Introduction to Peacebuilding

Introduction to Peacebuilding

Last Updated: April 25, 2013


The Introduction to Peacebuilding section aims to provide a concise overview of international peacebuilding, with a particular emphasis on the history of the notion, its core components and the main debates surrounding it. The section presents a wide array of perspectives and the evolution of thinking and practice that are shaping the course of peacebuilding. It also provides access to key resources, including academic and policy journals as well as information on universities, research centers, and networks around the world (including in the Global South) that are involved in the study and/or practice of peacebuilding. As the website continues to develop, further research will continuously enlarge and update this database.


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 conceptual origins of peacebuilding

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."

Johan Galtung
In Johan Galtung, "Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking, and
Peacebuilding," in Peace, War and Defense: Essays in Peace Research,
Vol II (Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers, 1976), 297-298.

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
In Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 20, 75, 84-85.

A UN history of the notion

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."

An Agenda for Development, 1994

"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."

Report of the Peacebuilding Commission on its first session, 2007

"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

Outside the UN: Multiple concepts and definitions

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.
2John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 20.
3John Paul Lederach, "Conflict Transformation in Protracted Internal Conflicts: The Case for a Comprehensive Framework," in Conflict Transformation, ed. Kumar Rupesinghe (New York: St. Martin's Press/ Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995): 201-222.
4John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 75.
5Ibid., 84-85.
6See for instance Stathis N. Kalyvas, "'New' and 'Old' Civil Wars: A Valid Distinction?" World Politics 54:1 (2001), 99-118.
7See for instance the work undertaken by the team of the Small Arms Survey since 1999: ( See also Ted Gurr, "Ethnic Warfare on the Wane," Foreign Affairs 79:3 (May-June 2000): 52-64.
8The Human Security Report, (February 2008).
9See the Human Security Report Project:
10For a clear distinction between the two concepts, see Hideaki Shinoda and Yuji Uesugi, "Conclusion: In Search for New Approaches of Peacebuilding" in Conflict and Human Security, ed. Hideaki Shinoda and Yuji Uesugi (Tokyo: Kokusai shoin, 2005), 291-296.
11United Nations General Assembly/Security Council, Report of the Peacebuilding Commission On Its First Session, June 2006 - June 2007, A/62/137-S/2007/458, 4.
12Original conceptions of the Peacebuilding Commission included a conflict prevention role, but it was subsequently dropped during the World Summit stage, because of the opposition expressed by some members who were concerned about the potential interference in sovereignty and internal affairs.
13Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse and Hugh Miall, Contemporary Conflict Resolution (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), 30.
14United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Principles and Guidelines, 18 January 2008, 18.
15Michael Barnett, et al., "Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?": Global Governance 13:1 (2007): 36, 53.
16Ibid., 36, 53.

Operationalizing Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding is an evolving field of study, policy and practice. It may appear more as a set of beliefs or injunctions than a coherent theory. Indeed, the notion covers a host of different meanings. Yet, considering its evolution for the last twenty years it is possible to identify elements that constitute a widely shared understanding of peacebuilding.

Peacebuilding is generically defined as initiatives that are designed to prevent the eruption or return of armed conflict. It consists of actions undertaken by national actors, with the support of international actors, "to institutionalize peace, understood as the absence of armed conflict and a modicum of participatory politics. Post-conflict peacebuilding is the sub-set of such actions undertaken after the termination of armed hostilities."17 Peacebuilding refers to a process that relies heavily on the commitment and efforts by local actors/insiders to break away from conflict and create a state and society in which peace can be sustained. Outsiders support them by providing financial, technical and human resources.

Peacebuilding is a broad project not limited to post-conflict situations

The first important element in that definition is that most actors now largely consider that peacebuilding does not apply only to post-conflict situations, although those may attract a greater level of attention. In post-conflict cases, the main goal is generally defined as preventing a relapse into conflict and creating a sustainable peace. Despite some disagreement regarding the rate of war recurrence, a general consensus holds that between one-third and one-half of all terminated conflicts tend to relapse into armed violence within five years.18 In other words, there is an empirical basis to the current emphasis on preventing a relapse into armed conflict. That said, many point out that short-term prevention should not be the end goal of peacebuilding, but rather a stage within the broader peacebuilding project of establishing sustainable, long-term peace. "The main issue is to gradually create conditions which will ensure that there is no reason to resort to destructive means again, and thus peacebuilding is a long-term activity beyond the immediate imperative of stopping the armed conflict."19

Peacebuilding encompasses a wide array of activities and processes

As an operating concept, peacebuilding encompasses a wide array of activities, functions and roles across many sectors and levels. It is "not only multi-dimensional but also multi-sectoral in terms of what the international community should be doing on the ground, multi-leveled in terms of how much should be done, and multi-staged in terms of when the international community should be involved."20

The prevailing approach to peacebuilding has been to conceptualize it along sectoral categories. Most, if not all, analytical and operational frameworks organize peacebuilding activities according to four or five pillars.21 "While various actors define these pillars differently, there is consensus that peacebuilding has political, social, economic, security and legal dimensions, each of which requires attention. Distinguishing it from conventional development, peacebuilding is understood to be a highly political project involving the creation of a legitimate political authority that can avoid the resurgence of violence."22 On this website, five pillars will be defined:

  • To provide security and public order;
  • To establish the political and institutional framework of long-term peace;
  • To generate justice and rule of law;
  • To support the psycho-social recovery and the healing of the wounds of war;
  • To establish the socio-economic foundations of long-term peace.
Content and resources in each of these areas can be found in Thematic Areas.

