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An essay in response to the question: “Does successful peacebuilding depend more on international or local actors?”
Quinn Zimmerman MA – Conflict, Security & Development 2012 – 2013 King’s College London
Word Count: 2997 (excluding cover page & bibliography)
Introduction There can be no denying that the last two decades have been tumultuous ones for international peacebuilders. Initially enjoying widespread support in the decade following the end of the Cold War, there has since been a substantial pushback against their practice, the result of a decidedly mixed track record and sweeping shifts in international strategic priorities following the attacks of 9/11. It would not be unfair to suggest that today’s peacebuilders are suffering from a bad case of whiplash. This, however, is not a bad thing. With critique comes self-reflection, and much of today’s peacebuilding literature reveals a deep and nuanced discourse around the merits and flaws of the practice, and a desire to unearth solutions. Central to that discourse is an important question: does successful peacebuilding depend more on international or local actors? It is the question that this essay will seek to answer by arguing that, while international actors are important, and local capacities are not without their challenges, peacebuilding ultimately depends more on local actors if it is to be successful because only local actors can ensure sustainable peace. Therefore, in two parts, this essay will first explain why local capacities are more important than international ones in affecting successful peacebuilding, then highlight common problematic elements of local engagement in peacebuilding efforts to date. It will also offer necessary definitions.
Definitions Central to the discourse around peacebuilding are conflicting opinions about what it actually is. Definitions can significantly alter understanding of the scope and nature of the practice. Is peacebuilding programming aimed at simply securing the absence of armed conflict (the ‘negative peace’) or a more holistic solution that incorporates justice, equity and social and political advancements (the ‘positive peace’)?1 Is it, as Paris states (quoted in an article by Donais) an effort ‘to bring war-shattered states into conformity with the international system’s prevailing standards of domestic governance’ (the ‘liberal peace’)2, or rather a practice that should ‘stress the importance of tradition and social context in determining the legitimacy and appropriateness of particular order, justice or ethics’ (the ‘communitarian peace’)?3 Is it a combination of the above, the so-called hybrid or ‘post-liberal’ peace?4 Lacking clarity of the character of peacebuilding makes determining the relative importance of international and local actors impossible. As such, this essay will adopt the oft-quoted and highly influential definition of peacebuilding offered by then UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali in his 1992 An Agenda for Peace as ‘action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict’.5 While broad (and perhaps, given the scope of peacebuilding, necessarily so), such a definition firmly emphasizes sustainability as central to peacebuilding, and this essay argues that such sustainability can only come through local channels, hence making local the dominant factor in determining peacebuilding successes or failures. Indeed, without local ownership, even the most
Call & Cousens (2008) p. 3 Donais (2009) p. 5 3 Ibid., p. 6 4 Richmond (2010) p. 668 5 Boutros-Ghali (1992) p. 11
ambitious and well-executed efforts at building peace can be said to be more akin to glorified peacekeeping: effective, but impermanent. Also important to define is what is meant by ‘local’ – a term that is often deceiving in its perceived simplicity. However, Richmond reveals the more nuanced reality when he asks, ‘…who represents the local? Is it those most affected by war, the most marginalized, civil society, the national level, or the traditional elite centres of power, political and business elites? Are there many local agents, or can the state be taken to be representative of all of them?’6 Recognizing the international community’s tendency to over-simplify the local within the context of peacebuilding by conflating it with the national (the state) or assumedly representative elites, this essay adopts a broader definition. Local, as understood herein, encompasses all persons, as well as organizations and groups – formal or informal – that have immediate geographic origins in societies affected by conflict and subsequent post-conflict peacebuilding. To be clear, local does not always imply residence or continued physical proximity to conflict-affected regions. Indeed, diaspora members and displaced refugees are important local considerations in peacebuilding.
