The independent resource on global security

3. Multilateral peace missions: challenges of peace-building



I. Introduction

II. The evolution of peace-building in multilateral peace missions

III. The challenges of the peace-building agenda

IV. Dimensions of the peace-building agenda

V. Conclusions: responding to the peace-building challenges


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At the end of 2004 over 64 000 military and civilian police personnel and 4000 civilian personnel were deployed in 21 UN missions, arguably putting the UN in danger of overstretching its institutional capacities. At the same time 35 peace missions, with a total of 225 385 military and civilian personnel, were carried out by regional organizations and UN-sanctioned non-standing coalitions of states.


It is against this backdrop that the report of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change addressed UN peace operations, in particular the challenge of post-conflict peace-building, and proposed the establishment of a Peace-building Commission, which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan endorsed in his own report, ‘In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All’, in March 2005. Peace-building is an increasingly central component of multilateral peace missions, as reflected in the fact that the mandates of 17 of the UN missions launched since 1999 include peace-building tasks. Peace-building is a process involving external actors enabling a post-conflict society to function in the political, social and economic spheres.


The magnitude of the peace-building task means that priorities have to be set. Over the past few years, a fair degree of consensus has emerged on what these tasks are and the order in which they should be carried out. However, current peace-building endeavours under way in Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Iraq and Liberia demonstrate that the challenges of magnitude and legitimacy (both international and local) intersect to make the practical tasks of peace-building difficult to address.


Re-establishing the state’s ability to provide security—or ‘renationalizing’ the use of force and the prevention of violence within society—is the first priority. Afghanistan is a vivid example of the complexities involved: the lack of progress with demobilization, disarmament and reintegration there contributed to the deterioration of the security situation throughout the country.


The second priority area is the establishment of functioning law and order within the society. Without the necessary legal and administrative structures and mechanisms in place, economic reconstruction and social rehabilitation cannot take place. In Liberia, the need to set up a temporary skeletal legal system before embarking on a substantive overhaul of the rule of law highlights the challenge of balancing short-term versus long-term goals. The third and fourth priority areas for peace-building—economic reconstruction and governance and participation—are considerably more difficult to prioritize. Perfect sequencing of peace-building tasks, however, does not necessarily guarantee sustainability. What is needed but often neglected is local participation in the process.


A cursory glance at the scope of the tasks and responsibilities of contemporary peace operations raises the question of how the UN and regional organizations can continue to effectively oversee multiple peace operations of a multi-dimensional nature. A variety of responses have been offered. Some have argued that a minimalist approach towards peace-building should be taken and that the role of the international community should be limited to establishing security, leaving the rest to the local population. Others argue that a period of ‘benevolent autocracy’ from external actors offers the best chance for successful peace-building.

Sharon Wiharta