Instruments for Sustaining Peace: The Contribution of Strategic Foresight

Policy Brief

Instruments for Sustaining Peace: The Contribution of Strategic Foresight

By Ms Emily Munro, Head of Strategic Anticipation and Senior Advisor, Research & Policy Advice

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General recently observed that “We have war reporters, but there are no peace reporters”.1 Building and sustaining peace is a long-term endeavour and does not create the headlines that war does. However, it is not only the attention of the media, but also that of governments, regional and international organisations, and others that have difficulty focusing on the long-term efforts required to build and sustain peace, and instead focus on short-term crises associated with conflict. This perpetuates a cycle whereby the issues that are growing in importance are not tackled early enough and become the crisis of the day. How can this cycle be broken? The concept of sustaining peace provides one answer.2

This concept, as the UN proposed in 2016, emphasises “a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace, particularly through the prevention of conflict and addressing its root causes”.3 It recognises that the stages or phases of any conflict are not clearly defined categories, and therefore attempts to break down barriers between artificially defined phases. It also includes explicit direction for approaches that are integrated across all sectors, and emphasises early action based firstly on the input of a wide group of stakeholders from across the society of a conflict-affected country and secondly on strong local, regional and international partnerships.4 The implementation of the sustaining peace concept is ongoing.5

Another component of the answer to the question of how to break the cycle referred to above comes from strategic foresight. Strategic foresight is the “structured and explicit exploration of multiple futures in order to inform decision-making”.6 It thus includes both a strategic thinking dimension, but also one of action and agency. Strategic foresight has a long history of increasing application in the public and private sectors across a variety of topics.7 While rapid technological change and the growing impact of climate change were increasing the prominence and value of strategic foresight approaches prior to 2020, more recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have led to an increasing interest in this approach, including in the peace and security domain.

How strategic foresight can support efforts to build lasting peace received strong support from the UN Secretary-General in his report entitled Our Common Agenda, when he recommended that the New Agenda for Peace (which is due to be published in the form of a UN Secretary-General Policy Brief in June 2023) focuses in part on “Strengthening international foresight and capacities to identify and adapt to new peace and security risks”.8 Initiatives by Mexico in November 2021 and Japan in January 2023 in the UN Security Council (UNSC) under their respective presidencies of that body have provided opportunities for debate on themes related to sustaining peace.9

A further debate scheduled by Switzerland during its UNSC presidency in May 2023 will renew attention on the issue in the lead-up to the Summit of the Future in 2024 and at a strategic time before the New Agenda for Peace is due. At least one permanent member of the UNSC, the United Kingdom (UK), explicitly encouraged the UN to strengthen its “foresight capabilities to anticipate risks and inform our responses” in the context of the prevention of conflict and the implementation of nationally owned peacebuilding processes during the 26 January 2023 UNSC debate.10

An important backdrop to these recent efforts is the overarching commitment made in the preamble of the UN Charter “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”,11 and renewed emphasis on what today’s policymakers owe future generations.12 This is an issue that Switzerland reminded the UNSC of in the 26 January 2023 debate, stating “the New Agenda for Peace must serve as leverage for building sustainable peace. In these dark times, we owe it to all generations, everywhere in the world, to join our efforts and seize this opportunity”.13

This Policy Brief will address the gaps that exist in the steps we need to take today to build long-term sustainable peace. At its heart it will be a discussion of the instruments that link insights on how the future may evolve with decision-making around building peaceful societies. It will be argued that these foresight instruments need to be both routine and agile, and that they should be embedded in institutions involved in building sustainable peace.

Emily Munro heads the work on strategic anticipation and contributes to research & policy advice at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP). In this role Emily leads projects and contributes to courses, in particular in the area of strategic foresight and international security. She works with governments and organisations around the world to foster more forward-thinking approaches to peace and security. She is the series editor of the GCSP’s In Focus publication. She also has experience on initiatives seeking to foster dialogue on emerging issues, in particular in Asia and the Middle East. She is a term facilitator and module responsible in the eight-month Leadership in International Security Course (LISC) and directs an annual short course on strategic foresight. She was the Course Director of the two-month New Issues in Security Course from 2017 to 2019. Emily has been with the GCSP since 2003, in functions related to partnership development and governance issues, training and academic affairs, and courses and projects on peacebuilding and new issues in security. She has previous professional experience at the International Organization for Migration (Geneva), the Global Forum for Health Research (Geneva) and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC, Canada). Emily Munro holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Political Science from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Emily is a Canadian and Swiss citizen and she speaks English (native language) and French.

Learn more about Emily Munro

Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this publication are the author’s/authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of the GCSP or the members of its Foundation Council. The GCSP is not responsible for the accuracy of the information.