The Role of International Organisations in Peace and Conflict

• Peacekeeping maintains short-term peace; peacebuilding creates long-term peace.

• The UN plays a major role in resolving global conflicts through its institutions.

• Dialogue and mediation are essential for resolving conflicts.

Updated •
November 21, 2023
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Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

Peacekeeping and peacebuilding are complementary approaches for promoting peace, with peacekeeping focused on short-term stabilisation and peacebuilding on the underlying causes of conflict. However, such efforts can be challenging in practice due to differing priorities of actors and limited resources. Cultural sensitivity is also key for peacekeepers to build local trust and acceptance. While peacekeeping missions have succeeded in places like Sierra Leone, failures like Rwanda demonstrate the complexities of conflict intervention.

Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding
Photo: United Nations Photo / Flickr

Definitions of peacekeeping and peacebuilding

The main activities aimed at promoting peace and stability, on the one hand, and maintaining it, on the other, are known as peacekeeping and peacebuilding. While both terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to distinct but complementary approaches to achieving these goals.

Peacekeeping, in practical terms, refers to the deployment of international military or civilian personnel to areas of conflict. The mission of this staff is to monitor and maintain peace. United Nations Peacekeeping forces are typically deployed to monitor ceasefires, protect civilians, and support peace agreements.

The primary goal of peacekeeping is to prevent the outbreak of violence and protect civilians in conflict areas. To do so, UN peacekeepers conduct patrols and checkpoints, and support missions to local law enforcement agencies. They also run other activities, such as the construction or reconstruction of security institutions. UN peacekeepers train and build up local police forces, ensuring they respect human rights and use adequate crowd control and conflict resolution methods.

Peacekeepers assist in reforming judicial systems. They train judges and lawyers in fair legal processes that uphold the rule of law. They facilitate disarmament and help former fighters transition to civilian life by offering training and psychological help. UN forces also bolster border security and customs management to prevent illegal weapons flows.

The goal of peacebuilding is to address the root causes of conflict and build the foundations for sustainable peace. This takes a long-term commitment from the international community. However, peacebuilding efforts often require more actors than the mere ‘international community’. Government officials, civil society organisations, and community leaders must also be involved as local stakeholders.

Challenges of integrating peacekeeping and peacebuilding

To find the conditions for peace, the UN and NGOs often work alongside local actors. However, it can be challenging to get many groups and stakeholders to work together.

While they all aim for lasting peace, actors involved in peacebuilding may have different priorities. NGOs tend to focus on alleviating human suffering. The UN seeks to bring stability to the country's institutions and society. Local actors may want to re-establish strong political power and assert their sovereignty.

Also, insufficient funding and resources can make peacekeeping and peacebuilding more challenging.

Waging war requires huge amounts of resources, but establishing peace is also extremely costly. Peace organisations and local actors often have limited funds for their international work. This may make it challenging to implement comprehensive peacebuilding initiatives.

Limited resources may make it difficult to keep the peace in the short term as well. Lack of funding for disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programs can contribute to ongoing conflicts. Likewise, insufficient funding could make it hard to reorganise security forces. This may affect the ability of police and military forces to maintain law and order. All in all, peacekeeping programs with inadequate funds can cause the resurgence of conflict.

Another potential challenge is the power imbalance between international organisations and local actors. International organisations and NGOs tend to have more funding and influence in the process. This can lead to unbalanced outcomes that do not sufficiently involve locals who know the community at a deeper level. Indeed, local actors often have the best understanding of the context. They are also more likely to be accepted by the local population.

Even within local communities, there are often power imbalances between different factions. Some voices may be marginalised or excluded from peace processes. Unequal power dynamics can hinder the ability of the peacebuilding process to be truly inclusive. This can lead to a lack of legitimacy for the peacebuilding outcome. It can also lead to a general lack of trust and suspicion on the part of local communities towards international actors.

Because peacebuilding depends so much on effective communication, cultural differences can also make it challenging. Misunderstandings and communication barriers can occur between locals and peacekeepers due to language, communication, and cultural differences. When peacekeeping actors operate in a multicultural environment, clear and open communication becomes crucial. In such situations, interpreters have an important role in bridging language gaps.

