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Rising Powers and Peacebuilding


On 25 August 2016, the Knowledge Platform hosted a workshop in The Hague, in which learning from the peacebuilding approaches of rising powers was the central theme. The workshop, organized by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), fed insights from country and case studies in a range of settings, from Turkey to India and Brazil to South Africa, into new ideas for peacebuilding policy and programming of the EU, UN and other major donors.

Bringing together a diverse group of policymakers, academics and practitioners working in or on rising powers, the workshop encouraged constructive discussions about what the value and pitfalls of differing approaches to peacebuilding are.


Charles Call, in his overview of the findings of the country and case studies, highlighted a common presumption: rising powers do peacebuilding differently. But is this true? And if so, what are the differences, and do these differences exist between the rising powers as well? The discussions showed that while there are indeed differences in approaches, the distinctions are not black and white.

In Turkey, as Onur Sazak explained, peacebuilding as a concept does not have a static definition. He illustrated the centrality of humanitarian and development assistance to the process of peacebuilding. Where previously, especially before 2002, peacebuilding in Turkey related more to peacekeeping, Turkish peacebuilding efforts currently have a clear ethical motivation and focus mainly on using humanitarian assistance and development assistance to make a difference in the lives of people who are suffering from conflict. This process contributes to a long-standing and long-lasting peace.

Adriana Erthal Abdenur showed how in Brazil, peacebuilding as a concept is more emergent than existing. Ms Abdenur discerned two strands in Brazil-style peacebuilding: the first, observed at the UN, is the technical and bureaucratized discourse. The second encompasses underground and grassroots initiatives, South-South development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. The discussion showed that while non-intervention and demand-driven cooperation underlie Brazil’s conception of peacebuilding, the nature of its peacebuilding works means that these principles are not necessarily always respected in practice.

A crucial insight from South Africa, highlighted by Charles Nyuykonge, is the inclusion of all actors in mediation. In South Africa, the experience with the ANC (“terrorists”), and the 1993-2005 peace talks in Burundi with the involvement of military coup leaders, proved an important element in mediation for peace. For South Africa, the focus is not on the speed of processes of peacebuilding, but on the extent to which they are able to address the challenges of stakeholders.

Coming from a reality in which no international cooperation architecture existed after independence in 1947, peacebuilding in India is still very much a work in progress with much ambiguity. Despite India’s lack of financial resources to contribute to peacebuilding efforts, it has deep expertise and experience with education. Lt. Gen. P.K. Singh noted that India’s history of development, similar to that of other countries requiring assistance, facilitates the transfer of knowledge to these settings. He argued that rising powers have a greater ability to understand local contexts.


In the case and country studies, several themes recurred between the approaches of rising powers. First, peacebuilding for rising powers has a different time horizon – efforts both have a longer duration and are not specifically attached to projects. However, it was noted that longer time horizons sometimes meant that short-term negative consequences were ignored. Secondly, non-conditionality forms the starting point for peacebuilding for many of the rising powers. However, despite this commitment, it was acknowledged that strategic interests continue to impact peacebuilding activities.

Rising powers do not typically have a history of peacebuilding. As a result, there are no crystallized narratives around which bureaucracies and academic circles have developed. There are less hard distinctions between types of peacebuilding, so that broader types of peacebuilding can be implemented.

Demand-driven peacebuilding efforts are another common practice. Linked to this is the importance of listening to local actors, governments and experts in defining what is needed, rather than sending external technical teams to complete needs assessments.

Stemming from different ideas about how international relations should operate, rising powers emphasize deference to sovereignty. National ownership is often seen to supersede local ownership. This encourages equality in the international world order and enhances the developmental aspect of the UN, rather than the militaristic aspect of the Security Council.


What can we learn from the rising powers’ approaches to peacebuilding? To begin with, traditional peacebuilding actors like the EU and UN must encourage longer-term time horizons for projects. However, the discussions illustrated that short-term negative results from projects with a long time horizon must not be overlooked, otherwise tensions will fester. Continual assessment will stimulate positive change. Furthermore, encouraging the local definition of needs and the enhancement of state capabilities can help traditional peacebuilding actors’ efforts succeed. Finally, by engaging with countries in need as equals, rising powers enable target states to rebuild state structures, and engender a more cooperative and equitable developmental environment between partner countries.

Read more about the Rising Powers in Peacekeeping report here.