Part I - Why local? Local actors are more important than international actors in realizing successful peacebuilding for one primary reason: peacebuilding (as opposed to peacemaking and peacekeeping) aims for sustainable, lasting, self-led peace, and this, by definition, cannot be imposed externally. Sustainability is the result of productive, effective autonomous processes that can be aided by international actors, but rely ultimately on local capacities for their legitimacy and continuation. Indeed, as Donais makes clear, ‘Merging top-down [international] with bottom-up [local] approaches in creative and culturally sensitive ways is… likely to enhance the sense among local populations of the legitimacy of the broader peacebuilding process’. This is critical because, quoting Talentino, Donais goes on to make clear that, ‘even the most well-constructed international reform effort will be a failure if citizens do not perceive it as legitimate…’7 Sustainable internal peace requires legitimacy, and legitimacy can only come through local acceptance. To be clear, the international community can have a powerful positive effect on war-ravaged societies independent (or even in spite) of local conditions. Many peacemaking and peacekeeping interventions by the United Nations and relevant regional organizations have managed to end fighting in conflict zones across the planet that seemed otherwise doomed to perpetual violence. There is certainly a need for international action in many war and post-war contexts because, after all, ‘if the operationalization of local ownership principles [in peacebuilding] were entirely unproblematic, there would be no need for external intervention in the first place.’8 However, ending war is not equal to building peace, and while presumably, with enough time and resources, the international community could potentially suppress conflict indefinitely, this does not amount to peacebuilding. It is a long-form, expandedmandate version of peacekeeping. Without true local ownership, peacebuilding will never grow from such peacekeeping. Furthermore, the record to date suggests international donors and actors lack both
Richmond (2012) p. 359 Donais (2009) p. 21 8 Ibid., p. 12
the political, military and economic will to support such long-term efforts.9 This considered, successful peacebuilding therefore depends primarily on local actors for pragmatic reasons as well: international interventions cannot be expected to remain indefinitely, particularly in regions or conflicts that hold little or no strategic significance, and tax heavily on their resources. Local actors must eventually take the reins if peace is to remain once the international community departs. Hayman, writing about the need for advancement in locally-led peacebuilding, makes a critical point when differentiating between aid and development in the context of a post-war society. ‘Aid,’ she writes, ‘is not development, although it can lead to development. Development happens when all the resources of a country are used to the greatest effect – where any type of dynamism exists, is tapped into, and people practice self-help and mutual help. Nowhere is this needed more than in post-conflict countries.’10 Such aid as described is representative of peacebuilding without true incorporation of the local: a limited and potentially effective means at alleviating immediate problems, but one that is nevertheless impermanent and unable to address the deeper root causes of those problems. Only the development of locally-led peacebuilding can permanently transform post-conflict societies. Proponents of the importance of international actors in peacebuilding will likely make the point that in many post-war states, local capacities for peace may be nonexistent or, if they do exist, will be fragile and lacking coherent means for realization. This is often true, and based on the fact that, in the majority of cases, ‘post-conflict spaces, almost by definition, are characterized far more by diversity and division than by unity.’11 Indeed, the ‘cleavage structures’ of post-war societies may be entirely nonconducive to peace.12 As such, the argument that it is up to the international community to provide the framework and guidance through which meaningful peace can be realized can be alluring. The initial optimism around liberal peacebuilding, in which democracy and free market reforms introduced by international peacebuilders and their related institutions (the UN, the Bretton Woods organizations, etc.) are seen as answers to underlying causal factors of war13, is testament to such allure. Such peacebuilding, being Western-led and espousing dominantly Western ideas, has, unsurprisingly, been the most practiced form of international peacebuilding to date. However, even if the argument in favor of the need for internationally designed peacebuilding is accepted to be valid (which is a point of intense debate in contemporary peacebuilding literature), an obvious fact remains: the success of such international solutions ultimately depends on local acceptance and adoption. Without such acceptance, even the most ambitious liberal peacebuilding missions amount to little more than glorified peacekeeping or, perhaps, a form of trusteeship (Kosovo and East Timor being oft-cited examples). The success of the liberal peace is dependent on the successful transfer of its core ideals - democracy, human rights, good governance and free market economics – to the society in which such peacebuilding takes place. This has proved to be highly problematic in practice. There are many reasons for this, some of which will be discussed in Part II of this essay. Another point of consideration, in direct opposition to proponents of international action, is this: recent history has shown that it is possible to effectively peacebuild with no international involvement, and
Franck (1998) p. 284 Hayman (2013) p. 18 11 Donais (2009) p. 11 12 Paris (2004) pp. 170-171 13 Tansey (2007) p. 633
without adherence to predominant international principles. Here, critics of internationally-led peacebuilding efforts make the point that local peacebuilders, even without the significant economic and political leverage of their international counterparts, can create peace. Englebert & Tull, in their article exploring the concept of post-conflict reconstruction in Africa, make it clear that ‘postconflict countries… have demonstrated the possibility of successful resurgence of relatively strong indigenous state institutions by African standards. Although they are by no means unmitigated successes, they have fared better than their externally sponsored counterparts.’14 While peacebuilding encompasses more than simply reestablishing strong state institutions, statebuilding is nevertheless a crucial element in peacebuilding, and cases such as Somaliland (which Englebert & Tull highlight) are testament to the capacity of local-only approaches. The peace Somaliland currently enjoys is homegrown, and indeed, would have been impossible to realize without the active ownership of the people of northwestern Somalia and its diaspora. International efforts alone could never have created that peace, and it can be argued that international intervention would have likely have been detrimental to it.
