What is Peace-Building?

The internal battle for Peace! 

The end of the Cold War opened the way for confronting conflicts in a different manner than past peace missions had allowed. During this post Cold War era what seemed to emerge was the increase of civil wars rather than State vs. State wars, these new conflicts raised new challenges for world organizations. In responding to these challenges new peace missions were deployed under the title of Peacebuilding. There were fourteen major Peacebuilding operations deployed between the years of 1989-1999, to territories that had recently experienced civil conflicts, and what these early missions revealed was the international community’s inexperience in dealing with the task of post conflict stabilisation. (Paris, 2004)

Peacebuilding is a relatively young concept to the field of conflict resolution; the concept was first used in 1992 by the then United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali who defined peacebuilding as ‘action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict.‘ (Boutros-Ghali, 1992).

This introduction was not to devalue the importance of peacemaking and peacekeeping but a further understanding that there was a need for a mechanism that would install structures which would secure a durable peace preventing a recurrence of violence in the emerging post/conflict societies. The concept was further reaffirmed in 1999 by Kofi Annan when he stated that the aim of Peacebuilding was “to create the conditions necessary for a sustainable peace in war torn societies and to facilitate a peace that would endure long after the departure of the Peacebuilders”.[1]

Peacebuilding is not confined to one form of action but takes various forms arranging from demilitarization, restructuring, police and judicial reform, economic development, and elections. This range of actions has created a broad concept to peacebuilding, and further developed the practise to include efforts which acknowledge and resolve the root cause for the particular society’s conflict.

During the 1990s peacebuilding operations centred on promoting stable and lasting peace through democratization and marketization.  The Western liberal conception of democracy emerged as the model of government favoured in peacebuilding missions (Paris, 2004), this was unsurprising considering the fact during the post cold war era, communism had always been seen as the threat to the western world, and when the Soviet Union fell the prevailing victor was seen as the western world and its model of liberal democracy.

This view was further reinforced by the 1995 writings by Larry Diamond who stated that countries governed by democratic principles do not go to war with one another, do not ethnically cleanse their own populations, and are less likely to face ethnic insurgency. (Paris, 2004.p.35) Therefore if conflict societies could be turned into a model democratic society they would not return to their past of violence. This position was reaffirmed by Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1996 when he noted the benefits of liberal democracy, stating that the promotion of democracy was essential because “peace, development and democracy are inextricably linked” (cited in Paris, 2004.p.37)

Outside this United Nation indorsed definition what does peacebuilding actually mean?

Charles-Philippe David characterises Peacebuilding as an “elastic concept because it can be broadly or narrowly defined, and there is no agreement on the precise parameters”, he poses three central elements to the concept : 1. the rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation of societies that have suffered the ravages of armed conflict; 2. the creation of the security-related, political and/or socio-economic mechanisms needed to build trust between the parties and prevent the resumption of violence; 3. an external (foreign) intervention (national, multilateral or UN) to help create conditions conducive to peace. But he notes that “beyond these elements, the debates surrounding the meaning of peacebuilding highlight a host of ambiguities.”(David, 1999, p. 27.)

Consequently this ambiguity has lead to questions being raised relating to the implementation of peacebuilding, these include; the type of strategy adopted i.e. stability or developmental, when should these operations be conducted i.e. during the intervention period or post conflict, who should conduct the peacebuilding operations i.e. international community’s or local communities, and the length of such operations i.e. short or long term operations.

These unresolved questions have lead to organisation engaging in peacebuilding operations to construct the peacebuilding concept around their own mandates,  international states themselves also seem to differ on implantation a recent study found that the “UK has focused on the security and military sector, whereas America had until 9/11 focused on democratization and economic recovery, though its experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq have caused it to refocus attention on stabilization” (Barnett, Kim, O’Donnell, & Sitea, 2007, p. 48)

Barnett et al conclude that “notwithstanding a consensus definition emerging at the UN, there continues to be considerable variation in the meaning of peacebuilding because organizations are likely to adopt a meaning of peacebuilding that is consistent with their already existing mandates, worldviews, and organizational interests. The consequence is that while everyone might support the idea of building peace, they will operate with considerable differences of interpretation regarding the meaning and practice of peacebuilding.” (Barnett, Kim, O’Donnell, & Sitea, 2007, p. 53)

As noted earlier the operation of peacebuilding is not isolated to one area of practice but rather it carries out multiple functions in any one given mission, typically this is started with monitoring ceasefires, carrying out the DDR process, creating and training new formed national security forces such as the police and army, which the final operation supervising or conducting national elections in or to deliver a new government.


