Cate Malek
Michelle Maiese
Heidi Burgess

Updated May 2013 by Sarah Cast and Heidi Burgess



Peacebuilding is the "normalization" of relationships between people previously in conflict. It establishes sustainable peace by addressing root causes of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political and economic transformation.


Anyone recovering from or trying to prevent a long-term, deep-rooted (often violent) conflict.


Peacebuilding attempts to create sustainable peace by going beyond conflict management to try to solve the core problems in a society. Stable peace must be built on strong social, economic, and political foundations as well as interpersonal and inter-group relationships. Often, crises arise out of things such as unequal land distribution, lack of political representation, or poverty. In addition, a successful state needs strong executive, legislative, and judicial institutions. Democratization and economic reforms such as economic development, health care, education, and land reform are part of many successful peacebuilding programs. Reintegration of former combatants and repatriation of refugees is also an important part of peacebuilding 

Peacebuilding also usually involves efforts to increase "normal," cooperative contacts between opponents. It differs from "peacekeeping," which involves the placement of neutral forces in between the disputants to stop further bloodshed, and peacemaking, which is the formal negotiation of peace agreements, carried out by leaders or other high-level officials. Scholar Stephen Ryan explains that peacekeeping "builds barriers between warriors," while peacebuilding "builds bridges between the ordinary people."

In peacebuilding, efforts are made to open channels of communication, get people involved in joint projects, work with the media and the educational system to try to break down stereotypes, and reduce prejudice and discrimination. The goal of all of these efforts is reconciliation --– getting the people to accept each other as part of their own group or be reconciled to mutual co-existence.

Repairing damaged relationships is essential for successful peacebuilding.  Reconciliation requires conflicting parties to voluntarily acknowledge their responsibility and guilt. (While one side may be more "guilty" than another, in long-standing conflicts that require peacebuilding, both sides usually share some responsibility for the problem.) What has happened must be exposed and then forgiven. It is crucial to address past wrongdoing, while simultaneously promoting healing and rule of law. To respond to past human rights violations and genocide, peacebuilders can establish truth commissions, fact-finding missions, or war crimes tribunals. However, Western retributive justice systems often ignore the needs of victims and exacerbate wounds. The alternative, restorative justice, is future-oriented and emphasizes the building new relationships between victims and offenders. Therefore, community-based restorative justice processes can help build a sustainable peace--either independently, or in conjunction with retributive justice mechanisms such as tribunals.

The Personal Dimension

This dimension of peacebuilding centers on individuals. Traumatic events might include threat or harm to one's family or friends, home or community, or one's own physical being. Such events overwhelm an individual's coping resources, making it difficult for the individual to function effectively in society, even after a peace agreement has been signed and the fighting has stopped. One way to promote healing is for a community to pay tribute to the suffering of the past through story-telling (public or private),  ceremonies or memorials. Additionally, strong family units are crucial for the healing process. Individual counseling is also helpful, but has limitations when large numbers of people have been traumatized. If ignored, victims of past violence are at risk for becoming perpetrators of future violence.


Although it can be done at any time, peacebuilding efforts usually follow peacekeeping and peacemaking initiatives. Unlike peacekeeping which can be implemented relatively quickly, and peacemaking, which can occur over a period of a few months, peacebuilding usually takes a number of years. John Paul Lederach, an expert on peacebuilding, has observed that it takes people at least as long to get out of a conflict as it does to get into one. – Dome of the conflicts he has been involved in have gone on for decades, or even centuries. So peacebuilding is a very long, slow process.

Peace Builders

Peacebuilding efforts should include all levels of society in the post-violence strategy. Important actors include government officials, lawyers, economists, scholars, educators, teachers, and religious leaders. Few peacebuilding plans succeed unless  international actors support them with money, personnel, expertise, and often goods. But local people and institutions must be heavily involved as well as designers and providers of programs, as well as recipients.  If programs are designed and run by outsiders, they will usually end as soon as the outsiders leave.  To be lasting (and usually to have lasting effects), they must be locally "owned."

Often peacebuilding programs are carried out by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but the United Nations and regional organizations such as the Organization of American States or the African Union have engaged in peacebuilding efforts as well.

Funding is one of the biggest obstacles to successful peacebuilding.  Unfortunately, funds are often difficult to secure when they are intended for preventive action, even though it may have the greatest potential to sustain long-term conflict transformation. External actors must also ensure that funds aren't swallowed up by corrupt leaders or channeled into armed conflict.


Various internal and external actors have been instrumental in peacebuilding in Afghanistan, a fragile state at war with insurgent groups since 2001. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led security mission authorized by the United Nations, operates according to two main aims: to train the Afghan security forces and to assist in the rebuilding of Afghan political institutions.   The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), along with other observers, oversee Afghan elections, and in 2009 an Anti-Corruption Tribunal was established. At the local level, Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an anti-corruption body, sponsors volunteer local inspectors to act as watchdogs against corruption, although these local groups have limited authority, and corruption remains a serious problem in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, a number of local and international NGOs have undertaken community-level development initiatives in an effort to rebuild the productive foundation of Afghan society. To combat illegal opium production in rural Afghan communities, which funds the Taliban insurgency, a number of organizations have introduced alternative development projects. The projects promote the planning, monitoring, and evaluating of alternative livelihood options. For instance, some peacebuilders offer incentives to grow legitimate crops in "micro-agro enterprises" . Others have instituted peace education and factional conflict resolution programs, thereby strengthening the social structures for peaceful transformation. These programs furthermore contribute to the growth of an Afghan civil society.


Conflicts cannot be resolved unless the people that are affected by the conflicts want to resolve them. It is not enough for leaders to sign a peace agreement, if the people "on the ground" do not support it. (This is a primary reason why the Oslo agreement on the Palestinian conflict failed, and why the Israelis and the Palestinians have yet to make peace.) In order for peace to really be achieved, peace must be accepted both by the leaders, and by their followers – the "ordinary" people. (Many peacebuilders are actually quite extraordinary people – but this is using the word in a different way.) It is the peacebuilding efforts of hundreds or even thousands of peace builders that actually brings peace to the people.


While these example are drawn from international conflicts, peacebuilding can also be done in the United States between groups involved in long-standing conflicts. For example, efforts are often being made to bring students of different races together in schools to try to develop better understandings between them. Many dialogues have been held to try to "build peace" between pro-choice and pro-life advocates, even without being able to come up with a resolution to their "fundamental" conflict. The same is true between homosexuals and those who oppose the gay lifestyle.

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