An overemphasis on a "sectoral" perspective may cause peacebuilders to lose sight of the broader picture and pay insufficient attention to crucial interaction effects and linkages among different initiatives across sectors. Moreover, such an approach offers little guidance as to the sequencing of peacebuilding activities. So it is important to pay attention to the cross-cutting challenges associated with peacebuilding. On this website, we will focus on five clusters of cross-cutting issues associated with:

  • Statebuilding & Nationbuilding processes
  • Regional dimensions of peacebuilding
  • Capacity Building, Sustainability, Ownership & Accountability
  • Partnerships
  • Strategy, Methods and Ethics

Note that categorization of these challenges may change as our research develops.

Peacebuilding aims at structural prevention of violent conflicts

Another way to approach the content of peacebuilding is to distinguish between "operational prevention" (crisis-oriented, political-diplomatic, sanctions, military intervention, conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy) and "structural prevention" (democratic institution-building, relationship-building, prejudice reduction; power-sharing arrangements; reduction of social and economic inequalities, the promotion of the rule of law; security sector reform; education, etc.).23 This allows distinguishing the different types of actors and actions needed in a designated situation as well as the timing of their intervention.

Peacebuilding includes both tangible and intangible dimensions

Finally, it is important to note that peacebuilding should include both tangible ("visible," quantifiable) and intangible ("invisible," qualitative) dimensions. The tangible dimension consists of such things as the number of weapons destroyed, soldiers demobilized, jobs created, or dialogues held. The intangible dimension includes such phenomena as reconciliation between former antagonists, trust in public institutions, and new norms of dispute resolution. It is fair to say that most international peacebuilding initiatives have focused primarily on visible, tangible, and quantifiable outputs rather than on qualitative processes of change, which, admittedly, are much more difficult to induce and assess.

"The Security Council recognizes that peacebuilding is aimed at preventing the outbreak, the recurrence or the continuation of armed conflict and therefore encompasses a wide range of political, development, humanitarian, and human rights programs and mechanisms. This requires short and long-term actions tailored to address the particular needs of societies sliding into conflict or emerging from it. These actions should focus on fostering sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and inequalities, transparent and accountable governance, the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law and the promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence."

UN Security Council Presidential Statement
S/PRST/2001/5, February 20, 2001

"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 the 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."

Conceptual basis for peacebuilding for the UN system adopted by the Secretary-General's Policy Committee in May 2007

17 Charles T. Call and Elizabeth M. Cousens, "Ending Wars and Building Peace," Coping with Crisis (Working Paper Series, International Peace Academy, March 2007), 3.
18 Ibid., 3-4.
19 Ho-Won Jeong, Peacebuilding in Post conflict Societies: Strategy and Process (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005), 4.
20 Michael Lund, What Kind of Peace is Being Built? Assessing the Record of Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, Charting Future Directions, (prepared for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), 2003), 13.
21 An organization of 4 pillars is proposed in: Dan Utstein, Towards a Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding: Getting Their Act Together: Overview of the Joint Utstein Study of Peacebuilding, Figure 2: The Peacebuilding Palette, 10, 28.
22 Necla Tschirgi, Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Revisited: Achievements, Limitations, and Challenges, (WSP International/IPA Policy Report: 2004), 9.
23 OECD DAC/CDA, Encouraging Effective Evaluation of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities: Towards DAC Guidance (2007), 18. Similar distinctions were suggested by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his two Conflict Prevention reports published in 2001 and 2006.


Despite the common elements identified in the previous section, there are ongoing debates among practitioners and analysts as to the meaning and the scope of peacebuilding, and the most effective ways to implement it. As a result, while embracing the idea of peacebuilding, they also tend to operate under considerably different interpretations of what it means. As underlined by some analysts, "the willingness of so many diverse constituencies with divergent and sometimes conflicting interests to rally around peacebuilding also suggests that one of the concept's talents is to camouflage divisions over how to handle the post conflict challenge. In this respect, it functions much like a favored political symbol"24 - an ambiguous concept that brings together disparate and often divergent actors.

This diversity of views can be summarized around a certain number of key issues that are largely interrelated in the debates:

These debates manifest in each sectoral intervention. In fact, many discussions do not cross those sectoral and disciplinary boundaries and remain in relatively close circles. This disconnect between fields of expertise partly explains why we still know so little about how and why peacebuilding works - or not. This has been reinforced by a persistent deficit in empirical and micro-level analyses, which thus explains why most discussions on peacebuilding are general and speculative, generating confusion about strategy. The Utstein study evaluated 366 peacebuilding projects financed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands and concluded that "... more than 55 percent of the projects do not show any link to a broader strategy for the country in which they are implemented. Some projects are not linked to a broader strategy because there is no strategy for them to be linked to. In other cases, the broader strategy exists but projects show no connection to it... There is no known way of reliably assessing the impact of peacebuilding projects."25 This aligns with findings established by leading practitioners that multiple peace initiatives do not simply "add up" to peace "writ large."26 It can be concluded that much still needs to be done to understand the multiple connections and disconnections between micro- and macro-dimensions of peacebuilding, and between local and external efforts.27

"Negative" or "positive" peace

A central debate in peacebuilding has to do with the desired outcome of the enterprise. Many have framed the goal of peacebuilding in terms of "negative peace" (absence of armed conflict) or "positive peace" (a structural transformation towards a socio-political and economic system capable of fostering justice and ensuring a self-sustained peace). Some have suggested that "if there is a trade-off between these goals, the immediate absence of conflict [...] should take priority over participatory politics if peacebuilding is the frame of reference."28 An alternative view is that negative peace is required before positive peace can materialize.

