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Assessing the European Union’s Inclusive Peacebuilding Efforts in Georgia and Yemen

The following analysis is from Volume 3, Issue 6 of the Peace Science Digest

Citation: Dudouet, V.; Eshaq, A.; Basilaia, E.; & Macharashvili, N. (2018). From policy to action: Assessing the European Union’s approach to inclusive mediation and dialogue support in Georgia and Yemen. Peacebuilding, 6(3), 183-200.

Over the past decade, international organizations have increasingly recognized the importance of inclusive peace processes and political transitions in countries ravaged by violent conflict. Rather than investing all efforts in the elite-level, “Track 1” negotiations, peacebuilding actors—including the European Union (EU)—have focused energy along the whole spectrum of actors from governments and elite actors to the grass roots. Emblematic of the so-called “Whole-of-Society” (WOS) approach to peacebuilding and conflict prevention adopted by the EU, this inclusivity is especially concerned with incorporating the voices of a wide range of actors who may have historically been marginalized—a shift in focus that reflects an acknowledgement that exclusion can act as a major driver of violent conflict.

In 2009, the EU committed itself to inclusivity in its various mediation and dialogue efforts. This research aims to determine, almost ten years later, the extent to which the EU is actually living up to this commitment to inclusive peacebuilding. In particular, in light of the tension between inclusivity and effectiveness, how do EU actors “seek to overcome this dilemma when promoting, supporting or facilitating mediation and dialogue processes in third countries”? To respond to these questions, the authors draw on case study reports, secondary literature, and interviews with EU staff members to analyze two recent cases where the EU has been actively engaged in peacebuilding and conflict prevention activities: Georgia and Yemen.

Despite scholarly debate over the definition of “inclusivity,” it can be broadly understood to comprise two levels: inter-elite inclusion (of all the “key stakeholders who have the capacity to implement and/or spoil peace and who represent important constituencies”) and broader societal inclusion (of those who have been marginalized or who have “limited resources…[or] influence…”). On the one hand, greater inclusion is seen to benefit the legitimacy and sustainability of peace agreement outcomes. On the other, however, greater inclusion could instead make it much harder to reach an agreement in the first place, with a greater number of parties to satisfy. Furthermore, there is the crucial issue of whether those “included” actually have the capacity for their participation to be meaningful. In light of these concerns, peacebuilding actors must develop “inclusive enough” approaches that “enable a genuine participatory process without impeding the efficiency of decision-making.” Three such approaches identified by the authors include: 1) inclusive national dialogues with mechanisms for efficient decision-making, 2) capacity-building support for marginalized groups, 3) and coordination/feedback between different “tracks.”

Turning to the case studies, the authors examine how and to what extent the EU addresses this “inclusivity/effectiveness dilemma” in its peacebuilding activities. In Georgia, the EU is directly involved in Track 1 mediation efforts through various initiatives. However, even though this involvement is important for preventing a re-escalation of the conflict, it is largely seen as an “exclusionary and elitist” process. On the Track 2 level, the EU provides a communication channel between different actors, consults with civil society organizations and attempts to elevate their voices to the Track 1 level, and coordinates “technical” problem-solving workshops. With regards to Track 3, the EU funds “grassroots dialogue initiatives” to create “contacts across conflict divides.”

Track 1: “official discussions between high-level governmental and military leaders focusing on ceasefires, peace talks, treaties and other agreements…[and] typically limited to a small number of national stakeholders…”

Track 2: “unofficial dialogue and problem-solving activities aimed at building relationships between civil society leaders and influential individuals who have the ability to impact the official level dynamics through lobbying, advocacy or consultation channels.”

Track 3: “inter- or intra-community dialogue activities at the grassroots level to encourage mutual interaction and understanding.”

Meanwhile, Yemen is still in the midst of civil war and an on-going Saudi-led military intervention. The EU has not directly mediated this conflict but rather supported a national dialogue process—the National Dialogue Conference (NDC)—which took place from March 2013 to January 2014. It emerged as a result of talks spearheaded by the EU and others after popular protests challenged President Saleh’s rule in 2011 and was intended to lay the groundwork for a new constitution. The NDC was conceived as an inclusive process, with quotas for underrepresented groups, and the EU’s role was to advocate and conduct outreach to ensure that this broad inclusion became a reality, especially through capacity-building work with youth and women’s organizations. Beyond this formal process, the EU supported Track 2 efforts by providing a “neutral space” for dialogue between stakeholders and maintained communication channels between parties, even after the Saudi military intervention began in 2015. At Track 2 and 3 levels, the EU sponsored local dialogues, “dialogue platforms for civil society representatives,” and “two grassroots inter-community projects” focused on reconciliation and capacity-building, among other concerns.

