraine (Tymofiy Mylovanov), the Horn of Africa (Alex de Waal); the importance of the EU’s justice instrument (Iavor Rangelov); and how EU cyber security policy is human rights focused rather than state focussed (Genevieve Schmeder and Emmanuel Darmois).
In the Brexit debate, there is virtually no discussion of the nature of the EU as an institution. Yet it needs to be stressed that the EU is not a state, neither a nation-state nor a federal state. It is a sort of multilateral institution rather like the United Nations (UN) or the African Union (AU) although it is also something more because it involves a denser set of interconnections that go beyond inter-governmental relations.
The point of multilateral institutions is to regulate national behaviour, on the basis of agreement, as an alternative to anarchy, the pursuit of selfish geo-political interest and war. The point of multilateral institutions is to regulate national behaviour, on the basis of agreement, as an alternative to anarchy, the pursuit of selfish geo-political interest and war. This is why the security policies of institutions like the EU, the UN or the AU are quite distinct from national security policies. They are aimed at global and regional security not national security. In all the sweeping assertions about security on both sides of the Brexit debate, this point is rarely made. EU external security policy is largely about stabilisation, peace-making, and the promotion of human rights, as is the case for the UN and the AU. It is quite different from national or even NATO security policies which are focused on the military defence of borders.
This is not to say that EU policies are successful; if they were we would not be surrounded by conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and large parts of Africa. They are evidently flawed. We use the term ‘hybrid peace’ to explain what happens when twentieth century methods of peace-making are applied to contemporary conflicts. Current EU policies include the provision of humanitarian assistance, mediation among warring parties, and ‘post-conflict’ reconstruction.
The problem is that where the warring parties are extremist criminalised groups, such policies are easily subverted. Humanitarian assistance is channelled into a predatory war economy; top-down mediation ends up entrenching the positions of the warring parties; and reconstruction provides further opportunities for those parties to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary citizens.
EU policies do include many novel approaches such as state-building, law and order and policing, but they are also prone to subversion because of the way top-down peace agreements structure power relations. All our research on conflict areas demonstrate the way that very specific policies from security sector reform to privatisation get redirected by predatory elites into corruption and repression.
The EU has also undertaken civil-military missions aimed at upholding ceasefires, preventing atrocities and promoting a rule of law; while some of the missions do represent models for human security, they rarely have been sufficient in terms of time and resources. While hybrid peace may be preferable to hybrid war or the War on Terror, nevertheless these situations are characterised by continuing crime, human rights violations and the ever present danger of reverting to war.
We are proposing an alternative approach that we are calling Second Generation Human Security. Second generation human security echoes the principles of human security developed in a much more optimistic time in the early 1990s but adapts them to the practical realities of the current period.
The centrepiece of our proposal is the construction of legitimate political authority (a state, a municipality or an international organisation) and legitimate livelihoods through specific measures aimed at countering the predatory social condition. The objective is not so much to change regimes at the top as to change the underlying structural conditions that produce conflict.
Such measures include:
- Support for locally driven efforts to negotiate ceasefires and safe areas at local levels and to establish civic power. These exist in all war zones but are very fragile. In both Syria and Libya, for example, it is possible to identify areas where local parties have negotiated ceasefires and where civic power has gradually increased in order to provide basic services. Large parts of western Libya, for example, are stable as a consequence of local ceasefires. The Association of Netherlands Municipalities has an assistance programme in place for local municipalities and the EU’s External Action Service has been at the forefront of the municipal dialogue, a specific track of the UN-led process. The EU could also deploy international missions to help sustain local cease-fires as, for example at the time of writing, in Aleppo. Human security personnel might have such tasks as helping to negotiate and monitor local ceasefires, reconstruct legitimate forms of governance and provide public services at local levels, including justice and social services, as well as dampening down violence, defending people and property, and where possible arresting rather than killing those responsible for criminal acts. Such missions would be civilian led but could include military personnel. The EU is the only answer to these mounting dangers. Brexit could mean a reversion to nation-states and that will only make things worse.
- Creative diplomacy. At present EU diplomacy is overly technical; our research suggests the need for flexible political direction at local levels. The aim is to reach an inclusive political settlement to provide public goods and not an elite bargain that divides the spoils among private actors. This means that instead of an overarching top down peace agreement, what is needed is an inclusive process that takes time, that is local, regional and global as well as national, and that addresses specific issues concerning the provision of public goods such as security, economic and social conditions, gender, and justice that might help to alleviate human suffering, counter the logic of new wars and provide a basis for the construction of an inclusive political settlement in the future. Engagement with civil society, where civil society is understood not as NGOs but as a combination of local leaders, activists, grassroots community groups, women and youth groups, prominent citizens such as teachers and doctors who are concerned with the public interest as opposed to private or sectarian interest, is also critical. In particular, it is important to construct political coalitions involving those who are non-sectarian (‘Sushis’ – both Sunni and Shi’a – in Bahrain or ‘Hutsis’ – both Hutus and Tutsis – in Rwanda). It is also critical to include women to counter the extremist gender relations that are constructed in contemporary conflicts.
- An emphasis on justice and accountability for war crimes, human rights violations and economic crimes, is something that is demanded by civil society in all these conflicts. Justice is probably the most significant policy that makes a human security approach different from current stabilisation approaches. The EU is one of the few international actors that gives emphasis to justice mechanisms but it does so very unevenly and we have come across many instances where the demands of hybrid peace trump justice; where war criminals are considered necessary partners for sustaining top-down peace agreements. Yet they may be the obstacles to sustainable peace. It is very important to adopt a regional and local approach to justice. An Interesting initiative that the EU should be supporting is the regional commission to establish the facts of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia (RECOM), a civil society initiative for the establishment of a regional truth commission in the Balkans, which represents an example of how a bottom-up and regional approach can be combined.
- Policies aimed at reversing the dynamic of the predatory war economy. It is the absence of a legitimate economy that is one of the most important drivers of war, as the Ukraine paper demonstrates. Neo-liberal reforms have been successful along with war in dismantling state dominated economies; but they have been much less successful in stimulating legitimate market economies. The alternative to state dominated economies turns out to be systems of corruption and predation that feed on neo-liberal strategies and processes of liberalisation and privatisation. In conflict zones, every area has a specific and different combination of predatory activities – extortion and kidnapping, smuggling and trafficking of various types, ‘taxation’ of humanitarian assistance. It is possible to identify concrete proposals for addressing the war economy and promoting legitimate livelihoods so as to reduce the incentives for war. These might include specific measures to disrupt smuggling or influence prices and promote regular economic activities like agriculture. But such proposals are different in different areas and can only be identified through analysis and communication at local levels, particularly with civil society. It is also in the economic sphere that justice is critical in dealing with corruption and predation. Conditionality that the EU adopts in relation to trade agreements or association agreements should be linked to anti-corruption measures rather than neo-liberal strategies
These are some of the salient elements of a second generation human security approach. They are important, first of all for those who live in situations of deep insecurity – in Aleppo, in eastern Ukraine, or in the middle of the Mediterranean.
But they are also important for those who are currently citizens of the European Union. The European Union is facing an existential crisis with growing economic inequality and social precariousness, an increasing gap between debtors and creditors, more extreme weather events, the spread of violent conflicts in its neighbourhood with knock-on effects inside Europe through organised crime, refugees, and polarisation of communities, the rise of xenophobia and racism, as well as terrorist attacks.
Yet the EU is the only answer to these mounting dangers. Brexit could mean a reversion to nation-states and that will only make things worse. An effective second generation human security policy that would actually improve everyday security, both in conflict zones and in Europe, may well be critical for the very survival of the EU.