Peacebuilding can be defined in many different ways. Scholars, policymakers, and field practitioners have developed different conceptions of peacebuilding, the timeline it is associated with, as well as the main priorities and tasks it entails. The historical development of the notion helps explain why this is the case.
The term "peacebuilding" originated in the field of peace studies more than thirty years ago. In 1975 Johan Galtung coined the term in his pioneering work "Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding." In this article, he posited that "peace has a structure different from, perhaps over and above, peacekeeping and ad hoc peacemaking... The mechanisms that peace is based on should be built into the structure and be present as a reservoir for the system itself to draw up... More specifically, structures must be found that remove causes of wars and offer alternatives to war in situations where wars might occur."1 These observations constitute the intellectual antecedents of today's notion of peacebuilding: an endeavor aiming to create sustainable peace by addressing the "root causes" of violent conflict and eliciting indigenous capacities for peaceful management and resolution of conflict.
John Paul Lederach, another key scholar in the field of peace studies, has called for expanding our understanding of peacebuilding. Peacebuilding, according to him, "is more than post-accord reconstruction" and "is understood as a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships. The term thus involves a wide range of activities that both precede and follow formal peace accords. Metaphorically, peace is seen not merely as a stage in time or a condition. It is a dynamic social construct."2 Lederach speaks of conflict transformation as a holistic and multi-faceted approach to managing violent conflict in all its phases. The term signifies an ongoing process of change from negative to positive relations, behavior, attitudes and structures.3 The integrated approach to peacebuilding must take into account the complex and multi-dimensional nature of the human experience and rely on broad social participation. "A sustainable transformative approach suggests that the key lies in the relationship of the involved parties, with all that the term encompasses at the psychological, spiritual, social, economic, political and military levels."4 Cultivating an "infrastructure for peacebuilding" means that "we are not merely interested in 'ending' something that is not desired. We are oriented toward the building of relationships that in their totality form new patterns, processes, and structures."5
Other scholars have been conducting research along similar lines since the 1980s. Meanwhile, throughout the world, well-known international NGOs, as well as local NGOs and community groups were working to help individuals, communities, and societies transform the way they perceive and manage conflicts - a core component of peacebuilding. But since the "peacebuilding industry" had not yet developed, these analyses and field work were considered peripheral to international affairs, much like projects in human rights, civil society, and rural development that were undertaken by UN and bilateral development agencies. Today each of these streams can be considered key areas that comprise overall efforts needed to ensure a sustainable peace.
In practice, greater awareness of, and reliance upon, peacebuilding approaches have much to do with the changing perceptions of decision makers and analysts about contemporary wars. These differ fundamentally from the images of "classical" wars and decades of bipolar order. Whereas some scholars have shown the similarities between so-called "old" and "new" civil wars,6 part of the literature has been focusing on the changing nature of violent conflicts. Today's wars are sometimes portrayed as being more violent and protracted, more destructive of social, political, and economic infrastructure, resulting in more civilian than combatant deaths. Research teams involved in extensive field research and epidemiological surveys have shown that such analyses were more often based on perceptions than on verified empirical data.7 The publication of the first Human Security Report, in 2005, has also fueled the polemic. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the authors have documented a dramatic, but largely unknown, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuse over the past decade. They have also argued that, since the end of the Korean War, in 1953, there has been a clear but uneven decline in battle-deaths around the world.8 The mere existence of such debates illustrate a greater awareness of the human cost of wars as well as of their multiple impacts on societies and states, a diagnosis at the basis of peacebuilding efforts.
The recent developments in the use of the peacebuilding concept are also related to the notion of "human security." Though a relatively new concept, human security is now widely used to describe the complex of interrelated threats associated with civil war, genocide and the displacement of populations. All proponents of human security agree that its primary goal is the protection of individuals. But consensus breaks down over what threats individuals should be protected from. Proponents of the "narrow" concept of human security, which underpins the Human Security Report, focus on violent threats to individuals, while recognizing that these threats are strongly associated with poverty, lack of state capacity and various forms of socio-economic and political inequity.9 Proponents of the "broad" concept of human security articulated in the UN Development Program's 1994, Human Development Report, and the Commission on Human Security's 2003 report, Human Security Now, argue that the threat agenda should be broadened to include hunger, disease and natural disasters because these kill far more people than war, genocide and terrorism combined. Although still subject to lively debate within the research community, the two approaches to human security are complementary. Together, they result in a redefinition of traditional understandings of security and peace to one of a positive state of being and feeling "secure." This redefinition has informed the evolution of peacebuilding thinking. While continuing to work closely with governments and their traditional "top-down" approach, many bilateral and multilateral cooperation agencies have also developed a complementary "bottom-up" policy, or a "human security" program, aiming at ensuring the protection and empowerment of individuals at all stages.10
"The mechanisms that peace is based on should be built into the structure and be present as a reservoir for the system itself to draw up... More specifically, structures must be found that remove causes of wars and offer alternatives to war in situations where wars might occur."