In the wake of the new generation of peace operations in the early 90s, the UN has emphasized that peacebuilding is more than the elimination of armed conflict. It involves addressing the root causes of conflict so that actors no longer have motive to use violence to settle their differences. In this sense, peacebuilding "entails building the political conditions for a sustainable, democratic peace, generally in countries long divided by social strife, rather than keeping or enforcing peace between hostile states or armed parties. [...] At root, full-scale peace-building efforts are nothing short of attempts at nation building; they seek to remake a state's political institutions, security forces, and economic arrangements."29

Charles T. Call and Elizabeth M. Cousens identify three approaches to peacebuilding:

  • Maximalist: Addressing Root Causes of Conflict;
  • Minimalist: No Renewed Armed Conflict;
  • Middle Ground: No Renewed Armed Conflict plus Decent Governance.

The debate between the "minimalist" and "maximalist" approaches is closely related to the perennial debate in conflict resolution between "conflict managers" and "conflict transformers." The former believe that the most realistic approach to conflict is to end armed violence, produce a political settlement, and create minimal conditions of security and political order. Conflict transformers, on the other hand, argue that a relapse into conflict is more likely if the root/structural causes that brought about the conflict in the first place are not addressed. In this view, interventions that seek to address only the symptoms of the violence are not sufficient to produce lasting peace.

These considerations have very concrete operational implications in terms of the extent of the reforms to engage, the duration of the programs to support them and the criteria which will serve to monitor their implementation.

Peacebuilding as "stabilization" or "transformation"

Another key area of debate concerns the conceptualization of post-conflict interventions in terms of "stabilization" or "transformation." In particular after 9/11, a large portion of both analyses and policies have focused on the importance of "stability," an imposed one if needed and generally argue strongly in favor of a highly interventionist approach.30 The paradox is that these proponents generally favor "consolidating" the status quo or merely redistributing cards rather than encouraging major changes, which may align the interests of international actors with those of certain local elites. This is also true of the general policies of conflict management, including peacekeeping and peace maintenance. They mainly attempted to prevent recurrence of conflict by injecting an international presence to act as a third party buffer between adversaries. While not allowing escalation, this approach does not necessarily build peace and favors the status quo.31

Others think of peacebuilding in terms of change. Yet peacebuilders have so far paid insufficient attention to the theories of change underlying their initiatives. A theory of change deals with such questions as: What are the sources of the problem? What needs to change? How can change be brought about? How does a particular initiative contribute to the desired change? Given the growing realization that unexamined assumptions about conflict and change may lead to peacebuilding initiatives that are inconsistent with the realities of a particular context, the topic of "underlying theories of change" has received greater attention in recent years.32 Such questioning may sound relatively new to many peacebuilders and even more policy makers, yet it is crucial. It also obliges to revise a certain number of unverified or over-generalized assumptions on the basis of which peacebuilding policies and practices often tend to operate. For example, the idea that war destroys most, if not all, of the social and political fabric of a society leads post-conflict settings to be seen or treated as political and social vacuums to be filled. Yet war transforms (physically, institutionally, politically, economically and symbolically) even more than it destroys. This observation has three important consequences for peacebuilding strategy:33

  • First, the postwar situation is by no means a tabula rasa where societies can be radically remade.
  • Second, the frequent claim that there is a need to tackle the "root causes" of conflict may run the risk of having interventions misdirected to addressing past problems rather than those that shape the immediate post-conflict condition. There is a strong belief in the peacebuilding community and at the UN in particular that the same instruments that are used to help build peace after war also can be used to help societies avoid war in the first place; and vice versa.
  • Third, violent conflict tends to radically transform the very foundations of the society. War itself may change the perception of violence, in particular what is perceived as legitimate uses of violence. It may also transform the belief systems, the relationships, and the structures governing a society.

As a consequence, "successfully ending the divisions that lead to war, healing the social wounds created by war, and creating a society where the differences among social groups are resolved through compromise rather than violent conflict requires that conflict resolution and consensus building shape all interactions among citizens and between citizens and the state."34

For policy makers and practitioners, this clearly entails, first, a conscious choice for a stabilizing or transformative approach. Different national and international actors are likely to make a different choice and therefore partially counteract each other's actions. Nevertheless, greater awareness of one's own underlying theories of change can help to better articulate the objectives and methodology of any action. Second, particularly in the transformative approach, a better diagnosis of the postwar situation and understanding of the society capacities and resources to rebuild are key pre-requisites for any intervention.

Peacebuilding as a broad or targeted agenda

Another key debate involves how broadly or narrowly peacebuilding activities should be defined. Critics have taken issue with the prevailing idea that almost any activity undertaken in a post-conflict setting can be labeled "peacebuilding."

