[Opinion] The Youth, Peace and Security Agenda: A way forward in the triple nexus debate that goes beyond Youth?

Published: 17th October 2022

In March 2022, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has published his first biennial report on the Youth, Peace, and Security Agenda (YPS). Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, the report highlights the resilience and persistence of young people in general and of young leaders and activists in particular. It is inspiring to read how young people find ways to act on their visions, often creatively and against obstacles, and how they in fact manage to lead change for all of society.

I want to take the Secretary-General’s recent report to reflect on the relevance of the YPS beyond youth, and for the humanitarian-development-peace (HDP) nexus more generally. I will argue that the YPS agenda is a step towards a comprehensive approach to humanitarian assistance, development, and peacebuilding. Focusing on different situations of a certain group of people helps to move beyond defining competencies for different institutions, and renders the peace-after-conflict dichotomy obsolete. 

Youth Peacebuilders and the YPS

The YPS, is based on three Security Council resolutions, the first of which (Resolution 2250 (2015)) was adopted in 2015. These resolutions outline how young people shall be treated and participate in peace processes. 

As an agenda the YPS follows the path of the older Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS) that set off in 2000 with Resolution 1325. Together they are called the ‘inclusive’ agendas. Both focus less on abstract situations but on a group of people, their particular challenges and, more importantly, their contributions to peace. While the WPS tried to turn the focus away from women as victims to women as leaders, the YPS tries to shift the view of youth from troublemakers and ‘spoilers of peace’ to young people as changemakers (vgl. McEvoy-Levy, Troublemakers or Peacemakers (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006)).

What young people do for peace and how they impact their societies has been outlined by Asli Ozcelik Olcay  and her colleagues in a project report on the YPS from 2021. The project report puts young peacebuilders’ activities into different categories: mediation and dialogue initiatives aimed at building social cohesion, working on trauma of violent conflict, capacity building, and, finally, participation in official peace processes. The recent UNOY Peacebuilders annual review paints a similarly diverse picture of activities. Last year 60% of UNOY Peacebuilders (a network of youth and youth-led organisations) worked on peace education, 60% worked on civic action and community building, almost half prioritised gender equality in their approach, and about one third participated actively in peace processes. 

Both documents show that peacebuilding goes beyond signing a peace treaty.  Activities of young peacebuilders often take a comprehensive approach where peace is not only the absence of war but ‘a world free from all forms of violence’ (UNOY-Peacebuilders vision). In parts, this is also reflected in the YPS and how the agenda relates to the humanitarian-development-peace nexus.

The YPS is built upon Resolution 2250, which establishes five pillars of action: 

  • Participation: The resolution calls on states, ‘relevant actors’, and Security Council missions themselves to consider ways to include young people. The latter has increased its consultations with young persons. 
  • Protection: Secondly, the resolution reminds all parties of their obligations under other instruments, in particular the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), and that they include protecting youth.
  • Prevention: The Security Council urges states to create an environment in which young people are valued and can grow. This includes their political activities but also education and employment opportunities, and focuses, in particular, on social cohesion and anti-discrimination.
  • Partnerships: The fourth pillar calls for adequate funding for youth programs and encourages policies that counter violent extremism. Funding and resourcing are also major concerns in the UNOY Peacebuilders report.
  • Disengagement and reintegration:Finally, the resolution requests that needs of youth are considered in disarmament and reintegration. It lists a number of needs that could be relevant which again include employment, labour policies, education, but also support for youth-led organisations and young entrepreneurs.

These five pillars show how broad the YPS is. Its objective is not (only) to give youth a seat at the table when a peace treaty is signed, but recognises that peace building needs more than a treaty – something, the HDP nexus is also aimed at.

The HDP nexus 

In very broad terms, the nexus debate refers to the question if and how humanitarian action, development, and peacebuilding can and should be thought of and implemented together, either by the same actor, or through joint programmes. Historically, humanitarian actors have been tasked with immediate emergency relief in crisis situations according to the humanitarian needs alone. Development refers to strategic programs that aim to address more structural problems ‘in peace time,’ while the peace component usually means all activities that intend to solve an active conflict. Each sector has traditionally worked independently and developed its own institutions, funding structures, programs, etc. 

However, these different systems can lead to inefficiencies. For example, if humanitarian assistance does not address underlying causes for the urgent need, it leaves communities vulnerable to repeated disasters. Moreover, humanitarian actors often leave when the most recent crisis is deemed to be over, while development actors are seldomly present in a region with active conflict, creating a chronology from conflict with short-term relief to post-conflict/peace and long-term aid, often called the continuum view. However, especially in protracted conflicts this dichotomy of conflict and peace often does not reflect the everyday experience of the people and communities, where situations of conflict and peace exist simultaneously. 

