Summary of "Beyond Violence: Building Sustainable Peace"

Summary of

Beyond Violence: Building Sustainable Peace

By John Paul Lederach

This Article Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff 

John Paul Lederach, "Beyond Violence: Building Sustainable Peace," in The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence, ed. Eugene Weiner, (New York: Continuum Publishing, 1998), pp. 236-245.

Lederach proposes viewing post-accord peacebuilding as a system, and evaluating that system by where its energy is focused. He argues that too much effort is focused on certain aspects of peacebuilding, to the detriment of other aspects. He identifies three problems. First, much peacebuilding focuses too much on immediate and short-term tasks, and neglects longer-term plans for social change. Second, current peacebuilding tends to take a hierarchical approach to politics, rather than a more holistic, organic view. And finally, by maintaining a very narrow technical focus of political transition processes, modern peacebuilding often fails to address needed social, psychological, economic and spiritual transformations.

Time Frames

Peacebuilding is complicated by the presence of many crucial issues, each of which needs to be addressed immediately. Lederach proposes a framework of nested activities for thinking about the peacebuilding process over time. The action element involves activities to be undertaken within the next few weeks. Activity at this level is guided by the question "how do we respond to these immediate needs in order to keep the process alive?"(p. 238) Activity at the action level should be undertaken in context of a preparation time frame that addresses the next 2-3 years. Preparation activities train people and prepare the way for further peacebuilding. Such activities should be planned in light of a longer-term design time frame, which includes conceptual plans for social change. All these activity time frames occur within the outcome frame, which focuses a generation ahead. The outcome frame includes a vision of the future situation, and desired goals and relationships. Lederach stresses that in order to be effective, different sorts of peacebuilding activities require us to adopt different time frames.

Lederach notes that "typically the process of peacebuilding is driven by a crisis orientation responding to immediate needs in the form of events with narrowly defined and short-term objectives. Projects and programs that relate to the longer-term agenda for social change are defined by what is necessary and possible emerging from the crisis."(p. 239) This is just the opposite of what should happen. Short-term peacebuilding activities should instead by undertaken from within the context of longer-term plans, goals and projects. Peacebuilders must learn to design for the future, and they must learn to contextualize present actions within longer-term plans.

Levels of Activity

Peacebuilding is often approached in a top down manner. Most energy is focused on top level political leaders and activities, while middle level leaders and the grassroots people are relatively neglected. This approach can produce a number of dilemmas with the potential to undermine peace. Changes at the upper levels may seem too rapid, while at the same time changes on he ground seem too slow. Events at the top-level official table may validate groups, yet the exclusion from that table also marginalizes them. People also have to balance the need to remember the past with the need to change for the future. Too much power at the top courts corruption, while too little power at the middle and grassroots levels courts frustration and violence. Lederach says, "in my view, the single most important aspect of encouraging an organic perspective of peace-building politics is creating a genuine sense of participation, responsibility, and ownership in the process across a broad spectrum of the population."(p. 242)

Areas of Transformation

Much current peacebuilding maintains a narrow, technical focus on political transformation. Lederach argues that political change should be seen as simply one part of a larger web of reconciliation. This web can be described in terms of four nested activities. The most immediate activity involves defining the agenda of tasks to be addressed. These tasks are undertaken within the context of transitional or implementation activities, including technical and logistic planning. The next level is the transformative level. Here basic questions about roles, relationships and goals are addressed. Finally, all of these levels of activity are undertaken within the greater context of the search for reconciliation.

For these peacebuilding activities to be successful, they must be pursued in each of the various dimensions of human life: political, economic, psychological and spiritual. The political dimension addresses such tasks as demobilizing, disarming combatants. The transformative aspect addresses questions regarding the role and nature of military forces in the post-accord state. Such questions must be answered in ways that then promote the overarching goals of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Effective peacebuilding must undertake the economic task of providing former combatants with a fresh start. Transformative activities come into play as policymakers consider how to deal with unemployment, development, and the distribution of resources. Again, such policies must be designed to promote peace and reconciliation. Socio-psychological concerns are present mainly at the transformative level, as individuals seek to deal with grief, loss, and anger, intense trauma and identity questions. Individuals must also transition into new peacetime social roles. Finally, Lederach notes that the need for spiritual change is often overlooked. He says, "In our application here, the spiritual dimension suggests that we see the demobilized person not merely as a soldier to be disarmed or retrained, nor as a person with psychological needs, but as a person on a journey to seek restoration and healing, embedded in a society that is seeking the same."(p. 245) Here people seek ways to remember the past and still change for the future.