Schoolchildren stand in a bullet-riddled school building in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War, 2011 (photo via Conor Ashleigh, AusAID)
It is impossible to guarantee peace through a single signing ceremony; rather, peace is a process.
This is a point well understood by peacemakers across the world but less recognized by policymakers and observers who often pin their hopes to a single agreement and measure success through the absence of mistakes or setbacks in the peace process. Such misunderstanding can lead to perceptions that peace has failed whenever there is a timeline missed or provision violated. It can also contribute to a lack of attention and effort in peacebuilding initiatives based on assumptions that things will work themselves out after reaching a peace accord.
To mitigate such misunderstanding, it is necessary to recognize the fundamental tasks in peacebuilding. This gives practitioners, scholars, and observers the context required for evaluating what is required to advance the peace process and for measuring the effectiveness of former warring parties in moving beyond a state of conflict.
The peace spectrum
The reason why a single agreement cannot guarantee peace is because peace is not binary; rather, it exists on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is war, or a state of open hostilities between parties. That spectrum runs through what is known as a negative peace, which is merely the absence of hostilities. For example, when warring parties reach a ceasefire, they enter a state of negative peace.
But a negative peace is incomplete. The risk of resumed hostilities persists until the parties can build a positive peace. This is a state of relations in which there are linkages, ties, and sentiments that render the use of military force either untenable or unfathomable.
Thus, the goal of peacemaking is to end war and achieve a negative peace, and the objective of peacebuilding is to establish the conditions for a positive peace.
Fundamental tasks in peacebuilding
To achieve a positive peace, peacebuilders must improve relations while preventing a backslide towards conflict. Those who study peacemaking and peacebuilding will see certain functions earn repeat mention in policy and academic circles: e.g., demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR); transitional justice; power sharing; security sector reform; and peace education. But that list is not exhaustive–there are countless other things peacebuilders can and must do depending on the combatants involved and nature of the conflict. As numerous and varied as those things may be, they can all be categorized into six fundamental tasks.
1) Preserve a cessation of hostilities
Peacebuilders must ensure that all parties to conflict adhere to the rulesets for maintaining a cessation of hostilities. Those may be codified via a formal ceasefire or peace agreement, tacitly understood based on established precedent, and/or mutually accepted based on international laws, rules, and norms. It also means that parties to conflict must preserve options for de-escalation in response to security incidents that may occur while exercising restraint when it comes to their employment of military force.
2) Resolve sources of conflict
Although engagement and relationship building are important for advancing the peace process, those efforts can quickly be undermined if the underlying sources of conflict go unaddressed. As long as those sources of conflict and tension exist, the risk for resumed hostilities remains. Thus, it is incumbent upon peacebuilders to (1) diagnose those sources of conflict; (2) determine their interests, constraints, and restraints vis-à-vis those sources of conflict; and (3) engage relevant stakeholders to resolve those outstanding issues.
Some examples of sources of conflict include the following:
Access to resources
3) Mitigate obstacles to peace
In addition to resolving the root sources of conflict, peacebuilders must identify and mitigate obstacles to the peace process. Unlike sources of conflict, obstacles to peace are not factors that drive parties back towards war; rather, they are barriers that prevent them from moving towards a positive peace. Fear, pride, a sense of fairness, enmity, partisan political interests, and corruption (among other things) are all obstacles to the peace process. As such, it is necessary for peacebuilders to recognize any obstacles and take deliberate steps to mitigate their impact.
4) Institutionalize the peace process
To build the foundation for a durable peace, policymakers must create offices, allocate budgets, and designate personnel responsible for working on all the fundamental tasks for peacebuilding. Actions that are generated in an ad hoc manner can disappear as quickly as they are created, particularly when there are changes in government administrations. Achieving a positive peace takes time; thus, by institutionalizing the peace process, former warring parties can ensure that their efforts are able to weather changes in the political or security climate. 5) Incentivize the peace process
The presence of more attractive alternatives to peace can quickly erode any peacebuilding effort. What this means is that policymakers must make peace the most attractive option for both internal audiences and the opposing side(s). This incentivization does not simply mean financial benefits (although things like trade and direct investment can be useful tools), it means anything that can create value for the stakeholders involved. It also may include addressing alternatives to the peace process; in other words, removing or undermining the alternatives to peace that parties may have. 6) Create opportunities for non-violent engagement
If peacebuilders hope to achieve a positive peace, they must foster linkages and relationships between the former warring parties. Lines of communication between military forces that allow for dialogue as an option instead of the use of force is a common starting point, but military forces may also pursue confidence building measures such as reciprocal inspections of military sites or exercises. On the civilian side, this effort may include political engagements, academic conferences, and joint projects. Business engagement is also important, as this not only presents opportunities for routine contact, but mutual benefits. Finally, these opportunities may also include interpersonal contact between populations of the former warring parties, whether through student exchanges, family reunions, or interfaith meetings.
The need for a holistic approach
Peacebuilders must understand that piecemeal efforts will yield piecemeal results. A peace process that only includes the preservation of a cessation of hostilities may be able to maintain a tenuous, negative peace, but the parties will be unlikely to move beyond it if obstacles and alternatives to peace remain. Likewise, all the incentivization in the world cannot hope to yield a positive peace if the underlying sources of conflict go unaddressed. Instead, peacebuilders must pursue a holistic approach that covers all six tasks to advance the peace process. This may seem counterintuitive to some; after all, employing military forces to preserve a cessation of hostilities may seem antithetical to peaceful engagement. However, they all must work in concert together to prevent the backslide towards war while advancing towards a positive peace. This is complicated and requires a whole-of-government approach, but if peacebuilders can manage it, they may produce outcomes that not only move the former warring parties beyond conflict but establish conditions for a lasting peace.