How Making Peace Became an Instrument of War.

Long read


David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

Before going any further, there is an assumption that underpins this think-piece and which needs some elaboration. And that is a commonly shared belief that peace-making and peace-building are (among many) soft power instruments. “Soft power” is a term coined by Joseph Nye in the 1980s, which is “the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion”. Many who have read Nye’s 1990 book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power” will recognise that the notion of “soft power” goes back by about 2400 years to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, making where we’re now at perhaps unsurprising. The evidence of how these particular instruments are part of soft power is seen in the foreign policy of several countries, including my own (Norway), where peace-making and peace-building are integral to the projection of foreign policy influence.

So what are the threads that have led to the entanglement of peace work into war-making?

The first thread, as mentioned, started with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The collapse of the Soviet Union and bipolar order saw a rise in civil conflicts across the world, including the Yugoslav wars (1991-2001), Somali war (1991-today), Georgian civil war (1991-1993), Rwandan civil war (1990-1994), and Chechen wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2009), to mention but a few. Intelligence services and military in the West and former Soviet republics realised that Cold War intelligence methods were inadequate to understand the dynamics of these conflicts. They became increasingly interested in (and wary of) the work of NGOs and universities involved in conflict early warning (part of the peace-building toolbox). Organisations such as Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER) were approached by intelligence agencies and had their activities monitored. There were several direct collaboration initiatives between intelligence and (particularly US) academia, including the State Failure Task Force (later Political Instability Task Force). This work was part of what led to the rise of Open Source Intelligence (the securitised twin of conflict early warning) (OSINT); an important tool in governmental efforts to monitor and analyse civil conflicts and a strategic addition (initially) to traditional intelligence gathering.

The second thread followed 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. While the initial toppling of the Taliban and defeat of Sadam Hussein’s military forces was swift, Allied forces quickly began to lose the peace. “Winning hearts and minds” became an important element in the battle for stability and Allied strategists turned to soft power for answers. A key soft power instrument became Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). First deployed in Afghanistan in 2001 by the United States government, PRTs consist of military officers, diplomats, and reconstruction experts, who work to support reconstruction and stabilise in unstable areas. PRTs (also known as stabilisation teams) were later deployed to Iraq and carried out activities that are typically seen in peace-building and conflict-sensitive area-based development projects. The main difference being that PRT activities are carried out in conjunction with military forces and aligned to military objectives. A close association was formed, therefore, between developmental actors, peace-builders, and humanitarian workers – who were doing PRT work – and perceived (and actual) occupying forces in the eyes of the population and insurgents.

Some of the many challenges that emerge from the alignment of peace work to military objectives surfaced in a small perception survey conducted in 2012 byMona Chalabi, one of our talented ECAS Junior Associates at the time, across several governorates in Iraq. It was focused on ordinary Iraqi’s experiences of stabilisation. Among her findings was a perception by a majority of respondents that the greatest personal security threat during the occupation was posed by Allied forces, not by insurgents. That finding raises the question of how effective you can be in bringing sustainable peace and security to an area when you are seen as the principal threat; doing what some bluntly refer to “peace-building at gunpoint”.  Related to this is a compromise on neutrality and the view of some insurgent groups and governments that organisations involved in peace-building and reconstruction are extensions of hostile soft power, and therefore legitimate military targets.

The third thread emerged with the colour revolutions in former Soviet republics and was strengthened by the Arab Spring. The significance of the Rose Revolution (Georgia, 2003), Orange Revolution (Ukraine, 2005), Pink Revolution (Kyrgyzstan, 2005), and social upheaval in several other former Soviet republics was of course not lost on Russia. Inspired, some will say by the work ofGene Sharpe on non-violent resistance, the colour revolutions prompted Russian military strategists to develop what is known as the Makarov Doctrine (see more about this below), and the Russian state to develop methods to manage “street politics” and tighten control of foreign funded civil society groups in Russia.

