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Peacebuilding: Cooperation, Coordination, and Holistic Vision

Peacebuilding : Cooperation, Coordination, and Holistic Vision

Rene Wadlow*

“From the outset of my mandate” said in 1993 then Secretary General of the UN Boutros Boutros-Ghali “I have been convinced that the structure of the Organization must mirror, as closely as possible, the tasks it is assigned to undertake. An institution must reflect
the objectives it pursues…The UN therefore faces the difficult task of relating our aims to our means, of updating and reforming institutions set up at different times and with different imperatives.” Boutros-Ghali proposed measures to promote coordination and decentralization within the UN system, greater cooperation with non-governmental organizations and regional bodies, and creating more effective UN financing and budget-making mechanisms.

He went on to stress the vast challenges of famine, drought, AIDS, civil wars,
uprooted and displaced populations and deepening human misery in many parts of the world.
These situations make dramatic demands on the UN system and require a better field presence
and operational capabilities. The UN system is called upon to respond to very diversified
requirements, often involving the provision of crucial and direct aid to peoples in deep
distress and involving sensitive new fields of social, economic and political transformation.

What does peacebuilding look like? Is it high-level diplomats working out a regiona security system for Afghanistan-Pakistan? Is it non-governmental organizations bringing religious leaders together to discuss after the religious violence in northern Nigeria? Or women’s groups working together across the lines of conflict in Israel and Palestine to deliver humanitarian aid to families in Gaza?

Although some persons use the term ‘peacebuilding’ only to refer to post-conflict work, the concept is better seen as an umbrella term for all work directed to peaceful social change at all levels of society and in all stages of conflict including such activities as mediation, conflict prevention, and alternative dispute resolution. Peacebuilding must deal with changing attitudes, opinions, and belief systems through education, dialogue, and community organizations. Peacebuilding requires the establishment of cooperative relations between groups, replacing the adversarial or competitive relations that had led to conflict and violence. Thus, peacebuilding needs to be both short-term to reduce or eliminate direct violence and longer-term to enhance existing capacities to meet needs and protect rights.

We all have limited attention spans for crisis situations in which we are not directly
involved or do not have strong emotional links. We are constantly asked to pay attention to a new crisis, to new tensions, to new difficulties. Political leaders have even shorter
attention spans unless there are strong domestic reasons for remaining involved. Therefore
there is a need both within the UN system and within national governments for a group
of persons with a long-term holistic vision, who are able to see trends and the interlinks
between situations. Such a body needs to be able to organize long-term cooperation
drawing upon the knowledge and resources of universities, religious groups, NGOs and
government services at all levels.

Just as ecological concerns require actions by a multitude of actors who do not always
see the relationship between their actions, so peacebuilding has material, intellectual and
spiritual dimensions. Finding the way these fit together so as to be understandable to policy
makers is not easy. However, this is the challenge before us. The process will take time
and vision.

*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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