International Alert Sets Peacebuilding Agenda In New Report

International Alert’s new report, Redressing the Balance: Why We Need Peacebuilding in an Increasingly Uncertain World, calls on populations, policymakers, and all international actors to consider peacebuilding as a legitimate and productive policy, both in economic and humanitarian terms. Released on International Peace Day, September 21, the report encourages governments to act on and further invest in this report to reassess the status of peacebuilding operations and make it a viable alternative to other forms of development and warfare. It is hoped that by highlighting both the obvious humanitarian benefits of employing peacebuilding practices and its potential as a source of economic prosperity will eventually replace military operations as the mainstream currency of international relations.

The report makes four key recommendations to international actors. These actors include donor governments, global and regional multinational organisations and their member states, NGOs, and international businesses. First, actors are encouraged to make peacebuilding a central component of international policies for conflict-afflicted areas. This involves peacebuilding in each level of policy, considering it in the context of diplomacy, trade, aid, and national security. Such focus on peacebuilding in policy should be reflected in investment. The report recommends that at least 27 US dollars per capita be spent in peacebuilding in any given context of conflict.

Second, Redressing the Balance encourages international actors to enhance the capacity to plan, implement, and monitor peacebuilding. This would involve programs of specialised recruitment, training, and other capacity-building schemes on the concepts and practices of peacebuilding. Conflict should be systematically prevented ‘upstream’ through multilateral and bilateral preventative diplomacy that involves the necessary flexibility that the variability of conflict demands.

Third, peacebuilding policies and practices should be implemented with immediate effect in order to ensure that current crises receive suitably long-term plans of peacebuilding action. Narratives of successful peacebuilding and informed conceptions of positive peace should be shared in areas of current conflict so as to convince local leaders to invest in these plans. International actors should not see short-term peace as a completed task but as the initial first step in a peacebuilding project towards long-term stability.

Finally, the report recommends that populations and international actors alike are encouraged to promote and sustain a public dialogue on the legitimacy of peacebuilding as a beneficial tool of international relations. This is a key requirement in the advancement of peacebuilding because of the main hurdles that the practice face is that of its perception in relation to military intervention and other forms of development. The promotion of successful peacebuilding narratives, of which there are many to draw upon, is a key step to shifting public expectations about what an adequate response is to security threats. This takes place primarily through making resources on peacebuilding more available and educating both policy makers and the public on its benefits.

A central purpose of International Alert’s report is to seek to clarify the definition and validity of peacebuilding. Despite its perceived complexity, peacebuilding is in many ways a simple concept: “Using available resources and methods to enhance people’s ability to anticipate and resolve conflicts non-violently.” It is the pursuit of systems and practices that can allow people to “manage differences and conflicts without resorting to violence.”

Peacebuilding was first introduced as an official policy tool in the United Nations by Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali 25 years ago, while the Millennium Declaration bound the UN and its members to the concept in 2000. The practice of peacebuilding, however, remains neglected in relation to other more destructive, mainstream forms of international interventions.

Redressing the Balance draws attention to the current state of world affairs and the complexity of the modern conflict, and argues the case of peacebuilding as a more sustainable remedy than that of violence or coercion. Drawing on information gathered as part of the 2017 Global Peace Index, the report explains that though violence has been declining over recent centuries, there has been a steady increase in the number of conflicts since the Second World War, amounting to 52 by the end of the Cold War. This trend has continued into the 21st century: battle deaths have tripled since 2003 with a 27 percent increase in 2016 alone. Although the state of peace improved in 80 countries in 2017, it declined in 83. One in five lives are affected by conflict across the world. It is clear that peacebuilding has become nothing short of an international necessity.

This has not been reflected in terms of investment. The Global Peace Index estimates that around US$10 billion was invested in peacebuilding projects in 2016, while around US$1.72 trillion was spent on military operations internationally.

What this report seeks to highlight is the economic return that a rise in investment in peacebuilding can bring. It is estimated that “every $1 invested in peacebuilding reduces the costs of conflict by $16.” Given the fact that economic interests can so often dominate the landscape of nations’ interests, it is hoped that by convincing international actors of the hard financial benefits of investing in peacebuilding, Alert can promote the practice as a wholly beneficial policy.

Clearly, peacebuilding primarily offers huge humanitarian benefits. The construction of lasting, sustainable peace is the key to preventing future conflicts. Peace breeds peace exponentially, just as violence breeds violence. The careful construction of institutions and conditions that sustain peace will reduce the tensions within and between societies, preventing both conflict and the disruption of development that conflict brings. The stagnation in development caused by conflict is itself likely to cause conflict, and so the cycle continues. Peacebuilding intervenes in this cycle of conflict and decline rather than contributing to it, thus building long-lasting stability.

Alert’s report deconstructs the components of sustainable, or ‘positive’ peace (as opposed to ‘negative,’ unsustainable peace). Five key elements are identified: fair access to livelihood opportunities; fair access to opportunities and the means of well-being; safety for all; collaborative, trusting relationships and good governance; and fair and accessible justice mechanisms. In building each of these facets into a post-conflict society, sustainable peace is more likely to succeed.

The complexity of modern conflict renders peacebuilding an essential practice in the modern world. Following the Cold War, the majority of conflicts arise within nations rather than between them, and these internal conflicts often have their origins in complex combinations of history, tensions, and insecurity. Redressing the Balance expands on this modern complexity by identifying eight key causes of conflict: demographic stress, stress on natural resources, inequality and perceived unfairness, questions of identity, inadequate political and social institutions, organised crime and terrorism, new technologies, and socio-political frustrations.

In acknowledging this complexity, Redressing the Balance sets forth a convincing argument for peacebuilding in the modern world: “building peace is morally, politically, and economically the right thing to do.” Drawing on case studies of successful peacebuilding operations, such as South Africa, Nepal, and Northern Ireland, this report demands a reassessment of perceptions of peacebuilding in public debate and policy-making.