The UK Government’s Approach to Stabilisation (2014)

FCO, MOD, DFID and Stabilisation Unit


This document outlines the UK Government’s Approach to Stabilisation. It explains why and when Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) engages in Stabilisation and sets out how the stabilisation approach links to other tools and approaches which HMG uses in situations of violent conflict.

This document supports the strategic and policy framework comprising HMG’s National Security Strategy (2010), Strategic Defence and Security Review (2010) and the Building Stability Overseas Strategy (2011). It draws on evidence and lessons from experience in a range of situations over the past ten years, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and South Sudan.

Key findings:

There are four key characteristics of the UK’s approach to stabilisation:

  • Stabilisation action will be planned and implemented with an overtly political objective in mind, ideally with a means of identifying success and a process of transition to longer-term recovery. All activities in fragile and conflict affected states need to have a clear political purpose and be underpinned by a shared understanding of how the planned activity is expected to deliver a shift away from the current instability. Key areas of investigation include identifying; who are the power holders among the elites, state and population? What are their interests and how do they relate to each other? What are the different forms of violence used and to what end?
  • The stabilisation approach is an integrated, civilian-led approach which unifies effort across HMG. Even when there are military-led and implemented tasks in stabilisation (e.g. carrying out patrols to bolster local security), their application should occur in the context of an operationally civilian-led, politically engaged, stabilisation approach. Civilian actors will lead in other areas of security, as well as justice, governance and development activities, all of which may be applied within the stabilisation approach.
  • The stabilisation approach is both flexible and targeted. It can be applied in a state or part of a state which is affected by violent political conflict; or in a conflict-affected region that undermines local and / or regional stability. The actual activities are tailored to the specific context and the application of justice activities, for example, may be appropriate in one conflict but not in another.
  • Stabilisation will be transitory but cannot afford to be short-term in outlook or objectives. It must be planned and implemented with reference to other parallel or longer-term engagement.
  • The mutually reinforcing components for stabilisation are:

  • Protect political actors, the political system and the population. The UK’s stabilisation approach explicitly enables the deployment of external military force to manage existing violence and deter further outbreaks. An external military presence can benefit a weak political authority by reducing the capacity of other groups to challenge it through violent means. In other contexts, for example if the UN judges that a state is in breach of its international commitments or poses a threat to wider peace and security, an external military presence can be deployed to reduce the threats posed by unaccountable state security forces, whose actions can undermine a political settlement and the security of the population.
  • Promote, consolidate and strengthen political processes. In stabilisation contexts a political settlement will be lacking, nascent or rudimentary; considerable efforts will be required to foster or develop it. The political arena is likely to be militarised and characterised by significant fragmentation and factionalisation and an appreciation of how political deals will affect security is critical because institutions and communities are likely to be polarised and aligned with armed groups. In such contexts, stabilisation can support interim political arrangements and lay the foundations for a fuller and more enduring political settlement to take shape. If a settlement has already been negotiated, stabilisation can support political processes to consolidate a nascent political settlement.
  • Prepare for longer-term recovery. It will not be possible to foster strong state-society relations or to address the underlying causes of conflict which can be done through longer-term peacebuilding and statebuilding. However, the stabilisation approach needs to be based from the outset on an understanding of the conflict dynamics and their impacts on women, men, boys and girls, and incorporate planning for transition to these longer-term approaches.
  • Source

    FCO, MOD, DFID and Stabilisation Unit (2014). The UK Government’s Approach to Stabilisation (2014). London: Stabilisation Unit.