EU Policies for Ending Violent Conflicts. Ukraine and Syria Experience | VoxUkraine

EU Policies for Ending Violent Conflicts. Ukraine and Syria Experience

20 April 2016

Human security can only be achieved by means of legitimate political authority both the state’s and supranational structure’s like the European Union. EU policies for ending violent conflicts are mostly directed at stabilization on classic peace-making lines. They involve the provision of humanitarian assistance, mediation among the warring parties, and ‘post-conflict’ reconstruction. Also, EU policies do include many novel approaches such as state-building, law and order and policing.

The key to human security is the establishment of legitimate political authority that can provide the basis for a rule of law and respect for human rights. However, the experience of security sector reforms in Libya and Syria on the one hand and in the DRC (define DRC) or the Western Balkans on the other shows that security is derived from legitimate authority rather than the activities of security forces. So human security can only be achieved by means of legitimate political authority both the state’s and supranational structure’s like the European Union or the African Union.

But how can we construct legitimate authority, for example, in the midst of war or even hybrid peace?

Firstly, it requires an inclusive political settlement to provide public goods. Instead of an overarching top down peace agreement what is needed is an inclusive process that involves civil society, takes time, is local, regional as well as national. Peace agreements at local levels are a key component of any such process. Furthermore, peace negotiations at all levels should include economic, social, cultural and humanitarian issues.

Secondly, it involves special approach to security. New wars are fragmented – some areas experience high levels of violence while others are relatively secure. A human security approach aims at strengthening those security zones that are more conducive to the construction of inclusive authority, through international presence, assistance with mediation, monitoring and the equal provision of public goods, particularly economic and social rights. Human security personnel would have the task of dampening down violence, defending people and property, and where possible arresting rather than killing those responsible for criminal acts.

Thirdly, political and security aspects cannot be disentangled from economic and social phenomena. It is the absence of a legitimate economy that is one of the most important drivers of war, as our Ukraine paper demonstrates. In conflict zones, every area has a specific 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 only through analysis and communication at local levels, particularly with civil society.

All the components of a second generation human security approach have one thing in common: they are not a quick fix.

They don’t work properly when implemented in a hurry, in reaction to an already escalating situation. Second generation human security needs to have already identified networks, stakeholders, potential conflict parties and their respective interest within their societies when violent conflict arises. It needs to have an early warning system that allows a proper assessment of the political, economic and social development not only in the respective states, but also in regions and on a local level, identifying potential risk factors and rising tensions before actual violent conflict breaks out.

What about EU today’s practical strategy?

EU policies are mostly directed at stabilization on classic peace-making lines. They involve the provision of humanitarian assistance, mediation among the warring parties, and ‘post-conflict’ reconstruction. Also 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.

Moreover, EU has also undertaken civil-military missions aimed at protecting people and upholding human rights; while some of the missions do represent models for human security, they rarely have been sufficient in terms of time and resources.

At the same time EU practical strategy of ending conflicts are more like inside instruments. It is directed towards individuals and the communities in which they live rather than states.

Creative Diplomacy. This requires entrepreneurial diplomats who see their role as understanding and intervening in a range of political issues. They act as networkers bringing different groups and organisations and individuals together both within and beyond the European Union.

The EU is a multilateral organisation that has the potential to forge a new, ‘smart’ form of multilateralism, based on collective security, rule of international law, and the resolution of disputes by dialogue.

Creative diplomacy and multilateralism entail both political and economic diplomacy, addressing both political and economic dimensions and drivers of conflict, but also bringing together top-down and bottom-up approaches and actors, for example by aligning political negotiations with local ceasefires or socio- economic demands.

In the Syrian case, for example, talks could focus on specific conditions on the ground, such as lifting sieges or the price of diesel oil in rebel-held areas. Such diplomacy also requires a different type of more human centered intelligence in place of the top-down technologically driven intelligence that is currently typical.

In case of Ukraine the EU played the pivotal role in negotiating the Minsk Agreements and in providing aid and encouraging reform policies. But the Minsk Agreements treats the confrontation as an ethnic conflict does it rather than a set of social and economic problems.

