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  • Calum Craig & Lewis Brooks

Tackling conflict under the new UK Integrated Security Fund

By Calum Craig and Lewis Brooks


In April the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) became the UK Integrated Security Fund (UKISF). The change intends to combine the CSSF’s priorities with new areas such as cyber and maritime security. However, the narrower national security framing risks downgrading the UK’s efforts to tackle the broader but vital challenge of addressing violent conflicts around the world. While integration across Whitehall is always welcome, the UK needs to go further to review and renew its peace and conflict capabilities and partnerships and prepare the UK for responding to the conflicts of the future – starting with the UKISF.

The CSSF/UKISF transition comes at a time when the United Nations estimates two billion people live in places affected by conflict. Conflicts are becoming more protracted, entrenched and complex: AI, drones, cyber security threats and environmental destruction are changing the nature of conflict, while external states are increasingly intervening militarily in conflicts and China, the Gulf states and other players are playing an increasing role in mediating ceasefires and other political agreements. A humanitarian crisis is ongoing in Gaza and we have just passed the one year anniversary of horrendous fighting in Sudan. All while the war in Ukraine approaches its third summer of fighting. It is clear a shift in our approach to addressing emerging trends in peace and conflict is needed now more than ever.

The global economic impact of conflict and violence is USD$14.4 trillion. Conflict prevention is significantly cheaper than any military or humanitarian response. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, at adequate funding levels every dollar (or pound) spent on prevention saves 16 in the cost of conflict. The  CSSF and its 2001 predecessor, the Conflict Pool, were cross-departmental funds that prioritised preventing and reducing conflicts and security threats. The CSSF has been vital in helping remove landmines in Sri Lanka, supporting women leaders in the Philippines, and encouraging cross-border dialogues to de-escalate tensions between rival states.

Despite this good work, under the new fund, the CSSF’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) priority has been amalgamated under conflict and instability – a potential downgrade. The framing of the fund and the overall priority areas are more closely tied to UK national security: cyber, emerging and disruptive technology; maritime security, state threats, non-state threats, conflict and instability, and economic deterrence.

There is a danger that the identity of the fund as working to prevent conflict and promote stability could be overshadowed by these new priorities – as necessary as these are. The Joint Committee on National Security Strategy (JCNSS) stated that ‘there is a risk that this identity will be diluted amongst other more disparate policy aims, and that domestic political pressures will take priority’

The transition from the CSSF to the UKISF also needs to ensure that previous wins by the CSSF are not undone. The CSSF has made good efforts to respond to the 2018 Independent Commission for Aid Impact's (ICAI) criticism of the fund. Drawing in part on the development sector, the fund improved in areas where ICAI had been particularly critical, including on transparency, monitoring and learning, and gender sensitivity.

The downgrading of conflict in favour of UK national security framing could create other challenges. For those UKISF partners working in the humanitarian space, the association with UK national security may stand at odds with the principles of neutrality and impartiality – vital principles as they walk the difficult path between all sides in a conflict to deliver lifesaving assistance. 

For those partners working to build peace in their own countries, there are reasons to be wary of UK national security-tied funding, given the scepticism to the UK in their societies. As the Government's own stabilisation guidance makes clear, ‘unless we are humble in the way in which we provide this support, we are unlikely to be effective’. A fund based on respectful partnership with allies to address shared conflict challenges sends a different international message from a fund framed predominantly in terms of threats to UK security.

None of these criticisms of the changes in the fund are to say that the CSSF didn't need to change – it does. Conflict is changing and so should the UK's approach. This applies not only to whatever guise a conflict and security fund takes – but rather there must be a review of all of the UK's capabilities.

In this era of geopolitical competition, the UK will need to have multiple mechanisms to de-escalate the growing involvement of competing external states in intra-state conflicts and the possibility of interstate conflict. Part of avoiding a major war must be learning from the kinds of dialogue and confidence-building measures that have stopped wars in the past.

The UK will also need to think about how it listens to and supports civil society partners from conflict-affected states – from the Sudanese protestors and Afghan women's leaders we see on TV, to journalists, human rights activists, de-miners and mediators, all striving to build peace and make people’s lives safer. And addressing the ways in which technology, environmental destruction and climate change drives conflict will be essential. A future government is well placed to review and renew the progress of UK conflict capabilities — including the place of WPS and conflict in the UK’s Integrated Security Fund.




Calum Craig, Policy and Advocacy Manager at The HALO Trust. 

Lewis Brooks, UK Policy and Advocacy Advisor at Saferworld.



References and Sources

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