home       biography       publications       speeches       organisations       images       @contact

Stop Losing the Peace; The American fist can win wars, but peace-making and nation-building require a more open-handed approach

Globe and Mail, 8 October 2003


Winning the war but losing the subsequent peace has become rather a bad habit in recent times. Sustainable peace cannot be guaranteed just because a diplomatic peace-making initiative has apparently been successful think of the horror still to come after the Angola agreement of 1991 or the Rwanda accords in 1993. Nor can it be ensured because a clear-cut military victory has apparently been won think of Afghanistan and Iraq right now.

Postconflict peace-building is a hugely complex and often very costly enterprise, but the international community has to finish the jobs it starts. That means intelligent strategies, supported by the necessary resources, to create or re-create conflict-defusing domestic structures and capacities in all the critical areas security, politics, law and economics. Peace-building is about preventing the whole conflict cycle starting again.

We haven't been very good at doing any of this: There is no clear consensus about appropriate players and strategies, and not much confidence in the capacity of the various relevant institutions, national and international, to deliver effective implementation. Canadians, with 2,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan and two of them now victims of a lamentably deteriorating security environment, hardly need to be persuaded that we have to do better.

Doing better means learning a number of lessons from our collective experience, quite extensive since 1989, in trying to rebuild societies in crisis. We have to better understand the overall task; allocate functions appropriately; learn how to pursue multiple objectives simultaneously; co-ordinate the process effectively; commit the necessary resources; understand the local political dynamics; make security the first priority; make justice and the rule of law a higher priority; and know when to get out.

Above all, perhaps, we have to recognize that there are limits to what outsiders can and should do. The most disconcerting single statement I heard about Iraq was from a senior U.S. official in an off-the-record comment before hostilities began: "When this war is won, we will own Iraq." Maybe he wasn't meaning to challenge the international legal constraints on what occupying powers can do; maybe he was just thinking of a new U.S. capacity to dismantle threats; maybe it was just overly graphic imagery.

But in this day and age, no country can own another's land and people, even temporarily, and so long as that mindset persists, any attempt at building peace and sustaining institutions in that country is destined to fail. It's not our country, it's theirs.

This is why the current argument in the UN Security Council about Iraq's sovereignty who should be vested with it, and when is so important. The U.S. is currently insisting that sovereignty stay firmly attached to the occupying authority, and only be transferred to the Iraqis after a process of constitution-making and the election of a new government is complete.

France, embracing with a vengeance the idea of local ownership of the process, is arguing for the opposite sequence sovereignty being turned over immediately, to be followed by constitution drafting and national elections There is virtue in the U.S. position that time must be taken to get the constitution-making and election processes right. My own organization has argued that not only does the security situation have to be stabilized, and all the technical issues worked through, but that it would be desirable to wait until at least the beginnings of a pluralistic political culture have emerged.

The other problem with an immediate vesting of full sovereignty in the existing Interim Governing Council is that this council simply does not have much inherent legitimacy, by virtue of its direct appointment by the occupying coalition (without even the trappings of the kind of loya jirga process which gave Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai at least some local mandate).

But the problem with the U.S. view is that unless and until a non-American face is put on a significant part of the occupation process and in particular, on the part related to political transition trouble is bound to go on escalating.

The only way to give the whole political transition process any kind of legitimacy is to bring a third player the United Nations into the equation, and vest it with the explicit authority to manage that process. At the moment the U.S. wants the UN to play only a support role meaningful and high profile, but with the Coalition Provisional Authority remaining unquestionably in the saddle. However, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has responded by making clear that, in the aftermath of the Baghdad bombing, it is just not acceptable for the UN to bear that risk without having any commensurate governing responsibility.

In the Cambodian peace process more than a decade ago, the issue was managed by creating a Supreme National Council as the formal repository of Cambodian sovereignty while the political and other reconstruction of the country was conducted by the UN. This council consisted of representatives of the four warring local parties. The Iraqi Interim Governing Council is already beginning to acquire some of the trappings of sovereignty with its representatives being at least tacitly accepted as Iraqi placeholders in the UN General Assembly, Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference.

While that sovereignty must necessarily remain incomplete and conditional for the time being, there is no reason why the council should not now assume responsibility for most matters of day-to-day governance, and why its governing functions and authority should not steadily expand. If the legitimacy of the council could be enhanced by adding to its membership elected representatives of functional constituencies (i.e. the professions and trade unions) and the various regions, so much the better.

Local ownership is a matter of both symbols and substance getting right both the high ground of sovereignty, and the more mundane ground of day to day operational responsibility. Peace-builders, whoever they are, are always outsiders in these situations. Unless they understand the inherent limits of their role as outsiders, and are closely attentive to both the optics and the reality of local responsibility, they are bound to fail.

Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, was Australia's foreign minister from 1988 until 1996.

This article is based on a speech Mr. Evans gives at 5:30 p.m. today at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the second in a series sponsored by the Canadian Institute of International Affairs on the theme Rebuilding Societies in Crisis.