Ensuring Sustainable Peace: Strengthening Global Security and Justice through the UN Peacebuilding Architecture

While demand for international peacebuilding assistance increases around the world, the UN’s Peacebuilding Architecture (PBA) remains a largely ineffective and marginal player in the peacebuilding field. There are many reasons for the PBA’s shortcomings, including its original design, the Security Council’s uneasy relations with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), turf battles within the UN system, and the changing nature of conflicts that require for peacebuilding interventions. In its current incarnation, the likelihood of the PBC becoming a critical player in peacebuilding—even for second or third level conflicts—is very slim. It simply does not have the political clout, the expertise or the resources to assert itself. Yet, for the international community, the opportunity cost of keeping the PBA afloat in its current form is quite high. This is an unsustainable state of affairs.

In the last twenty years peacebuilding has firmly established itself as an important agenda for the international community. With the creation of the PBA in 2005, peacebuilding was institutionalized and became part of the UN’s repertoire of conflict management tools to assist countries to overcome the legacies of violent conflict and to prevent their lapse or relapse into conflict. While the PBA has evolved and consolidated itself in the last ten years, it remains a marginal actor in the larger field of peace and security. Far from becoming an indispensable “niche” entity in peacebuilding, it is not even “primus inter pares” in an over-crowded peacebuilding field—as reflected in the number of countries on its agenda and its limited influence.

All evidence indicates that the international community will be called upon to support a wide range of conflict-affected and post-conflict countries to get on the path to sustainable peace for the foreseeable future. This means that peacebuilding will continue to be a growth industry and the PBA, along with other key actors, will have to demonstrate its utility and relevance in an increasingly competitive field. There are three basic options for the future of PBA:

1) Better articulating its specific niche and value-added in the peacebuilding field and making the necessary changes to ensure that it delivers on it effectively and credibly;
2) Fundamentally transforming it to play a larger role internationally; and
3) Continuing in its current course, with only minor adjustments.

We believe that in view of the current shifts in the global order and the resulting uncertainties option 2 is unrealistic. Some have suggested, for instance, that the PBC should become a Council, in the hope that such a transformation will invigorate the PBC in the same way that becoming a Council invigorated the Human Rights Council. However, in the case of the Human Rights Council its transformation from a Commission to a Council essentially consisted in a change of how countries could be elected onto the Council. The fact that countries with a questionable human rights record could be elected to the Human Rights Commission questioned its credibility, and once this issue was addressed by creating a Council, it resulted in a more credible human rights body. In the case of the PBA, however, the membership of the Commission is not the problem and it is thus unclear how transforming it into a Council will address the challenges discussed in this paper unless, of course, the Council is created as an independent organ with a new mandate distinct from the other organs. Indeed, the Trusteeship Council remains an empty shell that could be converted into a Peacebuilding Council. However, there is no evidence that member states are disposed towards such an architectural reform when other pressing reform initiatives have been systematically thwarted. Moreover, the political costs of such a reform would probably outweigh its benefits.

Whilst option 3 is not unlikely, as the response to the 2010 review has shown, we believe it is undesirable. For the international community, the opportunity costs of continuing the PBC in its current form is simply too high. As has been observed, the PBC “sucks up way too much oxygen” from other parts of the peacebuilding field in terms of political, human and financial capital. Thus, we are of the opinion that, based on the 2015 review, the PBA’s comparative advantage should be better formulated and targeted institutional and operational reforms should be undertaken to make the PBA a more effective instrument of conflict management and peacebuilding. On the basis of the preceding analysis, we propose the following recommendations:

• The PBC’s scope of work has to be strengthened to deal with more countries and issues, and to play a more proactive and preventative role in international peacebuilding;
• The PBC’s main focus should be to provide attention, accompaniment, advocacy and resources for countries where international attention and support are most likely to diminish when the violent phase of their conflict subsides and they are no longer on the agenda of the Security Council;
• The PBA (especially through the PBF) can continue to serve as a quick response, timely, and risk-taking funding mechanism to address critical needs that are unlikely to be met through the traditional donor channels;
• Finally, the PBA can position itself (through PBSO) as a knowledge hub for peacebuilding, both for the PBC and the larger UN community.

In order to implement these recommendations, the PBA will have to revise its current working methods and approaches in the following ways:

• The three standing configurations of the PBC (OC, CSMs and WGLL) need to be reconstituted to better correspond to the actual needs and roles identified above; the division of work between the various configurationsshould be re-considered, and in its place the PBC could develop a full work schedule that consist of both thematic issues as well as country-cases that would enable it to cover many more countries, but with less intensity than was hitherto the case;
• The PBC needs to reform the way it relates to peacebuilding countries. Instead of the CSM model, the Commission could take a leaf from the Human Rights Council and engage with peacebuilding countries via a regular report through which the PBC draws attention to those peacebuilding aspects where progress has been made and those where more attention is necessary. Such reports will generate a product that all the peacebuilding actors can use as a common frame of reference and can help to draw the attention of all stakeholders to both immediate concerns related to threats for relapse as well as the longer term capacity building needs;
• The PBA needs to work more closely with UN Peacekeeping Missions and the Special Political Missions through the SRSGs, for instance, by involving them in contributing to the country reports that the PBSO whould develop for the PBC;
• The PBC needs to demonstrate how its work differs from that of the Security Council by focusing more on the medium to long-term peacebuilding needs of the countries on the PBC agenda, whilst leaving crisis management to the Security Council;
• The PBC (through the PBSO) needs to distill critical lessons from the work of the PBC to date and share them systematically with relevant stakeholders, amongst others by organizing thematic discussions in the PBC that are properly prepared and that result in reports that provide system-wide guidance on the selected themes; and
• The PBC needs to engage actively with new actors, new policies, new opportunities such as the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, theNew Deal, and the post-2015 development agenda.

Thus, over the next 10 years the PBA’s niche should be to deepen and strengthen its own competence in effectively and sustainably accompanying peacebuilding in diverse contexts so that it can become the “must go” entity in the UN for countries that seek sustained multilateral support and advocacy at the international level. While it is unlikely that the PBA or any other single entity can become the main actor for peacebuilding, PBA should at least aspire to be “primus inter pares” in terms of its dedicated and sustained attention to the conceptual, political, and operational challenges of peacebuilding in order to help shape international policy and practice. In retrospect, it appears that the creation of PBA was the easier challenge; the bigger challenge is in ensuring that the new architecture actually serves the purposes for which it is created.

This paper was co-authored with  Necla Tschirgi for the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance.

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