Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Preventing, containing and tackling conflict

The events of the last five years have exposed the future character and consequences of conflict for the global order and Britain’s national security.

While Britain’s international development policy under Labour always had conflict prevention, civilian protection, and humanitarian response at its heart, the experience of conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq has forced a rethinking of strategic and operational approaches.

Against this backdrop, the blurring of lines between different levers of future British international policy will become more apparent. Therefore it is crucial we resist the drive towards development ‘purism’ and ensure that development objectives do not become subservient to narrow diplomatic or security objectives.

The character of conflict

International development challenges sit at the heart of future conflict threats. Britain must therefore retain a firm commitment to tackling these challenges in the global and national interest. The MoD Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre publication, Future Character of Conflict, sets out a number of contextual drivers in conflict:

First, the United Kingdom will retain global interests and clear ties to Europe and north America with the ability to influence through leadership and example. Second, climate change will create increasing instability. Third, demographic shifts and the pressures on resources will lead to significant challenges. Fourth, globalisation of the world economy will present opportunities and insecurities. Fifth, the demand for energy will be a key challenge for developed and developing countries alike. Sixth, failed and failing states will be key crux points for conflict and instability. And finally, ideological movements – based on religion and ethnic identity – will drive and complicate already insecure environments.

In light of such analysis, attempts by rightwing Tories to present development and defence spending as a zero-sum game during the recent passage of the 0.7 per cent aid commitment bill are nonsensical.

Take Yemen. It is one of the Middle East’s poorest countries, has complex ethnic and religious internal affairs, weak governance (allowing thriving Al-Qaida affiliates in ungoverned spaces), and faces demographic pressures coupled with scarce resources. This case illustrates why preventing conflict and focusing resources to help dampen drivers of conflict is crucial. We must therefore remain engaged and potentially willing to act in tackling conflict upstream.

What should our response be?

First, where Britain can work bilaterally or provide multilateral leadership, we should strategically target resources to the regions of greatest risk. This need not come at the expense of needs-based assessments for development assistance, nor slavishly follow security objectives. The reality is that extreme poverty and insecurity go hand in hand with susceptibility to threats. In future we need to ensure that more countries at risk of conflict and instability receive support – not just areas filling the headlines.

Second, Labour must put security, access to justice, and safety – especially for women and girls – at the heart of development policy. People living in developing countries cite these as some of the biggest challenges they face. Where these are not provided by a functioning state, it is too easy to fall prey to alternatives such as the ‘protection’ of Islamic State, the Islamic courts in Somalia or a local warlord. The Department for International Development and the Foreign Office must continue to work together in the fight against rape in warfare, and to ensure support for victims.

Third, we must focus support for economic development and sustainable use of natural resources in areas that will deliver the most jobs. Tackling worklessness must be as clear a drive for Labour internationally as it is domestically, as conflict and insecurity thrive in environments where inequality and worklessness are rife. In analysing where to focus support for economic development, we must be conscious of the additional pressures of climate change and resource scarcity.

Fourth, we need to take a leading role in peace-building and peacekeeping. The willingness to act with hard power when crucial criteria is met should be coupled with an ambition in supporting organisations using soft power to build peace and reconciliation. Britain’s armed forces can also play a crucial role – as demonstrated in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Cyprus – as stabilisation and peacekeeping forces at times of crisis.

Finally, a Labour DfID will need to champion working with other governments to ensure the success of the global arms trade treaty, in which the last Labour government played a crucial role.


It is crucial that departments of a Labour government act in concert, with strong coordination of leadership, funding and strategic analysis.

A Labour government must be absolutely clear that there can be no development without tackling and preventing conflict, and that there can be no hope for global peace and security without Britain playing a crucial role, individually and in concert with others, to tackle the abject poverty, inequality and injustices which fuel conflict and crisis in some of the world’s poorest countries.


Stephen Doughty is member of parliament for Cardiff South and Penarth and an honorary vice-president of LCID. He tweets @SDoughtyMP

This is an edited version of Stephen Doughty’s chapter in the pamphlet he and Glenys Kinnock have edited Beyond Aid: Labour’s ambition for a radical development agenda, which you can read in full, here

The pamphlet is being launched today, from 6.30pm-8pm in the Attlee suite, Portcullis House. To attend the launch please RSVP by clicking here

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Stephen Doughty

is member of parliament for Cardiff South and Penarth and a vice-chair of Progress

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