Part II - Local: important, but imperfect. While this essay argues that local actors are ultimately where success will be determined in post-conflict peacebuilding, it will not go so far as to suggest local approaches are a silver bullet. Indeed, local actors can be as problematic to peacebuilding as international ones. Certainly, how problematic is a matter of consideration based largely on who is doing the evaluating, what local actors are being evaluated, and in what context, and it is beyond the scope of this essay to explore the extent of that variety. Instead, central issues in better understanding the problematic elements of local peacebuilding will be highlighted. While they cannot explain all challenges faced by peacebuilders across numerous varied contexts, they nevertheless shed light on common problems that have often manifested in different peacebuilding projects around the world. With rare exception, peacebuilding takes place in environments in which conflict has been halted via a negotiated peace. This produces significant challenges on the local level, as, unlike outright military victories, negotiated ceasefires effectively freeze in place a societal process (war) that some would argue necessarily needs to find a natural conclusion. These processes can be influenced by international actors, but ultimately must end through local resolution. Indeed, peacebuilding critics such as Weinstein or Herbst (as highlighted in an article by Paris) advance the argument that letting conflict states continue uninterrupted is, in fact, a peacebuilding solution - that ‘autonomous recovery’ ultimately breeds a more resilient peace.15 Research seems to support their point: internal conflicts that are resolved through victory of force result in longer peace than those ended through settlement talks.16 However, such prescriptions are highly problematic for peacebuilders, and, more importantly, for local people affected by conflict, because they allow continued bloodshed that could otherwise be stopped via international intervention and ceasefire agreements (however fragile they may be). This ‘let them fight it out’ approach may produce stronger post-conflict peace, but at what cost? As the author of this essay has argued before, such policies are ‘troubling on both a moral level – modern civil wars see very
Englebert & Tull (2008) p. 135 Paris (2010) pp. 343-344 16 Ibid., p. 344
high civilian casualties and atrocities – and on a strategic level, as conflict can create environments in which internationally threatening activities… can flourish. It also impacts neighbor states, reducing regional stability. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the fighting will in fact end.’17 This considered, peacebuilding is justified, but it must contend with the realities of the highly conflictmobilized societies in which it takes place. Deeply entrenched war dynamics are perhaps the most problematic element of bottom-up peacebuilding, and can be highly resistant to outside mediation efforts. Indeed, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that all peacebuilding efforts, regardless of their scope and the expertise with which they are conducted, are doomed to failure if local actors have no interest in being peaceful. The belligerence of much of Rwandan society prior to the genocide is testament to this. Native resistance to peace is a critical element that exists independent of external influence, and ties directly to effective local ownership of peacebuilding, which is the determinant factor in its success. However, even in societies that desire peace, local contexts can be highly challenging for international peacebuilders who fail to accurately understand local motives and realities, and distinguish legitimate local peace capacities from spoilers masquerading as such. Indeed, the tendency for international peacebuilders to focus efforts primarily on state actors, societal elites, and war leaders works against them on this front. Local actors are sensitive to the spoils of both war and peace, and often those with the most power in post-conflict settings are best positioned to divert peacebuilding efforts for their own personal enrichment.18 Misidentifying local peacebuilders, which is often the case when the state and/or elites are deemed the most representative local authority, can dramatically undermine peacebuilding programs. Opportunistic spoilers on the ground must be avoided should meaningful international-local peace exchange be practiced. Finally, a third local challenge exists, and that is simply that local peacebuilders may have fundamentally different opinions about what peace should look like, and how to go about creating it, than their international counterparts. Indeed, of the many criticisms leveraged at peacebuilding efforts to date, this is perhaps the most important. It stems from a disconnect between what international peacebuilders think should exist in local capacities for peace, and their role in creating or engaging it, and what local actors know actually exists. As Call & Cousens sum up clearly, ‘Whether external actors have the knowledge, tools, resources, or legitimacy to contribute… is, in our view, central to the question of the efficacy of international peacebuilding.’19 Too often, internationals assume they do without verifying that assumption via local feedback, or ignore such feedback if it threatens those assumptions. This disconnect between external and internal is damaging. In Hayman’s words, ‘”Cost effectiveness” in peacebuilding work is the potential waste of resources through ignoring local perspectives.’20 Such disregard for popular local sentiment can be seen as imposition rather than attempt at local ownership, creating what Chanaa calls the ‘imposition-ownership divide’ and which Donais highlights as having characterized most peacebuilding efforts to date.21 How this divide manifests in practice is highly varied, but the key take-away is this: international preferences forced on a local population that does not accept them will result in either outright failure, or in international peacebuilders having to adopt the uncomfortable and highly-problematic role of social engineers.22 Such
Zimmerman (2013) p. 3 Englebert & Tull (2008) p. 122 19 Call & Cousens (2008) p. 2 20 Hayman (2013) p. 19 21 Donais (2009) p. 15
Richmond (2012) p. 362
role adoption will also, in turn, fail, because like sustainable peacebuilding, social engineering is an inherently local process, and ownership must come from within.