"Because there are multiple contributing causes of conflict, almost any international assistance effort that addresses any perceived or real grievance can arguably be called 'peacebuilding.' Moreover, anyone invited to imagine the causes of violent conflict might generate a rather expansive laundry list of issues to be addressed in the post conflict period, including income distribution, land reform, democracy and the rule of law, human security, corruption, gender equality, refugee reintegration, economic development, ethnonational divisions, environmental degradation, transitional justice, and on and on. There are at least two good reasons for such a fertile imagination. One, there is no master variable for explaining either the outbreak of violence or the construction of a positive peace but a fairly large number of possible factors merely groupings of factors across categories such as greed and grievance, and catalytic events. Variables that might be relatively harmless in some contexts can be a potent cocktail in others. Conversely, we have relatively little knowledge regarding what causes peace or what the paths to peace are. Although democratic states that have reasonably high per capita incomes are at a reduced risk of conflict, being democratic and rich is no guarantor of a positive peace, and illiberal and poor countries, at times, also have had their share of success."35 This explains that "traditional peacekeeping operations were already extending their mandates through the addition of a wide range of activities that fall under the banner of peacebuilding, including the monitoring and organization of elections and the reform, or even the creation, of governmental institutions."36 Indeed, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has housed an increasing number of civilian "peacebuilding"" capacities within its missions for several years. "Second, organizations are likely to claim that their core competencies and mandates are critical to peacebuilding. They might be right. They also might be opportunistic. After all, if peacebuilding is big business, then there are good bureaucratic reasons for claiming that they are an invaluable partner."37 Inside the UN system itself, a growing number of agencies and programs have claimed to participate in peacebuilding efforts.

One major consequence of this has been the expectation that peacebuilding would solve all societal ills and create a perfect peace. Critics argue that setting such impossibly high expectations is only bound to discredit the entire enterprise. Indeed, it is a frequent argument used - often improperly - to explain local disillusionment with international efforts at building peace. Peacebuilders need to manage expectations they create; this is even more important for outsiders who need to treat their interlocutors seriously and be more transparent about what their plans are and what people can reasonably expect from their action.38

Another development in the debate has been the growing concern among Member States from the Global South that many development issues are being reframed under a security agenda, which has changed the nature of programs, diverted important financial commitments from traditional development and also moved away from the primary arena where these governments have more voice. This view is regularly echoed by NGOs concerned about the increasing use of development budgets for security programs.

Different reasons therefore underlie the general movement toward putting some limits on the concept of peacebuilding. "A line needs to be drawn between peacebuilding and maximizing various levels of social, economic and political development possible in a given society. Otherwise, if the term peacebuilding becomes a synonym of all the positive things we would want to include in development in order to reduce any and all of a society's ills, it becomes useless for guiding knowledge gathering and practical purposes."39 Many have recommended to better prioritize and sequence peacebuilding interventions, some going so far as advocating a "security first" approach. At the UN, a more complex understanding of peacebuilding is evidenced by the adoption by the Secretary-General's Policy Committee, on 22 May 2007, of a conceptual basis for peacebuilding for the UN system. "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." Specific emphasis is given to prioritizing and sequencing a "relatively narrow set of activities." Yet, establishing such a hierarchy of goals and activities requires an overall political strategy, which does not always exist.40 In some views, this may mean making difficult but necessary choices. Certain ills and sufferings may be unaddressed because they are not perceived as imminent threats to peace. The "conflict transformer" perspective requires adding a different lens. Decisions must be made about which problems need to be solved first, along with an examination of the society's current capacities to deal with challenges in a nonviolent manner. This examination enables us to define priorities for supporting capacity development and would also require identifying key actors of change.

Phases and benchmarking: when to begin and when to end?

Another issue underlying this debate is the duration and appropriate form of engagement among various actors, inside and outside the UN, the definition of the leadership and the phasing out or gradual transition between different types of intervention. The way these questions are answered has generally more to do with political and institutional struggles than with a careful monitoring of the local situation or a comparative analysis of the specific capacities of each actor.

Questions of when peacebuilding should start must also be countered with when peacebuilding should end - that is, when can a peacebuilding effort be perceived as finished, and ultimately, to have succeeded in meeting its objectives? Linked to this is the achievement of particular benchmarks, with associated timeframes, proper sequencing and pace. There is little agreement among experts on what actually constitutes an effective transition to sustainable peace. Building upon the three approaches to peacebuilding typology as minimalist (negative peace), maximalist (positive peace) or somewhere in between, assessing progress in peacebuilding is strongly associated with the overall objectives. Minimalist interpretations tend to inform macro, quantitative studies such as SIPRI's "Patterns of Major Armed Conflict." Micro level, small case studies more commonly attempt to measure aspects more associated with maximalist conceptions. The wide range of peace and conflict impact assessment (PCIA) methodologies that has emerged from peacebuilding practitioner work over the last decade has elaborated extensive criteria from which more maximalist approaches have been undertaken, including by some multilateral agencies. More recently, efforts have been made to better monitor peacebuilding efforts and design proper indicators, including at the UN.

Peacebuilding and its pre-conditions

Such an assessment also has to do with the discussion of the pre-conditions of peacebuilding.

Some focus on the permissive internal conditions necessary for peacebuilding and are skeptical about the feasibility of an enterprise defined as transforming post-conflict societies by addressing the foundations of violent conflict. This argument may be summarized as "peace builders should not be sent where there is no peace to build."41

For others, success would first and foremost depend on the political will and financial support of the international community. This is the view of the RAND study by Dobbins, which concludes that "among controllable factors, the most important determinant [of nation-building success] is the level of effort - measured in time, manpower, and money."42 The report also notes that "what distinguishes German, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo on the one hand, from Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan on the other, are not their levels of economic development, Western culture, or national homogeneity. Rather, what distinguishes these two groups is the level of effort the international community has put into their democratic transformations."43

The answer probably needs to be found in between these two visions. In fact, more still needs to be understood in terms of how local and international interests and efforts interact in favor - or not - of a specific peacebuilding process. Both national and international actors pursue objectives that may not be entirely compatible, both have expectations regarding the peacebuilding process in general and specific programs in particular, both have capacity and knowledge constraints, in particular in terms of absorptive capacity. All these factors need to be better assessed at the beginning of an intervention and subsequently monitored to maximize the outcome of the interaction for all.