The idea of the HDP nexus aims to address these inefficiencies. A comprehensive approach that encompasses the activity of all areas could lead to a more resilient and peaceful community. 

… and the YPS

The YPS pillars of action (outlined above) are relevant to the HDP nexus debate for three reasons. Firstly, the YPS addresses all areas of the triple nexus: it refers to the protective obligations under humanitarian law and how they are applicable to youth; it speaks of development, especially regarding education and employment; and it is of course mainly concerned with peacebuilding. Moreover, the YPS resolutions’ preambulatory clauses often refer back to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG 2030 Agenda is also a key document for the HDP triple nexus, as it prominently spells out the interconnectivity between its different goals including humanitarian assistance, development, and peace.

Secondly, this interconnectivity is also acknowledged by the YPS. The YPS especially emphasizes the relationship between peace and development, and vice versa. Resolution 2250 for example specifically includes social and economic development in youth policies that should be promoted, because these policies would contribute to peacebuilding, which relates to the idea of ‘no sustainable peace without development’.

Finally, the YPS agenda employs a similar comprehensive approach as discussed in the HDP triple nexus debate. Both focus not only on the state level but emphasise the importance of local and regional actors. The YPS addresses states as well as UN bodies, but also other levels of government, as well as local communities. It shows awareness that situations can differ within a country and that people may have different experiences in different communities. While there is no default actor, all of them are responsible to include youth, youth views and perspective, into their decision-making.

The agenda’s main objective is to make peacebuilding more inclusive for young people and thus peace more sustainable. 

From competencies to experiences?

But putting the idea of HDP nexus into practice has proven difficult. Organisations and donors seem reluctant to change their standard practices and argue that while sounding good, there is value in separate approaches, different competencies should be respected, and cooperation should work as an exchange of different areas of expertise (see for example this Q&A with a ICRC policy adviser). Moreover, the different sectors have not only developed separate organisational structures, but also legal instruments seemingly only applicable to one area of the nexus: LOAC for humanitarian action, economic and investment law at the centre of development aid, and the law regarding peacebuilding, often security council resolutions. 

Those traditional instruments of international law and policies that govern individual institutions, as well as regulating their specific area of action in substantive terms, also have an aim of delimitating their area of application. For example, the World Bank’ guidelines determine funding for development project and its Articles of Agreement includes a prohibition of political activity (Art IV, Section 10). On the other hand, LOAC gives humanitarian actors certain tasks and rights to fulfil them, but the humanitarian principle of neutrality also obliges them to stay politically neutral. To put it differently, the focus is on the actor and these rules and guidelines look like a version of: 

Actor A can do ______ and has a right to _____ but cannot do _______. 

I argue that the YPS does not follow this scheme, and for this reason it is an important addition to the nexus debate. The YPS does not describe competencies of one actor that would be ‘responsible for youth issues.’ Instead, it focuses on situations young people can find themselves in during conflict and in working for peace, and calls on all actors to consider youth. Moreover, the challenges of young people that the YPS mentions include both urgent and systematic ones. The agenda seems to recognise that there is neither a hierarchy nor a chronology to humanitarian relief, peace efforts, and development aid, thus moving beyond the conflict/peace dichotomy that was at the base of the distinction between development and humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, the YPS does not lose focus of the conflict setting and the aim to build lasting peace. 

This more personal and thematic, rather than sectoral approach to the HDP nexus should be further considered to bridge the divide between humanitarian action, development, and peace. While I recognise that focusing on sections of the population can seemingly leave gaps for people not recognised under this agenda. In my view the YPS adds to the existing frameworks a shift in focus. It makes us realise that life in protracted conflicts is more complex than an idea that ‘after war comes peace.’ The YPS agenda is a forward-looking instrument that focuses on the people and their experiences over formal competencies. As such it shows a way forward in the nexus debate that is not specific to youth. It shows that rules and guidelines do not need to be restrictive. It shows that by shifting the focus guidelines can also give new impulses that can lead to a more comprehensive, more inclusive approach. Ultimately, the nexus approach should not be fought over competencies, the nexus approach – like the YPS – needs to meet people where they are, even in complicated situations of protracted conflict. 

Going back to the beginning of this blogpost, in his 2022 report on the YPS, the Secretary-General not only outlined successes and challenges on the path to more youth-inclusive peacebuilding. The report also gave recommendations for the Security Council, the UN as a whole, and the member states. I would like to highlight only one of them, the need to train leaders and officials to meaningfully engage with youth, because if the nexus approach wants to meet people – youth, children, and adults – where they are, the ability to engage meaningfully will be needed.

Written by Julia Franziska Chyle

Contact details: f.chyle@gmx.de