The Arab Spring (2010-2012) that came after the colour revolutions, saw the extensive use of social media to plan and execute demonstrations, thwart government counter-measures, and sway public opinion. It is seen by many in intelligence, diplomatic and military circles as the time when OSINT (conflict early warning’s securitised twin mentioned above) shifted from a strategic addition to traditional intelligence, to become an important tactical and operational tool. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen showed that it had become possible to follow and support popular revolt in real time and by remote with tactically relevant information (e.g. how to counter the use of aerial surveillance of gatherings by burning tires). The hard power applications of soft power instruments came sharply into focus.

The final and most recent thread was the execution of Russian hybrid warfare strategy (the Makarov Doctrine) in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. In February 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev signed what was later referred to as the Makarov Doctrine (named after former Chief of the General Staff Army-General Nikolai Makarov) otherwise known as Russia’s hybrid warfare (or non-linear warfare) strategy. Explained by Makarov’s successor, Valery Gerasimov, “a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months or even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.” This, he said, could be done by combining “political, economic, informational, humanitarian”, and other soft power instruments with “the protest potential of the population”. Some will say that the strategy was executed by Russia in Crimea in 2014, leading to the annexation of the peninsula without any major military confrontation, and followed by the destabilisation of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

Whereas Western soft power use in Afghanistan and Iraq was focused on winning the peace after military confrontation, Russian innovation was the deployment of soft power instruments from the very beginning and throughout a military campaign to great effect. And herein lies the fundamental challenge.  These soft power instruments (political, economic, informational, humanitarian) now used for war-making are also at the core of the peace-making and peace-building toolbox.

So there. That is the story, then, of how the securitisation of peace happened, and how making and building of peace is increasingly becoming an instrument of war. For those involved in peace work, the key question is now how we do our work when our methods are also used to wage war?

So what’s the photograph? It is a snapshot of a slide from a presentation we recently gave to Chinese policy makers and think tanks on the securitisation of conflict prevention. It was the conclusion of a UK-China dialogue on conflict prevention, organised by Saferworld, and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. It summarises the seven threads (yes – there are three more) that got making peace entangled with waging war. If you want to learn more about the photograph, the other three threads, or our work, just get in touch.

Why War After Paris is Misguided and Peace Is Becoming (Almost) Impossible

Long read

Photo by Peter Albrecht

Photo by Peter Albrecht

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

France, Lebanon, Iraq, Nigeria and Mali experienced devastating terrorist attacks this month; 130 dead in France, 41 in Beirut, 26 in Bagdad, 9 in Maiduguri, and 19 victims in Bamako. Hollande’s declaration of war on Daesh and extremist groups in the Sahel means an intensification of on-going French military operations, alongside those of the US, UK, their allies in the Middle East, and Russia. Civilian fatalities from these operations are also high (for example, about 2,500 civilian fatalities since Saudi Arabia started its airstrikes and operations in Yemen; the deaths of “thousands of civilians” from Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria) and bound to breed more misery and hatred.

Many peacemakers are calling for restraint after the Paris attacks and for a formulation by our leaders of a vision for Europe that is united in its diversity.Others urge the many communities that make up Europe to instigate and promote a culture of peace from within and actively reach to others across religious, social, and ethnic divides. This is indeed important and must be part of a European (and Lebanese, Iraqi, Malian, Nigerian) peace-making agenda. However, a focus on a culture of peace and bridging divides is not enough and peacemakers may need to engage political leaders more robustly on the on-going military counter-terrorism response. We should also pick up the search mirror and understand how some of the profound ongoing changes in warfare and violent conflict will affect the effectiveness of peace-making at a global level in the years to come.

Let’s start with Hollande’s declaration of war against Daesh. If the aim of this war is to reduce terrorist threats to civilian populations around the world, then consider what such war really entails. These days fatalities from war, of course, are mostly civilian – so de facto, you’re killing civilians to protect civilians, which is nonsensical and shameful. But that aside, it is also counter-productive because destabilised and war-affected countries are easy places to run and grow armed (political, criminal, extremist – you name it) groups. War is destabilising and war-affected countries tend to be unstable for a long time; most countries at war today are so because they were at war in the past. So waging war as we are doing in Syria and other places is not threat-reducing, it is more of a long-term threat-multiplying strategy. There is surprisingly little to be heard on this from (particularly Western) peace-making and peace-building organisations.