In practice

The earliest missions followed this model of peacebuilding under a short timeframe; their main aim was to conduct post conflict elections, which were normally carried out within the first two years after the violence was ended. It was believed if elections were conducted these post conflicted societies would then be on their way to a lasting peace based on democracy and functioning free-market economics (Paris & Sisk, 2009).

However this position has been highly criticised, it has been argued that too much focus was placed on getting to elections and the operations themselves were to contained by the short time frame they had been given.  Little attention is paid to long term tasks such as the institutional structures that would be vital for any democratic governance and market reforms that would facilitate durable peace to grow (Paris, 2004).

Some critics have observed that these missions have the tendency to rely on quick fixes, (Paris & Sisk, 2009). For these critics the high importance given to conducting post conflict elections in a prime example of this quick fix approach.  Case studies have demonstrated focusing too much emphasis on elections may in fact have negative consequences for example, in Angola the rush to conduct elections failed to take into account the fact that the disarmament process was still incomplete, consequently during the 1992 national elections, rebels were able to resume the civil war when they realised that they had lost the election.  Similarly in Rwanda, the planned 1995 elections heightened fears within the dominant Hutu faction of an impending electoral defeat, precipitating the genocide of the Tutsis minority.

Also, in Bosnia, the 1996 and 1998 elections although held successful enshrined ethnic divisions instead of closing them (David, 1999). The negative effect such elections have had on these societies call into question democratisation which is the underpinning of peacebuilding. David observes while “Democratic competition is both common and healthy in countries with a long-established tradition of civic participation. The practice is, however, alien to countries with no democratic tradition. Democracy means accepting political competition as the way to contest and win, by legitimate means, the status of government representing the majority of the people. While political conflict is normal within established democracies, it is difficult to manage in countries where democratic institutions need to be built from scratch”. (David, 1999 P.33.)

The solution that has been posed for this dilemma is the idea of power-sharing, but of course this would involve a longer time frame for missions because setting up a power-sharing structure may involve more resources because they may be need to further mediate between warring parties than simply allowing one party to govern. But this may be something the international community is unwilling to engage in.

Zakaria argues on the other hand that these elections should not be the sole criterion for the existence of democracy. “By conducting these elections; we are witnessing a creation of false democracies, which in fact have no respect for the real foundations of constitutional liberalism, notably the rule of law and individual freedoms” while observing “Constitutional liberalism has led to democracy, democracy does not seem to bring constitutional liberalism”, without liberalism, ‘the introduction of democracy in divided societies has actually fomented nationalism, ethnic conflict, and even war[2]. Therefore peacebuilding missions should promote a process of conversion to and education in constitutional liberalism rather than elections. (David,1999)

It may be necessary therefore to consideration should there actually be a rethink into imposing this type model onto societies that don’t in fact have any history of operating to this type of model.  Afghanistan may be an example of imposing a westernised model onto a country that functions on tribalism not on a one central government. It could be argued therefore that imposing this model onto countries foreign to it is just a form of structural violence which defeats the purposes of peacebuilding.

Securing a democracy is not the only practise area to come under criticism looking at the case of Kosovo Bush has labelled the efforts of the UNMIK, NATO, and their NGQ partners as “classic relief operation” stating that while aid was disbursed there was little to show for their efforts because basis infrastructures were lacking (Bush, 2004). He therefore argues reconstruction should have been built around civil society opposed to the humanitarian commodities and services.

This line of argument has weight because if the aim of peacebuilding is to build and support structures that will solidify peace, providing aid supplies does not constitute building or supporting structures, because structures are not even being put in place, instead you have simply created a environment of dependence. But the question arises how much weight do you give civil society and local ownership to countries that are coming out of years of conflict? This question can be controversial because if you impose on societies right for self-determination you begin to revert to some sort of colonial system enforcing a view that the western world is better than the societies we are looking to help.

Since 9/11  it has been observed that  “there is a real danger that the character of international interventions are moving further away from serious consideration of local ownership issues, but also away from the interests of sustainable peace building in favour of protecting the security interests of the intervening actors.” (Donais, 2009.p.22.)

