What it is: A long-term project to create lasting peace in a country or community after war or other armed conflict has ended.

What it means: How is peacebuilding different from peacemaking and peacekeeping? Peacemaking means bringing armed conflict to an end, for example by a negotiated peace agreement. (See under Arbitration, Mediation, Negotiation) Peacekeeping begins with the peace agreement, and means working to prevent further outbreaks of violence. Peacebuilding, too, means preventing renewed fighting – but not just by keeping combatants apart or collecting up their weapons. Peacebuilding is ambitious: its aim is to help a conflict-torn society to change into a peaceful one. In the past, peacebuilding has relied on international support and influence from outside the conflict zones. But this has, too often, meant imposing the outsiders’ own ideas of how a society should work, and has ignored local traditions, culture and customs. Outsiders may not always take into account how difficult it is for a war-damaged community, in which the systems providing basic needs (such as water, food, medicine, work) have been destroyed, to start afresh. Most post-war organisation, indeed, is just crisis management. So peacebuilders have begun to make a point of involving (and respecting) the people in their long-term planning, so that a society’s transformation to peaceful living grows from within the community. Transition to peace in countries such as El Salvador, Ethiopia and the Philippines (look up their history) was pushed forward by the people, who wanted things to change. Peacebuilding of all kinds also means keeping a strong focus on the future, so that peace and peaceful policies will last after they have taken root. There are, of course, many ways in which peacebuilding can be done. It may start with help from the United Nations: UN missions have worked in (for example) Namibia, Angola, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique and Bosnia as these countries began their journeys of recovery from war. But the UN’s hope and intention is that such missions will be short – for the best possible reason: because the people have got back on their feet and can begin to sort out their lives, and build peace, themselves.

Think about it:
(1) The UN sees peacebuilding as, among other things, ‘rebuilding the institutions and infrastructures of nations torn by civil war and strife’ and tackling ‘the deepest causes of conflict: economic despair, social injustice and political oppression’. To start with, it’s necessary to help refugees to return home, to disarm the fighters and help them back into ordinary life, and to ‘re-establish the rule of law’. Then the focus must be on economic and social development. All this is fine – but it refers mostly to peacebuilding in developing countries, especially where there has been civil war. What about peacebuilding after interstate wars in which major powers have been involved? – and where the fighters are professional soldiers sent into action by their governments?
(2) The damage that war does is often underestimated. We know from television what physical destruction weapons can do. The media tell us about the suffering of people caught up in war and violent conflict. But it’s easy to think that when the violence stops everything is all right again. It’s too easy to forget a war zone when it drops out of the news headlines. Imagine how difficult you and your community would find it to get started again after a disaster such as a flood or a fire – recovery (mental and physical and social) after a war is much harder, and can take a very long time. Peacebuilding is vital, whoever does it. It means that people slowly learn ways to prevent violent conflict happening again. But what about trying to make changes here and now, wherever you are, to stop it happening in the first place? That means looking for the flashpoints in your community, region or country, and uniting to solve those problems and reject the use of violence in dealing with them.