From peacekeeping, to peacebuilding to state-building

Peace & Security10 Dec 2016The Broker

Since the early 1990s, peacekeeping operations originally designed for short-term assignments (such as ceasefire verification) have become longer-term and more ambitious multi-dimensional peacebuilding missions.1 Staff of these missions became involved in implementing peace agreements, processes of demilitarization and political reform in war-torn societies. Multi-dimensional peacekeeping had already entered the field of state-building, since it sought to contribute to the rebuilding or transformation of state functions (such as the monopoly on violence) and political arrangements (electoral democracy). But since the late 1990s, even more comprehensive rebuilding of state institutions and structures is being called for, leading to a focus on state structures, implying longer time frames and deeper international involvement.

Bilateral donors and NGOs are also active in (post-)conflict zones, thus widening the range of international actors involved in peace operations. Today, a simplified model of international intervention in a post-conflict context would start with a military–civilian peace operation to stabilize the situation, continue with a peacebuilding plan and end with a state-building process. In this continuum, leadership would move from external actors (UN troops, international or regional powers) to local actors (government and its institutions).

But the idea that peace- and state-building are complementary has been criticized.2 While one defining feature of peacebuilding is the ending of armed conflict, state-building is often a conflictive and even violent process.3 This has been the reason to propose downscaling the level of ambition of international operations to the task of creating ‘mechanisms that keep limits on the use of violence’.4


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