Whose peace are we building?

By Kirthi Jayakumar

12 August 2014: Kirthi Jayakumar examines at the dangers inherent in outside intervention, and why peace must come from within a society.

afghanistan-helicopter-gunner-8771266032 Image credit: US Army

In general, intervention of any kind interferes with the inherent right to sovereignty and integrity that a state has, simply by virtue of being a state. From diplomatic coercion to sanctions, from full-fledged embargoes to outright military intervention, the use of pressure and force to coerce an end to conflict into place is both unsustainable and wrong. This is both, an established principle in foreign policy and international law – but ironically observed in its breach. Intervention to restore peace inflicts more damage, and the impact it seeks to attain is not sustainable. I would like to make the case for sustainable and collaborative on-ground approaches as opposed to thrusting solutions onto a community, as the right means to arrive at a state of sustainable peace.

Intervention on any other account to restore peace is not logical if it does not factor into account the needs of the people in the community in which such an intervention made. Think of an abscess on your hand. One way to handle it is to puncture it with a needle. Another way is to cut it open and drain it: both of which will ensure that it’s gone for now, but there to stay later. A third way is to look at the reason that’s causing the abscess: perhaps it is a bacterial infection that needs attention. Medication might just result in a sustainable cure: and you might find yourself well on the way to unhindered recovery.

Zoom out of this and look at the big picture. A country is embroiled in a civil war after its social and political fabric disintegrates along fault-lines created by years of defining undercurrents of antagonism: ethnic tensions, historical issues, economic burdens, religious differences or oppression. It doesn’t augur well if, out of nowhere, a whole community outside the country decide that the country needs peace, but instead of attempting to understand the country, they decide to pounce on the nation with force to impose peace.

Take any example and it will only prove this fact. Tunisia during the Arab Spring established its transition from dictatorship to democracy on its own. Egypt did, too, but the multiple incidents that took place in the aftermath remain a can of worms best left for another day’s analysis. However, look at Libya, Afghanistan and even Iraq. The withdrawal of troops following interventions left behind societies that were splintered, struggling to find a route to a solution that would get them out of war once and for all. In many ways, all three countries are still looking for those elusive solutions: and because they have already been torn by war, they flounder under the challenge of having to keep together to find a solution.

There is a reason why military and foreign intervention doesn't work. These interventions thrust "solutions" onto the people of the country intervened in. These “solutions” are the intervening power’s idea of what the ideal is, and are not necessarily the ideal for the people with whose country the intervention occurs. These people do not own these “solutions”, and have no stake-holding in the process of arriving at such a “solution”.  The imposed solution is neither an owned nor a shared vision - and no one that it is forced upon wants to see it through, simply because it is not theirs to begin with. This only leads to more fractures in society, and varying degrees of instability that ranges from unsustainable peace to outright conflict.

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Comments

Louis Francis Monroy on Aug. 12, 2014, 12:03 p.m.

I am currently researching post-conflict peacebuilding in the former Balkans and am focusing on the disconnection between international state-building practices, excessively focused on the reconstruction of institutions that can deliver democracy and lay foundations for a market economy, and ground projects on reconciliation issues that seek to address the division of communities in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is my belief that the liberal agenda tends to ignore local realities or co-opt locals into the liberal framework, leaving a dangerous, addressed gap between interests of Western interveners and the needs of the population subject to intervention. I strongly believe that without connecting the state-building efforts with the ground activities from real "grass-root" organizations there is a high risk of failure in the peacebuilding endeavor.

Nidhi Shendurnikar on Aug. 13, 2014, 8:06 a.m.

<p>Kirthi ji you have put across a very appropriate though. Peace should come from within because if it is thrust upon by an external force then it is not owned by people and hence cannot be sustained. I think people themselves have very creative ideas for peace and if implemented with a good spirit, these ideas can work wonders. We have already seen in two countries - Iraq and Afghanistan what the results were of outside intervention and how it played a role in the devastation of the two countries. However, rather than direct intervention I believe mediation by a third party or negotiations facilitated by a third party can play a positive role in bringing the conflicting parties to the dialogue table. But this mediation should also not be imposed and the two parties should themselves have a consensus upon when and at what point of time in the conflict is mediation required. What are your thoughts on this?</p>

Nidhi Shendurnikar on Aug. 13, 2014, 9:09 a.m.

Kirthi ji you have put across a very appropriate though. Peace should come from within because if it is thrust upon by an external force then it is not owned by people and hence cannot be sustained. I think people themselves have very creative ideas for peace and if implemented with a good spirit, these ideas can work wonders. We have already seen in two countries - Iraq and Afghanistan what the results were of outside intervention and how it played a role in the devastation of the two countries. However, rather than direct intervention I believe mediation by a third party or negotiations facilitated by a third party can play a positive role in bringing the conflicting parties to the dialogue table. But this mediation should also not be imposed and the two parties should themselves have a consensus upon when and at what point of time in the conflict is mediation required. What are your thoughts on this?

agunbiade doyinsola on Sept. 12, 2014, 1:05 p.m.

Post conflict Peacebuilding is critical at this period where we have protracted intrastate conflict. Ownership of the peace process is a sacrosanct while considering sustainable conflict resolution. When conflict ends, the scars, wounds of conflict takes longer time to heal. This calls for reconciliation, which is paves way for healing. I will suggest that a conflict handling style such as "joint problem solving" should be engaged in ensuring sustainable peace. Parties to the conflict should jointly resolve conflict.