Peacebuilding as liberal peace and its critics

Another central topic in the debate is the normative basis of the currently prevailing conception of peacebuilding - that is, peacebuilding as political liberalization (democracy-building) and economic liberalization (market economies). The current international approach to peacebuilding is deeply embedded in a particular Western liberal paradigm of how the political and socio-economic world should operate. This particular normative framework, however, is often couched in terms of seemingly evident universal values. In attempts at socio-political engineering, Western actors have actually sought to recreate their political and economic systems in post-conflict societies. In the field of peacebuilding there is a widely shared, though rarely articulated, assumption that peace would resemble the "liberal peace" - what Oliver Richmond has called the "peacebuilding consensus."44 Whether this pursuit of "liberal peace" in fact contributes to real peace in post-conflict societies is a central and contentious topic in the field today. An increasing number of scholars have argued that the "liberal peace" project may actually undermine the consolidation of peace in post-conflict societies.45 Critical perspectives are particularly evident within Africa, Asia, and Latin America.46 Some of these criticisms have been validated by empirical studies that show how concepts such as "peace" and "rule of law" are far from being self-evident and universal, but are products of particular historical developments and expressions of particular worldviews and social relations.

All of this has multiple practical consequences when designing or implementing a specific program. On security, politics, justice or economy alike, the "liberal peace" model is increasingly challenged and the debates among scholars and practitioners show that ideological choices translate in very concrete decisions about the models of governance, the objectives assigned to specific projects, the nature of the actions, the beneficiaries or the methods of intervention. This is true for every single component of peacebuilding programs.

24Barnett, et al., "Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?," 44.
25Dan Smith, Towards a Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding: Getting Their Act Together: Overview of the Joint Utstein Study of Peacebuilding, (Commissioned by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PRIO-International Peace Research Institute, 2004), 10-11.
26Mary B. Anderson and Lara Olson, Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioner, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Collaborative for Development Action, 2003), 89.
27Beatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman and Albrecht Schnabel, eds. After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities (Tokyo/New York/Paris: United Nations University Press, 2007), 15; see also: Beatrice Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People (London: Hurst / Bloomfield (CT): Kumarian Press, 2006).
28Call and Cousens, "Ending Wars and Building Peace," 2.
29Eva Bertram, "Reinventing Governments: The Promise and Perils of United Nations Peace Building," The Journal of Conflict Resolution 39, no. 3 (September 1995): 388-9.
30John Covey, Michael J. Dziedzic, and Leonard R. Hawley, eds., introduction to The Quest for Viable Peace: International Intervention and Strategies for Conflict Transformation (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2005).
31Toshiya Hoshino, "The Peacekeeping Equation: Human Security and Peacebuilding," Gaiko Forum (Winter 2007): 24.
32OECD DAC/CDA, Encouraging Effective Evaluation of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities: Towards DAC Guidance (2007), 49-50; Alex Austin, Martina Fischer and Oliver Wils, eds., Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment: Critical Views on Theory and Practice (Berghof Center for Constructive Conflict Management Dialogue Series, 2003); Christopher R. Mitchell, Conflict, Social Change, and Conflict Resolution: An Enquiry (Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, November 2005).
33Pouligny, et al., After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities, 1-16, 273-4.
34Nicole Ball, "The Challenge of Rebuilding War-Torn Societies," in Turbulent Peace: The Challenge of Managing International Conflict, ed. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2005), 619.
35Barnett, et al., "Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?," 44-45.
36Carolyn McAskie (Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support), "The International Peacebuilding Challenge: Can New Players and New Approaches Bring New Results?" (Lloyd Shaw Lecture on Public Affairs, Dalhousie University, Canada, November 2, 2007).
37Barnett, et al., "Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?," 44-45.
38Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People, op.cit.
39Lund, "What Kind of Peace is Being Built? Assessing the Record of Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, Charting Future Directions," 27-28.
40Tschirgi, "Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Revisited: Achievements, Limitations, and Challenges," 9; Covey et al., eds., The Quest for Viable Peace: International Intervention and Strategies for Conflict Transformation, introduction.
41Bertram, "Reinventing Governments: The Promise and Perils of United Nations Peace Building," 415.
42James Dobbins, et al., America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2003), 165.
43Ibid., 161.
44Oliver P. Richmond, "The Globalization of Responses to Conflict and the Peacebuilding Consensus," Cooperation and Conflict 39, no. 2 (2004): 129-150.
45See, for example, Roland Paris, At War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Michael Barnett, "Building a Republic Peace: Stabilizing States after War," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006): 87-112; Michael Pugh, "The Political Economy of Peacebuilding: A Critical Theory Perspective," International Journal of Peace Studies 10, no. 2 (Autumn/Winter 2005): 23-42; Chandra Lekha Sriram, "Justice as Peace? Liberal Peacebuilding and Strategies of Transitional Justice," Global Society 21, issue 4 (October 2007): 579-591.
46See, in particular, Alejandro Bendana, "From Peace-Building to State-Building: One Step Forward and Two Backwards?" Centro de Estudios Internacionales, Managua, Nicaragua (Presentation "Nation-Building, State-Building and International Intervention: Between 'Liberation' and Symptom Relief," CERI, Paris, October 15, 2004); Sabine Kurtenbach, "Why Is Liberal Peace-building So Difficult? Some Lessons from Central America," GIGA Research Unit: Institute of Latin American Studies, no. 59, (September 2007); Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake, "The International Post/Conflict Industry: Myths, Market Imperfections and the Need for a New Reconstruction Paradigm," International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka,; Murithi, Tim, "African Approaches to Building Peace and Social Solidarity," African Journal on Conflict Resolution 6, no. 2 (2006): 9-34.


