Challenges for the development-security nexus in EU foreign policy

Challenges for the development-security nexus in EU foreign policy

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The development-security nexus has become a central concept for the European Union (EU) and other international actors. Key EU documents recognise the importance of the link between these two main domains of EU external affairs. This is part of a wider framework of the so-called triple nexus between humanitarian aid, development and security, which the European Commission aims to enhance to better respond to protracted crises.

Against this backdrop, the EU would need to focus on human security for a fully integrated approach that is meaningfully tied to development. This is not a new insight, but the EU seems to have forgotten about it in its planning for the next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and in particular the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

Even though the importance of the link between development and security is broadly accepted, the nexus is arguably one of the most controversial issues when it comes to budget allocations and in operational terms. Policymakers for instance disagree on whether development resources can be used for security-related objectives in developing countries or whether aid should be spent exclusively on poverty reduction.

For some stakeholders and policymakers, purely security-related actions belong to the sphere of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – according to them, it is not because an action may have a positive impact on development that it has to be financed with development resources. A clear distinction between security and development could avoid misplacement of development resources. Other decision makers are in favour of a strong component of security in developing countries, embedded in development.

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) and other EU stakeholders often present the consolidated idea that development is not possible without security. Yet, the difference between ‘security-relevant’ and ‘security target’ should be underlined. Security-relevant means that development activities are implemented in a conflict-affected area, where security arrangements and a conflict-sensitive approach are necessary (working in conflict). Security target refers to scenarios where peace and security are the direct target of the activity (working on conflict). Clearly, many development measures are security-relevant, from education to governance, but it does not mean that the work is directly intended to influence security dynamics.

Notably, the existing legal framework excludes the use of EU budgetary resources to finance assistance to the armed forces of partner countries. The Capacity Building in Support of Security and Development (CBSD) policy has tried to address this funding gap and enable the financing of training, equipment and infrastructure to military actors. CBSD has been criticised by different organisations because they think it contributes to the securitisation of EU development policy. In fact, the use of the Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) for funding CBSD activities sets a precedent for using development instruments within the EU’s budget for financing assistance to military actors.

In the new MFF, the same debate will take place for the NDICI and the European Peace Facility (EPF), the extra-budgetary fund that can finance security means, including weapons. In several declarations, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hinted at the idea that if the EU wants to play a global role, it should use hard power (like military force) and not only soft power. Yet, analysts suggest that providing security sector assistance in fragile contexts often does not contribute to stability in the long term. For instance, a country like Mali could theoretically be eligible for these funds (it already received training, vehicles and equipment), but the coup d’état in August this year clearly showed its instability and bad governance.

The uncertainties surrounding the Mali case illustrate the importance of the EU’s plans to regulate and monitor the EPF, which still haven’t adequately taken shape. As the EU does not only work with partner countries who are ‘champions of democracy’, in contexts where the legitimacy of security actors is questioned, there is a risk that the EU finds itself as an (indirect) actor in the national politics of third countries.

This is another reason why a focus on broader human security is key for the new EPF. A focus on state security might achieve stability from the EU’s perspective, but might have a negative impact locally. For instance, it could lead to less democratic space for local populations or empower some political actors over others. Human security should also be combined with significant consultation and work with local populations and civil society organisations.

State security is evidently a key component of human security. Yet, the EU has limited resources and it should consider how to invest in the long run. Currently, peacebuilding and conflict prevention remain underfinanced. Priority should be given to conflict prevention and civilian means (like mediation and peacebuilding) without looking for shortcuts providing lethal weapons to countries that do not have solid, transparent and accountable institutions.

Furthermore, based on a long list of lessons learned, CBSD and other similar tools are often counterproductive and have unintentional effects. Another example from the Sahel shows how a significant part of the armed vehicles shipped by the EU to the G5 Sahel countries has fallen into the hands of irregular groups in only a few months’ time. Things like this can negatively affect the EU’s global role and reputation. In fine-tuning the new instruments, from the NDICI to the EPF, the EU should reconsider its priorities and try to adopt a local-driven perspective on sustainable development and long-term peace.


Author: Bernardo Venturi, IAI

The author is grateful for the feedback and support provided by Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw, ECDPM and Mark Furness, DIE and Nina Thijssen, ECDPM.

Image courtesy of Tim Mossholder via Unsplash.

The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.


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