Considering the extensive problems that post-conflict societies emerge with it has been suggested that we may need to scale down our expectations of peacebuilding and act with circumspection, which would involve reforming the democratization process to be a more long term objective rather than a sort term one, Paris is an advocate for a more “gradual process even if this means elections to be held back until the time is right; the economic philosophy of ‘shock therapy’, which Increases the risk of mass impoverishment and civil strife, must be reconsidered; civilian and military activities must be more effectively coordinated in order to avoid excessive confusion and decentralization; more realistic timeframes up to nine years should be set for peacebuilding missions”. (cited in David, 1999)


Limitations and International Political cooperation

While these are valid recommendations, for a more effective peace mission, we need to address that there are political limitations on what is achievable for peacebuilding .

If we look at the United Nations we can see that its ability to deliver and be fully effective is determined by the leading world powers, therefore its ability to build institutions for peace and democracy in divided societies is inherently limited by structural and political constraints.

“Fundamentally, the ability of the United Nations to achieve its objectives in peace building depends on; the political will of member states; the interests and incentives of the major actors on the ground, and the structure and capacity of local institutions, all of which are beyond the UNs control. This means that he United Nations cannot create the conditions for its own success; these conditions must already exist or evolve. UN success thus depends in part on peace builders’ ability to read the politics of a particular conflict and to recognize where and when the necessary conditions for peace building obtain or can be fostered and where and when they do not exist”. (Bertarm, 1995)

The Cold war period was a testament to the fact that without political will the United Nations is powerless to conduct peacebuilding missions. This position is still true to date; in a speech Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated “Peacebuilding is a complex and multifaceted undertaking. It requires significant amounts of human, financial and institutional resources, but the most important tool we can deploy is the political commitment of national and international actors,”[3] this acknowledgment comes from the fact that many of the UNs powerful member states lack the interest or will to volunteer support for peacebuilding operations, because it involves providing funds and troops. Bertram notes that often, “the secretary general will eventually secure grudging commitments of money and troops but only under terms and conditions guaranteed to undermine the operation’s chances of success.

Contributing states will impose tight limits on the amount of funds or troops they provide or on the length of time their personnel are available even as ambitious and unrealistic expectations are imposed on peace builders. Thus the United Nations dove into Cambodia and Somalia with Utopian mandates to restore order and democracy in 2 years or less”. (Bertram,1995.p.402.)

The reason for these political constraints may come down to the fact member states will have their own foreign policies that they need to protect and most importantly member states need to balance public option with direct involvement in these missions, so while there is public support for a cause there is more likely to be strong membership involvement in any given mission taking aside any national interest the state may have.

Bush points out there are “contradictions between peacebuilding rhetoric and standard international practices… so how, for example, can we take seriously the peacebuilding rhetoric of the permanent members of the UN Security Council when they are also the world’s largest arms trafficker? Or how can we take seriously the US’s concern for Palestinians in the fall of 2000, when it sat mute as the Israeli State used its helicopter gunships, tanks, and full military force against Palestinian children, women and men?” (Bush, 2004)

The real answer is we cant, but at the same time the harsh reality of the situation is that we operate in a world order; countries that have power want to keep that power, so they will not engage in acts that are likely to imbalance that power. The sale of arms is big business and with that comes power. Similarly we know that America has always had problems openly criticising the state of Israel, due in part to a sense of not wanting to isolate the American Jewish community or their vote.

It may be ironic that peacebuilding includes addressing the root causes of conflicts, if these causes are going to be fully addressed  does the past  colonial system also need to be addressed and faced by those countries who imposed it? Arguable the colonial systems that only really came to an end in the last fifty years could be seen as the catalyst for many of the past and present conflicts. In the process of being ruled for so long traditional methods of governing and qualities for good governance where lost under these colonial systems, then when these systems came to an end and independence was returned there was a rush for power, when power was obtained it was found that the easiest way of maintaining it was through fear and oppression.

The states of African may be a prime example of this, with states in such a fragile and hostile environment it was easy for conflicts to spill over e.g. Rwanda to Congo. But these questions may be areas western countries do not wanted to face , the western world wants to portray the picture as the leading social model, and forget the past they gave it much fortune. This may mean that root causes are never fully addressed which will always leave instability in those certain effected countries.


What do we mean by peace?

