UK PolicyPreventing conflict in fragile states

The UK is committed to stabilising ‘fragile states’ – poor countries with weak legal and police systems where violence is common – by using our power and influence. Conflict prevention is a central feature of the UK’s National Security Strategy, which explains how the government protects the UK and its overseas interests.

When conflict breaks out, the costs to the countries involved and the international community can be enormous. Lives are lost, people displaced, trade links cut, and organised crime groups or terrorists can spread. It is far more cost-effective to invest in ‘upstream prevention’ – tackling the causes of conflict to stop them spreading and escalating – than to pay the costs of responding to violent conflict.


Conflict prevention is a central feature of the UK’s National Security Strategy which explains how the government protects the UK and its overseas interests.

In 2011, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and Ministry of Defence (MOD) developed a Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS).

The strategy explains how we will decide what actions to take, and the types of actions we will consider.

Since the strategy was published in July 2011, the FCO, DFID and MOD have been working together and with non-governmental organisations and international partners to:

  • improve our ability to anticipate instability and potential triggers for conflict, for example by establishing an early action fund of £60 million over 3 years, to help us react more swiftly to crises and early warning signs
  • improve our ability to take fast, appropriate and effective action to prevent a crisis or stop it spreading or escalating
  • invest in upstream prevention by helping to build strong, legitimate institutions and stable societies in fragile countries so that they are capable of managing tensions

The government contributes military and financial resources to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU. We do this to endorse multilateral security efforts (those involving countries acting together) and to help maintain the UK’s alliances.

We have committed extra money to activities aimed at preventing conflict, including:

  • increasing by 2014/15 the proportion of UK Official Development Assistance that is spent in countries at risk of or affected by conflict
  • increasing the Conflict Pool programme resources to a total of £1.125 billion in the period to 2015
  • expanding the Arab Partnership initiative to £110 million between 2011 and 2015, to provide support for political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa

The FCO, DFID and the MOD also work together to manage the Peacekeeping Budget, which pays for the government’s legal commitments to UN, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and EUpeacekeeping missions.

Sexual violence in conflict is widespread. It is most often carried out by one group against another with the deliberate intention of destroying, degrading, humiliating and scaring political opponents or entire ethnic and religious groups. Recognising the need for governments to do more and the particular leading role that the UK could play, on 29 May 2012 the Foreign Secretary launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.

We will use the UK’s Presidency of the G8 in 2013 to seek new commitments from G8 partners to strengthen international efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. We hope to broaden extend support for these commitments beyond the G8 over time.

Revenue generated by the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains a major financial source for armed groups and is a significant contributing factor to conflict.DFID and the FCO are working closely with the Government of the DRC and international partners (including the World Bank, EU and UN) to improve governance and management of the DRC minerals sector.


The Strategic Defence Review (SDR), published in 2010, takes a joint approach across government and internationally to identify risks to our national security and treat the causes, rather than having to deal with the consequences.

The National Security Strategy, published in 2010, brings together theSDR’s approach. This approach recognises that when we fail to prevent conflict and are obliged to intervene militarily, it costs far more.

Multinational co-operation has been at the centre of Britain’s conventional defence since the North Atlantic Alliance was founded in 1949, and it will continue to be in the 21st Century. The Multinational Defence Cooperation policy paper, published in 2001, explains why we extended that co-operation and examines its benefits and risks.

Military diplomacy became part of the UK’s foreign and security policy goals. The Defence Diplomacy paper set out how military diplomacy meets the varied activities undertaken by the MOD to dispel hostility, to build and maintain trust, and to assist in the development of democratically accountable armed forces, making a significant contribution to conflict prevention and resolution.

This has been superseded by the International Defence Engagement Strategy, a cross-government, MOD-led strategy that brings together all the instruments of national power in a coordinated and coherent manner. This strategy ensures that our combined efforts safeguard our security, extend our influence and build our prosperity.

The government’s European defence policy is about improving Europe’s ability to react in times of crisis.The European Defence policy paper explained that although the main aim of the government – along with the United States and our other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and European partners – is the fight against terrorism, there are many other potential causes of crises.

DRC’s mineral wealth is enormous. It is estimated that the country contains 80% of the world’s columbite-tantalite (coltan) reserves, 49% of its cobalt reserves, and 10% of its copper reserves. Gold and diamond deposits remain underexplored, but are estimated to be vast. Conflict minerals are mined in conditions of armed conflict where human rights abuses take place.

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