Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Building the Peace: Preliminary Lessons from El Salvador

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Building the Peace: Preliminary Lessons from El Salvador

Article excerpt

When the peace agreement ending 12 years of civil war in El Salvador was signed at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City in January 1992, it was declared by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to be "a revolution achieved by negotiations."(2) Both the El Salvadoran government and the leftist opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) proclaimed their satisfaction with the peace accords, though for different reasons. The FMLN has emphasized the revolutionary extent of the agreed-upon reforms, while the government has stressed the achievement of peace and the preservation of constitutional order. Relatively few Salvadorans, mainly from the far Right, have spoken out against the accords. In the months after the cease-fire, however, the euphoria was replaced by caution, distrust and anger, as the implementation of the military demobilization and institutional and economic reforms fell further and further behind schedule.

The peace accords do provide a blueprint for a more democratic El Salvador. They include plans to reduce and modify the role of the Salvadoran armed forces, to place them under civilian authority and to create a new civilian police force. The accords are not self-executing, however, and the implicit new rules of the game have continued to be defined through political maneuvering and arduous negotiations over implementation. These challenges to the peace process raise the question of whether the accords truly represent a new social pact among Salvadorans, or a superficial consensus imposed upon them by external actors.

It is clear that the United Nations has defined a new role for itself as a result of the organization's efforts in El Salvador. This was the first time that the United Nations attempted to broker the end of an internal conflict; in the process, the intentional body developed a number of new approaches to peacemaking. The United Nations gradually expanded its role in the negotiations from that of observer, to active mediator and, ultimately, to verifier of the accords. In 1991, the Security Council established the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL), whose initial - and unprecedented - role was to verify agreements with respect to human rights. With the beginning of the cease-fire on 1 February 1992, ONUSAL became a predominantly peacekeeping operation, designed to verify the separation of military forces and supervise the activities of the existing police force. As delays and disputes developed over politically sensitive aspects of the accords, ONUSAL's verification responsibilities expanded further, to mediate the interpretation and implementation of the accords.(3)

The most novel aspect of ONUSAL's role, however, has been to facilitate the consolidation of peace by strengthening domestic structures that will prevent the recurrence of conflict. ONUSAL is the first peacekeeping mission to incorporate this new concept, known as post-conflict peace-building.(4) As defined by the Secretary-General in An Agenda for Peace, peace-building efforts may include weapons seizure and destruction, restoration of order, refugee repatriation, training of security personnel, election monitoring, protection of human rights, reform of governmental institutions and promotion of political participation.(5) ONUSAL has - or will be - engaged in most of these aspects of peace-building.(6)

In many ways, El Salvador is a best-case scenario for U.N. involvement in post-conflict peace-building. Rarely have previously warring parties agreed to such comprehensive reforms designed to address the root causes of the conflict.

Yet both the civil war and its negotiated conclusion were greatly conditioned by external influences. While most observers consider the U.N. role in El Salvador a vital one, there remains a nagging suspicion that its presence actually may in some ways contribute to a longstanding dependence upon international help. …

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