In This Article Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

  • Introduction

International Relations Post-Conflict Peacebuilding
John Heathershaw
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0023


In the contemporary post-9/11 era, in which the implications of the terms security and threat have been transformed, the theory and practice of postconflict peace building throughout the world have assumed new form and meaning. The features of this shift, which can trace its origins to the termination of the Cold War, are perceptible in a new form of peace building that is predicated upon individual rights (whether articulated in the political, social, or economic sense of the term) and needs (i.e., justice, emancipation). Both elements function within a broader, more comprehensive peace-building strategy that is addressed to the political, economic, social, and even psychosocial or cultural causes of conflict (see UN Reports and Broader Debates). In this manner, peace building is increasingly conceptualized as a strategy that integrates divergent modes of intervention into a comprehensive approach to conflict resolution. This ambitious agenda starkly contrasts with traditional practices of peacekeeping, which were instead predicated upon a much more reticent and restrained interpretation of both conflict and external intervention (see Defining Peace Building and Macro-Level Approaches). Despite the divergence between the processes, both peacekeeping and peace building can be bracketed under the phrase peace operations—a rubric that encompasses UN activities that simultaneously function under the umbrellas of peace making, peacekeeping, and postconflict peace building. Whereas they were conventionally directed toward different stages of the conflict life cycle, there has been a convergence of peace building’s sectors and tasks, necessitated by the complexities of the breakdown/implosion of states. Peace building is therefore increasingly defined by a complexity that arises from the integration of previously discrete spheres of engagement (including peacekeeping and peace making) into an encompassing modus operandi (see UN Reports). This bibliographic review initially distinguishes between the macro and micro-levels of peace building and seeks to demonstrate how the latter are increasingly incorporated into the comprehensive approach to peace building. It then proceeds to engage the role of the UN, which although traditionally the key actor in postconflict peace building in the post-9/11 era has seen its primacy in this role mitigated (see The Role of the United Nations). The analytical trajectory then leads into a discussion of The Liberal Peace, which has been identified by critics as the ideological foundation of postconflict peace building. Alternative Perspectives subsequently seeks to reinterpret liberal peace building by suggesting alternative theoretical perspectives that markedly diverge from the conventions of liberal orthodoxy. The State then considers how state reconstruction has become increasingly equated with postconflict peace building, and Broader Debates goes on to assess how the already-expansive boundaries of peace building are being reinterpreted and redrawn.

Defining Peace Building

A cursory glance at UN Reports reveals that the lines that traditionally demarcated peace-making, peacekeeping, and peace-building practices have increasingly become blurred and indistinct. While the ensuing review references the more recent comprehensive approach, it recognizes the continued (if somewhat diminished) salience of the conventional categories and distinctions between these practices. As the review subsequently demonstrates, this dual emphasis essentially reflects the fact that peace building remains within a state of transition. For this reason, this entry simultaneously conceives of peace building as an inclusive strategy that synergizes previously discrete approaches and paradigms in a comprehensive approach to conflict resolution (the post–Cold War understanding) and as a distinctive set of techniques (as in the conventional understanding) that are applied in postconflict contexts. The subsequent subsections outline the key features (at both the Macro-Level and Micro-Level) that define both narrow and expansive forms of peace building.

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