Swords into ploughshares: IDRC supports a new kind of peace process
Most people think of peace as a state of Nothing Bad Happening, or Nothing Much Happening. Yet if peace is to overtake us and make us the gift of serenity and well-being, it will have to be the state of Something Good Happening. — E. B. White
Too often, the resolution of a war or civil conflict fails to bring real peace. In many disputes, an armistice leads not to “serenity and well-being,” but to institutional fragility, physical insecurity, a lack of justice and reconciliation, financial turmoil, thwarted development, and — all too often — resumption of the armed conflict. Examples of places afflicted by chronic strife include Haiti, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka, and territories in West, Central, and East Africa, in the Middle East, and in the Balkans.
Since its inception, the United Nations (UN) has conducted scores of peacekeeping missions. These operations — usually carried out by soldiers — focus on monitoring former combatants, supervising elections, and overseeing aid distribution. The goal is literally to keep the peace so that wider recovery initiatives can get underway in an atmosphere of security.
Although the UN had been coordinating these recovery initiatives for some time, it began applying the term “peacebuilding” to the wider agenda only in the early 1990s, with the publication of the Secretary-General’s report An Agenda for Peace. And although the UN’s peacekeeping apparatus is well-developed, until recently the UN had lacked the institutional structure needed to build the peace.
Filling the gap
That deficit is now being addressed. A series of high-level UN panels, summits, and reports culminated in the creation, in 2005, of a new intergovernmental advisory body, the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).
The PBC’s goals are reconstruction, institution-building, and sustainable development in countries emerging from conflict. The commission mobilizes the resources of international donors and financial institutions, national governments, and troop-contributing countries, and advises on strategies for recovery. The PBC anchors a “peacebuilding architecture” that includes a dedicated trust fund and a supporting secretariat.
The commission’s substantive work is carried out by committees that deal with issues in specific countries: currently the agenda includes Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic. An Organizational Committee sets the country agenda, coordinates the PBC’s relationship with other bodies, and guides the commission.
IDRC has been supporting research on and for peacebuilding since 1996. The purpose of this meeting was to mobilize research findings that will inform the UN’s peacebuilding work — in other words, to base policy on hard evidence.
The roundtable assembled more than 60 academics, researchers, and experts from the Americas, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. To encourage frank discussion, participants spoke under the Chatham House Rule, that is, in their personal capacity and off the record.
These specialists sought to elaborate the theory and practice of peacebuilding, and to outline a continuing research agenda that involves people from developing countries, especially countries affected by conflict. IDRC’s special contribution was its expertise in coordinating research for development and its global networks of scientists and experts.
Masaru Goto/World Bank
For sustainable peace
Much of the discussion focused on clarifying terminology. For a start, participants defined peacebuilding as strengthening the capacities of a society to deal with conflict non-violently and in a sustained way – that is, in a way that does not lead to violence.
While the debate ranged across complex questions, it kept returning to a cluster of overlapping issues, such as the ambiguous role of the state, the need for local consultation in building peace, and the importance of pursuing “soft” or non-military paths toward social cohesion.
The viability of the state hinges on “legitimacy,” a portion of which is bestowed by the international community. Neighbouring states, for instance, may or may not recognize borders. Some of a state’s authority derives from its license to use violence as a last resort, but violence alone is insufficient to bestow true legitimacy. The give-and-take of continuing negotiation between citizens and state — in other words, a political process — is essential.
According to one speaker, this process must comprise participation, inclusiveness, and responsiveness, all of which create the crucial resilience. “If you communicate with your citizens, and include all the various groups, then your state has the capacity to cope with change.” In times of crisis citizens will be more likely to trust the state than to seek alternative means of support.
The essence of the [peacebuilding] problem is impaired sovereignty. I would be tremendously concerned if the international community found it easy to coordinate outside assistance in a country — it would mean there is very little sovereignty present.
Several participants demanded that the international peacebuilding community engage more thoroughly with researchers and practitioners from countries affected by conflict. All relevant local actors — and not just those who are easy to deal with — need to be involved and strengthened.
One participant maintained that achieving this kind of cohesion, in fact, should be the central objective of any peacebuilding initiative:
The critical elements in peacebuilding are trust, legitimacy, confidence, collaboration, the capacity to work together. These are less tangible issues, but are actually the glue that makes a society work together. Our emphasis is on trying to understand the glue.
Meanwhile, roundtable members agreed that much valuable knowledge about peacebuilding already exists. In addition to new studies, priority should be placed on improving access to the current knowledge base and on linking research and policy more firmly. One proposal introduced by participants was the creation of a new “global consortium” on peacebuilding research. This network would strengthen the capacity for investigation and analysis in war-affected countries while connecting researchers and practitioners to consolidate and apply the lessons of past research.
For more than 60 years, Canadians have taken pride in this country’s contribution to international peacekeeping. Canadian military personnel have promoted stability, provided aid, and helped rebuild infrastructure for communities disrupted by conflict.
Canada drew upon this experience when it became one of the first countries to promote the concept of peacebuilding. Again, Canadians can be proud of this country’s leading role. For instance: