Jan Pronk

Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. Don’t put the cart before the horse

Hans Singer Lecture, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK, 14 November 2012

Twenty years ago United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proclaimed his Agenda for Peace, in which he put the relation between development and peace in a new perspective [1]. Three years earlier the Cold War had come to an end. Those three years had been a period of relief, hope, and new ideas. Instead of investing in an arms race and risking destruction, resources could be allocated towards poverty reduction and the preservation of the earth, in short: sustainable global development. At the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Rio de Janeiro, 1992) a consensus agreement was reached regarding a common program: Agenda 21, a priority agenda for the century ahead [2]. It was a program of action, introducing new political and legal frameworks to contain climate change, biodiversity loss and desertification. New values were introduced: human development, sustainable development, the principle of precaution, and common but differentiated responsibilities.

Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda for Peace, launched in the same year, made the new thinking complete by introducing a similar framework to contain violent outbreaks of conflicts within countries due to development deficits. In this Agenda a distinction was introduced between preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building. Preventive diplomacy was defined as action to prevent disputes between parties from arising, escalating and spreading. Peacemaking was meant to bring hostile parties to agreement, through peaceful means. Peacekeeping had the same objectives as preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, but this time by deploying a UN presence in the field, including military personnel. Finally, peacebuilding was considered a post-conflict exercise, supporting structures which could solidify peace, avoid a relapse into conflict and prevent the recurrence of violence [3]. While preventive diplomacy seeks to avoid the breakdown of peaceful conditions, peacebuilding is meant ‘to forestall a re-emergence of cultural and national tensions that would spark renewed hostilities. Without such efforts’,  Boutros-Ghali once said, ‘no peace agreement is likely to last for long’ [4].

This implied that peacebuilding had to take place in close relation to development. After all, the aim was, ‘in the largest sense, to address the deepest causes of conflict: economic despair, social injustice and political oppression’ [5]. So, post-conflict peacebuilding could take the form of concrete projects contributing to mutually beneficial social and economic development, for instance in the field of agriculture, transportation, water and energy resources, education and culture [6]. Once peacemaking and peace-keeping would ‘have achieved their objectives, only sustained, cooperative work to deal with underlying economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems can place an achieved peace on a durable foundation’ [7].

Challenging the consensus

Both Agenda 21 and the Agenda for Peace were phrased in rather ambitious language. In the Agenda for Peace reference was made to ‘(an) increasingly common moral perception that spans the world’s nations and peoples, and which is finding expression in international laws’ [8].  Both documents expressed such a new common moral perception. However, after 1992 the new spirit gradually faded away. National and international development policies came under the pressure of another emerging consensus: the Washington consensus. This had consequences for both development and peace.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall the iron curtain had been torn. All political, ideological and physical borders between East and West were fading away. This gave a boost to a new wave of globalization and cleared the way for neo-liberal policies in the North - both East and West - and in the South. Public policies had to give way to market forces. Like before, in the period of structural adjustment, social objectives came under the pressure of economic criteria, and inequalities increased.

The end of the Cold War between East and West had also consequences for the South. Before 1989 geopolitical strategies of East and West, both aiming to preserve their respective sphere of influence in the North as well as in the South, had stifled power relations, not only internationally, but also within countries. During the Cold War any form of internal political change which was perceived as a possible threat to the geopolitical status quo, and which could alter spheres of influence, had been made impossible by the big powers. This was no longer the case after 1989. Soon conflicts which had already existed for a long time within individual countries, but which could not manifest themselves due to pressure from outside, escalated into widespread and deep violence.

So, the Agenda for Peace found itself in difficulties. The new proposals concerning peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding had not yet been fully agreed by the UN. The relevant institutions did not have the capacity to prevent an outbreak of violence in countries such as the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda and Sudan. It was simply too much at the same time. The major powers in the Security Council of the United Nations were reluctant to share their intervention power and to make the resources available for peacekeeping. Peacebuilding, seen as a post-conflict exercise, hardly came off the ground.

Soon thereafter in both fields, development and peace, efforts were made to revive the ‘increasingly common moral perception’ of the early nineties. At the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995) consensus was reached on the need to put people at the centre of development, on paper anyway. World leaders agreed to make the conquest of poverty, the goal of full employment and the fostering of stable, safe and just societies their overriding objectives [9]. Boutros-Ghali himself presented two other Agenda’s: the Agenda for Development in 1994 [10], and the Agenda for Democratization in 1996 [11]. The former was soon overshadowed by the Copenhagen consensus. The latter was more a position paper than an Agenda. It was considered controversial, did not receive consensus approval and was shelved.

However, in the same year Boutros-Ghali presented a Supplement to his Agenda for Peace, with proposals to enhance the effectiveness of peace operations, including a transfer of decision-making responsibility concerning post-conflict peacebuilding from the Security Council to the General Assembly, to the Secretary General himself, as well as to bodies belonging to the UN system which were carrying responsibilities in economic, social, humanitarian and human rights domains [12]. Two and a half years later the  General Assembly responded by adopting a text which basically came down to a plea for better coördination [13]. It took ten years until the Security Council, acting in concurrence with the General Assembly, established a subsidiary body with the main task of taking care of post-conflict situations: the Peacebuilding Commission. This is an intergovernmental advisory body, not entitled to take effective action itself, but to collect resources for early post-conflict reconstruction and for the development of longer term peace-building strategies.          

Boutros-Ghali’s initiatives brought him into conflict with major powers. Members of the Security Council granted him one term only as UN Secretary General. By now he has largely been forgotten. However, in my view Boutros-Ghali deserves to be complimented for his creative initiatives. The significance of his Agenda’s which should not be underestimated, though practical results were meagre.


In the mid nineteen nineties a former high official of UN, Erskine Childers, wrote a devastating critique on the practice of UN peacekeeping. In his view peace operations had failed for four reasons: faulty needs assessments, inadequate resources, bad timing, and, above all, ambiguity of mandates [14]. Childers blamed in particular the major powers in the Security Council, and accused them abusing their veto rights. For this reason Childers proposed reforming the UN in order to keep peace operations ‘genuinely multilateral and on behalf of the membership as a whole’ and to ‘develop alternative modalities, equipping the General Assembly with far more extensive – and if necessary operational – responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security, the preservation of mass human rights, and the succor of large segments of populations brought to humanitarian desperation by the tides of war’ [15].

This plea was in line with other proposals by Childers to restore the truly multilateral character of the United Nations, in particular in the field of development. Decisions of the UN concerning peace and development should be as representative as possible for the world community as a whole, more legitimate, more credible in the eyes of the peoples of the world, with a greater chance to be held in respect, and thus more sustainable [16]. Childers’ harsh judgments concerning the non-implementation of the Agenda for Peace were legitimate. However, one might argue that the international community had to learn how to keep peace in situations which had drastically changed since the end of the Cold War. Maybe the failures had been due to teething troubles of the first years. However, I am afraid that present judgments would have to be no less harsh. Since ‘nine-eleven’ the international community has not responded adequately to conflicts of a global reach, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Darfur, Libya, Syria and others. Adequate responses would require rather fundamental reforms. Based on my own experience in international development cooperation as well as peacekeeping, I recently presented reform proposals, which in my view would be both desirable and politically feasible [17]. Reforms of the political and administrative decision making machinery in UN Headquarters and its Agencies should, amongst others, enable peacekeeping, peace building, reconstruction, and development to be integrated into unified field programs. At the end of the day sustainable peace can only be accomplished on the ground. 

During the last decade decisions by the Security Council and by UN Headquarters have been focused too much on peacekeeping. Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacebuilding have been neglected. Too soon too much emphasis was laid on one option only: peacekeeping missions with military means. The resulting UN interventions were either too late (e.g. in Darfur), too limited (e.g. in Congo), too strongly influenced by the interests of major powers (such as in Afghanistan and Iraq), or afflicting too much collateral damage, such as in Libya. There was always some harm to the peace process itself. The same reasons of failure mentioned by Childers - faulty needs assessments, inadequate resources, bad timing, and ambiguity of mandates - still apply. All these reasons are political, which means that failures were political. Preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, which in the Agenda for Peace had been clearly defined as multilateral political strategies, have not been seriously considered.


If, due to prevailing international political circumstances, preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping are either absent or bound to fail, we are left with the fourth option: peacebuilding.  In essence the concept of peacebuilding is based on the recognition that peace, development and democracy depend on each other. Development by itself cannot guarantee peace. However, without development there will be no peace. And, as Boutros-Ghali said in retrospect, ‘Without peace, there can be no development … Without development there can be no democracy, and without the basic elements of well-being, societies will disintegrate and enter into disputes. Without democracy, no real development can occur. And without such development, peace cannot long be maintained. … (The) young will be restless and resentful. Land will not be productive. People will fight for resources. And creativity will be misdirected, and disorder may prevail’. So, Boutros continued, ‘peacebuilding should involve efforts to ‘support structures to build trust and well-being among peoples  ... (and)  ... bridges between parties to the conflict. … The concept of post-conflict peacebuilding is the counterpart of preventive diplomacy … On a deeper level, both are contributions to the second stage of work for world peace: development’ [18].  

In all official documents the four stages - preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding - are clearly distinguished from each other. However, the ultimate objective is the same: peace. Moreover, the various functions overlap each other. For instance, should peacebuilding wait until a peacekeeping operation has been finalized successfully or can it start earlier. Moreover, peace building, meant to make peace last, should help avoiding a new breakdown into crisis, and include ways and means of preventive diplomacy. Conceptual indistinctness and practical confusion are unavoidable, unless strict separations are made. However, this way result in undue restrictions on the ground.

According to a path breaking UN study, the so-called Brahimi Report, peace operations were meant to ‘reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war’ [19]. To that end peacebuilding was was supposed to include activities in the fields of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration of former combatants), demining, Rule of Law, police, monitoring of human rights and investigation of abuses, democratic assistance, preparation of elections, anti corruption measures and quick impact projects combating HIV/Aids and infectious diseases. This is a mouthful, but it is explicitly not meant to imply a broad range of activities. On the contrary, in 2007 the UN Secretary General’s Policy Committee concluded that peace-building should comprise ‘a carefully prioritized, sequenced, and therefore relatively narrow set of activities aimed at achieving the above objectives’ [20].

The key word here is ‘narrow’. My own experience, when I was leading the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Sudan (UNMIS, 2004-2007), was rather disappointing. During those years we were effective as peacekeepers, enabling North and South Sudan to maintain the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Nairobi in 2005. However, we were lacking resources to catalyze a peace dividend. The new state South Sudan would only be established six years later, after a referendum. After decades of war which had made two million victims and displaced another three million, the country had become one of the poorest in Africa. It certainly had economic potential, but in order to realize this potential both nation- and state building had to start from scratch, including the mobilization of own resources. In such a situation there is always a risk to flood a country with foreign assistance, which then will result in new dependencies. However, quite the opposite happened. Funds for demining were only meant to clear mines around our own barracks and the roads we used to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement, not farmer’s lands or school playgrounds. Funding rule of law activities was restricted to lecturing the police, rather than equipping them with some means of communication. Because of the ongoing war since forty years no new investment had taken place in power and water supply and sanitation facilities in the capital, Juba. Directly after the signing of the peace agreement refugees started to return. This resulted in a quadrupling of the population of Juba within a couple of months. No resources were foreseen for a reconstruction of these crucial basic services. In the rural areas no beginning could be made whatsoever with primary education or primary health care. Soon the World Bank and donor countries established offices in South Sudan, but the procedures which they introduced in order to design programs and projects were utterly bureaucratic. Years were wasted, during which the people of South Sudan asked themselves what peace really had in store for them. No wonder that disappointment and frustration got the upper hand. Lack of peacebuilding was not the only explanation, but it did not last long until renewed political, ethnical and criminal violence threatened the security and stability of the new nation.         

‘Narrow’ is the opposite of ‘broad’. Peacebuilding, as we have seen, has to be in line with development. Development is broad, comprehensive, and holistic. That is not the same as ‘large’ or ‘much’ or ‘everything at the same time’. On the contrary: development can take place gradually and slowly. But it should be home-grown, not determined by priorities set by the forces outside. Military peacekeeping activities can easily introduce foreign interests, which restrict the domestic ownership of peace, or manipulate parties to a conflict in choosing particular forms of state- and nation building. When this goes hand in hand with ample resources, made available to finance programs of reconstruction and rehabilitation serving foreign interests in particular, this will lead to distortion of the conditions for genuine peacebuilding.

Do No Harm

The examples are well known. In Afghanistan peacekeeping has been connected with the US war against terrorism, in particular against El Queida and the Taliban. This has resulted in strong and unconditional support to one party in the conflict, the Afghani government, and in huge amounts of assistance to regions that are considered unstable. This has become a pull factor for instability, in order to benefit from the assistance. It has fed corruption. Collateral damage through civilian casualties is large. Feelings of revenche have increased. The possibilities for peacebuilding have narrowed. It remains to be seen whether they will still exist, after peacekeepers have left the country. Chances that the country will relapse into violence, the avoidance of which is a central objective of peacebuilding, are far from theoretical.

In Darfur the US and the UK acting as so-called brokers of the Darfur peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and rebel movements, deliberately excluded the rebel movement with the largest popular support from participating in the agreement. As a result hastily started talks with the aim to build and sustain the peace were an outright failure right from the beginning: the divide between the parties had only widened and parties were using the peacebuilding mechanism to crush those rebels which had stayed outside the agreement.

In Libya NATO countries, while executing the UN peacekeeping operation, have one-sidedly interpreted the mandate for this operation, based on the principle of the Responsibility to Protect civilians (R2P), as a license for regime change. The operation took the form of air bombardments only, without peacekeeping troops on the ground. Civilian casualties of the operation, though high, were waved aside. The peacekeeping operation has ended. The new regime, which by itself, without foreign military intervention, never would have come to office, is desperately trying to secure its power. This is a far cry from peacebuilding which, in the terminology used by Boutros-Ghali, is meant to ‘support structures to build trust and well-being among peoples and bridges between parties to the conflict’.

These are only a few recent examples. Not all peacekeeping operations have followed such a tragic course. There are quite successful operations as well. However, the failures show that peacekeeping can destroy peacebuilding. It can do so in four diferent ways. Firstly, when the peacekeeping operation is a narrow exercise, a military intervention only. Secondly, peacekeeping operations can distort peacebuilding when they result in civilian death, or rape or other forms of sexual misconduct. Then peacekeeping has lost its credibility and led to distrust amongst parties which have to be brought together. A third reason why a peacekeeping operation can fail to gradually turn into peacebuilding is partisan behaviour of peacemakers. Peacekeepers which are favouring one party to the conflict loose their impartiality, thereby depriving peacebuilders from a capacity to build trust and inspire confidence. Fourthly, and finally, peacekeeping which is wholly imposed from outside, not owned domestically, will easily result in all parties to a conflict turning against the operation whatsoever. The fact that they then will have found a common enemy does not at all imply that they will find a common basis to make peace amongst themselves.

The major objective of peacekeeping operations, next to R2P, is establishing a minimum level of security and stability. This is necessary to enable parties to a conflict to jointly work out policies addressing the root causes of a conflict. Peacekeeping doesn’t do the job. Peacebuilding is supposed to do that. Peacekeeping is meant to create favourable conditions for peacebuilding, nothing more or less than that. So, if a peacekeeping operation for any of the four reasons mentioned earlier does not only fail to create those conditions, but even destroys them, the operation should be fundamentally recast or even halted. The experience of the last two decades, and the examples mentioned above, demonstrate a serious cause for reconsideration of the design of peacekeeping operations in general, in order to bring them in line with not only the procedures, but also the principles agreed in the Agenda for Peace and associated codes and resolutions.

However, in order to avoid harmful consequences of peacekeeping for peacebuilding, it is not enough to sanitize the former. The order should be changed. Peacebuilding should not follow peacekeeping. The two endeavours should be an integrated whole. There is no reason to wait with peacebuilding activities until a peace operation has been completed [21]. If peacekeeping is more than a military operation, it should include peacebuilding and its civilian, political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, institutional and developmental components right from the beginning. Whether all such peacebuilding activities are feasible should not be made conditional on peacekeeping’s demands only. Conditions should be mutual: a unified approach implies that from the outset a peacekeeping operation should be designed in such a way that conditions for successful parallel or subsequent peacebuilding will be met. If not, the cart is put before the horse. 


We should get rid of the term ‘post-conflict’ peacebuilding. Peacebuilding is not a post-conflict operation. It is part of a continuum and it can not start early enough. It is regrettable that in all UN documents on peacemaking an explicit distinction is made between stages ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ conflict. This is artificial and erroneous. It is this distinction which has given rise to an unfortunate separation between peacekeeping and peacebuilding. There is no ‘before’ and ‘after’ conflict. Conflicts exist and remain. They are inherent to processes of development.

Development implies change, and different groups in a society - farmers, herdsmen, landless people, urban citizens, entrepreneurs, laborers, various tribes, clans, classes, ethnic groups and religious denominations, man and women, older people and the youth, traditional elites and people attracted by modernity, powerful rulers and emancipating citizens - , they all have different interests in a status quo and in change. Conflicts are the result of change, because people do have different interests in the direction and consequences of change, in the speed and modalities of change, and in the distribution of costs and benefits. There is no development without conflict. Development is conflict. The question is to which extent conflicts can be managed properly during a process of structural change, and to which extent conflict escalation can be prevented.  Conflicts cannot be prevented, only their escalation. Conflicts exist. They have neither a beginning nor an end. Conflicts cannot be solved, but their escalation can be contained: their escalation into increasing complexity because of intertwining economic, environmental, cultural and political dimensions, their possible escalation across national frontiers, and also their escalation into violence. In principle all conflicts remain intractable. Their shape and manifestation will change in the course of time, but they will not vanish. Conflicts can be confined in terms of dimensions, time and space, but they can always manifest themselves again, and flare up [22].

When a society experiences regress, conflicts of interests between power groups are bound to manifest themselves. Arguments will be raised how to distribute the costs of regress. In such a situation there is no win-win. Who will bear the brunt, this is the major question. The international financial and economic crisis of today has shown how in such a situation conflicts of interests can escalate into clashes between those who can pass the buck and the ultimate victims. Greece provides a topical example. Prevention of violence in such a situation demands that the strongest shoulders bear the heaviest load. In situations of economic regress peacebuilding means preventive economic diplomacy, fair sharing, spreading social safety nets, curbing political powers, guaranteeing a voice to the wretched.

Conflict and Development

Will progress be more peaceful? It al depends on the character of development. Here again the main question is: who will benefit, who will stay behind or even lose? The fruits of progress will have to be distributed, just like the costs of regress. Win-win is possible, but not guaranteed. Economic growth is not a neutral concept. What matters is the composition of growth, its direction and speed, the costs in terms of natural and people’s resources, the spread of the benefits of growth and the consequences of growth for the quality of people’s lives and social cohesion. Growth can go hand in hand with increasing inequalities and impoverishment. Such a pattern of growth may well lead to disillusions, grievances and violence. In theories of economic growth the relation between growth and distribution, between overall progress and individual welfare, has always been a central question. It also was a central theme in the theory of dualistic economic development in the nineteen fifties and in trickle down theories of the sixties. It became a major issue in development policy making in the nineteen seventies when meeting basic human needs was considered an essential objective.

In all those years Hans Singer played an important role, both as an academic and as policy advisor. In a speeches at a conference to celebrate the 85th birthday of Hans Singer, Richard Jolly has told the story of the ILO Kenya Mission in 1972, which more or less gave birth to the World Employment Plan. It was Hans Singer who during that mission launched the concept of ‘Redistribution With Growth’. Jolly recalls how at first all his colleagues including Francis Stewart, Louis Emmerij, Dudley Seers and himself, had thought that this was a crazy idea, until, after one night sleep, they realized the potential breakthrough effects of this notion [23]. It was a better term than ‘Redistribution From Growth’, but both terminologies implied that greater equalities would serve both poverty reduction and economic growth, and that such a policy would help staving off conflict escalation resulting from disillusionment with growth. In the same address Jolly referred to the difficult period of the decade thereafter, the nineteen eighties, when the need to adjust to new harsh economic crisis realities by means of expenditure cuts was the main sermon preached. During this period many countries experienced hardly any growth, or no growth at all, stagnation or even regress. However, Jolly noted that, notwithstanding these adverse conditions, in quite a few of those countries, due to targeted policymaking primary school enrolment could increase and child malnutrition and mortality decrease. In those countries the deliberate choice in favor of such policies (‘Redistribution Without Growth’) must have strengthened people’s hope and expectations for a better future, thereby mitigating frustrations and grievances. This undoubtedly has helped those countries to stave off violent resistance.

However, as Jolly made clear, ‘Redistribution Without Growth’ would only be possible during a relatively short period. So, in the nineteen nineties notions such ‘pro poor growth’, ‘inclusive growth’, ‘sustainable development’ and ‘human development’ received a prominent position in development policy theory. They all mean something different, but the roots of these concepts are the same: the notion that without equity there is no progress. This notion stood central in the Human Development Reports published in the framework of the UN and led by UNDP.  It was the same period in which Boutros-Ghali launched his Agenda for Peace: Peace is essential for development and development is crucial to maintain peace. The logical conclusion of all is should be: development requires peacebuilding, from the beginning and continuously.

And, alternately, peacebuilding should aim at strengthening the inclusiveness of development. This is the only road towards the prevention of conflict escalation. Without addressing root causes of conflicts, which are inherent to any process of development, grievances will grow. Those are the grievances of poorer and weaker population groups, people who are impoverished by growth, people whose labor is exploited in capitalist production systems, people denied from sharing the fruits of development, people without jobs, without access to markets or public services, including education, health, water and sanitation, people doomed to live in environmentally poor or polluted areas, people excluded from development processes whatsoever. Many of those are being excluded for social-economic reasons. They are trapped in vicious circles of poverty and shortage of capability. Others are excluded for political or cultural reasons, because they belong to another class, caste, clan or tribe, or a different ethnicity, tongue, creed, sex or religion, often a minority, sometimes a majority. All such cultural or identity factors can be used to deny people equitable access. It is simply a matter of power. Social, economic, cultural and political systems can keep people, in the terminology of Jan Breman, ‘down and out’ [24].

Processes excluding people can be labeled as incomplete development, maldevelopment or perverse development. At a certain moment people will rise, resist, rebel and revolt. They will do so themselves, or follow leaders who took an initiative. Maybe those leaders do not themselves belong to the category of deprived, but their followers certainly do. At least they consider themselves as being treated unfairly. When they conclude that adaptation and accommodation does not offer a way out, they rise or will be mobilized. Their frustration and resistance is a political fact, not accidental, but inherent to the structural course of the process. Judging from outside that they do not have a legitimate reason to rebel, is beyond the point.

Still that is what nowadays, in particular since the beginning of the new century, seems to be new mainstream thinking. Firstly, the assumption that there are fewer conflicts nowadays than in the past and that we are on the right track. And, secondly, those still prevailing conflicts do not result from serious grievances, but that these are instead greed induced.

The assertion that there are fewer conflicts today than in the last decades of the previous century can be found in the Human Security Reports published recently [25]. These reports are highly esteemed, but the assertion is a fallacy. It is based on a wrong definition of conflicts and a disregard for the causes of conflict and for the way in which people convey their grievances into action. In the Human Security Reports a conflict is a conflict only if and when there are many battle deaths. Death on a battle field is, however, no longer the dominant expression of victimization during conflict. Guerilla warfare by rebel movements, terrorist attacks and counterinsurgency operations make many more victims, and differently. Serious injuries, mutilation, rape, displacement, arbitrary arrest, police brutality, torture, terror, disappearance, and - last but not least - ‘indirect death’, due to war inflicted poverty hunger and diseases, are still widespread. The conflict escalation potential in many nations is large. Processes of community building, and nation- and state building are far from completed. On the contrary, there is no reason to be complacent. Today we only have to look to Syria and the Middle East as a whole in order to understand that propositions, that conflicts nowadays are less intractable than before, are mistaken.

The other assertion, that rebellion does not find its origin in grievances is equally misleading. This statement has received much attention based on studies by Paul Collier, who claims that there is no statistical evidence of a strong relation between political repression and the risk of civil war [26]. Collier also asserts that the relation between violent conflict and economic and political discrimination or ethnic dislike is weak. On the basis of his research Collier concludes that civil war follows greed rather than grievance. I disagree. Firstly, like the Human Security Report, Collier has used a definition of conflicts which is much too narrow in an analysis of possible explanatory variables. Secondly, and more important, Collier claims to investigate whether there is a relationship between objective measures of grievance and a propensity to rebel as a result. However, he does not want to accept grievances at face value, but introduces a personal judgment whether an expressed grievance - which is a fact, and thus a statistical variable which should be brought into the correlation analysis - is well founded or not. This is subjective. Collier even goes as far as writing that ‘rebels usually have something to complain about and if they don’t they make it up’ Moreover, ‘(u)nfortunately, you simply can’t trust the rebel discourse of concern for social justice: what else do you expect them to say?’[27].

I would not have bothered quoting Collier extensively, if I would not have noted how influential his analysis has become amongst policymakers. This is unfortunate. When people claim to be discriminated or oppressed it is not up to outsiders, whether researchers, journalists, consultants, aid agencies or peacekeepers, to reject the claim. Their task is to analyze the situation, to report upon it, and, when mandated accordingly, to address it. Outsiders have the right to disagree with parties to a conflict, but they cannot leave factors out of an equation or of consideration whatsoever, if they - for instance as academic researchers - want to analyze it properly or, as peacemakers, to do the right thing in order to build trust and bridges between those parties, as had been urged by Boutros-Ghali.