In both Yemen and in Georgia, the EU’s attempts to make its mediation and dialogue efforts “inclusive enough” achieved only partial success. In short, the authors found that “there is still a significant gap between the policy expectations for a WOS approach to mediation and dialogue support and the realities on the ground.” An overarching challenge in both cases was the lack of effective mechanisms for strengthening input across levels (Tracks 1, 2, and 3), as well as difficulties associated with reaching certain groups and ensuring their meaningful participation, often due to geopolitical and/or cultural pressures. Although these inclusive mediation and dialogue approaches have not yet fostered meaningful conflict transformation in either Georgia or Yemen, the authors suggest that perhaps these approaches should still be pursued for their own sake, even if they have not yet met with full success.

Contemporary Relevance

After over three years of civil war in Yemen, including a prolonged military intervention by Saudi-led (and U.S.-supported) forces that has not hesitated to target civilians, thousands of people have died and millions more face death from famine or disease caused by the distraction of the country’s infrastructure and health services. The international community is concerned that recent fighting in the city of Hudaydah could jeopardize humanitarian aid shipments to the country. In this context, the main parties recently agreed to UN-mediated talks in Sweden, which will focus mostly on humanitarian issues and confidence-building measures rather than a full-fledged political settlement. This Track 1 process is far from the inclusive (or even “inclusive enough”) ideal discussed in the above research, though one could argue that the dire humanitarian situation requires only that the process be efficient and effective, with as few stakeholders present as are necessary to stop the fighting. When the time comes for a more comprehensive political settlement, the country can build on its 2013-2014 National Dialogue Conference to craft an agreement that takes account of the human toll this war has taken on its citizens.

Talking Points

  • Peacebuilding actors who wish to promote inclusive peace processes must contend with the tension between the legitimacy and sustainability benefits of inclusivity, on one hand, and the challenges inclusivity poses for reaching any settlement at all, on the other. 
  • “Inclusive enough” peace processes “enable a genuine participatory process without impeding the efficiency of decision-making.”
  • Three approaches to “inclusive enough” peace processes include: 1) inclusive national dialogues with mechanisms to facilitate efficient decision-making, 2) capacity-building support for marginalized groups so that their participation in negotiation processes is more meaningful, 3) attention to and coordination/feedback between different “tracks.”
  • The EU is committed to inclusivity in its mediation and dialogue efforts, but their work in Yemen and Georgia shows there is room for improvement, especially with regards to the lack of effective mechanisms for strengthening input across levels (Tracks 1, 2, and 3), as well as difficulties associated with reaching certain groups and ensuring their meaningful participation.

Practical Implications

Intuitively, we know that for peace to be sustainable, an elite-level Track 1 agreement ultimately needs to be grounded in—and reinforced by—dialogue and reconciliation work at the grassroots level, lest animosities stoked by the violent conflict simply resurface to break the meticulously worded agreement. Although inclusive peace processes make sense, however, they do come with challenges. The authors’ analysis of EU mediation and dialogue efforts in Georgia and Yemen highlight a few key areas of focus for improved “inclusive enough” peace processes more generally. First, a central task for peacebuilders is to craft mechanisms that can effectively link the different peacebuilding “tracks,” such that concerns that surface at the grassroots Track 3 level, for instance, can inform problem-solving workshops at Track 2 or even political negotiations at Track 1. Second, peacebuilders must always look beyond “quantitative” inclusion—that quotas are filled, for instance—to “qualitative” inclusion—that people from marginalized groups actually have the capacity to participate in dialogue and negotiations in meaningful and influential ways. An important question to ask is, what is blocking meaningful participation, and what can be done to take that barrier away? For example, when substantial internal disagreement exists within a group, internal negotiations may be needed first, so that the group can develop and identify a unified position and present a more powerful voice in negotiations. (See the previous analysis in this issue on Ramsbotham and Schiff’s “strategic negotiation” approach.) Third, peacebuilders must look beyond the immediate configuration of local stakeholders to consider the role that powerful neighboring countries may be playing in the conflict and perhaps in hampering efforts to transform it—by, for instance, limiting the ability of certain groups to participate in the peace process in meaningful ways.

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