International peacebuilding consists of a wide array of actors with divergent and sometimes conflicting interests, values, purposes, organizational forms and modalities of action.

These various stakeholders can be differentiated on the basis of:

  • Their position as local vs. external actors (which we will re-label here as "insiders/outsiders");
  • A micro analysis of who they are: the "locals" and the "international peacebuilding community";
  • Their modalities of action;
  • Their sectors of activities.

There is no universally recognized way of categorizing peacebuilding actors. Most resources and directories classify them according to categories which actually combine - sometimes incompletely - some of these criteria. Access to a few directories is provided at the end of that section.

Insiders vs. outsiders

Most of the literature on peacebuilding distinguishes between "local," "national," and "international" stakeholders. These adjectives can be quite problematic and contentious in particular settings. For instance, a national actor coming from the capital city or another social group may well be considered as an outsider when entering a specific community; this is why some distinguish between a "national" and a "local" level, but the criteria for making this distinction are unclear. Some analysts distinguish between individuals and organizations in the capital city and those living in the rest of the country; but this distinction is generally not based on any in-depth socio-political analysis. Moreover, what may be true in one country may be entirely inapplicable in another.

The notions of "insiders"/"outsiders" may be of greater utility. Some analysts have defined insiders as "those vulnerable to conflict, because they are from the area and living there, are people who in some way must experience the conflict and live with its consequences personally. Outsiders are those who choose to become involved in the conflict and who have personally little to lose."47 For others, this dichotomy may be more flexible as it is subjectively constructed by the actors concerned and mainly reflects the power relations in a particular setting.48

In all cases, it is important to understand how the relationship between insiders and outsiders is defined in a particular context, according to different parameters having to do with issues as varied as the history of the relationship with the external world, the local socio-political configuration of the forces, and the interests of designated individuals. Even when the distinction between "insiders" and "outsiders" seems to be obvious, it has to be closely considered. In many instances, outsiders, especially but not only, when working with civil society, claim to work with "locals," but are actually collaborating with other outsiders - in other words, with themselves.49

The "locals": A micro-sociological analysis

There are many ways to categorize local peacebuilding actors.

Many outsiders actually interact (or think they interact) with only one particular type of actor and for one particular activity and do not need to know more about others, with the exception of potential collaborators or spoilers. This is both the most simplistic and limited way to map the local arena.

If one understands the different situations in micro-sociological terms, it becomes possible to identify:50

  • Political actors: leaders of the main political parties, governments, legislative bodies when they exist, coordination bodies or steering committees for the peacebuilding process, and all the agents of these entities (staff from the national administration, including the judicial and the police, but also the political apparatus);
  • Military actors: again, distinguishing between the leaders and others, members of constituted armies or para-military groups of different nature;
  • Economic entrepreneurs (sometimes considered by outsiders as part of the local civil society, even though it rarely fits the local conception);
  • Members of the indigenous "civil society": formal social organizations (trade unions, NGOs, etc.) but also community and religious actors who may be less "visible" to outsiders.

Several elements need to be kept in mind when considering these different categories of actors:

  1. This sort of analysis makes it possible to discern variations according to different parameters which influence insiders' behavior: the nature of the ties uniting members of the societies in question and the solidarities and collaborations across different sectors, their systems of reference (or "political culture"), the aims they pursue and their motives and circumstances for interacting with outsiders on peacebuilding issues. In other words, outsiders' agenda and framing of the encounter should not be the only point of reference.
  2. By their very nature--essentially taking place within states-- present-day violent conflicts bring out heightened confusion among military and political actors, as well as economic and political entrepreneurs. The most resourceful individuals generally have the capacity of moving very quickly from one network to the next; changing of hats very quickly, including by using the general positive a priori knowledge outsiders have of local civil societies. When key actors in a conflict or a peace process belong to many networks at the same time, their behavior needs to be understood in their capacity to move from one network to another, maintaining - sometimes deliberately - confusion as to their real status and, still more, their intentions. This confusion in part remains in the post-conflict period and may also be an important dimension of a pre-conflict situation.
  3. Peace processes tend to sharpen the divergence of interests between leaders and their base, whoever they are (political actors, militaries and policemen, state employees, etc.). This explains why some authors distinguish between different levels at which actors play a role, as in this graph by John Paul Lederach.

[From John Paul Lederach's Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997), p. 39. Used with the permission of the publisher.]

But one should never forget how fluid those local socio-political arenas may be. Distinguishing between different types or levels of leadership is not always easy and the understanding one may have at a certain time may no longer be valid a few months later. Therefore, the understanding of local contexts needs not only to be as broad as possible, taking account of all social practices and daily power relations, but dynamic. Outsiders who go in a foreign country to work as peacebuilders do not always have that capacity. Yet, it is as important as any technical expertise they may have on a specific dimension of peacebuilding.

