A German Perspective on the Challenges of Civilian Conflict Management and Prevention

Gernot Erler

The upcoming fall will mark the fifth anniversary of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention: formally conceived by the EastWest Institute’s International Task Force on Preventive Diplomacy in 2007, it was officially launched at the European Parliament in Brussels on October 8, 2008. In light of the upcoming anniversary, we have asked the Task Force members to share their perspective and vision of past and current challenges to conflict prevention. Furthermore, we wanted to know which concrete role they see for parliamentarians to play in order to address those challenges and in which fields the Parliamentarians Network could become active in the upcoming years. The Task Force members' input and reflections, in form of editorials, are published on our website throughout the year.


It is a daunting task trying to evaluate the current state of international conflict management and prevention. The Heidelberg Institute of Conflict Research’s Conflict Barometer in 2000 reported 36 violent conflicts of high-intensity, only one international, and 43 in 2012. The number of civilian and military staff engaged in United Nations (UN) peace missions rose from 20 000 to 120 000 at the same time. Does this mean all our efforts are in vain? No, but the picture is a mixed one.

From a European perspective the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia of April 2013 may turn out to be the most significant achievement. It shall pave the way to durable peace in the Balkans and EU integration. More immediately it is aiming at peaceful coexistence by offering substantial autonomy to Serbs in Northern Kosovo and by Serbia cutting aid to parallel institutions. Catherine Ashton was able to effectively mediate because the European Union (EU) was offering to begin accession negotiations that both parties longed for. This is another proof of enlargement policy being the EU’s most effective instrument for resolving conflict in its neighborhood.

Looking further South we saw an example of the general failure of moving from early warning to action in Mali. After the Gaddafi regime’s overthrow in Libya a significant number of arms and fighters – Tuareg mercenaries and Islamists – spread to Mali reviving a dormant Tuareg rebellion. Despite the imminent danger of establishing a terrorist safe-haven, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the EU spent several months discussing how to react after the military coup in March 2012. Only France’s decision to unilaterally intervene in January 2013 triggered the political will to take action by the international community. The UN will have to pick up the pieces and deploy a 12 000-strong peace mission for the foreseeable future. One of the lessons learnt should be to further strengthen regional and sub-regional organizations. Had ECOWAS or the African Union (AU) commanded the necessary personnel, financial and military resources, it could have acted preventively – at a smaller scale – last year.

Germany – together with the Nordic countries – has been one of the key drivers in building EU capabilities for civilian conflict management and prevention from 1999 to 2005. Social-Democrats and Greens are planning to revitalize civilian conflict prevention and transformation after elections in September 2013. A future government shall formulate a comprehensive strategy for dealing with fragile states, intra- and inter-state conflict. Activities will focus on coherently developing good governance, security sector reform, civil society and professional mediation. The agenda includes the following elements:

  • Tasking a more senior inter-ministerial committee at the level of Secretaries-of-States;
  • New inter-ministerial budget line of 100 million EUR to promote greater cooperation;
  • Doubling resources for relevant institutions like the Center for Peace Operations (ZIF, 5 million EUR total), Civilian Peace Service (ZFD, 60 million EUR), German Foundation for Peace Research (DSF, 1.5 million EUR);
  • New federal budget line and command for international police missions;
  • Training for political mediation by German experts and local actors.


As someone who is interested in the work of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention (PNCP) you may be wondering what is the role of parliamentarians in all of this. With a view to the power of the purse they are authorizing enhanced resources. More importantly they can help convincing or forcing their government to take action. Thus, a parliamentary Sub-Committee on Civilian Crisis Prevention established by the Bundestag [German Parliament] in 2009 shall become a permanent institution.

The Parliamentarians Network itself could, in the future, play a greater role in exchanging ideas and best practices. In particular, it could play a role in early warning and generating the political will to take preventive action by the international community, regional organizations or NGO-experts. In addition to that, especially European MPs may help to convince colleagues of equipping regional organizations with competences and resources for effectively dealing with local conflicts. This may lead to early action and more appropriate solutions.


Gernot Erler, Deputy Chairman of the Social-Democratic Parliamentary Group (SPD), has been a member of the German Bundestag since 1987. From 2005 until 2009, he served as the Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office. His political focus lies on peace and security policy, Russia and CIS, Southeast Europe and the Balkans. As a member of the EastWest Intitute's International Task Force on Preventive Diplomacy, composed of 24 outstanding experts and practitioners in the field of conflict prevention and resolution, Dr. h.c. Erler was one of the initiators of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention.

Photo by tchukk.