Michelle Maiese

September 2003

Additional insights into peacebuilding are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

What it Means to Build a Lasting Peace

It should be noted at the outset that there are two distinct ways to understand peacebuilding. According the United Nations (UN) document An Agenda for Peace [1], peacebuilding consists of a wide range of activities associated with capacity building, reconciliation, and societal transformation. Peacebuilding is a long-term process that occurs after violent conflict has slowed down or come to a halt. Thus, it is the phase of the peace process that takes place after peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on the other hand, understand peacebuilding as an umbrella concept that encompasses not only long-term transformative efforts, but also peacemaking and peacekeeping. In this view, peacebuilding includes early warning and response efforts, violence prevention, advocacy work, civilian and military peacekeeping, military intervention, humanitarian assistance, ceasefire agreements, and the establishment of peace zones.

In the interests of keeping these essays a reasonable length, this essay primarily focuses on the narrower use of the term "peacebuilding."  For more information about other phases of the peace process, readers should refer to the knowledge base essays about violence prevention, peacemaking and peacekeeping, as well as the essay on peace processes which is what we use as our "umbrella" term.

In this narrower sense, peacebuilding is a process that facilitates the establishment of durable peace and tries to prevent the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political as well as economic transformation.[1] This consists of a set of physical, social, and structural initiatives that are often an integral part of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation.

It is generally agreed that the central task of peacebuilding is to create positive peace, a "stable social equilibrium in which the surfacing of new disputes does not escalate into violence and war."[2] Sustainable peace is characterized by the absence of physical and structural violence, the elimination of discrimination, and self-sustainability.[3] Moving towards this sort of environment goes beyond problem solving or conflict management. Peacebuilding initiatives try to fix the core problems that underlie the conflict and change the patterns of interaction of the involved parties.[4] They aim to move a given population from a condition of extreme vulnerability and dependency to one of self-sufficiency and well-being.[5]

To further understand the notion of peacebuilding, many contrast it with the more traditional strategies of peacemaking and peacekeeping. Peacemaking is the diplomatic effort to end the violence between the conflicting parties, move them towards nonviolent dialogue, and eventually reach a peace agreement. Peacekeeping, on the other hand, is a third-party intervention (often, but not always done by military forces) to assist parties in transitioning from violent conflict to peace by separating the fighting parties and keeping them apart. These peacekeeping operations not only provide security, but also facilitate other non-military initiatives.[6]

Some draw a distinction between post-conflict peacebuilding and long-term peacebuilding. Post-conflict peacebuilding is connected to peacekeeping, and often involves demobilization and reintegration programs, as well as immediate reconstruction needs.[7] Meeting immediate needs and handling crises is no doubt crucial. But while peacemaking and peacekeeping processes are an important part of peace transitions, they are not enough in and of themselves to meet longer-term needs and build a lasting peace.

Long-term peacebuilding techniques are designed to fill this gap, and to address the underlying substantive issues that brought about conflict. Various transformation techniques aim to move parties away from confrontation and violence, and towards political and economic participation, peaceful relationships, and social harmony.[8]

This longer-term perspective is crucial to future violence prevention and the promotion of a more peaceful future. Thinking about the future involves articulating desirable structural, systemic, and relationship goals. These might include sustainable economic development, self-sufficiency, equitable social structures that meet human needs, and building positive relationships.[9]

Peacebuilding measures also aim to prevent conflict from reemerging. Through the creation of mechanisms that enhance cooperation and dialogue among different identity groups, these measures can help parties manage their conflict of interests through peaceful means. This might include building institutions that provide procedures and mechanisms for effectively handling and resolving conflict.[10] For example, societies can build fair courts, capacities for labor negotiation, systems of civil society reconciliation, and a stable electoral process.[11] Such designing of new dispute resolution systems is an important part of creating a lasting peace.

In short, parties must replace the spiral of violence and destruction with a spiral of peace and development, and create an environment conducive to self-sustaining and durable peace.[12] The creation of such an environment has three central dimensions: addressing the underlying causes of conflict, repairing damaged relationships and dealing with psychological trauma at the individual level. Each of these dimensions relies on different strategies and techniques.

The Structural Dimension: Addressing Root Causes

The structural dimension of peacebuilding focuses on the social conditions that foster violent conflict. Many note that stable peace must be built on social, economic, and political foundations that serve the needs of the populace.[13] In many cases, crises arise out of systemic roots. These root causes are typically complex, but include skewed land distribution, environmental degradation, and unequal political representation.[14] If these social problems are not addressed, there can be no lasting peace.

