Building Peace: The United Nations' Role in the Post-Conflict State

Harvard International Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Building Peace: The United Nations' Role in the Post-Conflict State


GEORGE E. MOOSE is adjunct professor in International Practice at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He has served as US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and US Permanent Representative to the European Office of the United Nations.

The new Peacebuilding Commission created within the United Nations states as its main objective: "to reinforce the UN's conflict resolution function, with a strong post-conflict feature to help prevent countries or regions from relapsing into war." Do you believe that there was a legitimate need for the creation of a new administrative body for building peace, and if so, why?

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I have come to the conclusion that a new management structure was needed within the UN system, with a mandate to draw upon and coordinate the activities of various elements and agencies. It begs the question of what kinds of inputs are needed for a credible and viable peacebuilding operation. The fact is that, depending on the situation, countries emerging from conflict need a range of services, from providing basic humanitarian assistance to aiding people who are coming out of conflict, to helping refugees and displaced persons get back to their homes and resettle, to providing some minimum security. "Security" refers not only to military security, but also to the kinds of basic civil security that one expects in a city--for example, a police force that controls both post-conflict violence and simple crime.

In addition to a police component, a justice component is necessary. There is no point in arresting suspects if there is no judicial system in place to adjudicate whether they are innocent or guilty--which is a major problem. For example, after the conflict in Rwanda, the government felt obliged to arrest people who were accused of participating in the genocide. At one point, more than 125,000 people had been incarcerated in prisons that were not intended to hold that many people. But there was not yet a functioning judicial system to determine guilt or innocence, or even whether those people should be held. There are other necessary requirements such as supplying assistance for reconstruction and development and establishing a system to monitor this process. All of these things are done by different agencies of the United Nations, and trying to figure out how to coordinate them and who will coordinate them has been a real challenge.

What are the necessary preconditions for the Peacebuilding Commission to achieve its goals, and are these conditions being met?

The Peacebuilding Commission is really designed to assume a role once peace has been re-established. However, it is important to understand that there has to be continuity. One does not have peacekeeping one day and peacebuilding the next. The purpose of the Peacebuilding Commission is to make the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding one in which there is continuity, because that has been the missing piece in most of our efforts. What we still lack today is sufficient capacity in numbers of peacekeepers, structures to support them, and the ability to deploy them rapidly to respond to urgent situations like Rwanda. Since Rwanda, there have been several efforts to build greater capacity. One of the commitments that came out of the Gleneagles G8 Summit was to train 25,000 African peacekeepers, which is a laudable commitment.

However, we have been extremely slow in actually accomplishing what we set out to do. In the 1990s Rwanda demonstrated the need for more capacity, more country involvement, better forces able and willing to participate in peacekeeping, and an environment in which forces could exercise together. This would ensure that forces would have the experience necessary to effectively handle the peacekeeping situation they are presented with. My disappointment is that we have not been able to do more of that sooner. …

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