Operationalizing Conflict Prevention: The Role of Civil Affairs Officers in Local Conflict Management
Tanja Bernstein and Alischa Kugel
Conflict prevention is often seen as an activity undertaken at the national level with key actors involved residing in capitals or neighboring states. More and more, practitioners are focusing on local conflict dynamics, realizing the importance of addressing these conflicts as part of a wider conflict prevention strategy.
With hundreds of Civil Affairs Officers in the field, the UN has a valuable channel through which it can pursue conflict prevention. As part of the ZIF series on how conflict prevention is being operationalized on the ground, this Policy Briefing explores the role of Civil Affairs Officers in local conflict management and how their activities are essential to a broader conflict prevention strategy.
Why Local Conflict Management Matters
Local-level conflict jeopardizes the wellbeing of communities, can create intercommunal mistrust, generate destabilization and threaten civilians. If left unaddressed, locally-driven conflict – be it simmering, long-standing tensions and grievances or localized manifestations of national-level conflicts – can have serious implications for efforts in securing national-level peace agreements and can threaten existing accords. Unaddressed local grievances can also become a breeding ground and source of strength for extremist groups, bolstering the spread of violent extremism. Early recognition and an adequate response to threats at the local level is thus an important conflict prevention measure.
The 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) recognizes “how conflict often has multiple local manifestations” and underlines the importance that peace operations “understand these local conflict dynamics, by regularly engaging with local populations.”1 Working closely with communities is also the centerpiece of the “field-focused and people-centered” approach which the panel views as one of the four essential shifts that can make peace operations more effective.2 In 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres embraced this notion, stating that in order to effectively prevent conflict, attention needs to be paid to the local level.3