Thus, in order to establish durable peace, parties must analyze the structural causes of the conflict and initiate social structural change. The promotion of substantive and procedural justice through structural means typically involves institution building and the strengthening of civil society.

Avenues of political and economic transformation include social structural change to remedy political or economic injustice, reconstruction programs designed to help communities ravaged by conflict revitalize their economies, and the institution of effective and legitimate restorative justice systems.[15] Peacebuilding initiatives aim to promote nonviolent mechanisms that eliminate violence, foster structures that meet basic human needs, and maximize public participation.[16]

To provide fundamental services to its citizens, a state needs strong executive, legislative, and judicial institutions.[17] Many point to democratization as a key way to create these sorts of peace-enhancing structures. Democratization seeks to establish legitimate and stable political institutions and civil liberties that allow for meaningful competition for political power and broad participation in the selection of leaders and policies.[18] It is important for governments to adhere to principles of transparency and predictability, and for laws to be adopted through an open and public process.[19] For the purpose of post-conflict peacebuilding, the democratization process should be part of a comprehensive project to rebuild society's institutions.

Political structural changes focus on political development, state building, and the establishment of effective government institutions. This often involves election reform, judicial reform, power-sharing initiatives, and constitutional reform. It also includes building political parties, creating institutions that provide procedures and mechanisms for effectively handling and resolving conflict, and establishing mechanisms to monitor and protect human rights. Such institution building and infrastructure development typically requires the dismantling, strengthening, or reformation of old institutions in order to make them more effective.

It is crucial to establish and maintain rule of law, and to implement rules and procedures that constrain the powers of all parties and hold them accountable for their actions.[20] This can help to ease tension, create stability, and lessen the likelihood of further conflict. For example, an independent judiciary can serve as a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes and post-war grievances.[21]

In addition, societies need a system of criminal justice that deters and punishes banditry and acts of violence.[22] Fair police mechanisms must be established and government officials and members of the police force must be trained to observe basic rights in the execution of their duties.[23] In addition, legislation protecting minorities and laws securing gender equality should be advanced. Courts and police forces must be free of corruption and discrimination.

But structural change can also be economic. Many note that economic development is integral to preventing future conflict and avoiding a relapse into violence.[24] Economic factors that put societies at risk include lack of employment opportunities, food scarcity, and lack of access to natural resources or land. A variety of social structural changes aim to eliminate the structural violence that arises out of a society's economic system. These economic and social reforms include economic development programs, health care assistance, land reform, social safety nets, and programs to promote agricultural productivity.[25]

Economic peacebuilding targets both the micro- and macro-level and aims to create economic opportunities and ensure that the basic needs of the population are met. On the microeconomic level, societies should establish micro-credit institutions to increase economic activity and investment at the local level, promote inter-communal trade and an equitable distribution of land, and expand school enrollment and job training.[26] On the macroeconomic level, the post-conflict government should be assisted in its efforts to secure the economic foundations and infrastructure necessary for a transition to peace.[27]

The Relational Dimension

A second integral part of building peace is reducing the effects of war-related hostility through the repair and transformation of damaged relationships. The relational dimension of peacebuilding centers on reconciliation, forgiveness, trust building, and future imagining. It seeks to minimize poorly functioning communication and maximize mutual understanding.[28]

Many believe that reconciliation is one of the most effective and durable ways to transform relationships and prevent destructive conflicts.[29] The essence of reconciliation is the voluntary initiative of the conflicting parties to acknowledge their responsibility and guilt. Parties reflect upon their own role and behavior in the conflict, and acknowledge and accept responsibility for the part they have played. As parties share their experiences, they learn new perspectives and change their perception of their "enemies." There is recognition of the difficulties faced by the opposing side and of their legitimate grievances, and a sense of empathy begins to develop. Each side expresses sincere regret and remorse, and is prepared to apologize for what has transpired. The parties make a commitment to let go of anger, and to refrain from repeating the injury. Finally, there is a sincere effort to redress past grievances and compensate for the damage done. This process often relies on interactive negotiation and allows the parties to enter into a new mutually enriching relationship.[30]

