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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the opening session of the Paris Peace Forum. French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the opening session of the Paris Peace Forum at the Villette Conference Hall in Paris, France, Nov. 11, 2018 (SIPA photo by Eliot Blondet via AP Images).

How to Make Sure Peace Endures Once the Fighting Ends

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020

The need for peacebuilding in post-conflict societies grew out of the realization that signing agreements to bring fighting to an end is a necessary but insufficient step toward true and enduring peace. Peacebuilding is now conceived of as a multistage process that includes approaches ranging from governmental capacity-building and economic development to reforms of the legal and security sectors, with each initiative intended to be a step toward improving human security and fostering societal healing and reconciliation.

It is often a laborious and expensive process—and one that can easily be undone. Witness Brexit’s triggering of the long-dormant fault lines between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Moreover, as peacebuilding has evolved, there is still no consensus on who should lead these efforts. In the wake of Sept. 11, the United Nations introduced a Peacebuilding Commission, intended to push for the adoption of post-conflict interventions and then aid and track their implementation. The PBC lacks any actual enforcement capacity, though, and has struggled to establish itself. It also suffers from the same problem as the broader U.N. system: Key member states can block U.N. involvement, which may explain why Syria is still not on the PBC’s agenda despite the denouement of that nation’s conflict.

The question of who should fund reconstruction is also often an obstacle to peacebuilding. In some cases, consensus over the need for stability drives international funding mechanisms for pledging aid. In others, such as Syria, reconstruction funding simply becomes a new arena for contests over power and influence.

Regional bodies have also shown an interest in prioritizing post-conflict peacebuilding, particularly the African Union. Its track record has been mixed, though, in part due to capacity shortages, and it has been unable to prevent a return to conflict in places like the Central African Republic and Burundi. But even EU peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions to the Sahel have proven to be limited in their effectiveness at containing conflict and building peace. And U.S. efforts to transition from counterinsurgency to peacebuilding in Afghanistan have fared poorly as well.

WPR has covered post-conflict peacebuilding in detail and continues to examine key questions about future developments. Can Colombia get peace talks with its last major rebel group back on track? What lessons can countries draw from success stories, like Liberia, that appear to have successfully pivoted from conflict to peacebuilding? Will a global consensus emerge on who should lead post-conflict peacebuilding efforts and how to manage them? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

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Ending the Fighting

The first step toward building peace is ending war. But while self-evident, it is easier said than done. The mistrust and grievances that led to conflict are often exacerbated during the course of the fighting, making one or both sides unwilling to put down their weapons. Often, too, outside powers seeking to advance their own interests block or undermine efforts to bring the warring parties to the table. And even when peacekeeping forces are deployed to a conflict zone, they are often ineffective. But despite these obstacles, efforts to end conflict are preferable to doing nothing.

Promoting Reconciliation

Just because two warring parties have agreed to silence their guns does not mean they will pursue reconciliation. The immediate euphoria of peace deals can quickly fade, and if courageous leaders do not seize the initiative, mutual mistrust can once again lead to the inertia of a “cold peace.” Even in countries where the fighting is a distant memory, the failure to meaningfully address popular aspirations can lead to disappointment and discontent.


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Making Peacebuilding Sustainable

Peacebuilding involves a suite of initiatives that a range of actors, from the government to civil society organizations, pursue. The idea, ultimately, is to transform the beliefs or systems that sparked violence in the first place. It is generally seen as a three-step process that begins with basic efforts, like removing weapons, before transitioning to a period of rebuilding. The third dimension is the broadest: pursuing goals that help remedy the causes of the initial conflict, ranging from gender empowerment to achieving transitional justice.

Peacebuilding and Intractable Conflicts

Rooted in the post-World War II reconstruction, peacebuilding activities are often integrated into peace settlements, as actors in the conflict consider its origins and how future violence might be prevented. It is often unclear, though, who will champion these efforts, particularly in situations where some of the sides involved in the conflict are not interested in reckoning with its causes and their role in them.


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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.