Principle Not Expediency Must Drive UK Conflict Strategy

Lord McConnell

In one ill-judged briefing last week, the Prime Minister may have set back years of progress towards a joined-up, long term, approach to conflict, development and peacebuilding. And he or his aides may have jeopardised international progress towards agreement on reflecting conflict and security challenges in the new Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

While the bureaucratic obstacles to joined-up working on defence, development and diplomacy are deeply frustrating – in the UK, the EU and the UN – the biggest obstacle internationally is mistrust. And any hint by the US, the UK or other key donors that the objectives are less than principled will deepen that mistrust. And that will cost lives.

The second terms for Obama in the White House and for Ban Ki-Moon at the UN, all party UK support for increased funding, the establishment of the External Advisory Service in the EU, and the direction of travel on the review of the MDG’s all created an optimistic environment for real progress on development in conflict-affected and fragile states.

When the Prime Minister stated that he was ‘very open’ to the prospect of pooling departmental resources further in order to meet the UK’s strategic priorities, we should all have been able to cheer. But, as media outlets announced that the government is to consider spending money from the UK’s aid budget on peacekeeping and other defence-related projects, the response has been understandably suspicious. Yet the policy to which David Cameron hints holds considerable opportunity, but only if executed for the right reasons and in the right way.

Over one billion people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence, and no fragile or conflict-affected state is set to achieve a single Millennium Development Goal. Enabling such states to do so requires significant structural change, such as the capacity-building of state institutions, a transformation of the security and justice sectors, including demobilisation and reconciliation, and action to breathe life into weak economies. Through these types of reforms, post-conflict reconstruction can begin in earnest and a new relationship between the citizen and the state can be established.

The UK rightly plans to increase its focus on these issues, allocating 30% of the UK aid budget to fragile and conflict-affected states. By 2015, Official Development Assistance to such states is likely to amount to £3.4 million. There has been a growing recognition in recent years that addressing the complexities of fragile and conflict situations lies beyond the remit of a single government department. The Conflict Pool was created in 2009 to prevent and manage international conflict, funding programmes that help to reform security sectors, establish and maintain the rule of law, train local peacekeepers and support political settlements. This, together with the UK’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy, acknowledged that effectiveness in conflict environments can be improved when the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development work together, sharing expertise while co-ordinating policy and strategy.

The Conflict Pool and BSOS are not without their weaknesses and challenges, but, in principle, a more joined-up way of working and an expanded pool of resources is not a bad thing. We should strive to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate combatants. We should strive to inject international norms and standards into security services. We should strive to bolster free and fair elections for the orderly succession of accountable governments. Ultimately, it is these building blocks that create a foundation for long-lasting, positive peace.

But David Cameron has to ensure that any integration of aid and defence budgets comes with stringent checks and balances in place, with absolute transparency and accountability. There must be no covert operations and funds must not be used for combat operations or combat equipment.  Peacebuilding programmes must have the backing of the international community, ideally carried out under the auspices of the EU, UN or regional bodies like the African Union.

This is too serious to play politics. There is an urgent need for clarification from our government. We need an acceptance that the mistrust created by last week’s briefing cannot be allowed to linger. And we need assurances. If we get them this could be the start of something good. If we don’t, we will regret this for years to come.

8 comments for “Principle Not Expediency Must Drive UK Conflict Strategy

  1. Lord Blagger
    25/02/2013 at 11:57 am

    So with 7,000 bn plus of debt in the UK, shouldn’t we be preventing future conflict in the UK rather than swanning round the world in five star hotels?

  2. MilesJSD
    25/02/2013 at 5:38 pm

    Once again ‘they’
    (in the ‘key-seats’)
    are missing the overarching and underpinning Points (*):

    1) Our longterm human-race is already in an overdestructive, undersupportive, and runaway Environmental-Resources Debt,

    to the growing ‘motional’ or ‘token’ tune of $US + £ quadrillions + pentillions, representing Destroyed-Forever Non-Renewable Resources and Lifesupports,
    and the ever increasing Extinction of so-called ‘Renewable Resources’ i.e. lifeforms.

    2) The current ‘unfinished-historical’ increase of “currency warfare” only goes to highlight that our whole homo-sapiens-sapiens self-mindsetting in the Matter of Values, Timeframing, and Consumption-Controlling,
    has become corruptly ‘married’ to Financial figures, earmarks, and burned-into-the-flesh market-brandings (**);

    [which is not at all unlike such grandeuresque board games as ‘Monopoly’, is it ?]
    Both the Money-God and the Ever-Overflowing Earth-Cornucopia have failed.

    In short, therefore, we as Earth-citizens, as well as in our British role, need to be budgeting
    firstly in terms of Resources and Stock-in-Ground;

    secondly in Timeframes as far ahead as successfully colonising a Second-Earth elsewhere in the Galaxy;

    thirdly in quantity-&-quality of essential consumption by both collective and individual Humans.

    (*) possibly many of our constitionally-de-facto long-term future ‘leaders’ are deliberately suppressing and avoiding these vital Points

    (**) ‘handcuffed’ might also suit as a metaphorical descriptor for our subservience to Money.

  3. maude elwes
    25/02/2013 at 7:25 pm

    This always smacks of self perpetuating agencies to me. The creepy gatekeepers and those on the make. What are we doing@ Do you really know?

