Back in July, the Government launched the first ever integrated cross-government strategy to address conflict issues. Entitled the ‘Building Stability Overseas Strategy’ (or the ‘BSOS’, as it is affectionately known within Whitehall!) it seeks to address the lessons we have learnt recent conflicts and the Arab Spring, which challenged long-standing notions of stability. The BSOS recognises that stability can be achieved only when a society has the strong and legitimate institutions it needs to manage tensions peacefully. At its heart is a strong integrated approach to crisis response across Government and increased focus on identifying when, and where, to concentrate our conflict prevention efforts.

We all know that promoting stability in fragile countries reduces the threat of national and regional conflict. Conflict and instability affect us by providing fertile ground for terrorist activity and criminal networks, and creating large numbers of refugees. Building stability is not only in the UK’s interests – it is also the right thing to do to help the world’s poorest. Instability and conflict prevent economic development in poverty. Not one low-income fragile state has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.

Through the BSOS, the British Government (HMG) will prioritise those countries where risks are high, our interests are most at stake and where we know we can have an impact. It identifies three key areas where HMG can concentrate efforts in order to make a difference:

  • Early Warning: Improving our ability to anticipate instability and potential triggers for conflict and act on them.
  • Rapid Crisis Prevention and Response: taking fast, appropriate and effective action to prevent a crisis or stop it from escalating.
  • Investing in Upstream Prevention: helping to build strong, legitimate and robust societies in fragile countries.
Since the launch of the BSOS back in the summer, you would be forgiven for asking what exactly we have been doing to put these words into action! Well, the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence have been working across Governmentand with key external stakeholders, including NGOs and international partners, to implement the strategy. Our initial focus has been on:
  • Establishing an improved Early Warning System within government that can inform early action to help prepare for and prevent conflict;
  • Putting in place a new £20m Early Action Facility to speed up support for emerging crises;
  • Introducing multi-year funding for the tri-departmental Conflict Pool to support upstream conflict prevention; and
  • Engaging bilateral and multilateral partners and NGOs, whose support we need to make real progress in reducing the risk of conflict globally.
This last point, about working in partnership with others, is very important. Clearly, HMG cannot do everything, nor should it try. Making the BSOS work will require stronger partnerships across the board. We will not just work with central governments in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Recognising that our engagement can have a significant impact on the dynamic amongst political actors, we intend working also with key groups such as civil society, women’s groups and the private sector. The work of these groups can reach the most vulnerable people, including those whom the government cannot or will not reach.

Here in the UK, the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence have already started a regular dialogue with the Bond Conflict Policy Group of NGOs, to explore how we can work together to implement the BSOS, including through holding conflict-themed workshops together. We are also in constant contact with GAPS UK (Gender Action for Peace and Security) on the central role that women can play in building stability. And of course, last but not least, we have a regular dialogue with Peace Direct, to whom I am grateful for giving me the opportunity to write this post.