The far horizons of peacebuilding – and the near

Published on openSecurity, by Dan Smith, February 1, 20121.

Peacebuilding and development can no longer be thought of in terms of what was always an over-simplified polarisation between the powerful stability of the giver and the weak turbulence of the beneficiary. It was always wrong to see the world that way; now it’s impossible.   

At the Gothenburg summit of June 2001, the EU summit decided that the prevention of violent conflict was to be a priority. Since then it has spent in the vicinity of 7.7 billion Euros, about 10 per cent of its total spending on external aid, on conflict prevention and peacebuilding (which has steadily – and rightly – replaced the former term in the international vocabulary) … //

… The development pathway:

With our economies stagnant, joblessness rising, growth next to invisible, politicians impotent and politics alienating, plenty of people are asking what’s so attractive about a development trajectory that leads to where we are. And that’s before we even begin to think about environmental sustainability, climate change and the pressures of demography.

There is a well-established literature criticising development aid and, more recently, peacebuilding as an export drive for a normative model of economics or politics or both. The arguments are a bit shop worn these days because they tend to overdo the role of development aid in exporting norms and over-simplify the uniformity of social and political models among OECD countries. But there are worthwhile insights there still and a very large part of the policy discussion among European politicians and development NGOs unfolds without much reference to them. Instead, that discourse has got itself tied up in predominantly two things – money and measurable targets.

The thing about money and targets is that they guide you towards working out how to do more of the same only better. The next big issue for international development discourse is the new set of targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals when their target date comes round in 2015. Current projections indicate that by 2015 not a single MDG will be met in any conflict-affected and unstable country. That is not something that better targets and more money will fix. It is something that should precipitate a rethink. And part of that rethink ought to be about the trajectory.

To which destination:

In this respect, peacebuilding is quite different, perhaps because it is newer. It is worth spending time with the questions, what kinds of countries are stable and why? Both the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 and the independent Global Peace Index reflect this process of inquiry and analysis.

The more the development discussion keeps narrowly to targets and money, the more trouble it has with the issue of destination. With no destination, there is no direction for development assistance, there is only good works – a humanitarianism chronologically extended beyond the humanitarian emergency, doing good but not necessarily adding up to development.

That is the challenge that the peacebuilding discussion is taking on by attempting to identify the features of society that shape its prospects for peace – the peace factors.  And here it turns out that, of course, there are features of relatively peaceful societies – including our own – that recur in a variety of different forms and guises. These are not only the principles of equality, however inadequately respected, but the deep foundations of the institutions that are the basis of how are societies run. (See the ground-breaking work on institutions, social violence and development of D. C. North, J. J. Wallis & B. R. Weingast, Violence and social orders: A conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history, 2009.)

So, perhaps surprisingly, yes, warts and all, recessions and riots notwithstanding, there are things about western societies that make them attractive as development destinations. On the other hand, the destination looks different from country to country – sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly. And on the third hand, no, arriving at these destinations is not going to be achieved through recalibrating targets and spending more money on them.

Power and results: … (full text).


Facing the Future with Confidence: Farewell address of Federal President Micheline Calmy-Rey, Head of the Confederate Department of Foreign Affairs, given on the occasion of the new election of the Federal Council, Berne, 14 December 2011;

Psychiatry and Menschenbild (concept of man) – made in USA: Thoughts on the development of the world’s most widely useddiagnostic manual DSM provided for the occasion of the 2013 edition

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