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Center for Global Development (CGD)

Greater than the sum of its parts?
Assessing "Whole of Government" approaches to fragile states1

Stewart Patrick and Kaysie Brown2

Center for Global Development (CGD)

June 2007

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Fragile states—countries defined by poverty,weak governance and often violent conflict—represent a major development challenge for today’s global aid community and a significant threat to global security. This CGD Brief offers policy recommendations for donors seeking to promote development, good governance and security in such countries by integrating the resources and skills of multiple agencies—in short, adopting a "whole of government" approach. It draws on a comparative study of how seven governments3 are beginning to align their development, diplomatic and defense interventions in engaging weak states. The good news is that the donor community understands that efforts to bolster, reform or reconstruct fragile states must simultaneously address issues of security, governance, the rule of law, social welfare and economic growth. The bad news is that integrated approaches to fragile states remain at best a work in progress.

Key recommendations:

  • START TALKING: Donor governments must commit to honest internal dialogue about how to prioritize the multiple goals and objectives involved in working in fragile states.
  • THINK STRATEGICALLY: Donors should develop unified strategies toward each fragile state they engage, and this should drive a comprehensive assistance strategy.
  • INSTITUTIONS MATTER: Donors should focus on institution-building in fragile states, and devote a greater share of their foreign aid to fragile states.
  • GET SERIOUS: Senior leaders must make a clear public commitment to whole of government strategies and provide explicit guidance to relevant agencies.
  • MONEY TALKS: Donors should cautiously embrace pooled funding arrangements and standing contingency funds.
  • EVALUATE: Donors must develop new ways to evaluate the impact of their interventions in fragile states.
Where Security and Development Meet: The Need for Policy Coherence in Fragile States

The international development community has come to recognize that standard development principles and practice are often of limited use in a subset of poorly-performing developing countries that lack either the political commitment or the capacity to deliver basic services and pro-poor policies. Such countries tend to suffer from low or negative levels of development and poor governance and (in many cases) are mired in violent conflict. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) estimates that nearly one-third of aid recipients live in fragile states. Yet, such states often receive less aid than better-performing developing countries, reinforcing their marginalization.

National security officials in donor capitals have also come to regard weak states as potential dangers to international peace and security, apt to generate a range of negative “spillover” effects in the form of transnational terrorism, organized crime, weapons proliferation, global pandemics, environmental degradation, and the spread of violent conflict. The attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, demonstrated the grievous damage terrorists operating from poor countries can inflict on even the world’s most powerful state. Additionally, the difficulties in stabilizing and reconstructing wartorn countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, have led donor governments to explore integrated approaches to postconflict operations.

The challenges of fragile states imply not only doing things differently but also doing different things. Effective donor responses may mean doing things outside traditional development expertise and not covered under official development assistance (ODA)-eligible activities. This may involve collaboration with non-development ministries with greater expertise and resources (as well as a mandate) to address these tasks, such as the disarmament of former combatants, police deployments, transitional justice, and peace support activities.

Aware that building effective states in the developing world requires addressing a slew of development, governance and security concerns that are beyond the competence of any single agency, the donor community in April 2005 endorsed a “whole of government” approach to fragile states. To this end, several donors have drafted government- or agency-wide fragile state strategies, created dedicated units to integrate interdepartmental prevention or reconstruction efforts, and experimented with new funding arrangements to promote interdepartmental collaboration. Among them are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. What progress have they made in such “whole of government” efforts in weak environments?

  1. This brief summarizes the major findings and recommendations of a new book by Stewart Patrick and Kaysie Brown, Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? Assessing “Whole of Government” Approaches to Fragile States (New York: International Peace Academy, 2007).
  2. Stewart Patrick is a research fellow and Kaysie Brown a program associate at CGD.
  3. Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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