Key Debates & Implementation Challenges

Last Updated: April 13, 2009

Key debates

There are a number of key debates concerning security and public order in peacebuilding process that have unfolded over the years. This section highlights the key aspects:

Reinforcing weak states versus promoting democratic polities

An intractable tension of objectives exists in peacebuilding activities that relate to promoting a liberal, reformed state versus a strong effective state. From a security perspective, state weakness has become an increasing problem for international political order, some practitioners have argued for building viable political institutions to improve crisis management in the developing world.1 The state weakness discourse and policies are oriented toward western-style Weberian and Westphalian state where the state has the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within a given territory. Yet this form of statehood barely exists beyond developed Western countries, many post-colonial states can only be conceptualized and measured in distance from this "ideal" type of statehood. The problem of weak states gained major prominence when it was framed in the context of the security discourse of major developed states, namely with particular focus on transnational terrorism. The focus of peacebuilding to promote a strong capable state is very much along security dimensions: the rebuilding of security agencies, western-style courts, police and penal systems as a priority field of external assistance. Yet, this approach ignores the fact that peacebuilding is not merely a technical exercise restricted to only enhancing capacities and effectiveness of state institution. It is also an inherently controversial political endeavor that is likely to involve dilemmas when the existing distributions of power are threatened.

At the same time, there has been a preference for liberal peacebuilding with the promotion of democracy as the long-term goal of state reconstruction. Yet, this liberal vision of an ideal form of life and the conviction in a liberal state as the only legitimate model of political organization remains problematic, if not contradictory to the liberal goals of tolerance and pluralism. Moreover, not only are the conditions for the initiation of a democratic process unfavorable after intrastate conflict, the opening up of political space aggravates these conditions. The process of democratization and peacebuilding may clash, leading to negative effects on each other.2

Operationalizing human security

Increasingly peacebuilding interventions have been justified by making reference to the concept of human security. The duality of the human security agenda is that on one hand the state can be viewed as potentially threatening to individuals or groups, and on the other hand, peacebuilding interventions are aimed at strengthening the state in order to create strong and legitimate polities. Yet, attempts to operationalize human security as a policy tool have led to debates over whether it is possible to prioritize the threats. Some argue that the broad definition of human security creates a long list of threats that make it virtually impossible to prioritize which threat to act on. Others feel that a narrow definition of human security limits the possibility of addressing threats that are not military related.3

Fragmentation of the UN and effectiveness of post-conflict responses

Reflecting on the uneven and ad hoc performance of the UN in the area of peacebuilding, a number of seminal studies were issued between 1997 and 2007 which advocated for a doctrinal shift in thinking and a need for integrated missions.4 However, the fragmentation of the UN system and the complexity of supporting war to peace transitions has presented a considerable barrier to integration. Susanna Campbell and Anja Kaspersen have argued that, "In contrast to the linear planning frameworks developed for multidimensional peace operations, transitions from war to peace are highly dynamic, complex endeavors with uncertain outcomes. Most peace operations aim to contribute to the peaceful development of a liberal democratic state featuring rule of law, free markets and liberal democracy. This is no simple or evident task."5 Indeed, with respect to integration and security sector reform, Heiner Hnggi and Vincenza Scherrer have noted that, "This is exactly where SSR support delivered by integrated missions exhibits considerable deficiencies. All four case studies show that integrated missions prioritise certain aspects of SSR to the detriment of others, or leave key dimensions of SSR under-or even unaddressed."6 The authors mention in their evaluation of the cases that activities such as security sector reviews and the development of SSR strategies which should precede any specific SSR activities were still the exception rather than the rule, although some integrated missions did begin to assign such tasks. In addition, the integrated missions illustrated that the governance dimension of security sector reform, particularly support for parliaments or civil society was frequently left to the side in favor of re-establishing the capacity of basic security actors such as the police and armed forces.

