Re:viewing peacebuilding – shaping policies and practice for the post-2015 world


In the face of a world in turmoil a number of review and agenda setting processes are taking place which will be of utmost importance for the future of peacebuilding. Hence we raised the following questions in the public panel discussion which opened the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum 2015: Are we on the path to face the challenges ahead? Or do we need a new agenda for peace? These questions were discussed by Rahul Chandran (United Nations University, Centre for Policy Research, Japan), Sandra Melone (Search for Common Ground, USA), Martin Hoppe (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Developmen, Germany), and Sweta Velpillay (Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Cambodia) under moderation of Dan Smith (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Sweden).

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  • Peacebuilding actors need to have a 360 degree or a multi-angle perspective to deal with the grave challenges they faces these days.
  • The legitimacy of states as central pillars of the international system is eroding. While states are not necessarily the solution to achieve peace everywhere, their absence is not helpful either.
  • The goals of the Agenda 2030 (Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs) are important sign-posts for practitioners and in that sense Goal 16 serves as an important guidance and reminder. Yet, it is important to both thoroughly define relevant indicators for meaningful operationalisation of the goals and targets without becoming to technically.
  • Relevant everyday peacebuilding indicators may be regionally and locally quite specific. The UN’s task will be to integrate the different local indicators on an aggravated level, because the sustainability of peacebuilding is decided on this level.
  • Peacebuilding requires longer-term thinking and a more humble understanding of what can be achieved.


Three serious trends challenge peacebuilding!

There was wide consensus among the speakers about the starting point for the debate: The challenges for peacebuilding have increased over the last few years. In particular the trends of violent conflict are worrisome as Dan Smith underlined: “You think the World has become more dangerous? You are right!” The continuous decline in the number of conflicts until the early 2000s seems to have reversed, according to data from Uppsala University. Furthermore it was pointed out that the erosion of the legitimacy of states which we currently witness is a deeply worrying trend, too. While effective states are not necessarily the right solutions to the peacebuilding problems we face today, their absence or their erosion are not in any way helpful either. However, the one trend that probably featured most prominently on that panel was about the consequences of these conflicts for the West: Increasing numbers of refugees arriving in European countries. They raise a quite different type of awareness for the challenges of peacebuilding today. In order to effectively deal with these challenges in the West itself, as well as in order to deal with the challenges for peacebuilding in conflict affected places around the world, speakers called for a 360 degree perspective. This need to look beyond institutional silos and obtain a way more comprehensive awareness and understanding of the complex challenges ahead was certainly the most unequivocal claim throughout the complete discussion.

The debate quickly turns to technical questions…that lead back to the bigger picture

Despite the framing of the public panel with reference to worryingly serious trends, the discussion quickly turned to the favourite pastime of development and peacebuilding experts: how to develop the right set of impact indicators for the SDGs in general and SDG 16 in particular. It was soon agreed among the panellists that the main challenge here lies in devising indicators that are both universally relevant and locally applicable. Due to the specificities of each development and conflict context, the most useful indicators to monitor progress often might be the so-called “everyday-indicators”; not only with regard to the abstract SDGs but also for each and every concrete peacebuilding project beyond the SDG framework. And even those everyday indicators might differ significantly from locality to locality. In consequence it seemed questionable to which degree the UN as a global, state-based institution might be well placed to monitor peacebuilding impacts and the sustainability of peace in any meaningful way.

Peacebuilding as a wicked problem needs a systemic solution

Yet, it was argued that the role of the UN here should be to aggregate the different locally specific indicators in order to assess the sustainability of peacebuilding progress. Even more importantly, the challenges of peacebuilding confront the international community with a “wicked problem”: progress in one locality might unintentionally undermine progress in other localities or on the national level. In the face of such wicked problems, there is a strong need to come to systemic solutions which, again, underline the need for the UN to play a role. At the same time, various speakers called for more modest peacebuilding targets, aspirations and agendas. Only in accepting the limitations international peacebuilders face as well as the central role that local actors have to play, we can avoid the perception of being powerless. As a sort of conclusion one could state that humility is in order for international peacebuilders when addressing the current complex challenges and embarking on the realisation of an ambitious Agenda 2030; defeatism is not.

Marius Müller-Hennig

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