External interventions by themselves do not create long-lasting peace. They are useful in providing short-term solutions to conflict. But to break the vicious cycle of fragility and conflict, international actors should work with regional partners and local peacebuilding initiatives, and make use of the structures in which local actors operate.
This was central to the online debate on ‘Local’ Conflicts in Transnational Entanglements held on the Platform over the past two-and-a-half months. Twenty international experts provided insights into the limits and possibilities for improving external interventions when dealing with transnational influences in local conflict. Two arguments for improvement could be distilled from the debate, both building on the idea that interventions should be tailored to specific situations rather than promoting top-down peacebuilding solutions. First, it is crucial to involve regional partners. This can be achieved by involving neighbouring states who have an interest in stability, or by generating a common interest in stability – for example in regional economic integration – among these regional partners. Second, peacebuilding efforts can be made more sustainable by making them demand-driven, i.e. by focusing on local actors’ perceptions, wishes and initiatives. This can be achieved, for example, by working with established informal structures of authority or by supporting local peacebuilding organizations.
Fields of tension and lines of consensus
An interesting point that many contributors to the debate emphasized was that international interventions are also a form of transnational influence on conflict, thereby questioning the framing of the debate itself. This was most clearly explained by Marina Caparini, who argued that the statements guiding the discussion implicitly conceptualized ‘transnational influences’ as cross-border rebels, or transnational insurgent groups, while influences like global capitalism and Western discourses on state-building were overlooked. As Michael Pugh explains, Western ideas of neoliberal deregulation and privatization are among the transnational influences that shape international interventions in peacebuilding. International actors should thus make sure that these global processes are not adversely affecting the course of local conflicts.
External interventions were generally seen as having only limited influence on the emergence of sustainable peace. Some authors advocated a more local focus, and others a more regional approach. According to Damien Helly for example, internal rather than transnational influences matter most, while Matthew Levinger listed a number of local initiatives in peacebuilding and said that external interventions should support local processes. Richard Ponzio argued that understanding local structures of authority and developing local capacity, such as with the Jirga councils in Afghanistan, can improve the effectiveness of international interventions. However, according to Romain Malejacq, “strategies that strictly focus on the local level are bound to fail”. Thomas Barfield seconded this view by stating that a solution should be found in creating incentives for stability among regional partners, for example the integration of economy and infrastructure. Peter Bartu highlighted the importance of regional approaches by noting that, if Middle Eastern states are not able to agree on governance models, they “might coalesce around regional approaches to water scarcity and food insecurity”.
Hybridity became a central theme in the discussion, both implicitly and explicitly. Most contributors agreed that, in any effort to build sustainable peace, the local should be put first. However, they had different ideas of what ‘local’ entails. Jeroen Adam for example noted that, by placing the central focus on local initiatives, many authors overlook the role of the state in providing equal access to security and justice to its citizens. And, as Kersti Larsdotter explained, “local level strategies alone cannot influence state-to-state relations, while top-down strategies risk overseeing the power relations in the local communities’. These are complex situations which lead us to question the effectiveness of state-centric peacebuilding. Particularly in trans-border conflicts, the need for states to reach compromises could have serious consequences for their national sovereignty.
In short, the contributors debated mainly on how to deal with the dynamics between actors, interests and efforts at the international, regional and local levels in peacebuilding. This was an interesting shift in focus away from imposing peacebuilding on a passive context of conflict. This is a theme on which we hope to expand in the future.
The contributions to this debate will be integrated in a short report presenting concrete suggestions for policy-makers, to be released shortly on this website. The Platform would like to thank all those who have contributed to make this debate a very insightful event. So please join us again for the next debate, which will start in the autumn.
Photo credits: United Nations Photo: Demobilization of Burundian Military