Peacebuilding "is understood as a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships. The term thus involves a wide range of activities that both precede and follow formal peace accords. Metaphorically, peace is seen not merely as a stage in time or a condition. It is a dynamic social construct."
[...]"The process of building peace must rely on and operate within a framework and a time frame defined by sustainable transformation... a sustainable transformative approach suggests that the key lies in the relationship of the involved parties, with all that the term encompasses at the psychological, spiritual, social, economic, political and military levels."
[...]"Cultivating an "infrastructure for peacebuilding" means that "we are not merely interested in 'ending' something that is not desired. We are oriented toward the building of relationships that in their totality form new patterns, processes, and structures."
John Paul Lederach
Since its creation, the United Nations has played a vital role in helping to reduce the level of conflict in various regions of the world by mediating peace agreements and assisting in their implementation. But it was not until then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's landmark An Agenda for Peace was published in 1992, that "post-conflict peacebuilding" officially entered the UN language. The concept was linked to preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping. It was defined as "an action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict." Assisting in peacebuilding in its differing contexts meant "rebuilding the institutions and infrastructures of nations torn by civil war and strife; and building bonds of peaceful mutual benefit among nations formerly at war; and in the largest sense, to address the deepest causes of conflict." The concept was expanded to address all conflict phases in the Supplement to An Agenda for Peace, published in 1995, which put even more emphasis on creating structures for the institutionalization of peace. That same year, the Secretary General established a UN inter-departmental Task Force to identify peacebuilding activities that could be undertaken by UN agencies, described in An Inventory of Post-Conflict Peace-Building Activities published in 1996. Meanwhile, the successive publications of An Agenda for Development (1994), An Agenda for Democratization (1996) as well as the UNDP Report on Human Security (1994) have contributed to a greater interaction between issues traditionally considered to fall under the security agenda and issues related to development, democratization and human rights.
The 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (also known as the Brahimi Report) refined the definition of peacebuilding as "activities undertaken on the far side of conflict to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war." The Panel also offered a middle ground to the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) political emphasis and UNDP developmental emphasis of the concept by stating that "effective peacebuilding is, in effect, a hybrid of political and development activities targeted at the sources of conflict" (para 44).
In his 2003 Review of Technical Cooperation in the United Nations, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for an action plan to "identify the ways in which different parts of the [UN] system might properly work together to devise country specific peace-building strategies." The establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Support Office was recommended in the 2004 report of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change: A More Secure World. The idea was further elaborated in the Secretary-General's report In Larger Freedom in May 2005, and was endorsed by heads of state at the World Summit in September 2005, which was incorporated in the World Summit Outcome document.
These developments culminated in identical resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly in 2005, establishing the Peacebuilding Commission, Peacebuilding Fund and Peacebuilding Support Office. The Peacebuilding Commission's purpose has been explained as follows: "Countries emerging from conflict face a unique set of challenges and unless they are identified and effectively addressed, these countries face a high risk of relapsing into violence. The Commission was therefore created to serve as a dedicated institutional mechanism to address these special needs and to assist these countries in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development."11 In other words, the Peacebuilding Commission is designed to develop integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding, which entails better coordination and collaboration among various UN agencies, international donors, national governments and civil society organizations. A central goal of the Peacebuilding Commission is to ensure donor mobilization in support of sustained engagements in post-conflict countries.
There are two areas of lingering confusion about peacebuilding among practitioners and scholars alike. First, there is a tendency, especially within the UN system, to conflate peacebuilding with UN complex peace operations (a much expanded and multi-functional version of the traditional peacekeeping missions). According to the Supplement to an Agenda for Peace, peace operations refer to instances "when a comprehensive settlement has been negotiated, with long-term political, economic and social provisions to address the root causes of the conflict, and verification of its implementation is entrusted to a multifunctional peace-keeping operation (para 49)." In this respect, UN peace operations have been engaged in different aspects of peacebuilding, especially in terms of their military and political dimensions. International peacebuilding, however, is not limited to these operations or to UN action at large, but instead encompasses a much wider array of activities and actors.
Second, some scholars and organizations, including the UN Peacebuilding Commission12, tend to see peacebuilding as applicable only to post-conflict situations. As prominent scholars explain, "peacebuilding underpins the work of peacemaking and peacekeeping by addressing structural issues and the long-term relationships between conflictants."13 Peacebuilding, according to this view, occurs at the end of a conflict's "life cycle," when armed hostilities cease, a negotiated agreement is in force, and international peacekeepers are present. So far, the Peacebuilding Commission has adopted this "post-conflict" lens of peacebuilding. But, as Boutros Boutros-Ghali had envisioned, "peacebuilding, whether preventive or post-conflict, [may be] undertaken in relation to a potential or past conflict without any peacekeeping operation being deployed." In short, what he suggested and most existing research has been confirming is that peacebuilding should not be limited to post-conflict situations, nor should it be confined to averting a relapse into conflict. Such a restrictive conceptualization may, paradoxically, undermine the prospects for sustainable peace.