Conclusion This essay has argued that, while problematic for a variety of reason (of which only a prevalent few have been highlighted), success in peacebuilding does, ultimately, depend more on local actors than international ones, because sustainability is born from local ownership. It is a lesson that the international peacebuilding community has been slow to learn, and only at the expense of many costly and ultimately ineffective internationally-led peacebuilding missions. However, the healthy debate that has come as a result of these failures has helped to solidify the fact that sustainable peacebuilding simply cannot be imposed externally, regardless of capacities or resources available. For some, as Paris pointed out in a recent speech at King’s College London, this suggests that comprehensive peacebuilding is fundamentally flawed, and should not be attempted.23 That is wrong. While undeniably challenging, peacebuilding is nevertheless a worthwhile practice, and deserves to be advanced for the sake of the many millions of people who suffer as a result of recurrent war and violent conflict. More contextsensitive engagement and greater local ownership seems to be the key to better helping them. To close, Donais sums up well this essay’s central argument: Given the inherent challenges involved in operationalizing the concept of local ownership in a more meaningful and participatory manner, why bother even trying? The short answer is that local ownership can be deferred, but cannot ultimately be avoided. In the absence of perpetual international trusteeship, the logical end point of any peace process is the handover of sovereign responsibility back to local authorities; the more these authorities can claim both authorship and ownership over the peace process, the more successful this transition is likely to be.24
Paris (2012) Donais (2009) p. 10
Berdal, Mats and Spyros Economides. United Nations Interventionism, 1991-2004. Cambridge University Press (2007). Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. An Agenda for Peace. New York: UN (1992). Call, Charles and Elizabeth Cousens. "Ending Wars and Building Peace: International Responses to War‐Torn Societies." International Studies Perspectives 9.1 (2008): 1-21. Donais, Timothy. "Empowerment or Imposition? Dilemmas of Local Ownership in Post ‐Conflict Peacebuilding Processes." Peace & Change 34.1 (2009): 3-26. Englebert, Pierre, and Denis Tull. "Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa: Flawed Ideas About Failed States." International Security 32.4 (2008): 106-139. Forster, Reiner and Mark Mattner. "Civil Society and Peacebuilding: Potential, Limitations and Critical Factors." World Bank, Social Development Dept., Sustainable Development Network (2006). Franck, Thomas. “A Holistic Approach to Building Peace” in Otunnu, Olara and Michael W. Doyle, eds. Peacemaking and Peacekeeping for the New Century. Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated (1998): 275-295. Hayman, Carolyn. "Local First in Peacebuilding." Peace Review 25.1 (2013): 17-23. Moran, Mary and M. Anne Pitcher. "The ‘Basket Case’ and the ‘Poster Child’: Explaining the End of Civil Conflicts in Liberia and Mozambique." Third World Quarterly 25.3 (2004): 501-519. Paris, Roland. At War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict. Cambridge University Press (2004). Paris, Roland. "Saving Liberal Peacebuilding." Review of International Studies 36.2 (2010): 337-365. Paris, Roland. “The Liberal Peace Revisited.” Speech given at King’s College London (3 December, 2012). Richmond, Oliver. "Resistance and the Post-liberal Peace." Millennium-Journal of International Studies 38.3 (2010): 665-692. Richmond, Oliver "Beyond Local Ownership in the Architecture of International Peacebuilding." Ethnopolitics 11.4 (2012): 354-375. Seay, Laura. "Whither Civil Society? Local Peacebuilding and the International Community." African Security Review 20.2 (2011): 73-79. Tansey, Oisín. "The Concept and Practice of Democratic Regime-building." International Peacekeeping 14.5 (2007): 633-646. Zimmerman, Quinn. “In Defense of the Liberal Peace.” Student essay, King’s College London (2013).
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