"Our efforts on peacekeeping and peacebuilding must all start and finish with the political process"

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Briefing on Peacebuilding

UN Peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thank you Mr President.

Let me begin by thanking Ambassador Patriota and Ambassador Skoog for their briefings today and for all their hard work, past, present and future, in chairing the Peacebuilding Commission.

Mr President,

I’d like to take the opportunity to talk, not about peacebuilding in theory, but about peacebuilding in practice. And in particular, I will draw some lessons about peacebuilding from a country that has played a prominent role in my own career: Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nearly 20 years ago I served in the British delegation to the Dayton Peace talks. And later, as British Ambassador to Bosnia from 2005 to 2008, I witnessed the progress made to build and sustain peace following years of bloodshed.

Bosnia still faces challenges – dysfunctional politics and high unemployment, to name but two. But as we prepare to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, we should also recognise the considerable progress that the country has made since 1995.

And we can learn lessons from the international community’s experience there. I recognise that every conflict is unique; solutions can’t be cut and pasted from one context to another. But I believe that as a Council we can draw four key lessons.

The first is we need to do even more on conflict prevention. In the Balkans, the international community failed to act early. We knew of some of the horrors that were being committed, but lacked the political will to take action. Today, we live in an age of immediately accessible information. We should never claim that we did not know conflict was brewing. The challenge for this Council, the Peacebuilding Commission and the whole UN system, is to find the political will to act early.

Early action can prevent enormous suffering. It is also cost-effective. Our failure to prevent conflict has contributed significantly to $19.7 billion in humanitarian needs, and nearly sixty million refugees. It has resulted in an $8.5 billion peacekeeping budget.

No conflict-affected state has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal. As British economist Paul Collier said: “war is development in reverse”. Given global trends, our ability to eradicate poverty will be wholly dependent on our ability to reduce violent conflict. And that is why Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is so critical.

Mr President,

The second lesson I took from Bosnia is the primacy of a political process in building and sustaining peace. Dayton is not perfect. But it ended the war - which was the worst fighting in Europe since the Second World War and it gave the country a foundation on which to build.

Just as the Peace Operations Review recommends, our efforts on peacekeeping and peacebuilding must all start and finish with the political process. For these settlements to stick, they need to be sustainable and inclusive, with women’s involvement throughout. And they need to be properly funded. In 2012, only four percent of all overseas development aid to fragile states was spent on promoting inclusive politics. The majority is spent on reconstruction and service delivery.

We need to recognise that peacebuilding and statebuilding are not the same thing. The UN’s comparative advantage is in forging and sustaining political deals to create the space for effective statebuilding. This should be the primary focus of any Political or Peacekeeping mission.

The third lesson, Mr President, is the need for sustained attention and patience from the international community to build a lasting peace. Nearly twenty years on from Dayton, this Council, the EU, NATO and many others continue to support Bosnia’s transition to a peaceful and prosperous state. Countries in the region also have a constructive role to play.

Too often, however, our attention drifts. In 2011, Sierra Leone was categorized as an “aid orphan” by the OECD. International aid fell away. Sierra Leone was punished for its success in reducing conflict. The spread of Ebola to Sierra Leone last year showed how fragile peacebuilding gains can be; and how easily they are rolled back.

So we must learn that there are no short-cuts to building durable national institutions. It takes time. The World Bank estimates that making meaningful improvements to institutions takes between ten and seventeen years at the minimum. Long term, predictable support is crucial.

The UK is playing our part. We have kept our promise to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on overseas aid, at least 30% of which will go to conflict-affected states. We are the second-largest financial contributor to the UN system. And we are largest contributor to the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund, providing $82 million since 2011.

Mr President,

My final reflection from Bosnia is that the international community cannot want peace more than the people themselves. Political elites need to rise above political, ethnic and religious divides and take tough choices to consolidate peace and move forward. Bosnia’s leaders still grapple with this challenge, as do leaders of many of countries on this Council’s agenda.

But should these leaders prove that they can overcome their differences, this Council must be poised and ready to give them our full support.

Thank you.

Published 25 June 2015