Now for two other on-going tectonic shifts that will fundamentally affect the effectiveness of peace-making over the next few years. Both are discussed in greater depth in a report I recently wrote for Saferworld, a forward-thinking peace-building NGO in the United Kingdom.

The first is that the tools of making peace are well on their way to becoming instruments of war. In an article for Russian defence journal VPK, General Valery Gerasimov (Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces) wrote in early 2013 that war and peace are becoming more blurred and“methods of conflict [now involve] the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures”. Unlike NATO and Western efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to “win hearts and minds” and “win the peace” after the invasions there, Russia has successfully deployed the soft power toolbox in Ukraine before troops were deployed and then throughout hostilities. As this approach to warfare gains further traction, the dilemma for peacemakers is critical; how do you make peace in contexts when the tools you typically use to do so are part of a war-making effort?

The second is that the nature of war has changed and we’re now dealing with ‘hybrid conflicts’. In a simple review of 53 countries affected by widespread societal violence (i.e. different levels of violent conflict), I found that 35% (19) of them were affected by three or more forms of (often inter-connected) violent conflict: political, criminalised, extremist, and/or environmental and climate change driven. I define these “hybrid conflicts” in the Saferworld paper as “violent conflicts or situations of widespread violence where elements of grievance, greed, and/or extremism are intertwined – and where climate changes may play a role”. Why is this important? Well, there are significant differences, to oversimplify, between making peace between opposing groups that are mainly motivated by political aims, and doing so between criminal groups driven by financial interest. We certainly are not equipped to do the latter, let alone do so well when group identities and motivations (and conflict issues) are even more mixed up.

What this means is that in the absence of (or willingness to) influence, peacemakers have to prepare for the knock-on effects of military responses to acts of terror, look hard at the successful execution of hybrid warfare strategy and the rise of hybrid conflicts, and re-think how we go about our work.

So what’s the photograph? It is a recent picture of a search mirror (used when poking your head over the compound wall is ill-advised) by one of our good friends, Peter Albrecht, during his time in Garowe (Puntland, Somalia). We like it as it conveys the current posture of peace support operations in hybrid conflict areas and of many of today’s peacemakers in relation to intensified military action in countries affected by religious extremism. Aside from being a great photographer, Peter writes insightful analysis and you can access some of his recent thinking on peace-keeping in Somalia in DIIS policy briefs. If you want to learn more about the photograph or our work, just get in touch with Peter or myself.

Artraker mentioned in a report on Early warning and response to violent conflict

Long read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta), has mentioned the name of Artraker in a report he wrote for a project on conflict prevention. This project  “aims to stimulate debate on this topic and to provide the international community with food for thought about the future of early warning systems”.

As part of a project designed to facilitate dialogue on conflict prevention between China and the UK, Saferworld’s Conflict Prevention Working Group (CPWG) have been examining different approaches to conflict prevention, including upstream conflict prevention, crisis response and early warning.

Within China, experience and knowledge relating to early warning is comparatively undeveloped, yet it is an emerging area in which China is expressing increasing interest. For this reason, the CPWG has begun to explore whether and how early warning systems might act as an entry through which China-UK dialogue and cooperation on conflict prevention could focus.

The author suggests why we need to question the effectiveness of current early warning and response systems, and proposes recommendations for how these vital instruments and mechanisms can be strengthened.

The Afterword, by Dr Xue Lei, addresses the prospect for China-UK cooperation in early warning, and conflict prevention more broadly, and outlines some of the different levels at which China-UK cooperation could take place. It acknowledges that whilst this form of partnership would not be without obstacles, the two countries would benefit from working together towards shared goals for peace and stability.

Click here to read the report.


What I Learnt from Arms Trafficking, Drug Smuggling, and Oil Stealing that Can Help Europe Tackle People Smuggling

Long read

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

A picture from ECAS work on condensate bunkering in the Niger Delta in 2007.

A picture from ECAS work on condensate bunkering in the Niger Delta in 2007.

