The G8 and Conflict Prevention: Turning Declarations into Action

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor June 2000 Volume 21 Issue 2

G8 and conflict prevention is a document prepared by staff at Saferworld and International Alert for the European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation and has been endorsed by 52 organizations working in the conflict prevention field, including Project Ploughshares. The document is oriented toward the Summit meeting of the G8 countries in Okinawa and seeks to develop the themes raised in the G8 countries’ Declaration on conflict prevention issues at their Berlin Summit in December 1999, with the aim of ensuring that the aspirations voiced in the Berlin Declaration are translated successfully into reality. The following is excerpted from that report.

The G8 and conflict prevention

Violent conflict interdicts development, economic growth and the maturation of political institutions and generates enormous short-term real costs. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict has estimated that the costs to the international community of the seven major wars in the 1990s (excluding Kosovo and calculated before the close of the decade) had been $199-billion B in addition to the costs to the countries actually at war. As the UN Secretary-General has pointed out, more effective conflict prevention strategies would save tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives (Annan 1998).

The G8 adopted a ground-breaking statement on conflict prevention at the meeting of its Foreign Ministers in Berlin in December 1999. In the Communiqué, the ministers commit themselves “to strengthen the ability of the international community in conflict prevention” by acting as a catalyst to ensure appropriate steps are taken by the UN, regional organisations, NGOs, international financial institutions, the private sector, and directly affected states themselves. The Communiqué focused in particular on light weapons proliferation, organised crime, child soldiers, mercenaries, illicit trading in commodities such as diamonds, environmental triggers to conflict, and on practical steps individual G8 states could take.

Conflict prevention and development

Most violent conflicts take place today in developing countries. The costs of these wars are immense and can throw back a country’s development efforts by years or even decades. The GDP of Bosnia for example plunged from an estimated $10- to $2-billion between 1990 and 1996; the cost of reconstructing the country has been estimated at several billion dollars more. The rising number of conflict-related humanitarian emergencies is also diverting scarce resources from long-term development assistance to humanitarian relief. In the 1980s emergency relief accounted for only 3 per cent of the total development co-operation budget of OECD countries; during the 1990s this proportion rose to 10 per cent. At the same time, the total amount of international assistance has fallen sharply and bilateral donors have increasingly focused their aid on a small number of countries that meet strict criteria of economic performance and good governance. This excludes countries with oppressive regimes and high poverty levels that are most prone to violent conflict. In these often non-strategic countries aid is increasingly used not only to address the economic, but also the political aspects of conflict. While aid effectiveness is greatest when it takes place in a conducive political environment, it cannot create these conditions itself. In particular, humanitarian assistance should not be the only response to violent conflict in developing countries, which is often the case.

Properly targeted, development assistance can make an important contribution to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries by addressing the root causes of conflict and providing an environment in which long-term peace can be built. The G8 includes the major bilateral donors of development assistance and can therefore play a lead role in this area. Little funding is made available to support the implementation of peace agreements as they imply high-risk investments. There are a number of things that the G8 can do to target its development assistance towards conflict prevention objectives

  • review their long-term policies towards countries at risk of violent conflict and commit themselves to investing in peace.
  • commit themselves to providing the necessary political and diplomatic back-up to aid operations in conflict-affected countries and help defuse the current confusion of humanitarian and political agendas.
  • promote adherence to humanitarian standards in all aspects of development assistance to countries affected by violent conflict through ethical guidelines and codes of conduct.

Conflict prevention and threats to security

Controlling small arms and light weapons

Small arms and light weapons are closely associated with recent wars, insecurity, crime, and terrorism in many regions of the world. The widespread use and circulation of small arms are symptomatic of fundamental economic and political problems within affected societies. The G8 are centrally involved in the supply of arms as major producers and transit countries. The factors motivating the supply of and demand for light weapons by state and non-state actors are extremely complex, as are attempts to control and reduce the number of weapons in circulation. The G8 is well placed to endorse and promote global solutions to this urgent problem B and send an important signal to push the agenda on small arms in the buildup to the 2001 UN Conference. The G8 should

  • promote efforts to regulate the legal transfer of small arms and light weapons between states, including agreeing to common controls on licensing and end-use certification.
  • support existing programs and measures through financial and technical assistance for regional and national programs such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Moratorium; develop international programs to support weapons collection and destruction programs; improve stockpile management and security; help with processes to develop and harmonise national legal controls and regulatory procedures, such as the Southern African Development Community firearms protocol; and enhance the capacity of institutions such as the police, border guards, and the judiciary.
  • urge standard regulations on the activities of arms brokering agents, which would draw on ‘best practice’ at the national and international levels and provide guidance for the development of rigorous national, regional and international controls on arms brokering (including the introduction of legislation, registers of arms brokers, licensing requirements, and information exchange mechanisms for licensing and enforcement agencies).
  • prioritise the disposal and destruction of weapons which are defined as surplus to national security needs rather than stockpiling or selling these weapons to other countries and encourage other countries to do the same.
  • end export credits for arms exports by agreeing to reduce and eventually eliminate support for arms exports from export credits.