One of the essential requirements for the transformation of conflicts is effective communication and negotiation at both the elite and grassroots levels. Through both high- and community-level dialogues, parties can increase their awareness of their own role in the conflict and develop a more accurate perception of both their own and the other group's identity.[31] As each group shares its unique history, traditions, and culture, the parties may come to understand each other better. International exchange programs and problem-solving workshops are two techniques that can help to change perceptions, build trust, open communication, and increase empathy.[32] For example, over the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the main antagonists have sometimes been able to build trust through meeting outside their areas, not for formal negotiations, but simply to better understand each other.[33]

If these sorts of bridge-building communication systems are in place, relations between the parties can improve and any peace agreements they reach will more likely be self-sustaining.[34] (The Israeli-Palestinian situation illustrates that there are no guarantees, however.) Various mass communication and education measures, such as peace radio and TV, peace-education projects, and conflict-resolution training, can help parties to reach such agreements.[35] And dialogue between people of various ethnicities or opposing groups can lead to deepened understanding and help to change the demonic image of the enemy group.[36] It can also help parties to overcome grief, fear, and mistrust and enhance their sense of security.

A crucial component of such dialogue is future imaging, whereby parties form a vision of the commonly shared future they are trying to build. Conflicting parties often have more in common in terms of their visions of the future than they do in terms of their shared and violent past.[37] The thought is that if they know where they are trying to go, it will be easier to get there.

Another way for the parties to build a future together is to pursue joint projects that are unrelated to the conflict's core issues and center on shared interests. This can benefit the parties' relationship. Leaders who project a clear and hopeful vision of the future and the ways and means to get there can play a crucial role here.

But in addition to looking towards the future, parties must deal with their painful past. Reconciliation not only envisions a common, connected future, but also recognizes the need to redress past wrongdoing.[38] If the parties are to renew their relationship and build an interdependent future, what has happened must be exposed and then forgiven.

Indeed, a crucial part of peacebuilding is addressing past wrongdoing while at the same time promoting healing and rule of law.[39] Part of repairing damaged relationships is responding to past human rights violations and genocide through the establishment of truth commissions, fact-finding missions, and war crimes tribunals.[40] These processes attempt to deal with the complex legal and emotional issues associated with human rights abuses and ensure that justice is served. It is commonly thought that past injustice must be recognized, and the perpetrators punished if parties wish to achieve reconciliation.

However, many note that the retributive justice advanced by Western legal systems often ignores the needs of victims and exacerbates wounds.[41] Many note that to advance healing between the conflicting parties, justice must be more reparative in focus. Central to restorative justice is its future-orientation and its emphasis on the relationship between victims and offenders. It seeks to engage both victims and offenders in dialogue and make things right by identifying their needs and obligations.[42] Having community-based restorative justice processes in place can help to build a sustainable peace.

The Personal Dimension

The personal dimension of peacebuilding centers on desired changes at the individual level. If individuals are not able to undergo a process of healing, there will be broader social, political, and economic repercussions.[43] The destructive effects of social conflict must be minimized, and its potential for personal growth must be maximized.[44] Reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts must prioritize treating mental health problems and integrate these efforts into peace plans and rehabilitation efforts.

In traumatic situations, a person is rendered powerless and faces the threat of death and injury. Traumatic events might include a serious threat or harm to one's family or friends, sudden destruction of one's home or community, and a threat to one's own physical being.[45] Such events overwhelm an individual's coping resources, making it difficult for the individual to function effectively in society.[46] Typical emotional effects include depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After prolonged and extensive trauma, a person is often left with intense feelings that negatively influence his/her psychological well-being. After an experience of violence, an individual is likely to feel vulnerable, helpless, and out of control in a world that is unpredictable.[47]

Building peace requires attention to these psychological and emotional layers of the conflict. The social fabric that has been destroyed by war must be repaired, and trauma must be dealt with on the national, community, and individual levels.[48] At the national level, parties can accomplish widespread personal healing through truth and reconciliation commissions that seek to uncover the truth and deal with perpetrators. At the community level, parties can pay tribute to the suffering of the past through various rituals or ceremonies, or build memorials to commemorate the pain and suffering that has been endured.[49] Strong family units that can rebuild community structures and moral environments are also crucial.

At the individual level, one-on-one counseling has obvious limitations when large numbers of people have been traumatized and there are insufficient resources to address their needs. Peacebuilding initiatives must therefore provide support for mental health infrastructure and ensure that mental health professionals receive adequate training. Mental health programs should be adapted to suit the local context, and draw from traditional and communal practice and customs wherever possible.[50] Participating in counseling and dialogue can help individuals to develop coping mechanisms and to rebuild their trust in others.[51]

If it is taken that psychology drives individuals' attitudes and behaviors, then new emphasis must be placed on understanding the social psychology of conflict and its consequences. If ignored, certain victims of past violence are at risk for becoming perpetrators of future violence.[52] Victim empowerment and support can help to break this cycle.