Advance belittling of grievances certainly does not help building peace. Considering rebel’s grievances as futile in comparison to greed is not only condescending, but also a misjudgment. Certainly, greed does play a role: greed for wealth, for power and status, greed which can be satisfied with the help of a gun. I have witnessed this in many countries, plagued by violence. However, at the same time one could not fail to observe serious reasons for discontent and anger. Collier clearly does not trust such observations. He accuses other academics of being ‘politically motivated’ [28] When they refer to ‘root causes’, they simply are piling in with their ‘predictable  … hobbyhorses’ … (They) know what they want to see in civil war and they duly see it’ [29]. Such a remark can only be made sitting behind a desk, not in the theatre itself. On the ground in the field one cannot turn a blind eye to poverty and inequality. One can smell injustice, see discrimination, listen to hate, feel oppression and note the resentment against this all. Economic, political, social, cultural and other grievances are the main drivers of conflict. The escalation of conflicts, the spread of force and the recruitment of new combatants are often fed by the violence itself, in perpetual motion, by security considerations - self defense and protection of clans and kins -, and also by greed. Greed doesn’t start a conflict, greed follows. Greed also will feed already existing conflicts. Rebels join a movement for many different reasons: grievances (political as well as personal, such as revanche), greed (for wealth, or for power and status), and also security, or because there is simply no alternative [30]. This makes existing conflicts even more complex. And it requires that peacekeeping and peace building operations are designed in a comprehensive way, not as straight jacket, but, as had already been foreseen by Hammarskjöld, situation specific and tailor made [31].

Tailor made

Tailor made peacebuilding means that the approach should be country specific, based on a true knowledge of the situation, catalytic and flexible. It should also be comprehensive: comprising disarmament, demobilisation, reinsertion and reintegration of combatants, return of refugees and displace people, demining fields and roads, reconstruction of the physical infrastructure, reparation of damaged houses and buildings, rehabilitation of utilities (energy, water and sanitation), food production and health and education facilities, economic recovery, reestablishment of institutions, state and nation building, security sector reform, ending impunity, enacting justice and law, reforming political structures, fostering reconciliation, and so on. All this cannot take place at the same time or in the same order. It does not have to. There is no blueprint. It all depends on the history of the conflict, the specific circumstances on the ground and the needs and desires of the people themselves. That is why peacebuilding should be home-grown, and why assistance from outside should never take over initiatives from within. Outside assistance should be nothing more than a catalyst, but also nothing less. Peace, nor democracy, nor development can be imported. In order to be sustainable, respect for human rights, peace, democracy and development should be wrought from within and, as much as possible, bottom up. This will be difficult, because the domestic forces in favour of peace will have to face domestic powers which still have a stake in the conflict. However, there is no alternative, anyway not one which can be brought in from outside. All these conditions and criteria for home grown and lasting peacebuilding are very similar to those concerning bottom up sustainable development [32].

Peacebuilders, whether coming from outside or from within, should be independent and impartial. However, they cannot be neutral: just like peacekeeping, also peacebuilding implies that the Responsibility to Protect vulnerable people should be a conditio sine qua non. Peacebuilders cannot shy away from taking sides: the side of the ulimate vicims, those who have suffered most. The struggle towards a sustainable peace should meet conditions of both human security and human development.

So, peacebuilding, addressing all root causes of a conflict, is not only a comprehensive process, but also very complex, because those causes are rooted in power structures. Dismantling them is complicated. It requires caution and wisdom. A new compact has to be built, between powers and civilians. Bargaining has to take the place of fighting. For all these reasons peacebuilding may have to go slow. It doesn’t have to go fast. Speed, shock and awe soon will turn out counteractive. The aim should be to show that there is some improvement, and that there is more to come, gradually but guaranteed. Too high expectations breed frustration and die out. Realistic expectations can be kept alive. They can be nourished by demonstrating achievements, small, but self-sustaining: ever broader peace, all the time, ever further development, continually, and democratisation all along, getting stronger and stronger under it’s own steam, are pursuable and credible goals, more than perfect peace, complete development and total democracy.  

Hammarskjöld was right: peacebuilding cannot be struggled into a straightjacket. It is not a one-size-fits-all operation. Peacebuilding is development, and development is always unique, any time, any where.       

Jan Pronk

Hans Singer Lecture 2012

Institute of Development Studies,

University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

November 14, 2012


1. UN (1992a).

2. UN (1992b)

3. UN (1992a), para 20 and 21.

4. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, (1999), p. 14.

5. UN (1992a), para 15.

6. Idem, para 56.

7. Idem, para 57.

8. Idem, para 15.

9. UN (1995a).

10. UN (1994).

11. UN (1996).

12. UN (1995b).

13. UN (1997).

14. Childers (1996), pp. 185-193.

15. Childers (1996), p. 193.

16. Childers (2011).

17. Pronk (2011).

18. Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1999), pp. 14 and 17/18.

