Summary of "Peacemaking in the Twenty-First Century: New Rules, New Roles, New Actors"

Summary of

Peacemaking in the Twenty-First Century: New Rules, New Roles, New Actors

by J. Lewis Rasmussen

Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: "Peacemaking in the Twenty-First Century: New Rules, New Roles, New Actors." Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and Techniques, eds. I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen, Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997, pp. 23-50.

"One of the single greatest challenges confronting us today is how to understand the dynamics of contemporary political disputes and violent conflict in the international realm and how to better prevent, manage and resolve such discord."(p. 24) Rasmussen argues that realism is no longer adequate to this task, and outlines a new framework for understanding global politics.

Realism addressed the problem of international war. Realists assume that states are the primary actors in the international system, that states are motivated by competitive self-interest, and that states' behavior can be predicted by examining the distribution of power (understood as military force). They key to preventing international war was maintaining a balance of power. Reflecting its Cold War context, realist analyses tended to focus on the most powerful states. This realist paradigm has failed to explain international sociopolitical changes. It does not address violent confrontation between non-state actors, such as identity conflicts or civil wars.

Competition between states motivated by military power has been largely eclipsed by demands by groups for recognition of their identity, for control of resources, and for security. International war has been replaced by violent intergroup conflict, waged by non-state actors directly challenging state authority. Battle are no longer fought by professional armies bound by rules of engagement, but are now fought by paramilitary groups who disregard legal conventions and target civilians. Huge numbers of refugees are common. An aggressive focus on ethnic identity creates an escalating security dilemma; genocide and "ethnic cleansing" are on the increase. While realism focused on the great powers, violent intergroup conflict is most likely to occur in the least developed countries. Inter-state wars had specific goals and tended to be brief. Intergroup conflicts are most often prolonged, with historical roots and ambiguous goals.

Sources of intergroup conflict include identity, needs, interests, and resources. "Both social-comparison and relative deprivation theories indicate that dissatisfaction and conflict occur when group identity is not sufficiently distinct and positive, and when the group suffers from shortfalls in the expected distribution of social resources in comparison to other groups."(p. 33) Basic group needs include the need for identity, physical and psychological security, respect and autonomy, political voice, and economic opportunities. Conflicts may also arise over incompatible interests or from competition over limited resources. In-group and out-group dynamics can exacerbate conflict. In-group identity and solidarity may be based on the exclusion and dehumanization of out-group members.

Intergroup conflicts arise from complex, often non-rational, causes. In general, the first step in resolving conflict is for the parties to change their perception of the conflict and of their goals, coming to see the conflict as resolvable through negotiation. In the case of violent intergroup conflict, a hurting stalemate may be needed to make the conflict ripe for such a change in perception.

The international community has developed new approaches to managing violent intergroup conflict. Early peacekeeping missions were directed at stopping conflict by enforcing cease-fire agreements. Currently, expanded peace operations attempt to implement peace by providing humanitarian aid, resettling refugees, rebuilding civil administrations, and other post-conflict reconstruction activities. Peace settlements have evolved to address the deeper causes of conflict, and to include guidelines for implementing peace. The international community has come to recognize the importance of peacebuilding during the post-conflict resolution phase. "Peacebuilding...depends on the ability to transform the conflict situation from one of potential or actual mass violence to one of cooperative, peaceful relationships capable of fostering reconciliation, reconstruction, and long-term economic and social development."(p. 41)

Many new, non-state actors play roles in modern peacemaking. Non-state actors are not bound by the doctrine of sovereignty, and so have more freedom to intervene in conflicts. Peacemaking in the contemporary world calls for a multitrack approach. "A multitrack approach to peacemaking integrates activity on nine tactical levels: government, NGOs, business/commerce, private citizen, research/education and training institutes, advocacy organizations, religious communities, philanthropic organizations, and the media."(p. 43) Track Two diplomacy by private citizens has certain advantages over official diplomacy. Private citizens are less constrained by political concerns than government officials. The unofficial setting of Track Two diplomacy often allows for more freedom, creativity, and risk taking.

Rasmussen concludes that the current challenge is to develop a new paradigm that understands international relations as continuous with social and political processes occurring at many levels.