Breaking the vicious circle of conflict and fragility

By Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director General, European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development

Insecurity bears political, social and economic costs, depriving people of a life free of fear and want and diminishing their trust towards state institutions. By 2030, 62% of the global poor will live in fragile and conflict-affected states.[1]  People in these states are twice as likely to be undernourished as those living in other developing countries, while their children are twice more likely to die before the age of five. On the other hand, lack of representation, weak and unaccountable institutions, socioeconomic exclusion, and lack of access to basic services create fertile ground for violent conflict, organised crime and increased irregular migration flows. To break the vicious circle of conflict and low development, we need to adopt a different development approach, putting security at the top of the agenda.

The case of northeast Nigeria, where nearly 15 million people have been affected by the conflict with Boko Haram since 2009, clearly demonstrates the strong link between fragility and conflict. Damages to medical and education facilities, attacks on markets, restricted access to lands, and increased food insecurity are exacerbating existing socioeconomic inequalities, undermining social cohesion, giving rise to conflict-related violence and hampering the development potential of an entire generation. Northeastern Nigeria currently has the highest number of violent deaths in Africa[2] and the highest number of internally displaced people[3] in the Sahel and Lake Chad region. Tackling the root causes of conflict as well as their security and development consequences is critical for the whole region’s stability.

Faced with this challenge, the European Union (EU) is working with the Nigerian government, the United Nations and the World Bank Group on a recovery and peacebuilding assessment that tackles poverty, weak institutions, income inequality and a lack of human security by focusing on peacebuilding, strengthening infrastructure and social services, and investing in economic recovery. Furthermore, a new peacebuilding project financed by the EU Emergency Trust Fund aims to prevent further violence by enhancing community-level conflict management, community reconciliation, women’s inclusion and reintegration of former fighters.

Engaging in the security-development nexus means investing in creating both strong states and strong societies. It means operationalising the security-development nexus in EU co-operation programmes. A holistic approach to security and development entails acting at the interface between state and society to address grievances, strengthening inclusive development and human security. This includes – but goes beyond – a focus on state capacity building and formal institutional development.Designing targeted, effective and conflict-sensitive interventions requires understanding and addressing the security and justice needs of citizens, working both with the state and civil society.

Consensus for change is global. The new Sustainable Development Goals and in particular Goal 16 represent a paradigm shift in development policy. The SDGs recognise the importance of peaceful and inclusive societies, justice, and accountable institutions to achieve sustainable development. Since 2011, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States identified five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals, emphasising the importance of inclusive politics, security, justice, economic foundations, as well as revenue and services as essential elements to improve international development policy.

Following a holistic approach, the EU is addressing the root causes of conflict and instability. This involves integrating conflict prevention and peacebuilding in development programs. The EU Comprehensive Approach aims to cover “all stages of the cycle of conflict or other external crisis, through early warning and preparedness, conflict prevention, crisis response and management to early recovery, stabilisation and peacebuilding in order to help countries getting back on track towards sustainable and long term development.”[4]

Emphasising the need for shared analysis, a common strategic framework, long-term commitment and increased collaboration with member states and external partners, the Comprehensive Approach enhances coordination between development and Common Security and Defence Policy missions, increasing the effectiveness of the EU’s external action. At the same time, the development of an EU-wide Strategic Framework on Security Sector Reform, the promotion of shared conflict risk assessment through the EU Early Warning System, and current discussions on a possible new instrument for capacity building supporting security and development demonstrate the EU’s commitment to a systemic approach against conflict and insecurity.


[1] Based on data and projections from the Brookings Institution.

[4] High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council on “The EU’s Comprehensive Approach to external conflict and crisis”, 11.12.2013, JOIN (2013) 30 final.


This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.


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