Making Peace Matter: Toward a Concept of Inclusive Security
Making Peace Matter: Toward a Concept of Inclusive Security
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2024
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2024
Op-Ed / Global 6 minutes

Making Peace Matter: Toward a Concept of Inclusive Security

The sweep of natural and man-made disasters and crises demanding the world’s attention makes a mockery of attempts by policy-makers to separate the essential from the urgent, to engage in long-term strategic planning, or even to maintain a well-ordered in-box.  Cyclones in Myanmar, earthquakes in China, and floods in Bangladesh too often settle for their fifteen minutes of fame in competition with political and economic crises in Afghanistan, Colombia, East Timor, Kenya, Somalia, Zimbabwe and dozens of other situations that should benefit from long-term and sustained international commitment.  Enormous issues such climate change, energy security, poverty, rising food prices, women’s empowerment, and HIV/AIDS must also make their cases for policy-makers’ time and governments’ resources.

In this context, the traditional dividing line between issues of hard national security and promotion of international and national interests becomes blurred.  Crises no longer remain in their separate and distinct boxes, any more than they respect national borders.  Failure to consolidate peace can result in instability and chaos that serve as breeding grounds for terrorism; trafficking in drugs, arms, and persons; pandemic diseases; massive refugee flows; and other threats to peace and international order. 

This reality places a premium on addressing the root causes of conflict at the local level, and engaging in conflict prevention and avoidance.  In assessing where to put our ounce of prevention, it is important to remember that the single best predictor of where future conflict will occur is where conflict has already occurred.   Too often, fragile and incomplete peace is the prelude to a return to armed conflict.  
Once the killing stops and the guns go silent; once the transitional government has been installed and the combatants turn in their weapons; once the UN peacekeepers leave and the donors conferences conclude; what comes next?  This question is being asked around the world, from Sierra Leone and Burundi, from Liberia to Haiti, from Nepal to East Timor, from Angola to Afghanistan.  In studying successful and failed processes of post-conflict reconstruction, it is evident that the challenges facing these countries are many, but are often remarkably similar from state to state.   Six key challenges must be addressed simultaneously; namely, restoring security, building a political framework, kick-starting the economy, ensuring justice and accountability, promoting civil society, and getting the regional context right.
On the security front, international peacekeepers can provide a buffer, but credible local security forces must quickly take over to provide a sense of stability and normalcy to everyday life.  International support for security sector reform is usually essential to ensure that forces are well-trained, disciplined, and adequately paid so that they do not exploit the populations they are supposed to protect.  Women must be amply represented in these forces, in part to ensure that law enforcement is “community-friendly” and that women who have been abused are comfortable coming forward with complaints.  There must be effective programs to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate ex-combatants, including militias.  Child soldiers must put down their AK-47s and pick up schoolbooks.   

The second challenge is to restore a political framework.  The quick-fix of creating a government of national unity including all the competing forces is rarely a viable long-term solution.  The premature holding of elections can create a winner-take-all power dispensation that is itself a prelude to new conflict from disempowered minorities.  The challenge is to restore confidence in government at the national and local levels; transform armed movements into political parties; and build effective legislatures and judiciaries to counter-balance the power of the executive.  A culture of accountability and transparency must emerge in government, along with an effective system to protect human rights.  Decentralization and local empowerment must be balanced against the usual need for a strong central authority in fragile states. 

Third, economic renewal is often defined in strictly physical terms as the rebuilding of roads, clinics, schools, power grids, and houses.  In truth, long-term development means reviving agriculture, creating conditions needed to attract local and foreign investment, ensuring greater equality in income distribution, and creating jobs.  A quick route to conflict is through youth unemployment – it is little surprise that in addition to their brutal forced conscription of child soldiers, renegade leaders like Foday Sankoh, Joseph Kony, and Jonas Savimbi have lured disaffected young people with a siren song that offers quick empowerment and meaning to their lives. 

