The peacebuilders: Making conflict resolution permanent
Out of the UN comes a new idea for ending war. Peacebuilders: An intensive process that gives permission for foreign 'interference' in conflict resolution.
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"Everybody understands peacemaking," says Judy Cheng-Hopkins, the UN assistant secretary-general for peacebuilding. "And in a way we also understanding peacekeeping.... Peacebuilding goes beyond either [of these]."Skip to next paragraph
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Peacebuilding is about what comes next – the slow and thankless slog of building a country back up. For generations, that job has been piecemeal: a little emergency aid here, some development projects there. But those professionals are trained differently, rarely coordinate, and are sometimes outright antagonistic. Their projects, meanwhile, are not overtly about peace. Aid is about relief; development is about economic growth. But post-conflict states also have a host of other needs.
Ex-soldiers need to feel productive and engaged as civilians, or they cause trouble. Returning refugees need a legal process for lodging complaints when they find their old homesteads occupied. Courts need competent judges and lawyers; armies need barracks; police need jail cells. Often, these countries need all these things, and all at once.
None of these needs is especially surprising. "There is this sense that everyone knows what we're talking about. We're talking about a specific set of challenges in a specific set of circumstances," says Vanessa Wyeth, coeditor of "Building States to Build Peace." "They're based on a lot of experience but not a lot of specific evidence about things that we know can help support peace."
The UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) is setting out to build that evidence. With $155 million so far, the UN's newest office is testing theories about war, peace, and development in six African countries – Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, in West Africa, and Burundi and the Central African Republic (CAR) in central Africa.
"Usually people say, 'We have so many UN bodies, we have so many UN agencies in different countries – one more? What for?' " says Jorge Tagle, a counselor with the Chilean mission to the UN, which formerly chaired the PBC. But he and others think its design and membership mean this little commission could have big influence – over major UN decisions, and in the countries with which it works. [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly identified the nationality of the mission Mr. Tagle represented.]
That's because the PBC is something other organizations aren't allowed to be: overtly political. Schulenburg's negotiations in the midst of the Freetown riot were not just a bit of practiced conflict resolution. It is, he acknowledges, an "interference in national sovereignty."
The PBC gets that leeway because it's part of the UN, and because it's invited. Countries must ask for PBC help. In return, they get a dedicated, if unofficial, ambassador for their cause. So far, the arrangements have paired neglected countries like the CAR with power-hitters like Belgium, who advocate for their partner countries at donor roundtables and in political meetings for funding, attention, and that elusive, powerful ingredient of action – political will. In the CAR's case, donor money to the country increased more than 50 percent the year it joined the PBC.