Peace enforcement – the rebirth of a difficult term


Welcome back!

For quite some time, at least for the past 20 years, the term ‘peace enforcement’ has been largely left out of the conflict resolution debate. Understandably, it is difficult to define what it exactly is, and once we know what it entails, it may not sit comfortably with the conflict resolution adept in terms of ethical boundaries and the Do No Harm approach.

The debate is still hot, especially with new wicked problems, the multitude of war and peace actors, the diminishing projected power of the few stalwarts of intelligence technology and the rise of non-state armed actors sitting at the negotiating table. The conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq/Syria speak for themselves and the debates among mediators has not been fruitful as to which approaches or policies to adopt. Some argue for the mediator being the guarantor for ceasing the violence, while others argue that mediators need to be capable of projecting real peace building value, incl. human rights and justice.

I remembered a time during the early nineties, when I was myself involved in UNOSOM, UNPROFOR, IFOR even, when peace enforcement was the recurring concept before making use of a new term, emerging with the failures of UNAMIR in Rwanda, which is the R2P-concept. At that point, peace enforcement was largely understood as a concept of operations that involves a combination of political strategy and the use of military command and control capacities. Subsequently, and certainly after the Dayton agreement of 1996, the concept of peace enforcement was morphed into the notions of conflict containment, settlement and management. And then, it largely faded away, only to resurface again since the Taliban are advancing again in Afghanistan and ISIS has installed its caliphate. In the past 2 months, the concept of peace enforcement is now largely used in scholarly work and intelligence strategists openly discuss the term.

While I trust that the ethical philosophies of Do No Harm and Do Maximum Good are still valid paradigms for nowadays mediators, I also believe that mediators need to refocus their attention to wicked and complex problems in conflict zones. Training and knowledge sharing needs to be adapted to new realities. The canon of the past 30 years, largely confining mediators to binaries (although there is mounting research on multi-party dimensions), is still being applied to mediation trainings with a focus on ideological root causes of conflict, models of ripeness, and problem-solving approaches that, increasingly, do not work in current contexts.

Some solutions and suggestions:

More immersion in wicked problems, more trained women, better understanding of the conflict transformation spectrum, more financial contribution to peace building contexts, better linkages between peacemaking and peace enforcement efforts, better coordination between mediation actors and military actors, and cohesive strategies based on political analysis and conflict prevention programming is needed. The old term ‘conflict resolution’ may have to be questioned in its validity and new discourses with the young people need to be included in the discussions.

The world has already been changing for quite some time now, but it is apparent that mediators are stuck in the old ways of binary diplomacy and Two-Powers-narrative.

We need a new crop of seasoned mediators, and I hope that the conversation will start sooner than later.



Author: nakawashi9

International mediator, professor, corporate trainer!

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