Peacebuilding Agents

Peacebuilding measures should integrate civil society in all efforts and include all levels of society in the post-conflict strategy. All society members, from those in elite leadership positions, to religious leaders, to those at the grassroots level, have a role to play in building a lasting peace. Many apply John Paul Lederach's model of hierarchical intervention levels to make sense of the various levels at which peacebuilding efforts occur.[53]

Because peace-building measures involve all levels of society and target all aspects of the state structure, they require a wide variety of agents for their implementation. These agents advance peace-building efforts by addressing functional and emotional dimensions in specified target areas, including civil society and legal institutions.[54] While external agents can facilitate and support peacebuilding, ultimately it must be driven by internal forces. It cannot be imposed from the outside.

Various internal actors play an integral role in peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts. The government of the affected country is not only the object of peacebuilding, but also the subject. While peacebuilding aims to transform various government structures, the government typically oversees and engages in this reconstruction process. A variety of the community specialists, including lawyers, economists, scholars, educators, and teachers, contribute their expertise to help carry out peacebuilding projects. Finally, a society's religious networks can play an important role in establishing social and moral norms.[55]

Nevertheless, outside parties typically play a crucial role in advancing such peacebuilding efforts. Few peacebuilding plans work unless regional neighbors and other significant international actors support peace through economic development aid and humanitarian relief.[56] At the request of the affected country, international organizations can intervene at the government level to transform established structures.[57] They not only provide monetary support to post-conflict governments, but also assist in the restoration of financial and political institutions. Because their efforts carry the legitimacy of the international community, they can be quite effective.

Various institutions provide the necessary funding for peacebuilding projects. While international institutions are the largest donors, private foundations contribute a great deal through project-based financing.[58] In addition, regional organizations often help to both fund and implement peacebuilding strategies. Finally, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often carry out small-scale projects to strengthen countries at the grassroots level. Not only traditional NGOs but also the business and academic community and various grassroots organizations work to further these peace-building efforts. All of the groups help to address "the limits imposed on governmental action by limited resources, lack of consensus, or insufficient political will."[59]

Some suggest that governments, NGOs, and intergovernmental agencies need to create categories of funding related to conflict transformation and peacebuilding.[60] Funds are often difficult to secure when they are intended to finance preventive action. And middle-range initiatives, infrastructure building, and grassroots projects do not typically attract significant funding, even though these sorts of projects may have the greatest potential to sustain long-term conflict transformation.[61] Those providing resources for peacebuilding initiatives must look to fill these gaps. In addition, external actors must think through the broader ramifications of their programs.[62] They must ensure that funds are used to advance genuine peacebuilding initiatives rather than be swallowed up by corrupt leaders or channeled into armed conflict.

But as already noted, higher-order peace, connected to improving local capacities, is not possible simply through third-party intervention.[63] And while top-down approaches are important, peace must also be built from the bottom up. Many top-down agreements collapse because the ground below has not been prepared. Top-down approaches must therefore be buttressed, and relationships built.

Thus, an important task in sustaining peace is to build a peace constituency within the conflict setting. Middle-range actors form the core of a peace constituency. They are more flexible than top-level leaders, and less vulnerable in terms of daily survival than those at the grassroots level.[64] Middle-range actors who strive to build bridges to their counterparts across the lines of conflict are the ones best positioned to sustain conflict transformation. This is because they have an understanding of the nuances of the conflict setting, as well as access to the elite leadership.

Many believe that the greatest resource for sustaining peace in the long term is always rooted in the local people and their culture.[65] Parties should strive to understand the cultural dimension of conflict, and identify the mechanisms for handling conflict that exist within that cultural setting. Building on cultural resources and utilizing local mechanisms for handling disputes can be quite effective in resolving conflicts and transforming relationships. Initiatives that incorporate citizen-based peacebuilding include community peace projects in schools and villages, local peace commissions and problem-solving workshops, and a variety of other grassroots initiatives.

Effective peacebuilding also requires public-private partnerships in addressing conflict and greater coordination among the various actors.[66] International governmental organizations, national governments, bilateral donors, and international and local NGOs need to coordinate to ensure that every dollar invested in peacebuilding is spent wisely.[67] To accomplish this, advanced planning and intervention coordination is needed.