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Key challenges

International approaches to enhancing security and maintaining public order continue to have a number of common weaknesses. This section highlights a few of the key aspects:

Lack of universal definition

All the subtopics under the security and public order thematic do not have universally accepted definitions. There have been increasing efforts to standardize terminology including the UN Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) Handbook on Security Sector Reform, and Mine Action Standards. However the divergence in the way the terms are used and the focus of these terms still lead to conceptual confusion and difficulties in policy prescriptions. The tendency in the literature seems indicate a desire to embrace the broad understanding of the concepts, favoring a "holistic" approach that reflects the complex and fragmented nature of security in post-conflict environments. This entails moving away from the current piecemeal, ad hoc approaches and taking into account concerns about the broad scope of the concept.

Meeting the needs of community

While the promotion of local ownership through institution and capacity building is of vital importance to beneficiaries of peacebuilding activities, the transfer of knowledge and technical capacity still problematic. Local ownership means ownership of their own ideas, not what external actors tell recipients of peacebuilding programs to own. At times, this has undermined the effectiveness of the programs.

Ineffective cooperation and coordination

Coherence in the field has been a serious problem for all sub-sections. The multiplicity of actors in the field has made it more imperative to focus on how to improve cooperation and coordination with other actors. The potentially negative role of bilateral donors can undermine coherence in the field, in particular ear-marking funds and pushing specific donor priorities. This can undermine the UNs efforts on a common set of priorities, especially if the priorities dont match the donors profiles.

The metrics of success

Measuring and evaluating the success or impact of a particular intervention has been a difficult task for all sub-sections. In some cases, the evaluation and monitoring of programs are not properly conducted. In other cases the threshold for success is poorly delineated, which creates problems when it comes to demonstrating accountability to donors. While most interventions related to security and public order are based on theories about the nature of conflicts as well as how to sustain peace, it has been difficult to disaggregate the variables to test the validity of the theories on which these programs have been to understand why some interventions did not work.

Consideration of the local context

Local knowledge and context has been consistently ignored. The issue of sending foreigners with limited language skills, focusing on national level conflict to the exclusion of local level violence, or using scholarly or technocratic experts who lack local knowledge to gather information instead of using local expertise.

Lack of local capacity

The lack of local capacity which ties in with issues on local ownership has been a recurring issue for all subsections. International actors tend to have a difficult time filling post-conflict public security positions and finding qualified candidates to fill the roles.

A lack of resources

While funding for the immediate short-term has been easy to generate, it has been the long-term recovery and reintegration process that constantly run short of resources. Without improving management of funding, a more integrated operation in the field is not feasible.

Managing the proliferation of non-state actors

Dealing with the proliferation of non-state actors and how to integrate them back in society or within state institutions has been a problem in all subsections.

Knowing when to have a lighter footprint

Donors tend to shape security and public order activities in peacebuilding to promote their own model of governance, irrespective of whether they are appropriate for the beneficiaries.

1.Debiel, T., Klingebiel, S., Mehler, A. and Schneckener, U. Between Ignorance andIntervention: Strategies and Dilemmas of External Actors in Fragile States, Policy Paper 23, Development and Peace Foundation, Bonn, (2005), 4.
2. Anna Jarstad, Dilemmas of War-to-Democracy Transitions, paper prepared for the conference State, Conflict and Democracy, May 12-13, 2006.
3. For an interesting colloquium on human security and its analytic value see: Security Dialogue, vol. 35, no. 3, (September 2004).
4.UN Report of the Panel of UN Peace Operations-the Brahimi Report A/55/305-S/2000/809 (2000); Espen Barth Eide, Anja Therese Kaspersen, Randolph Kent and Karen von Hippel, Report on Integrated Missions: Practical Perspectives and Recommendations, Oslo: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2005.
5. Susanna Campbell and Anja Kaspersen, The UNs Reforms: Confronting Integration Barriers, International Peacekeeping, 15, no. 4 (2008): 481.
6. Heiner Hnggi and Vincenza Scherrer, Recent Experience of UN Integrated Missions in Security Sector Reform (SSR): Review and Recommendations, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), (2007), 18.

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