The challenge of sustaining peace: Report of the advisory group of experts for the 2015 review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture

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This report was prepared at the request of the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council by a seven-member Advisory Group of Experts (“the Group”) designated by the Secretary-General. It represents the first part of a two-stage review of the role and positioning of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), as well as the operational entities of the United Nations (UN) active in peacebuilding. The report is intended to nourish the second, inter-governmental stage, which it is hoped will lead to concrete actions to strengthen the UN’s approach to sustaining peace.

In the view of the Group, the UN’s “Peacebuilding Architecture” cannot be understood as limited to the PBC, PBF and PBSO. Rather, the shortcomings in efforts to fill the “gaping hole” in the UN’s institutional machinery for building peace are systemic in nature. They result from a generalized misunderstanding of the nature of peacebuilding and, even more, from the fragmentation of the UN into separate “silos”.

On the first point, for many UN Member States and UN Organization entities alike, peacebuilding is left as an afterthought: under-prioritized, under-resourced and undertaken only after the guns fall silent. But sustaining peace is amongst the core tasks established for the Organization by the UN Charter’s vision of “sav[ing] succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” It must be the principle that flows through all the UN’s engagements, informing all the Organization’s activities – before, during and after violent conflicts – rather than being marginalized.

On the second point, several principal intergovernmental Organs, and especially the Security Council, hold pieces of the peacebuilding “puzzle,” each from the vantage point of their particular Charter responsibilities. The fragmentation between them is reproduced throughout the UN: within the Secretariat, between the Secretariat and the rest of the UN, and in operations on the ground, where peacebuilding actually takes place. This problem has long been recognized, but periodic attempts to address it have been frustrated. The human and financial costs of lapse and relapse into conflict have become intolerable and call for urgent resolution.

Part I of this report introduces the concept of “sustaining peace”. Part II outlines, in broad strokes, the changing global context for conflict and peacebuilding. After two decades of steady decline, major civil conflicts are once more on the rise. Worse, those conflicts have become more complex, increasingly fragmented and intractable. The drivers of violence – some radically new, some longstanding – raise serious implications for UN, international and regional efforts to support national processes to move beyond conflict. A broader, comprehensive approach of “sustaining peace” is called for, all along the arc leading from conflict prevention (on which, in particular, the UN system needs to place much greater emphasis), through peacemaking and peacekeeping, and on to post-conflict recovery and reconstruction. The success of such an approach critically relies on uniting the peace and security, human rights and development “pillars” of the UN.

A second critical determinant of success is fostering “inclusive national ownership.” In the aftermath of violence, neither a cohesive nation state nor an inclusive system of governance can be taken as givens. The national responsibility to drive efforts to sustain peace must therefore be broadly shared across all key social strata and divides. A wide spectrum of political opinions and domestic actors must be heard – particularly women and youth.

Success also depends on establishing and adhering to realistic timelines for UN peace operations and other peacebuilding engagements – and even more so for development assistance. Sustaining peace after conflict is a particularly lengthy and costly challenge.

Evidence strongly suggests that undue haste and a narrow focus on cessation of hostilities rather than addressing root causes are significant factors in relapse.

Part III of the report presents an assessment not only of what the UN has done well, but more importantly, what it has done poorly. A major conclusion, expressed quite candidly, is that by allowing the UN’s overall fragmentation to continue, Member States are, themselves, part of the problem. The flipside is that they can and must be part of the solution. Simply put, they must accept the need for the different parts of the UN to work together on peacebuilding and find ways to assist them to do so. Without a successful formula through which to unite the common efforts of the three pillars, UN efforts to sustain peace will continue to fail.

Part IV presents concrete proposals to build coherence in delivering sustainable peace.

Amongst these are:

Promoting Coherence at the Intergovernmental Level: The PBC should become the advisory “bridge” between the relevant intergovernmental organs it was always intended to be. Its main functions would continue to be advocacy, assistance in marshalling resources, assistance in improving coordination within and outside the UN, strategic thinking and policy recommendations, and convening a broad and diverse array of peacebuilding actors. But the PBC should undertake more of its work through its full membership, become much more flexible and transparent in its working practices, and place greater emphasis on advising and advocating. Through its full membership, it should also be accountable to the relevant principal inter-governmental organs and realise the bridging between them in that way.

The success of the above will particularly depend on a deepened commitment from the main intergovernmental peacebuilding actor, the Security Council, which should regularly request and draw upon the PBC’s advice on the peacebuilding dimensions of mandates, with the PBC in turn supported by a strengthened and upgraded PBSO working closely with relevant UN entities. The Security Council should also consider passing to the PBC’s responsibility continued accompaniment of countries on the Council’s Agenda where and when peace consolidation has sufficiently progressed.

Improving the peacebuilding capability of the United Nations System: A range of measures is vital to improving delivery on the ground. The UN system needs to pay more attention to the timing and management of transitions between different forms of UN engagement: between different kinds of mission, and from UN Country Teams to missions and back again. Enhancing the authority and capacities of UN leaders on the ground in conflict-prone and conflict-affected countries; making sure there is continuity in leadership across different engagements; and providing UN leaders with the necessary resources to carry out their mandates: all these are critical so that people in need are served and the UN’s credibility is enhanced.

Finally, sustaining peace – which fundamentally concerns reconciliation and building a common vision of a society – must be understood as a task that only national stakeholders can undertake. The United Nations and international actors can accompany and facilitate the process, but not lead it.

Partnering for sustaining peace: The scale of the challenge of sustaining peace means the UN cannot succeed alone. Closer strategic and operational partnerships with the International Financial Institutions and with regional and sub-regional organizations are critical. The UN must prioritize developing and deepening both.

More Predictable Peacebuilding Financing: Despite a decade of focus, financing for sustaining peace remains scarce, inconsistent and unpredictable. Here also, strategic partnerships and pooling funding between the UN, World Bank and other bilateral and multilateral financial institutions will maximize impact and share risk.
The PBF should play to its comparative advantage as a rapid, impactful, procedurally light and risk-taking “investor of first resort” in efforts to sustain peace.

Providing the PBF annually with a symbolic 1 per cent of the value of the total UN budgets for peace operations as core funding from assessed contributions would help close the gap between mandates and programme resources. Providing assessed contributions for the programmatic dimensions of peace operations mandates would also assist in this.

Improving Leadership and Broadening Inclusion: Building national leadership is an integral part of a reconciliation and nation-building agenda, and the UN must focus particular support on this. It should also prioritize support to broadening inclusion so that peacebuilding processes are “nationally owned” in the fullest sense. Efforts must particularly accelerate to attain and then surpass the Secretary-General’s 15 per cent “gender marker” for financing to peacebuilding approaches that promote gender equality.

If all these measures are implemented together, they will represent a fundamental redefinition and reorientation in the UN’s work: one through which the challenge of sustaining peace is genuinely seen as central to the Charter’s vision of saving “succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”