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.

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.