The old kleptocratic/oligarchic system of power distribution in Ukraine mutated into a more polished and Westernized look. After nearly two years since the start of the Maidan movement, nobody from top echelons responsible for corruption and violence was brought to justice. Furthermore, the people directly responsible for instigating, coordinating, and financing attacks on the Ukrainian public in Kyiv, Odesa, and the East have not been brought to justice, commented Tymofiy Mylovanov.

Justice. Justice is critical for addressing the criminalised nature of both the violence and the war economy in contemporary 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.

Engaging with and strengthening the justice networks could be seen as one way of weakening and marginalising the conflict networks, as an instrument for addressing pervasive abuse and criminality but also for building an alternative source of legitimate political authority and a constituency for EU policy objectives.

A stronger EU role externally would depend on the EU taking a proactive role internally: encouraging the member states to deal with their own past and creating space for civil society actors, ideas, and initiatives for justice both inside and outside the EU.

Violent conflict serves as a key mechanism in this predatory form of global redistribution by generating profits from illegal arms sales, smuggling and other organised criminal activities, bribery and embezzlement. Money laundering of the criminal proceeds exacerbates inequality both at their origin and destination. It fuels the monetization of politics and creates major incentives for political leaders to connect to criminal networks.

The EU can unlock the productive potential of justice in conflict zones by advancing an approach that is regional and bottom-up in character and reinforced by sustained efforts within the EU – that is, encouraging the emergence and engagement of justice networks both externally and internally.

Sanctions. The EU uses a range of sanctions in its foreign policy, including arms embargoes, travel bans, financial restrictions including asset freezes and preventing payments and financial services, and trade restrictions. Sanctions have an exceptionally poor record of delivering the desired results. A key risk is that sanctions may contribute to further criminalisation of economies in situations of conflict and fragility, encouraging a range of illicit activities and strengthening the conflict networks.

There is also a risk that sanctions may strengthen and legitimate repressive regimes as they become adept at harnessing sanctions-generated grievances of the population. A comprehensive review of sanctions indicates that they are most successful when they are aimed at allies, not adversaries, are tied to specific and realisable policy changes, and are implemented only for a short time.

The legitimacy of EU sanctions depends on engagement and consultation with local civil society and compliance with international human rights law. With respect to the former, EU practice varies as in some cases (e.g. Myanmar, post-Arab Spring Egypt and Tunisia) the EU has pursued sanctions in response to demands from local civil society actors and opposition movements, whereas in other cases (Russia, Syria) sanctions have been imposed without such engagement and consultation.

In case of Syria, the principle instrument applied by the EU since the start of the war has been sanctions – the main effect has been to contribute to the dismantling of the formal economy and the spread of an accelerating war economy, based on kidnapping, hostage-taking, extortion, and smuggling of oil and antiquities that has enriched and entrenched the various warlords and extremist groups.

Conditionality. The EU uses conditionality across a range of policy areas relevant to conflict, including development assistance, trade, accession and neighbourhood policies. Conditionality is often a feature of the hybrid peace in conflict-affected societies where the EU is engaged, instead of helping to address and overcome it, as conflict networks and politico-economic elites become adept at subverting EU conditionality.

Particularly problematic is the emphasis on conditionality tied to a set of neoliberal policies, such as privatisation or welfare reform, which may end up exacerbating key characteristics of human insecurity in conflict-affected environments.

A human security approach to conditionality needs to be related to corruption, justice, the provision of public services, and to be shaped by engagement with civil society actors who often advocate such measures. In Ukraine, for example, insistence on bringing those responsible for large-scale corruption to justice would be a more effective way of tackling the conflict than say privatisation.

Moreover, the use of conditionality externally has to be coupled with sustained action internally. At the same time, EU peacebuilding and statebuilding assistance often exacerbates the problem by fuelling corruption.

Missions. There are already some examples of EU missions whose mandates and operations have promoted successfully a human security approach. These have been missions with a policing rather than a war-fighting mandate, even if they are carried out by military personnel, or human rights monitoring missions.

It can be argued that human rights monitoring missions, such as the EU mission in Aceh and the OSCE missions in Kosovo and Ukraine, have been at least as effective as peace-keeping missions in reducing human rights violations and providing momentum for investigation and documentation activities by civil society groups, offering a model for EU human security missions.

From The Berlin Report of the Human Security Study Group “From Hybrid Peace to Human Security: Rethinking EU Strategy toward Conflict


The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations