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Strengthening Approaches to Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding at the UN and IFIs: Key Ideas and Recommendations

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All three of the recent UN secretary-general reports on peacebuilding and sustaining peace (2018, 2019, and 2020) take note of the need to enhance collaboration between the UN---not only its development system but also its peace and security and humanitarian arms---with international financial institutions (IFIs), namely the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The UN is not alone in this interest---there is now a unique opportunity following the joint Pathways for Peace report as the World Bank implements its new Fragility, Conflict, and Violence (FCV) strategy, which places partnership front and center, and as the IMF begins to incorporate the findings of a recent internal evaluation ("The IMF in Fragile States," 2018), which argues for greater sensitivity to political dynamics in FCV contexts.

Recent developments around the world point to the need for accelerating and deepening conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts---from the Maghreb to the Horn of Africa, Europe, the Sahel, and Central and South America---rising debt distress, as well as macroeconomic and social pressures are intersecting with fragile political dynamics and creating new risks to sustaining peace efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges by adding unprecedented stress on pre-existing vulnerabilities across the political-socio-economic nexus.

This note provides a set of recommendations, with a view to strengthening strategic and policy collaboration across the three institutions in fragile and conflict prevention situations (including FCV countries, but also partner countries facing difficult political challenges and transitions at all levels of income and capacity). These recommendations are not meant as a panacea: sustaining peace is first and foremost a question of national ownership and political will, with the UN and the IFIs playing a supportive role to national reformers. Moreover, a complex landscape of global actors beyond the UN and the IFIs, including foreign investors, bilateral partners, and regional organizations, increasingly play a critical role in peacebuilding. But strategic complementarity between the UN, World Bank, and IMF is vital not only to amplify the impacts of their respective interventions, but to provide a basis to help countries build the constituencies and alliances necessary to end violence and sustain peace.

The recommendations are based upon a policy dialogue in November 2019 between the three institutions, and a series of four country-focused dialogues in May and June 2020 between UN, World Bank, and IMF representatives. All these meetings were co-convened and supported by the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University and the Center for Global Development (CGD). Additionally, the recommendations have drawn upon background research prepared by CIC, which took stock of the UN-IFI relationship over the past several years, and key opportunities for the relationship moving forward. An early version of this report served as an input into the UN's peacebuilding architecture review. The focus of the analysis and meetings was in all cases strategic, substantive, and practical rather than focused on financing partnerships. While there are situations in which the UN, for example, assists governments in delivering World Bank--financed programs, the strategic potential of the relationships goes far beyond this.