Summary of "Building Peace"

Summary of

Building Peace

By John Paul Lederach

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: John Paul Lederach, Building Peace, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1997).

Lederach argues that dealing with contemporary armed conflict requires new approaches in addition to traditional diplomacy. "Building peace in today's conflicts calls for long-term commitment to establishing an infrastructure across the levels of a society, an infrastructure that empowers the resources for reconciliation from within that society and maximizes the contribution from outside."[p. xvi]

Chapters One and Two examine the nature of contemporary armed conflict. A global overview of conflict shows that contemporary armed conflicts are primarily internal conflicts, occurring between different identity groups within a state. These conflicts tend to arise within poor, developing nations. Lederach argues that contemporary armed conflicts are more similar to communal and intercommunal conflicts than they are to international or interstate conflicts. Such conflicts are fueled more by psychological or cultural factors than by substantive issues. Contemporary armed conflicts also tend to be long-standing. These features, compounded by a setting of underdevelopment and poverty, makes peacebuilding an enormous task. Unfortunately, international peacemaking remains oriented to interstate conflict. It is still rather poorly suited to respond to the features and dynamics which give rise to contemporary communal-type conflicts.

Given the nature of contemporary armed conflict, peacebuilding faces four main challenges. First, it must transform the international culture which accepts and promotes the global sale of weapons. Second, peacebuilding approaches must take a very long-term view in order to build enduring peace. Third, peacebuilding must take a broader, more comprehensive view of the people and contexts which produce conflict. Finally, we must focus on preventing minor conflicts from escalating into open warfare.

In subsequent chapters Lederach develops conceptual frameworks for conflict and peacebuilding. Modern peacebuilding should focus on reconciliation, and on rebuilding relationships. A focus on reconciliation recognizes that conflicts are essentially types of relationships. It also makes allows us to address the psychological components of conflict.

In Chapter Four Lederach describes the actors and issues in conflicts in terms of levels of leadership and nested foci. Leadership occurs at three different levels: top level, the middle- range, and grassroots. Top level actors consist of political, military or sometimes religious leaders. The middle range consists of people whose positions of leadership are not directly dependent on the power hierarchy of the top level, such as respected heads of business, education or agriculture. The grassroots leadership operates in direct connection to the masses of people and includes refugee camp officials, NGO workers, and health workers. Different peacebuilding activities are possible and appropriate at different levels of leadership.

Lederach adopts researcher Maire Dugan's nested foci paradigm for relating the immediate issues within a conflict to the larger systemic aspects. Issues arise within relationships, which exist within the larger context of subsystems, and ultimately society-wide systems. To fully understand conflicts, issues must be understood in relation to these larger contexts.

In Chapter Five Lederach adopts mediator Adam Curle's matrix for describing the progress of conflicts in terms of the balance of power between the parties, and the degree to which the parties are aware of their conflicting needs and interests. Conflicts progress from situations of unbalanced power and low awareness, or latent conflict, to situations of unbalanced power and increasing awareness, or overt conflict. Negotiations attempt to bring overt conflicts to a situation of balanced power and high awareness. When this situation is stable, Curle calls it peace. Peace building activities should focus on increasing awareness and balancing power.

Chapter Six integrates these models of conflict into a process-structure of conflict. In this view the goal of peace building is not merely to get rid of an undesirable situation. The goal is to generate "continuous, dynamic, self-regenerating processes that maintain form over time and are able to adapt to environmental changes."[p. 84] Such processes should rebuild and sustain relationships.

Lederach describes peace building resources in Chapter Seven. Peace building resources include not only financial and material support, but also socio-cultural resources. People in the conflict setting should be seen as resources rather than recipients. Peace building should also draw on existing cultural resources. Lederach argues that the systems which assign responsibility and accountability for financial and material support are as important as the material support itself. These systems can themselves contribute pro-actively to the peace process.

Chapter Eight describes methods for coordinating the various levels, actors, and resources in peace building. Generally, coordination should focus on "creating strategic points of contact and coordination rather than rigid, centralized control."[p. 106] One helpful tool is the peace inventory, a comprehensive listing of the various peacebuilding activities and actors in a particular conflict. Coordination can also be improved by creating clearer channels of communication between top- and middle-level actors, and between first and second track diplomatic initiatives. Peace-donor conferences provide an opportunity for interested and involved agencies to identify needs, match needs to resources, and coordinate their activities. Proposed conflict interventions should be reviewed by strategic resource groups, composed of experts from a variety of disciplines. Finally, external peacemakers should try to link their activities with internal peacemakers.

Chapter Nine discusses training and preparation for peace building. Lederach argues that contemporary conflict resolution training focuses too narrowly on "the cognitive skills of analyzing conflict and the communicative skills of negotiation."[p. 107] In contrast, transformative training views training as itself a venue for building relationships. In this approach, who participates in training becomes a more central issue, and training is seen as integral part of the peace building process. Transformative training seeks to supply people with transformative frameworks of inquiry which they may apply to their understanding of their own situation and context.

Lederach discusses the difficulties in evaluating peace building initiatives in Chapter Ten. His approach to conflict and peace building suggest a strategic, responsive approach to evaluation. Rather than measuring final results, evaluation should be seen as a tool for learning and feedback, and so an integral part of the peace building process. Evaluation should begin by attempting to sketch the "big picture." Details should then be filled in by pursuing further inquiries. Lederach suggests six sets of inquiries. Generally these inquiries seek to assess coordination between the various actors and levels, to assess the responsiveness to the interventions to the context of the conflict, and to identify long-term and provisional goals.

In his concluding chapter Lederach summarizes the key points of his approach. The text concludes with four African case studies, contributed by John Prendergast, which illustrate elements of the Lederach approach to conflict and peacebuilding.