Navigating Instability: Collaborative Approaches, Complex Environment

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Navigating Instability: Collaborative Approaches, Complex Environment
By: Sarah Minot

The world faces an unprecedented convergence of instability. Conflict is spreading in countries including Libya, Yemen, and Ukraine; instability in Iraq and Afghanistan remains and has increased or worsened; 11 million people were uprooted by violence last year, creating the largest refugee crisis since World War II; weak governance and inadequate territorial control has given rise to militant strongholds by violent radical groups including ISIS and Boko Haram; and extreme poverty is concentrated increasingly in states that are experiencing or have experienced conflict. These dynamics are particularly troubling because the implemented solutions are not working. Traditional tools such as military stabilization operations have poor track records in stemming violence and contributing to long-term stability. The most promising approach is to develop holistic, multisector strategies.

Solutions to instability are even harder than the problem. The international community has struggled with developing and implementing policies and tools that strengthen institutions and structures in a holistic manner. Instead of creating solutions together, instability has been addressed on a sector-by-sector basis: the security sector focuses on counterterrorism while the development sector addresses poverty, and the humanitarian community focuses on refugee crises. Lack of cross-sector communication and collaboration limits the ability to address the core causes of instability. The key to developing communication is establishing genuine common ground and identifying areas of mutual interest. Sectors must learn to see instability through different perspectives and recognize that they will be more effective and create sustainable solutions if they work together.

A recent example of the benefits of cross-sector collaboration lies at the nexus of the health and security communities following the Ebola crisis. Both communities faced a destabilizing crisis that could not be resolved through independent actions and was spreading at an unprecedented rate. The crisis served as a wake-up call, and both communities learned that they were unprepared. The recognition of the failure to coordinate effectively, not only in times of crisis but also in prevention, contributed to the creation of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which is designed to be a formal mechanism to tackle health and security concerns in a collaborative, holistic manner. The GHSA is a relatively new undertaking, but it demonstrates the promise of convening resources and partners from a diversity of backgrounds, countries, and organizations to achieve a common goal.

Common ground exists among the goals of the security, development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding communities; they all want to achieve stability. In the past they have advocated for different solutions and prioritizations to get to stability, but they are failing. Holistic collaboration will not automatically create stability, but consistent and diverse collaboration creates a forum where new ideas and tools can be developed and coordinated. Holistic approaches and genuine collaboration is the next step in working toward addressing the complexity of the current environment.

Sarah Minot is the program coordinator and research associate for the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) at CSIS. Other posts by .


  • September 7, 2015, 12:13 am  Reply

    Interesting piece that acknowledges some big challenges.
    However, I think it is still worth grappling with the traditional approach of striving for neutrality in delivery of humanitarian Aid. As the, since ended, practice of the CIA using immunization efforts in Pakistan shows, sometimes combining two efforts helps one but undercuts another.

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