Some time back, I met with some European Union (EU) officials on efforts to manage the flow of refugees to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. Aside from rescue efforts, the EU has focused much of its attention on the people smugglers that prey on refugees. EU governments have also rushed to fund academia, think tanks, and consultancies such as ours to build an understanding of people smuggling operations in Libya and elsewhere. The thinking is to develop sufficient insight to effectively disrupt the operations of people smugglers; and thus reduce refugee flows to Europe.

There are a few challenges with this approach. An obvious one is the limited attention given to the war-affected environments that enable people smuggling groups to thrive. Attention further down the causal chain, to the factors that drive people to leave their countries of origin for safety in the first place also does not figure much in EU discourse on strategy.

So what’s the solution? Well, here’s another problem. There are no easy solutions. What you would do in an ideal world is to tackle what causes people to embark on the perilous journey to Europe (such as the war in Syria), strengthen peace, law and order (in places like Libya) to restrict the activities of people smugglers, and then actively disrupt what’s left of the people smuggling operations themselves. That’s a big bite off any apple; and the appetite of many European governments is reportedly not that great.

“Enough about the problems”, my esteemed EU colleagues said. “Tell us what you’ve learnt from your work on dealing with drug smuggling, weapons trafficking, and illegal oil bunkering in war-affected countries.” Good question. Dealing with criminal activities and groups in war-affected areas is probably the most complicated work you can do in the business of making peace. But although there’s no one formula or blue print for doing it, there are some basic steps that you must take to understand what you’re dealing with and to inform strategy.

My brilliant colleague, Anton Ivanov, and I collected our thoughts last year, consulted with a few other colleagues who have also worked on stabilising areas affected by criminalised violent conflict (that’s the jargon for areas where there’s war and a lot of organised criminal activity going on), and pulled together a how-to guide on analysis and strategy. It’s an e-book (on Amazon) called Stabilising Areas Affected by Criminalised Violent Conflict: A Guide for Analysis and Strategy, but we’re now making it available for free as a PDF on the ECAS website.

So here’s what I said on what I’ve learnt from drug smuggling, weapons trafficking, and oil stealing, specifically when it comes to developing strategy to fight people smuggling in war-affected places. There are nine analytical steps involved and a few strategy-related ones, too.

Step 1: Is it criminal or is it political? Revisiting how the problem is defined It is often tempting to focus on the ‘crime’ dimensions of conflict when criminal or quasi-criminal/insurgent groups are numerous and active. However, once a problem is defined as ‘crime’, it narrows the scope of actions you can undertake and precludes other ways of understanding the issues. Indeed, in many cases today, it is possible to argue that the problem of ‘criminalised violent conflict’ is not a crime problem, but one with strong political dimensions, where, for example, money from criminal activities is used to fund election campaigns.

Step 2: War necessities: Money, firepower, and people. Where’s the criminal interface? Violent conflicts become possible when there are certain basics in place; the money to finance fighting, a pool of (often under-employed or unemployed young) people who can be recruited to fight, weapons to fight with, and pretexts for the use of violence. We call this the ‘infrastructure of violence’ and it is in this ‘infrastructure’ that you’ll find the links (often in finance for armed groups and trafficking of weapons) between organised crime and violent conflict.

Step 3: Who is who and who is doing what? The relationships between criminal and political armed groups 
 Armed groups cost money – and many political armed groups (‘freedom fighters’, included) will therefore set up income streams related to crime. At the same time, individual combatants often hold multiple armed group memberships – and use their weapons for a range of purposes, including political and criminal ones. Getting to grips with these multiple identities and relationships between groups is tricky but important.

Step 4: It’s not only about greed; there’s grievance too
 Organised criminal activities in conflict areas often have roots in grievances. Understanding these grievances and how an organised criminal activity originally evolved (e.g. piracy in Somalia as a response to over-fishing; crude oil bunkering in Nigeria as part of reclaiming resources) informs and enables more nuanced responses.

Step 5: The nuts and bolts of organised criminal activities 
If you want to diffuse a bomb, you’ve got to know how it’s made. The same goes for organised criminal activities. How you detail the mechanics of an organised criminal activity depends on the sector, as with any business. For the mechanics of drug trafficking, you must understand the types of drugs, production areas and processes, trafficking routes, buyers/markets, involvement of other actors, local-national-international linkages, seizure and counter-activity.