Cultural sensitivity is also often a requirement in effective communication. In certain communities, peacekeepers may need to use indirect or subtle communication instead of assertive styles. Peacekeepers can build trust and rapport with the local people by adjusting how they communicate to fit different cultures.

Building and gaining trust between local communities and peacekeeping actors can take considerable time and effort. Equally challenging is establishing effective peacekeeping coordination mechanisms and structures that are acceptable to all stakeholders.

While peacekeeping and peacebuilding are distinct approaches, they are also complementary. Peacekeeping is often the first step in promoting peace and stability in areas of conflict. Meanwhile, peacebuilding is a long-term process. Its goal is to address the root causes of conflict and create lasting peace.

The UN mission in Sierra Leone, called<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">UNAMSIL</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Olonisakin, F. Peacekeeping in Sierra Leone: the story of UNAMSIL. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007.</div></div></span>, began in 1999 to help stop the civil war. Many commentators called it a successful peacekeeping effort. The mission helped stop the fighting, create conditions for peace, and organise free elections. It helped restore overall stability in Sierra Leone.

<h6 class="textbox" font-size:14px>The UNAMIR’s mandate meant the peacekeeping force could not intervene militarily. Some UN staff based in Rwanda were killed at the start of the genocide, with no possibility to retaliate, making it difficult for peacekeeping force to operate. This resulted in the withdrawal of peacekeepers, leaving the population exposed and vulnerable to more mass killings.</h6>

On the other side of the spectrum, one example of an unsuccessful peacekeeping operation is the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Des Forges, A. L. and Kuperman, A. J. Shame: Rationalizing Western Apathy on Rwanda. Foreign Affairs, 2000.</div></div></span>(UNAMIR) during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The mission was allegedly not prepared well enough to handle the increasing violence.


The UN’s Promotion of Global Peace and Security

The United Nations, formed in 1945, plays a major role in global conflict resolution through institutions like the Security Council and the Peacekeeping Force. However, the UN faces constraints due to its intergovernmental nature, budget fluctuations, and internal shortcomings of interventions. While the UN has had peacekeeping successes, failures also highlight the inherent challenges of conflict resolution. Reforming the UN to better reflect the modern world is an ongoing debate.

The UN’s Promotion of Global Peace and Security

The UN’s Promotion of Global Peace and Security
Photo: United Nations Photo / Flickr

The UN's Founding Purpose

The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 with the primary aim of promoting international peace and security. Since then, it has played a critical role in resolving conflicts and preventing the outbreak of violence across the globe.

<h6 class="textbox" font-size:14px>The primary purpose of the UN is to provide a global institutional structure through which states can settle conflicts without relying on the use of force.</h6>

The UN is the closest thing to what may be considered a ‘world government’ to have ever existed. But the UN is not a ‘world government’. Rather, it is an international and multilateral organisation made up of independent sovereign states.

The UN has no power to impose its will on the territories of states except with the consent of those states' governments. Although the UN plays an important part in the world order, it is bound by the decisions of states. In fact, the UN's actions and decisions are based only on agreements between its member states. Reaching such agreements can be difficult because members have diverse interests and powers within the UN. This, in turn, limits the UN's ability to act in certain controversial situations.

<h6 class="textbox" font-size:14px>The UN operates within the framework of states’ unwillingness to surrender their sovereignty. Hence, The UN has had a mixed record - in some ways providing remarkable global-level management and in other ways appearing helpless against the sovereignty of its own member states.</h6>

Critics argue that the United Nations falls short in its response to human rights violations and global humanitarian crises, especially when UN member states themselves are accused of such violations. A pertinent example is Russia's alleged human rights violations and potential war crimes in its conflict with Ukraine. Similarly, China's human rights record has faced scrutiny and criticism. Other countries, including the United States, have faced similar criticism.

Furthermore, the UN often encounters obstacles in fulfilling its mandates and addressing global challenges due to financial constraints. Contributions from member states to the UN's budget, as well as voluntary funding for specific programs, can fluctuate over time. The temporary withdrawal of the USA from UNESCO to support Israel between 2017 and 2023 is a tangible<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">example</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Le Monde. UNESCO votes to readmit the United States. 2023.</div></div></span>of such instability. This variability frequently impairs the UN's capacity to tackle pressing global issues such as poverty eradication, climate change, and sustainable development, among others.

