Peacebuilding, A History

The concept of peacebuilding was first mentioned in a report from 1992 by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali entitled "An Agenda for Peace" in response to a request by the UN Security Council for a report on peacekeeping and peacemaking. In it, Boutros-Ghali defines post-conflict peacebuilding as an "action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse in conflict". A following report of the Panel on UN Peacekeeping Operations (the Brahimi Report) identified the "pressing need to establish more effective strategies for conflict prevention, in both the long and short terms" and the general problems in the UN's approach to peacebuilding. Another report by the UN Secretary General in 2005 entitled In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all drew attention  to the lack of resources and international support given to post-conflict countries transitioning to peace and identified this lack of support as a common cause of relapse into conflict. Months later, the Security Council (SC) and General assembly (GA) adopted identical resolutions (S/RES/1645 and A/RES/60/180) creating the Peacebuilding Architecture (PBA) in order to provide the necessary international support to prevent relapse into conflict in transitioning countries. 

The Secretary-General's Policy Committee defines peacebuilding as "A range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development. Peacebuilding strategies must be coherent and tailored to the specific needs of the country concerned, based on national ownership and should comprise a carefully prioritized, sequenced, and therefore relatively narrow set of activities aimed at achieving the above objectives." In April 2016, the SC and the GA passed identical resolutions on peacebuilding once again (S/RES/2282), introducing the idea of "sustaining peace" in order to emphasize peacebuilding as an activity taking place during all stages of conflict. These resolutions also emphasized that peacebuilding is the business of all UN agencies and institutions. 








Photo credit: UNICEF Photo

Peacebuilding in Practice 

Peacebuilding is a broad concept. As defined by the most recent SC/GA resolutions, peacebuilding equals sustaining peace. Peace is not an end goal, but rather a sustainable state of being; building a peaceful society means removing conflict drivers in a durable way. Conflict drivers can of various nature, social, economic, environmental, political...Therefore peacebuilding requires a complex, multi-disciplinary approach. Beyond describing which areas to focus on, however, it is possible to describe who peacebuilders should go about sustaining peace. 3 concepts stand out as pillars onto which a successful peacebuilding effort can be made: national ownership, national capacity, and common strategy. 

  • National Ownership is the concept whereby a state, meaning its government and its people, takes the lead in the peacebuilding efforts. The more a state claims ownership of the peacebuilding process, the more legitimate that process will be. Whatever goals are achieved will be increasingly sustainable as the population recognizes them as their achievements rather than others'. Although national ownership is absolutely crucial to peacebuilding, local ownership also plays an important role. In many cases, sustaining peace will also require reconciliation between a people and its government. Making space for local participation is necessary in order to reconcile the government's wishes and the population's. 
  • National Capacity is the concept whereby a state has the ability to sustain the peacebuilding process without the help of the international community. Heavy reliance on foreign aid (financial, institutional or political) inhibits the sustainability of peace; any peacebuilding effort which undermines a state's autonomy can only be counterproductive as it will reduce the strength of national institutions and authority. 

  • Common Strategy, inclusivity and partnership is the idea that peacebuilding should involve a variety of actors working together in order to promote a single, common effort. The government, international community, NGOs, civil society, private sector etc. all need to communicate and cooperate in order to ensure their efforts have a maximum impact. One of the biggest considerations today in the peacebuilding sector is how to form strong, stable partnerships between different actors with the same goal. 

For more information about the evolution and main tenets of peacebuilding, read UN Peacebuilding: an Orientation  put together by the UN Peacebuilding Support Office.