Step 6: It’s a business, run like a business, and governed by many of the same rules It is important to understand the market dynamics associated to the criminal activities carried out by armed groups. Specifically, understanding three elements is critical: demand and supply of the illegal product; 
links between organised criminal activities 
and the black/grey/white economies; and organised criminal activity links and inter-dependencies (e.g. how drugs is related to arms trafficking).

Step 7: Follow the money Following the money involves assessing its flow (from an expenditure/income perspective and how it makes its way through a laundering process to become white), how it grows (value chains, investment in scale and expansion into new areas), and its other usages (politics, weapons, bribery, etc.). This is probably the most difficult step to complete as these are guarded and secretive processes.

Step 8: The Godfather and Godson: Links between organised criminal activities and political and economic elites/ local communities Many organised criminal activities depend on elite and community patronage. Such patronage may take the form of political or business elites “turning a blind eye” or providing active support for activities, and/or communities allowing criminal groups to operate in their midst, either out of fear and/or because there are associated benefits.

Step 9: Face it, it’s actually not all bad This is controversial but true. Organised criminal activities in conflict areas have a range of both positive and negative impacts. Criminal businesses will provide employment, market access, social services, etc. – and often take on the role that government should play. This partly explains why communities sometimes resist law enforcement clamp-downs on criminal syndicates, but it also offers an insight into what one must do to regain community trust.

Then there is strategy Strategy, of course, is the most important part and there are a few must do’s. First, it has to be based on evidence and that evidence must be based on the nine steps outlined above. Second, an integral part of strategy to deal with criminal activities in conflict affected areas is about defining achievable peace-building outcomes. There is no sustainable alternative to peace and stability if the enabling environment for people smuggling is to be tackled. Third, key strategic principles to underpin strategy development and implementation must be drawn. There are a few to consider here. For example, a principle may include “thinking transition”, as sometimes you need to transform a criminal business sector into a legal one (another can of worms, by the way). Principles must also involve clearly defining which groups to engage with on what, when and how. Fourth, decide on what tactical measures have the best chance of making a difference. These, of course, need to be directed by an explicit theory of change and focus on key entry points, such as actions to dismantle the infrastructure of violence, affect the relationships between criminal and political armed groups, address underlying grievances, origins, and behaviours, and so on. And finally, all interventions in violent conflict settings have positive and negative knock-on effects. Projecting these before going ahead with strategy implementation is much needed basic due diligence.

Interested in the full picture and the details? Access the free PDF version of Stabilising Areas Affected by Criminalised Violent Conflict: A Guide for Analysis and Strategy.

So what’s the photograph? It is a picture from our work on condensate bunkering in the Niger Delta in 2007. If you want to learn more about it or our work, just get in touch.


David is the Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner.  He is also the Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).  He has extensive experience in dialogue process design and facilitation, stabilisation strategy development, early warning and risk assessment, and work on armed violence reduction. Prior to joining ECAS, he served for six years as the Director of the Forum for Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER) and held several policy and research positions in the European Commission and universities (Belgium and United Kingdom). As a consultant, David has worked for governments, United Nations agencies, and corporations in the North Caucasus, West and East Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. He is trained in political science (McGill), public health (Louvain and LSHTM), and economics (London School of Economics). Based in Malta, David is fluent in English, French, Norwegian, and Italian; and proficient in Spanish.

10 Ways to Make Creativity Work for Peace

Long read

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

Rozhgar Mustafa. "Five Plastic Women Protestors".  Source:

Rozhgar Mustafa. “Five Plastic Women Protestors”. Source:

The facts are staggering. OECD donor government investment into peace and development stood at USD16.5 billion in the period 2007-2011. During that time, global spending on preparing for or making war was USD10.493 trillion. In practice, for every dollar spent on making and building peace, 635 are spent on doing just the opposite.

So as a peacemaker you’re pretty much outgunned and out-resourced. What do you do? Well a lot of us get jaded. Others do yoga. Others again get angry. Some get involved in politics. Many pursue the development of technical solutions. But just a few get creative.