The fourth challenge is coming to grips with past abuses and atrocities.  Clearly, nations and individuals who have suffered from grievous treatment must balance immediate accountability and long-term national reconciliation.  But too often, transitional justice means amnesty, whereby men with guns forgive other men with guns for crimes committed against women and children.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to transitional justice: whether it is action by the International Criminal Court, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like in South Africa, the gacaca community court system in Rwanda, a human rights commission in Afghanistan under the Bonn agreement, or ad hoc international tribunals in cases where local courts are inadequate, ensuring accountability is essential to rebuilding the concept of rule of law and eliminating a culture of impunity. 

A fifth challenge, often ignored, is re-creation of civil society.  Groups of academics, lawyers, teachers, unions, and women are the glue that holds society together and can serve as safety valves to permit the peaceful redress of grievances.  Disadvantaged minorities, including internally displaced persons, must be drawn into the mix.  Women in particular are not only the primary victims of conflict, but they are key to the consolidation of peace.  Bringing women to the peace table improves the agreements reached, and involving women in post-conflict governance reduces the likelihood of returning to war.  The single best investment to revitalize agriculture, restore health systems, and improve other social indicators after conflicts is girls’ education.  It has been said: “Educate a boy and you educate an individual; educate a girl and you educate a community.”

The final challenge is getting the regional context right.  Countries in bad neighborhoods risk spill-over from armed combatants, refugees and arms flows.  Those in good neighborhoods receive a powerful dampening effect on potential violence.  Comprehensive peacebuilding must go beyond national borders to draw all neighboring countries into a regional recognition that peace is usually in the interest of all the parties.  It also recognizes the differing and often synergistic roles to be played by neighboring countries, each with its special relationships and contacts with key actors.
New tools are at hand for addressing these challenges.  Integrated peace operations that flow naturally from peacekeeping to a comprehensive addressing of security, economic and political concerns are now the order of the day.  The UN Peacebuilding Commission, established in late 2006, is coordinating the actions of relevant UN agencies, bilateral donors, international financial institutions, governments, and civil actors.  It is helping coordinate their actions, establish integrated planning mechanisms, inject emergency resources to kick-start governments and economies, and press donors to maintain the flow of funds when the spotlight shifts elsewhere.  Similarly, several countries are creating in-house government coordinating bodies to draw together the various economic, social, humanitarian, and military efforts to support reconstructing states.  

Another new tool is the concept of the “responsibility to protect,” unanimously adopted by the World Summit in September 2005 and endorsed by the UN General Assembly and Security Council.  This concept acknowledges that a state’s assertion of sovereignty brings with it a responsibility to protect one’s population from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.  If a state is unwilling or unable to do this, the international community bears the responsibility to act, in the first instance through assistance to the state; thereafter through pressure, naming and shaming, sanctions, and other measures; and in the final instance, under strict criteria, through coercive intervention.  This emerging norm is yet to be brought into true operation, but it changes the terms of the debate by “internationalizing” the fight against mass atrocities. 

Returning to the question of prioritization, too often the challenges of peacebuilding suffer from second-class citizenship.  Governments and international organizations faced with more immediate and concrete issues like combating terrorism and stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction often ignore the organic link between these efforts and the instability and insecurity that emerge from fragile states.  Too often, reconstruction is seen as the “soft side” of foreign policy. 

In fact, there is nothing soft about holding warlords accountable for their war-time crimes.  There is nothing soft about ensuring that refugees and internally displaced person are safe from violence and sexual abuse.  There is nothing soft about insisting that women have a seat at the table in peace negotiations and post-conflict governments; that roads, villages, and farmlands are free of landmines; that governments are empowered to deliver health and education services to their people; or that neighboring countries and world powers alike cease their meddling and play a positive role in building regional peace and security. 

These are among the hardest challenges we face as an international community.  In the name of a more inclusive definition of national security, they deserve our equal time and attention. 

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