Illicit trafficking and organised crime

A declared priority for the G8 is preventing and combating trafficking of illicit goods and people. The G8 has a critical role to play in furthering action on preventing and combating all aspects of illicit trafficking at the national, regional, and international levels. In particular, the G8 should

  • establish technical assistance and training exchange programs to enable states which have experience in combating the illegal traffic in drugs, small arms, and other commodities to share their expertise with other states.
  • assist the further development of international law enforcement agencies, such as the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) and World Customs Organisation (WCO), and existing data bases such as the Interpol Weapons and Explosives Tracing System (IWETS).
  • develop provisions for technical and financial assistance to countries implementing the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its related protocols.
  • institute appropriate and effective measures for international co-operation to curb corruption associated with illicit trafficking, including the adoption of effective procedures for the detection, investigation, and prosecution of suspected corrupt persons and their accomplices, and the freezing, confiscation, and forfeiture of property and money acquired through and/or derived from corruption.

Illicit diamond trade

The illegal trade in diamonds and other precious stones is a key factor fuelling a number of conflicts, posing a special challenge to combating illegal trafficking and the activities of organised crime. Rebel and insurgency groups in control of diamond mining areas use diamonds to finance their war effort by exchanging the stones for arms and military support. In this way, bartered diamonds have been used to violate UN sanctions on procuring weapons in a number of contexts.

International efforts to curb the illegal trade in diamonds, aimed at improving needed transparency and regulation of the international diamond trade, have gathered momentum recently. Some diamond companies have promised that they will not purchase diamonds from conflict zones. A May conference sponsored by the South African government, of diamond producers, officials from the region, and principal diamond consumer countries, reached agreement on a specific set of proposals. These included a global certification scheme for diamonds, a code of conduct to govern practices in the industry, and an independent monitoring scheme.

G8 countries have a responsibility and a moral imperative to help curb the illegal sale of conflict diamonds. As influential and powerful states they can help apply leverage to the many points at which the illegal diamond trade is allowed to occur. G8 governments can in particular support

  • a mandatory global diamond labelling system in which all sales must be accompanied by verifiable documents declaring the origins and destination of diamonds.
  • the introduction of national legislation to ensure that diamonds sold specify the country of origin.
  • capacity-building measures so that source countries can better control the mining and export of diamonds.

Security sector reform

Improving the governance of the security sector and respect for human rights in conflict and post-conflict situations is a key priority for establishing a safe environment in which economic development can occur. Although the link between development and security is now recognised by many specialists within the development community, programs to facilitate internal security, properly functioning and independent justice systems, and arms control in regions of conflict remain poorly funded. G8 governments can play a key role in supporting and encouraging security sector reform in conflict-prone regions. Not only will this help prevent conflicts and enable economic development, but it will also make investment by G8 countries in these countries more attractive. The political commitment of the G8 to encourage and provide leverage to reforming the security sector in a number of countries is vital. Some G8 states are already doing important work in this area, and continuing priorities should include

  • assistance in managing military expenditure
  • human rights and democracy training for police and military forces
  • support and training for relevant representatives of civil society (i.e., those involved in community police groups and crime prevention committees) to develop their capacity to undertake civilian oversight in security matters, including monitoring the conduct, performance, and cost-effectiveness of security forces.

The G8 should promote this ‘assistance agenda’ in appropriate international fora, such as the World Bank and OECD Development Assistance Committee, and negotiate the revision of their guidelines.

Mercenaries and private military activity

In many weak states experiencing or emerging from internal conflict, governments are unable to provide security for their citizens and businesses. The resulting security void is increasingly being filled by security entrepreneurs in the form of mercenary forces and private security and military companies which have become far more active in conflict situations in recent years. They are being used by a range of actors, including governments, corporations, and humanitarian agencies, for a variety of reasons. Used responsibly these actors can be stability- and development-enhancing. However, the unregulated nature of their activities means that they often undermined prospects for achieving sustainable peace and economic development. G8 governments can play an important role in the efforts to ensure the responsible and controlled use of these private security actors. In particular they can

  • support the development of regional and international controls on these new private security actors, such as the International Convention against Mercenaries.
  • ensure the responsible use of private security and military companies operating out of their territory through appropriate national regulations.
  • help promote guidelines and codes of conduct for the responsible use of private security companies by corporations and other actors.

Demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants

Successful demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants are vital components of peace processes. In post-war situations, it is particularly important that demobilisation and reintegration initiatives are implemented swiftly, are backed by adequate resources, and include the destruction of surplus weapons, including ammunition. Some G8 states are already doing important work in this area but many programs are under-funded and need further support. In particular, G8 states should

  • ensure that emphasis is given to reintegration and to the linkages with wider reform of security forces and especially the democratic oversight of such forces.
  • prioritise the rooting of demobilisation and reintegration program within broader social and economic development programs.

The European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation is a network of European non-governmental organizations involved in the prevention and/or resolution of violent conflicts in the international arena. Its mission is to facilitate the exchange of information and experience among participating organizations, as well as to stimulate co-operation and synergy. Further information can be found on their website.

1 The G8 countries are France, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and Russia.


Annan, Kofi 1998, Facing the Humanitarian Challenge: Towards a Culture of Prevention, UN.

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