Karina Mroß, Charlotte Fiedler, Jörn Grävingholt | 2016

Building peace after war: the knowns and unknowns of external support to post-conflict societies

in: DIE Briefing Paper 11/2016.

Civil wars and other armed conflicts within states kill tens of thousands of civilians every year, destroy many more livelihoods and have forced millions of people to flee their homes over the last five years alone. For many years since the mid-1990s, armed intrastate conflicts seemed to be steadily receding, but this trend has reversed itself since 2013. For populations affected by civil war, 2014 – the year for which the most recent data is available – was deadlier than any year since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Most violent conflicts today are recurrences of previous wars. Thus, besides ending ongoing violence, preventing wars from breaking out again is one of the major challenges the world faces today. Since the 1990s, this has been the exact objective of peacebuilding activities. But how successful are efforts to stabilise peace after armed conflict really? And what can be done to make them more effective?
Summarising a broad range of empirical research on post-conflict peace support, this briefing paper reports which types of external engagement are known to be effective, and which ones are not. International peacebuilding efforts focus mainly on four issue areas: providing security, (re-)starting socio-economic development, advancing democratic governance and promoting transitional justice. Assessing the evidence available in each area, three messages for external actors who wish to support peace in post-conflict environments emerge most clearly.

  • First, international peacekeeping missions are in many cases an effective instrument for stabilising peace after civil war, indicating that the immediate security concerns of affected populations is of utmost importance. Yet, security alone is not enough. Peacekeeping is all the more successful when it is embedded in a multidimensional approach, supporting the notion that political, economic and social concerns also need to be addressed early on if peace is to last.

  • Second, supporters of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes and security sector reforms need to embrace the political character of these processes. Approaching them merely as technical issues – as outside actors often do – and turning a blind eye to the vested interests involved risks fuelling new conflicts instead of preventing them.
  • Third, transitional justice is an important area of post-conflict peace consolidation – but only if it meets the interest and support of key stakeholders in the affected population: in parliament, in government and administration, and in civil society.

One-size-fits-all strategies for how to support sustainable peace after civil wars do not exist. Different types of conflicts obviously require different pathways to peace. One direction of future research should be a more systematic analysis of post-conflict contexts that are similar enough to call for similar strategies of peace support.

More about this publication here. Find the German version here.

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