    The whole thing is a disaster, no wonder it is a political nightmare. Another spending spree with our taxes. Those on the end of this money making effort have very large cajones indeed. Here we are a people suffering, yet you want to spend more abroad and for what exactly? Spell it out.

  4. GaretHugHowell
    26/02/2013 at 10:24 am

    Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development work together, sharing expertise while co-ordinating policy and strategy.

    The member for the Respect party reprimanded me outside the FAC committee room (and for attending it) for not understanding that the FCO/MOD worked together by default, and I accepted the lesson in the spirit that it was confered, seriously.

    The FCO/DFiD were split about 30 years ago, were they not, since their remits covered the same countries and people but had, in theory, completely different objectives; in practice one and the same.

    Lord McConnell’s (and Cameron’s) comments may therefore only reflect the status quo re MoD/FCO, and even that of the former single
    government department FCO/DFiD.

    It would have been the stated mistrust that
    made boffins decide to split the two departments DFiD/FCO in to two so that it was clear to everybody that the DFiD function had no common cause at all, with the MoD.

    The Noble lord McConnell, i am glad to say has a serious grasp of the subject, in a way which is unusual for the second chamber, but there are of course people like L Anderson, and his Lib dem opponent and friend L Chidgey, who have profound knowledge of the subject in hand, and who are doubtless working even now,on the subject in depth.

    The EU,European perspective is crucial to the success of any initiatives.
    External Advisory Service in the EU, and the direction of travel on the review of the MDG’s

    and I would be glad to know more about the progress which the Baroness Ashton is making. It is fanciful to suppose that the UK government can have any real influence itself. This kind of work has to be done at a Superstate level to be successful.

  5. GaretHugHowell
    26/02/2013 at 2:58 pm

    I think the answer Milord is that Cameron is at least trying to grapple with some of the problems which are prime ministerial, that have to be done cross departments and by pub;lic pronouncement to all, particularly all the civil service in those departments.

    One of the things that Baroness Thatcher did in her previous incarnation, was to give the civil service a jolly good rollicking as and when she felt like it, in the media, so we, and they, knew that the chains of command were in fine fettle.

    I never did observe that in either Blair’s government or least of all, Brown’s. Wait a minute; in Major’s govt departmental chaos was the order of the day.

    Cameron would seem to be grasping that particular nettle, if doing it in an ill judged way, as Lord McConnell suggests.

    The thinking is there however much better the Milliband family would do it!

  6. GaretHugHowell
    26/02/2013 at 3:39 pm

    Going on from this to Philip Dodd’s nightwaves interviewees, Adrianna Sinclair and David Blunkett, I really don’t think that national security and self interest has that much to do with the “principle” the noble lord mentions above. Philip Dodd chose a particular angle, but he may even so have got to the nub of the question (of the angle) by asking about “compassion” in such a way.

    Experienced Home Secretary and politican that the hon member for Sheffield is, I too often think of the contrast that politicans
    cannot really have compassion concerning public policy.

    Political speak is an entirely different thing from personal compassion speak.
    Understanding and using the different terms
    between the personal experience of compassion, and the public statement of policy is part of the politician’s work.

    However the backroom boys, the commons MP, does have the opportunity to exercice compassion for those constituents who have personal problems which are effected by public policy or even wrong law, but as far as ministerial work is concerned it does not apply.

    In that sense “expediency” not “principle” applies to the international scene, assuming that compassion is one of the principles!

    The EFFECT of international policy may be that a particular country’s people are grateful for the work that the British government has done for them, but it would be entirely co-incidental, not principle buy expediency that caused it to be so.

    Compassion does not apply, and in terms of the organisation of departments of state compassion it totally irrelevant.

  7. GaretHugHowell
    26/02/2013 at 4:50 pm

    Im Machiavellian fashion the political leader wins power through whatever method he can, regardless of “principle”.

    Exactly the same applies to the application of that power to the apparatus of state, that, however many personal religious principles the individual leader may have (and the bond of religion may be between only half a dozen or so)his application of power has very little to do with principle and everything to do with expediency.

    The government would wish to reduce the obviousness of this in terms of overseas policy by separating the three different departments even when their objectives are the same; a question of window dressing or cosmetics….. expediency not principle!
    (I hope that helps the hon member for Sheffield too who did not get that far in the argument.

  8. MilesJSD
    27/02/2013 at 11:51 am

    Someone with moral fibre once perceptively uttered:
    “O what a tangled web we weave
    Since first we practised to deceive”;

    and Jesus was not blind, deaf, nor dumb, when it came to those “in Power” failing to do self-development and also stopping others from doing so:
    for instance
    (“)Woe unto you Lawyers, you possess the keys to knowledge yet do not use them for yourselves;
    and worse, you prevent others who do wish to use them from entering-in where those keys would lead(“)
    [from Luke 11 verse 52;
    but slightly paraphrased by me, jsdm].
    This “foreign” and “defence-of-the-realm” problem is such a tangled mess,
    but is just one sub-web under a much bigger and more ominous Web(*)
    and it contains insidiously-evil little sub-sub-webs one of which, I shall submit, is “leadership”.
    [It will take me until probably well beyond Easter to comprehend all the ins-and-outs posted by others here
    especially with those from GaretHugHowell
    [who might like to consider his use of “leader acquiring more power” in a more holisticly-cognisant sense, to include “sustainworthy lifestyle exemplarily-emulable leadership”].
    * (as I have been showing previously vis a vis “Earth’s carrying capacity versus Humankind’s overkilling of lifesupports”)

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