At the heart of much of the unrest in the world today, and its associated threats to peace and security, are long-standing failings of governance. ISIS rises on the rubble of failed states, drawing into its orbit individuals disenfranchised by a globalization that has not served their interests. Corruption blights communities or entire political systems, causing populations to rise up in anger. Illicit financial flows rob countries of desperately needed resources to support education, health and other means of developing societies, exacerbating poverty and reinforcing social strife, in an amount conservatively estimated at $50 billion annually for Africa alone. Development and humanitarian interventions fall short of global needs and ambitions, often as a result of being poorly governed.
The relationship between peace and security, on the one hand, and governance, on the other, has been understood since at least Kant. Governance is a critical precursor to peace and security. Societies that feel governed by the rule of law, and not the rule of men, generally do not go to war against one another. Failed states, by contrast, do not have the institutions, processes and political systems that foster good governance. As such, they are often breeding grounds for war and insecurity, lacking the structures and the glue that facilitate the peaceful resolution of differences.
Efforts to secure the conditions where peace and security can take hold, therefore, require a range of actions, many of which tackle failings of governance first and foremost.
Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Agenda recognizes the relationship between the two. It sets forth a vision that is both ambitious in its striving toward peace and security and good governance, while reflecting the interlinked challenges, complexities, sensitivities and ambiguities that are interwoven among them.
While Goal 16 goes a long way toward establishing a strong vision, the challenge now is to ensure that the international community collectively, and individual governments specifically, develop a response or series of responses that leverage the full set of tools at their disposal, and deploy them at the right levels and to the right degree.
There will need to be bold, imaginative, focused leadership, both to take on the challenge of poor governance and to project a vision of good governance. This will entail a steady and persistent series of messages from world leaders on the critical need to be responsive to calls to reform government at all levels and in all corners of the world. The current groundswell for better governance, from places as diverse as Brazil, Malaysia, India and Guatemala, must be addressed, and exemplars of good governance, where they can be found, should be celebrated.
Among the international community, the selection of the next Secretary-General presents an all-too-rare opportunity to consider both the governance of the multilateral system itself, as well as the contribution that that system can and should make to global governance. A high-level panel on governance in the multilateral system likely should be convened to rally the focused consideration that progress on this issue requires.
There will need to be significant political will and the expenditure of political capital at all levels of the governance “value” chain. This will bring to bear political elements across the spectrum of global development, including national, regional and local governments; the private sector; civil society; and communities and citizens to take on the challenges of poor governance from a multiplicity of directions. Solutions should target judicial system administration, constitutional structures, local and national government systems, internal security agencies, among others, and lessons learned and best practices from the various constituencies should be shared.
There will need to be “traditional” development interventions that aid agencies such as USAID and actors like the World Bank and non-governmental organizations have long engaged in, supplemented by contributions from the private sector and reinforced by government.
This array of efforts at each of the political, diplomatic and development levels is necessary to tackle the governance failings that have limited progress on peace and security. In a world of globalization, where the volume of information and the level of transparency is increasing exponentially, the activities of poor governance, as well as the unjust desserts it produces, are there for all to see. Until the governance challenge is addressed, conditions of peace and security will not prevail.
About the authors: Lance Croffoot-Suede is head of, and Ulysses Smith is a senior attorney in, Linklaters’ International Governance and Development Practices, which advises the private, public and not-for-profit sectors on all manner of governance issues, including addressing challenges relating to bribery, corruption, fraud and economic sanctions regimes.