19. UN (2000).

20. UN (1997).

21. Pronk (1998).

22. Pronk (2008).

23. Jolly (1998).

24. Breman (2000)

25. Human Security Centre (2005 and 2011).

26. Collier (2007).

27. Collier (2007), p. 22 and 24.

28. Collier (2007), p. 18.

29. Collier (2007), p. 18/20/22.

30. See, for instance, Baas (2011).

31. UN (1958).

32. See, for a description of some recent experiences, Cubitt (2011), Iyer (2011), Mehler (2008), Werner (2010).


Baas, Saskia, 2011, From Civilans to Soldiers and from Soldiers to Civilians, Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam. 

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1999, ‘Peace, Development, and Democratization’, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), 40th Anniversary Symposium In Quest of Human Security, Tokio. www.jiia.or.jp/pdf/40th-front.pdf

Breman, Jan & Arvin Das (2000), Down and Out. Labouring under Global Capitalism, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Childers, Erskine Baron, 1996, ’Who is the Tailor of Peacekeeping?’,  reprinted in: Development Dialogue, no. 56, June 2011, pp. 185-193.

Childers, Erskine Baron, 2011, ‘For a Democratic United Nations and the Rule of Law’, reprinted as: Development Dialogue, no. 56, June 2011.

Collier, Paul, 2007, The Bottom Billion. Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cubitt, Christine. 2011, Building an Illiberal Peace: Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Sierra Leone, in: Africa Peace and Conflict Journal, 4(1) pp. 1-15.

Human Security Centre, 2005, Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century. Simon Fraser University, Canada, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Human Security Centre, 2011, Human Security Report 2009/2010. The Causes of Peace and the Shrinking Costs of War, Simon Fraser University, Canada, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Iyer, Pusha, 2011, ‘Development versus Peacebuilding: Overcoming Jargon in Post-War Sierra Leone, in: Africa Peace and Conflict Journal, 4(1), pp. 15-33.

Jolly, Richard, 1998, ‘Redistribution Without Growth’, in: David Sapsford and John-ren Chen (eds.), Development Economics and Policy. The Conference Volume to Celebrate the 85th Birthday of Professor Sir Hans Singer, pp. 172-182, London/New York: MacMillan Press/St. Martin’s Press.

Mehler, Andreas, 2008, ‘Positive, ambiguous or negative? Peacekeeping in the local fabric’, in: Critical Currents, Uppsala: Dag Hammerskjold Foundation, 5, pp. 41-64.

Pronk, Jan, 1998, ‘Development for Peace. A Role for the UN’, in: Kamalesh Sharma (ed.), Managing Tomorrow. Rethinking the Global Challenge, pp. 74-82. Speech UNHCR Conference ‘Healing the Wounds’, Princeton, 30 June 1996. New York: Merrill Corporation.

Pronk, Jan, 2008, ‘Culture and Conflict’, Geert Hofstede Lecture, Groningen, 21 May 2008. www.janpronk.nl

Pronk, Jan, 2011,‘The United Nations – Values, Practices and Reform’, in: Development Dialogue, No. 57, December 2011, pp. 163-181.

Pronk, Jan, 2012, ‘Peacekeeping: Acting as a Good Tailor When the Need Arises’, www.janpronk.nl

UN, 1958, Report of the Secretary-General (to the Special Political Committee of the General Assembly), UN Document SG/742.

UN, 1992a, An Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peacekeeping. Report of the Secretary-General. UN Document A/47/277-S/24111.

UN, 1992b, United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, Agenda 21, UN Document A/Conf.151/26.

UN, 1994, An Agenda for Development. Report of the Secretary General. UN Document A/48/935.

UN, 1995a, Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, UN Document A/Conf.166/9.

UN, 1995b, Supplement to an Agenda for Peace: Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations. UN document A/50/60-S/1995/1 (1995).

UN, 1996, An Agenda for Democratization. Report of the Secretary General. UN Document A/51/761.

UN, 1997, General Assembly of the United Nations, Fifty-first session. UN document A/RES/51/242.

UN, 2000, Report of the Panel of United Nations Peace Operations (Brahimi report), UN document A/55/305-S/2000/809.

Werner, Karolina, 2010, ‘Rediscovering Indigenous Peacebuilding Techniques: The Way to Lasting Peace?’, in: Africa Peace and Conflict Journal, 3(2) pp. 60-73.