The "international peacebuilding community": A micro-sociological analysis

External actors include many persons and groups, organized according by different types:

  • Foreign governments (through their embassies and different cooperation bodies);
  • International governmental organizations (IGOs) which maybe global, regional or sub-regional; they play a central role each time a peace operation (with its military and civilian components) is deployed;
  • International and trans-national non-governmental organizations (few NGOs actually fit either definition), some being organized as actual trans-national networks;
  • Foreign (mainly Northern) NGOs (often improperly qualified as "international") which intervene in a foreign country;
  • Research and academic institutions, and think-tanks (some having the status of NGOs).

Less often considered are:

  • Multinational corporations;
  • Trans-national churches and other religious movements;
  • Diaspora organizations.
They enter in the same category as NGOs as non-state actors.

All of these compose what is often referred to as the "international community," which is far from unified. Despite the term's simplicity, neither insiders nor outsiders are convinced by that excessive reference which conceals more than it reveals, even if local discourses may play on appearances. Indeed, the degree of consistency between these actors, and even more between insiders and outsiders as well as their modalities of interaction differ largely, even in time, in each given context. "External actors come to post-conflict peacebuilding with multiple agendas and motivations - which are not necessarily compatible with or driven by the political realities on the ground. Proper mechanisms need to be established to ensure that external and internal actors work within a coherent strategy, establish priorities, and mobilize the necessary recourses."51 The UN Security Council Resolution 1645 (2005) stresses "the primary responsibility of national and transitional Governments and authorities of countries emerging from conflict or at risk of relapsing into conflict, where they are established, in identifying their priorities and strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding, with a view to ensuring national ownership." Analysts have however, drawn attention to the dangers of making "national ownership" a policy mantra which can lead to donors privileging the formal institutions of the state without sufficient attention to the informal sector.52 National ownership thus must include the widest array of stakeholders, towards ensuring a sustained, societally owned peace.

Different modalities of action

The way outsiders are distinguished often refers in part to the kind of activities they pursue - in other words, to the specific role they play in any specific component of the peacebuilding process. These activities may be enumerated as:

  • Financial support;
  • Direct project implementation and service delivery (including engineering and sub-contracting);
  • Technical assistance (including advice, training, etc.);
  • Monitoring;
  • Research and evaluation;
  • Lobbying and solidarity.

Of course, most organizations have different kind of activities in the meantime. Peace operations as well as UN peacebuilding offices and integrated missions typically pursue a large range of activities in different sectors, security being only one of them.

Different sectors of activities

Finally, many sources distinguish peacebuilders, whether they come from the humanitarian, development, political or security sectors according to their main area of expertise and activity. These are organized around 4 or 5 pillars which are:

  • Security & Public Order
  • Democracy & Good Governance
  • Justice & Rule of Law
  • Psycho-social Recovery
  • Economic Recovery

The thematic sections of the portal present the main underlying debates in each sector as well as the way they translate in concrete interventions, linking academic discussions to political and practical challenges. They also illustrate how these issues have played a role in the design and implementation of particular activities and what lessons can be drawn from current practices at the country level.

The limits of this are to compartmentalize peacebuilding efforts which, therefore, lack a coherent and strategic objective. While some categorization of priority areas and activities is viewed as unavoidable, it is increasingly accepted that a comprehensive assessment of the context, conflict and peace dynamics, indigenous capacities and opportunities for peace should precede the design of peacebuilding programs. The UN's movement towards a notion of integrated peace strategies has roots in the UN Secretary General's 2001 analysis in No Exit Without Strategy53, and the UNSC discussions that followed which underscored the need for strategies to be based upon the interdependence between sustainable peace, security and development in all dimensions.54 The PBC has further committed itself to advancing thinking and practice in the area of integrated peacebuilding strategies, which it will support in the countries that it serves. How these strategies will build upon and harmonize with other strategic policy frameworks and processes currently in existence on the ground will be fundamental to their success.

Click here to access a listing of research centers and think tanks (compiled by the Peacebuilding Initiative, with the support of UNPBSO).


A new international actor: The UN Peacebuilding Commission

The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), which became operational in 2006, is a new intergovernmental advisory body of the United Nations specifically dedicated to helping countries make the transition from war to lasting peace. It has been created to 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.

Until its creation, no part of the UN system had responsibility for helping countries make the transition from war to lasting peace. The Peacebuilding Commission is designed to help fill this gap by facilitating an institutional and systematic connection between peacekeeping and post-conflict operation and bringing together all the relevant peacebuilding actors, including international donors, the international financial institutions, national governments, troop contributing countries and civil society representatives.

Specifically, the Commission will:

  • Propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery;
  • Help to ensure predictable financing for early recovery activities and sustained financial investment over the medium - to longer-term;
  • Extend the period of attention by the international community to post-conflict recovery;
  • Develop best practices on issues that require extensive collaboration among political, military, humanitarian and development actors.

The concurrent General Assembly and Security Council resolutions establishing the Peacebuilding Commission also provided for the establishment of a Peacebuilding Fund and Peacebuilding Support Office.

The UN Peacebuilding Fund is a multi-year standing trust fund for post-conflict peacebuilding set up in 2006 by the United Nations Secretary-General at the request of the General Assembly. It provides a funding bridge between conflict and recovery for post-conflict countries, focusing on funding for implementation of peace agreements; conflict resolution capacity building; strengthening government institutions and governance; and emergency situations. With an initial funding target of US $250 million, it supports countries before the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and countries in similar circumstances as designated by the Secretary-General.

The PBC is supported in its work by the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). The PBSO serves as the secretariat of the PBC and is mandated to help better coordinate peacebuilding activities across the UN system, including by consolidating peacebuilding best practices. The PBSO facilitates the development of the peacebuilding frameworks for countries on the PBC agenda and supports the work of the Working Group on Lessons-Learned.