While in theory peacebuilding is logically grounded, in practise numerous questions arise. Peace building aims to create a solidified peace that will prevent a relapse in conflict. But what do we mean by peace? We may need to address what sort of peace we are aiming to achieve in these post conflict societies. Are we simply looking for the absence of violence or do we aim for a positive peace where there can be future stability and development? These questions are difficult to answer considering the challenges that post-conflict society’s face this is further made complicated by the political realities that may actual hamper any true peacebuilding mission.

If the success of peacebuilding is measured against how well peace has been institutionalized, the picture is very mixed. Nearly 50 percent of all countries receiving assistance slide back into conflict within five years, and 72 percent of peacebuilding operations leave in place authoritarian regimes. If, however, success is measured in terms of the institutionalization of the concept of peacebuilding, then it appears to be a resounding success. (Barnett, Hunjoon, O’Donnell, and Sitea, 2007, p36)

But maybe peacebuilding is aiming to high, as Paris and Sisk have suggested” there have been explanations for why peacebuilding operations have fallen far short of this ambitious goal of creating the good society. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that peacebuilding are expected to achieve the impossible dream, attempting to engineer in years what took centuries for western European states and doing so under very unfavourable conditions.” (Paris & Sisk, 2009) Therefore how can we expect post-conflict societies to emerge as truly peaceful societies when it took ourselves a long time to even get there?


[3] 16 April 2010 –Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Key to successful peacebuilding efforts is political will, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=34393&Cr=peacebuilding&Cr1

[ 2]  Zakaria. F. ‘The Rise of Illiberal Democracy’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 76, November-  December 1997, pp. 28, 35. Cited in David, 1999. P34-35

[1] Kofi Annan 1999 cited in, Paris, 2004 p.2.


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Bertram.E, 1995, Reinventing Governments: The Promise and Perils of United Nations Peace Building. Journal of Conflict Resolution 1995; 39; 387

Charles T. Call Susan E. Cook : On Democratization and Peacebuilding, Global Governance 9 (2003), 233-246

Charles-Philippe David, 1999, Does Peacebuilding Build Peace?: Liberal (Mis)steps in the Peace Process, Security Dialogue 1999; 30; 25

Donais.T, 2009, Empowerment or Imposition? Dilemmas of Local Ownership in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Processes, Peace & Change, Vol. 34, No. 1, January 2009, 2009 Peace History Society and Peace and Justice Studies Association

Doyle . The John W. Holmes Lecture: Building Peace Global Governance 13 (2007), 1–15

Lund-Michael, (2001) “A Toolbox for Responding to Conflicts and Building Peace” from Reychler.L. Paffenholz.T.(eds), Peacebuilding a field guide pp.16-20, Boulder London: Lynne Reinner

Roger A. Coate and Donald J. Puchala, Global Policies and the United Nations System: A Current Assessment, Journal of Peace Research 1990; 27; 127



Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peace-keeping Document A/47/277 – S/241111, 17 June 1992 (New York: Department of Public Information, United Nations) 1992. http://www.un.org/Docs/SG/agpeace.html

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Supplement to An Agenda for Peace: Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations Document A/50/60 – S/1995/1, 3 January 1995 (New York: Department of Public Information, United Nations) 1995. http://www.un.org/Docs/SG/agsupp.html


Bush, K. (2004). The Commodification, Compartmentalization and Militarization of Peacebuilding” from Keating.T. Kniglit.W.A. (eds). Building sustainable peace , 23-46.

Doyle, M. W. (2007). The John W. Holmes Lecture: Building Peace Global. Governance 13 , 1-15.

Jeong, H. W. (2002). Approaches to Peacebuilding. New Yok: Palgrave macmillian.

Lederach, J. P., & Jenner, J. M. (2002). A Handbook of International Peacebuilding, Into The Eye of The Storm. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Michael Barnett, Hunjoon Kim, Madalene O’Donnell, and Laura Sitea. (2007). Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name? Global Governance 13 , 35–58.

Paris, R. (2004) At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Paris, R., & Sisk, T. D. (2009). The Dilemmas of Statebuilding, Confronting the contradictions of postwar peace operations. London : Routledge .

Woodhouse, T., & Ramsbotham, O. (2000). Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution. London: Frank Cass.

Woodhouse, T., Bruce, R., & Dando, M. (1998). Peacekeeping and Peacemaking Towards Effective Intervention in Post-Cold War Conflicts. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.

One thought on “What is Peace-Building?

  1. Pingback: Why Peacebuilding is important to me | Unwrapping Conflict

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