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May 27, 2010 | Commentary

The World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) for 2011 is currently under preparation with the working title “Conflict, security and development” (but let’s hope the final name will be more inspired). This is the first time since the creation of WDR in 1978 that security and conflict have been given such a central place in the Bank’s strategy.

Conflict is nothing close to a mainstream theme at the World Bank. This is not to say that issues of violence escape the Bank’s focus, and actually the Fragile and Conflict-Affected Group has been instrumental in creating awareness. The Bank remains attached to its role as a development financer, and governance at large is a tricky issue for a multilateral organization when discussing aid plans with partner governments. With the exception of the European Commission, security sector officials are much more willing to discuss reform plans with bilateral donors with whom they have a long lasting history of cooperation.

Interestingly, leadership lies at heart of the report and is repeatedly presented as both a factor of stabilization and threat to political inclusiveness. The report will appear at the same time as the Australian government and AusAID are promoting the very same theme as a key driver of change for conflict situations through the Leadership Program: Developmental Leaders, Elites and Coalitions (LPDLEC).

The drafting of the report is supervised by Sarah Cliffe and Nigel Roberts. Cliffe is notable for being the former co-chair of the OECD-DAC’s Fragile States Group. She is no stranger to promoting the special needs of fragile states against more conventional poverty reduction policies, and should provide the right impulse to mainstream security in Bank operations in these countries. Roberts provides a long field experience in countries such as Nepal, Ethiopia, the West Bank and Gaza, which should complement the case for more security-development linkage in conflict-affected and fragile settings.

What does it all mean for security-related aid policies in specific countries? Take the Afghanistan case as an example. World Bank support to the country is currently of US$751.6 million, for a total of US$1.93 billion since April 2002. Under this budget, police and justice expenses chronically suffer from “financing gaps,” and the report’s will to “explore potential policy shifts to facilitate institutional, technical and financial support in these sectors” means a new focus should emerge on the right sequencing of SSR and DDR and on what support aid can bring.

The Bank manages a US$2 billion Multi-Donor Trust Fund that currently excludes security expenses, even those eligible to official development assistance (ODA) such as SSR. But according to the Concept Note for the WDR 2011, a combination of early security sector reform and DDR is key to securing development results. The report will provide “comparative analysis of the relationship between security expenditures and the risk of violence” which will of course include Afghanistan.  With the report claiming to achieve better coordination with other multilateral institutions such as the UN system on security issues in fragile states, it is hard to imagine this Fund being kept our of ODA-eligible security expenses for much longer.

A case study dedicated to “Afghanistan and its neighbors” promises to examine the ways international actors have achieved coordination (and failures to do so) and the integration of traditional and informal norms into peacebuilding and statebuilding processes. At the limits of ODA, the ways to integrate state-building and famed counter-insurgency strategies will be examined.  Let’s be clear: Afghanistan will not receive a specific treatment in the report, but the fact that it is being cited as a case study in almost all planned sections (especially “government under fire” and “traditional and informal institutions”) means a lot to experts awaiting a more serious linkage between security and development from aid agencies in the country.


Nicolas Bouchet is a PhD candidate at Sciences Po Bordeaux’s SPIRIT research centre, working on fragile states strategies in development cooperation. He has worked as a consultant for the OECD-DAC and the Agence française de développement and is co-editor of Dynamiques internationales, an electronic journal of International relations (www.dynamiques-internationales.com)