There are various ways to attempt to coordinate peace-building efforts. One way is to develop a peace inventory to keep track of which agents are doing various peace-building activities. A second is to develop clearer channels of communication and more points of contact between the elite and middle ranges. In addition, a coordination committee should be instituted so that agreements reached at the top level are actually capable of being implemented.[68] A third way to better coordinate peace-building efforts is to create peace-donor conferences that bring together representatives from humanitarian organizations, NGOs, and the concerned governments. It is often noted that "peacebuilding would greatly benefit from cross-fertilization of ideas and expertise and the bringing together of people working in relief, development, conflict resolution, arms control, diplomacy, and peacekeeping."[69] Lastly, there should be efforts to link internal and external actors. Any external initiatives must also enhance the capacity of internal resources to build peace-enhancing structures that support reconciliation efforts throughout a society.[70] In other words, the international role must be designed to fit each case.

[1] Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. An Agenda for Peace. New York: United Nations 1995.

[1a] SAIS, "The Conflict Management Toolkit: Approaches," The Conflict Management Program, Johns Hopkins University [available at:

[2] Henning Haugerudbraaten, "Peacebuilding: Six Dimensions and Two Concepts," Institute For Security Studies. [available at:]

[3] Luc Reychler, "From Conflict to Sustainable Peacebuilding: Concepts and Analytical Tools," in Peacebuilding: A Field Guide, Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2001), 12.

[4] Reychler, 12.

[5] John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. (Washington, D.C., United States Institute of Peace, 1997), 75.

[6] SAIS, [available at: ]

[7] Michael Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis. "Building Peace: Challenges and Strategies After Civil War," The World Bank Group. [available at:] 3.

[8] Doyle and Sambanis, 2

[9] Lederach, 77.

[10] SAIS

[11] Doyle and Sambanis, 5.

[12] SAIS

[13] Haugerudbraaten

[14] Haugerudbraaten

[15] SAIS

[16] Lederach, 83.

[17] SAIS

[18] SAIS

[19] Neil J. Kritz, "The Rule of Law in the Post-Conflict Phase: Building a Stable Peace," in Managing Global Chaos: Sources or and Responses to International Conflict, eds. Chester A. Crocker and Fen Osler Hampson with Pamela Aall. (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996), 593.

[20] Kritz, 588.

[21] Kritz, 591.

[22] Kritz, 591.

[23] SAIS

[24] SAIS

[25] Michael Lund, "A Toolbox for Responding to Conflicts and Building Peace," In Peacebuilding: A Field Guide, Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner Publishers, Inc., 2001), 18.

[26] SAIS

[27] These issues are discussed in detail in the set of essays on development in this knowledge base.

[28] Lederach, 82.

[29] Hizkias Assefa, "Reconciliation," in Peacebuilding: A Field Guide, Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner Publishers, Inc., 2001), 342.

[30] Assefa, 340.

[31] SAIS

[32] SAIS

[33] Kathleen Stephens, "Building Peace in Deeply Rooted Conflicts: Exploring New Ideas to Shape the Future" INCORE, 1997.

[34] Reychler, 13.

[35] Lund, 18.

[36] SAIS

[37] Lederach, 77.

[38] Lederach, 31.

[39] Howard Zehr, "Restorative Justice," In Peacebuilding: A Field Guide, Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner Publishers, Inc., 2001), 330.

[40] SAIS

[41] Zehr, 330.

[42] Zehr, 331.

[43] SAIS

[44] Lederach, 82.

[45] Hugo van der Merwe and Tracy Vienings, "Coping with Trauma," in Peacebuilding: A Field Guide, Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner Publishers, Inc., 2001), 343.

[46] van der Merwe, 343.

[47] van der Merwe, 345.

[48] van der Merwe, 343.

[49] van der Merwe, 344.

[50] SAIS

[51] van der Merwe, 347.

[52] van der Merwe, 344.

[53] John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, Chapter 4.

[54] SAIS

[55] SAIS

[56] Doyle and Sambanis, 18.

[57] SAIS

[58] SAIS

[59] Stephens.

[60] Lederach, 89.

[61] Lederach, 92.

[62] Lederach, 91.

[63] Doyle and Sambanis, 25.

[64] Lederach, 94.

[65] Lederach, 94.

[66] Stephens.

[67] Doyle and Sambanis, 23.

[68] Lederach, 100.

[69] Lederach, 101.

[70] Lederach, 103.

Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "Peacebuilding." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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