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Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World

University of Edinburgh

In the opening remarks to her lecture, Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World, Dame Margaret described her academic career and went on to give details of her own experience of serving the United Nations, particular in war-torn Angola. In setting the scene she covered the evolution of the concept of peacebuilding which went back fifty years.

Dame Margaret stated that "peacekeeping" does not figure in the UN Charter, though she argued that it is implicit given that the main purpose of the UN was to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and "to maintain international peace and security."

She described Cold War and post Cold War milestones, going on to highlight major lessons learned from the concept that developed in the 1990s ("overall security is impossible in circumstances in which many human beings are deprived of the basic necessities of life; of their fundamental human rights, and have no voice in their destiny – this applies to the world as a whole, as well as within nations") and the Agenda for Peace in 1992. Her view is that it is clear that the wheel comes full circle for conflict prevention and peacebuilding come to mean the same thing.

What does peacebuilding entail?: Every situation is different; peace and stability are home grown commodities; outside actors can only support, advise and encourage. It is also an essentially multi-dimensional process. In the national context requirements–among other things–are reconciliation; reconstruction; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; formation of representative armed forces and of neutral police; strengthening (and sometimes creation) of democratic institutions and civic education; effective public administration; equitable judicial systems; protection of human rights; training, job creation, provision of basic social services, and restoration of economic infrastructure and production as the basis for better living conditions.

The Importance of Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World: In conflict-torn countries, peacebuilding is clearly of prime importance. It needs outside support and it is in the interests of the international community to give that support since distant conflicts can nowadays have world-wide repercussions. In the new fight against terrorism it seems at times that the symptoms are being dealt with rather than the root causes.

The Problems of Peacebuilding: Effective peacebuilding in a shrinking world requires international cooperation in its broadest sense; US exceptionalism and its unilateralism, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, militate against that approach. National sovereignty, although increasingly irrelevant in a shrinking world, still often poses obstacles to international action to resolve conflict while the widening gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries, leads to conditions conducive to new conflict. Greater development aid is therefore needed not only to help restore normality after conflict but also to prevent it occurring in the first place but is not high on the international agenda, particularly as a result of the enormous expenditure on the Iraq war. Democracy, while a desirable goal, can bring problems in its wake if imperfectly understood and implemented. Efforts to promote sustainable peace and environment are undermined by the arms trade and the influential role of the media sometimes has a negative effect. An area that gets scant attention is the low esteem in which women are held in many parts of the world and the insignificant role, if any, assigned to them, despite the fact that they are usually the main victims of war and the most interested in peace.

The Way Forward: We must meet the dangers to international security in the widest sense and the huge challenges of building peace in our shrinking but fractured world. The international community needs to forge a unity of purpose and a common realization of the Herculean tasks that need to be tackled – the opportunity provided at the end of the Cold War was missed.

It is necessary to have a cohesive international network that harmonizes the various interests of member states into a strategy aimed at the common good. The existing framework in the UN system is flawed and weak and should be strengthened but past experience has shown this to be a very difficult task. (At the time of the lecture the Secretary-General’s High level Panel on Global Security Threats was studying global security threats and was due to report in December 2004 with recommendations of the changes needed to meet the threats. Dame Margaret had confidence that they would come up with eminently sensible suggestions but feared that, as in the past, member states would not act upon them effectively.)

Dame Margaret said that the power of the voice of the people had been amply demonstrated – usually against something. She asked if it could be mobilized in favor of effective peacebuilding in a more secure world, though she recognized that the media would have a key positive role in the strong campaign that would be required.

The lecture ended with a quote from Cervantes:

“Dos linajes solos hay en el mundo, como decía una abuela mia, que son el tener y el no tener.” (There are but two families in the world, as one of my grandmothers used to say, the Haves and the Have-nots.)

and the view that the ‘saying remains as true today as it was then, despite all the enormous technological and economic advances achieved in the interim, [and] is surely the most damning verdict imaginable on human nature.” “Unless we can find some way to lessen the gap between the haves and the have-notes, both within countries and between countries, the prospects for building sustainable peace and security in a world that grows daily more independent look very bleak indeed.”