Recent developments show that peacebuilding reflection is evolving in the UN itself. For instance, the UN Peacekeeping Capstone Doctrine prepared by DPKO aims to set out the guiding principles and core objectives of United Nations peacekeeping operations as well the main factors contributing to their success in the field. The document, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines, approved on January 18, 2008, outlines its own definition of peacebuilding: "Peace-building involves a range of measures aimed at reducing the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict, by strengthening national capacities for conflict management, and laying the foundations for sustainable peace. It is a complex, long-term process aimed at creating the necessary conditions for positive and sustainable peace by addressing the deep rooted structural causes of violent conflict in a comprehensive manner. Peace-building measures address core issues that affect the functioning of society and the state. In this regard, they seek to enhance the capacity of the State to effectively and legitimately carry out its core functions. Peace-building is undertaken by an array of UN and non-UN actors, including the UN Agencies, Funds and Programs, the International Financial Institutions and NGOs."14
In May 2007, the UN Secretary-General's Policy Committee agreed on the following conceptual basis for peacebuilding to inform UN practice: "Peacebuilding involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development. Peacebuilding strategies must be coherent and tailored to specific needs of the country concerned, based on national ownership, and should comprise a carefully prioritized, sequenced, and therefore relatively narrow set of activities aimed at achieving the above objectives."
"Peacebuilding is a process that facilitates the establishment of durable peace and tries to prevent the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political as well as economic transformation."
An Agenda for Peace, 1992
"For countries emerging from conflict, peace-building offers the chance to establish new institutions, social, political and judicial, that can give impetus to development. [...] Pulling up the roots of conflict goes beyond immediate post-conflict requirements and the repair of war-torn societies. The underlying conditions that led to conflict must be addressed. As the causes of conflict are varied, so must be the means of addressing them. Peace-building means fostering a culture of peace. Land reform, water-sharing schemes, common economic enterprise zones, joint tourism projects and cultural exchanges can make a major difference. Restoring employment growth will be a strong inducement to the young to abandon the vocation of war."
"Activities undertaken on the far side of conflict to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war."
Brahimi Report, 2000
"The Peacebuilding Commission will marshal resources at the disposal of the international community to advise and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict recovery, focusing attention on reconstruction, institution-building and sustainable development, in countries emerging from conflict.
The Commission will bring together the UN's broad capacities and experience in conflict prevention, mediation, peacekeeping, respect for human rights, the rule of law, humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and long-term development."
"The Peacebuilding Commission embodies all aspects of the UN's work: peace, development and human rights. By integrating them into one coherent approach you are helping to close gaps in the international response to countries emerging from conflict."
Secretary General discourse at the UN PBC Retreat, January 18, 2008
Many actors working on peacebuilding, especially within civil society, adopt a more expansive definition and approach to peacebuilding, aiming at supporting the transformation of the very fabric of the society and, to a certain extent, of the international system. They argue that making conflict prevention - that is, averting a relapse into armed conflict - the central goal of peacebuilding runs the risk of shortchanging the establishment of sustainable peace for the sake of short-term stability. Peacebuilding, in this view, goes beyond peacekeeping and deals with such issues as equitable socio-economic development, accountable and transparent governance, impartial justice and true security for all citizens. Peacebuilding, in short, is a process that extends far beyond the immediate post-conflict situation. Peace has to be built at large.
Multilateral organizations outside the UN system as well as individual donors tend to use different terms that are related but are not necessarily synonymous with peacebuilding. "[Civilian] crisis management," "conflict prevention and management," "rehabilitation and reconstruction," "post-conflict recovery," "stabilization"... are among the terms most often used by the different stakeholders to refer to peacebuilding. As Barnett et al. note, "even more confusing, some use the same term, peacebuilding, in slightly different ways. [...] Organizations are likely to adopt a meaning of peacebuilding that is consistent with their already existing mandates, worldviews, and organizational interests."15
Today, more and more international actors (states, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, research communities), are investing time, effort, and resources in what has become known collectively as "international peacebuilding," or what has been called the "peacebuilding bandwagon" effect.16 However, this rhetorical interest in peacebuilding has yet to translate into significant material commitment or effective coordination.
[From Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, vol. 13, #1. Copyright © 2007 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher.]
1Johan Galtung, "Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding," in Peace, War and Defense: Essays in Peace Research, Vol. II, ed. Johan Galtung (Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers, 1976), 297-298.