home       biography       publications       speeches       organisations       images       @contact

Building Peace from Ashes of War

Baltimore Sun, 20 January 2006

Once the guns go silent, what comes next? This is being asked around the world, not only in Iraq but also from Haiti to Liberia, from Aceh to Burundi, from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone. All too often a fragile and incomplete peace is simply the prelude to renewed armed conflict. Depressingly, the best indicator we have of future conflict within or between countries is a record of past conflict.

Last month, the United Nations broke this recurring cycle by establishing a Peacebuilding Commission to help reconstruct countries after conflict and ensure sustainable peace.

The commission aims to draw together all the relevant U.N. agencies, bilateral donors, international financial institutions and relevant government officials. It will seek to coordinate their actions, establish integrated planning and implementation mechanisms, inject emergency resources to kick-start governments and economies, and maintain pressure on donors to maintain the flow of funds when the spotlight shifts elsewhere.

The international community has been getting much better at ending deadly conflict since the end of the Cold War. The recently published Human Security Report documents the dramatic reduction in the number of conflicts and combat deaths worldwide since the early 1990s - the product of better preventive diplomacy, international mediation, mobilization of peacekeeping forces, civilian policing and more effective disarmament and demobilization. More civil conflicts have been resolved by negotiation in the last 15 years than in the previous two centuries.

But the missing ingredient until now has been effective post-conflict peace-building, to consolidate the achievement of the peacemakers and peacekeepers. As nascent transitional governments have struggled to establish their credibility and regain their sovereignty, the key international players have often worked at cross-purposes.

Billions of dollars of assistance pledged at donors conferences have been poorly used, delivered according to the donors' rather than donees' timetables or not delivered at all. Basic underlying causes of tension have gone unaddressed, and countries have tumbled back into deadly conflict. In Angola and Rwanda alone, the failed peace agreements of the early 1990s cost some 3 million more lives.

Nearly every country emerging from conflict has similar challenges: to ensure effective governance, necessary physical security, a functioning economy and basic social justice.

Constructing or reconstructing societies on this scale needs support from the international community - mobilized, properly channeled and sustained over time - and this is where the Peacebuilding Commission's value will lie. But this is only if its potential is fully realized, and this will only happen with a lot more effort from key players.

Some fear that the United Nations simply has established a new bureaucracy that will add another layer of inertia to the effort. Any body whose core organizational committee involves 31 states is potentially dysfunctional. The commission, its country-specific working configurations and its support office will have to be agile, flexible and fast-moving.

Some unhappy compromises were made, as so often within the United Nations, to get the commission off the ground, including on the crucial issue of resources: The costs of the commission's activities beyond its basic operations will come from a voluntary fund rather than assessed contributions.

The risk is that a coordinating body without the resources to influence actions may quickly become irrelevant. Donor nations must ensure that the voluntary fund is filled. And the commission must be staffed by individuals of stature who can hold their own in tough interagency and international negotiations.

Now is the time for the donor countries to step forward, especially the United States. It is in the U.S. interest to do so. A president who denigrated "nation-building" during the 2000 presidential debates has found himself engaged in that very process from the Middle East to Central Africa and from the Caribbean to the Balkans.

The Bush administration recently recognized the importance of this effort by creating the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization at the State Department. One way to share the burden of post-conflict reconstruction is to embrace the new Peacebuilding Commission as a full partner and provide generous support to its peace-building fund.

The stakes could hardly be higher. The failure to consolidate peace can result in not only more death and misery for those immediately involved, but also the kinds of instability and chaos that breed and support terrorism; aid trafficking in drugs, arms and people; and help the spread of pandemic diseases.

We cannot forget, for example, that the failure of the international community to stay the course and build a just and lasting peace in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 laid the groundwork for the rise of the Taliban, the establishment of terrorist training camps and the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Peacebuilding Commission is an important step forward to a safer and more secure future for all countries, and we need to make it work.

Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister and former member of the U.N. secretary-general's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, is president of the International Crisis Group.