The New Peacebuilding Architecture

With the establishment in June 2006 of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, a new Peacebuilding Architecture was put in place within the organization - comprising the Peacebuilding Commission, the Peacebuilding Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). These three bodies work together to:

  • Design and coordinate peacebuilding strategies;
  • Sustain peace in conflict-affected countries by garnering international support for nationally owned and led peacebuilding efforts;
  • Provide effective support to countries in the transition from war to lasting peace.

The Peacebuilding Commission - a 31-member, intergovernmental body - is charged with bringing together all relevant actors to advise on and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery. Its standing organizational committee consists of members of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the General Assembly, and top providers of contributions, military personnel and civilian police to UN missions.

As the second pillar of the peacebuilding architecture, the Peacebuilding Fund - a multi-year standing fund for post-conflict peacebuilding, funded by voluntary contributions - aims to ensure the immediate release of resources needed to launch peacebuilding activities, as well as the availability of appropriate financing for recovery. The Fund, which is designed to provide the initial seed money for peacebuilding, had nearly $184 million in commitments as of September 2007, towards and initial target of $250 million.

The Peacebuilding Support Office - the third pillar of the peacebuilding architecture, manages the Peacebuilding Fund, supports the Secretary-General's agenda for peacebuilding, and serves as interlocutor between the UN system and the Commission. Its substantive but non-operational mandate includes assisting the Commission in designing strategies and working within the system to ensure those strategies are implemented.

Resources: Online external reviews of the work of the Peacebuilding Commission

ActionAid, CAFOD, and CARE International. "Peacebuilding Report: Consolidating the Peace." June 2007.
This report by ActionAid, CAFOD and CARE International is an independent analysis of the UN Peacebuilding Commission's first year of work in Sierra Leone and Burundi. It is based on interviews with dozens of ex-combatants, war-wounded civilians and community representatives in the two countries, as well as information from UN, donor and government officials.

Global Policy Forum
This website includes links to resolutions, reports and documents on the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, compiled by the Global Policy Forum, a non-profit organization monitoring policy making at the United Nations. GPF promotes accountability of global decisions, educates and mobilizes for global citizen participation, and advocates on vital issues of international peace and justice. GPF receives more than half its annual funding from individuals and the remainder from foundations, partner organizations, fees and other sources.

Global Witness. "Peacebuilding Omission?" October 2007.
This report argues for the need to integrate natural resource management in the Peacebuilding Commission's post-conflict reconstruction strategies in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. Global Witness is supported by a variety of trusts and foundations, development organizations and governments.

Institute for Global Policy. "Togheter for Better Peace"
This website is a news and information resource provided by the Institute for Global Policy's project on the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission. The project supports civil society engagement with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) by advocating for the participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the work of the PBC, convening CSOs to provide timely input to the PBC process and providing up-to-date information about the PBC and related UN peacebuilding activities. The Project maintains an online document database that compiles UN, government and civil society documents related to the Commission. PBC Update is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.

Security Council Report
Security Council Report is an independent not-for-profit organization in affiliation with Columbia University's Center on International Organization. The vision for Security Council Report stems from the belief that the lack of consistent, high quality, publicly-available information about the Council's activities - and those of its subordinate bodies - is a consistent barrier to the effective performance of the Council itself as well as constituting a major handicap for the member states at large, and the wider public. Security Council Report seeks to fill this gap by establishing an independent professional capacity to provide timely, accurate and objective information and analysis on the activities of the Security Council. It publishes regular reports on the Council's existing and prospective agenda, supplemented by ad hoc Update Reports on breaking news. Security Council Report is supported by the governments of Canada and Norway, the Rockefeller Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Security Council Report. "Special Research Report: Peacebuilding Commission." June 23, 2006
This report outlines the lead-up to and establishment of the PBC, including background, membership, key issues, underlying problems, modes of operation, and key facts. Also provides links to UN documents, a calendar of historical events, and the membership of the PBC.

Security Council Report. "Special Research Report No. 2: Peacebuilding Commission." October 5, 2007
This report analyses the first year of operation of the UN's new Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and follows up on the Special Research Report of 23 June 2006. It includes background, recent developments, expected action, activities within the first year, outcomes and analysis and links to key UN documents.

47Mary B. Anderson and Lara Olson, Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioners (Cambridge, MA: CDA, 2003), 36.
48Roberta Culbertson and Beatrice Pouligny, "Re-imagining Peace After Mass Crime: A Dialogical Exchange Between Insider and Outsider Knowledge," in Pouligny, et al., After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities (Tokyo/New York/Paris: United Nations University Press, 2007), 271-287.
49Beatrice Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peace Building: Ambiguities of International Programs Aimed at Building 'New Societies,'" Security Dialogue 36, no 4 (December 2005): 447-462.
50See Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People, 42-95.
51Tschirgi, "Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Revisited: Achievements, Limitations, and Challenges," 9.
52Tschirgi, Necla, "The Security Development Nexus: From Rhetoric to Understanding Complex Dynamics," The Swiss Yearbook of Development Policy, Vol 2/06 (Fall 2006).
53See Report of the Secretary-General, "No Exit Without Strategy: Security Council Decision-Making and the Closure or Transition of UN Peacekeeping Operations," 20 April 2001, S/2001/394.
54"Security Council Addresses Comprehensive Approach," Security Council 4278th Meeting, SC/7014, 21 February 2001.

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