UN Interventions and the UN Peacekeeping Force

The UN promotes peace and security through various mechanisms, like the UN Peacekeeping Force. The main purpose of the UN Peacekeeping Force is to prevent the outbreak of violence and protect civilians in areas of conflict. It is composed of military and civilian personnel from UN member states who work on the ground to establish peace. UN peacekeepers have been deployed in many conflict zones around the world for this very reason.

<h6 class="textbox" font-size:14px>As of 2023, there are 12 UN peacekeeping operations around the world. These are based in Africa (Western Sahara, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo), the Middle East (Golan Heights, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine), Kosovo and Haiti.</h6>

The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) intervened during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It helped with the creation of safe areas for civilians and safe humanitarian aid. Similarly, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) deployed since 1964, has maintained peace and stability on the island. This has helped prevent violence and preserve peace between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN MONUSCO mission has also been well received. It was recognized for its role in saving lives, reducing violence, and protecting civilians. The UNMISS mission to South Sudan has also been considered a success for the UN Peacekeeping Force.

Despite these successes, the UN peacekeeping force has notable weaknesses and shortcomings.

A major problem with UN peacekeeping is the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">alleged violation of human rights</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Westendorf, J. and Searle, L. Sexual exploitation and abuse in peace operations: trends, policy responses and future directions. International Affairs, 2017.</div></div></span>by its personnel. This has occasionally damaged the reputation of the UN. Reports of rape, exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers seriously undermine confidence in peacekeeping operations. The UN and its member states are aware of these internal problems and have expressed a willingness to address them.

UN peacekeeping missions can have limited, vague or unclear mandates, which is another issue. This can make it more difficult for the Force to respond well to conflicts that keep changing. It can even put civilians and peacekeepers at risk.

Limited resources are another problem often faced by UN peacekeepers. While UN peacekeepers are deployed to keep the peace, they have limited enforcement authority. Indeed, peacekeepers must respect a principle: the non-use of force except in self-defence or defence of the mandate. This means that force is to be used only as a last resort. It can be a problem if the warring factions or government forces don't cooperate with peacekeepers. This has been particularly problematic in instances where local actors have been hostile to peacekeepers.

Moreover, as the UN does not have its own standing army, all troops for UN peacekeeping missions are provided by member states. Deploying peacekeepers from different backgrounds, with different languages, cultures, religions and work habits, can thus hamper communication and pose logistical challenges for UN operations. This is particularly true in the training and coordination of peacekeepers working together in unfamiliar territories.

UN Institutions and International Peace

The UN Security Council

One way the UN promotes peace is through the deployment of UN peacekeepers. However, the international community also relies on the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council (UNSC) is a UN body responsible for maintaining international peace and security. It has the authority to act against threats to international peace and security.

Although it rarely decides to use force, the Security Council has the power to authorise its use to protect peace and security.

The UNSC can decide on a range of measures to promote global peace and security. It can impose sanctions on countries, give approval for the use of force, and create peacekeeping missions. However, these decisions depend on the full agreement of its five permanent members.

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 UN member states, with five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and ten non-permanent members. The five permanent members have a special veto power that can effectively block Council decisions despite majority agreement. As the name suggests, these members are always in place: they are members of the Council by right<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">“based on their importance in the aftermath of World War II”</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Higgins, R. et al. Oppenheim's International Law: United Nations. Oxford University Press, 2018.</div></div></span>. These countries have held this special status since then.

The Security Council has ten non-permanent members. These countries are elected by the UN General Assembly and serve for two years at a time. The process of selection depends on countries’ regional groupings. The seats are distributed as follows:

• African and Asian countries combined – 5 seats.

• Eastern European countries – 1 seat.

• Latin American and Caribbean countries - 2 seats.

• Western European and Other countries - 2 seats.

The regional groups nominate candidates for seats, and the General Assembly votes to elect them.

Some believe that the configuration of the UN Security Council does not match today's world. Many now view this global power structure as an outdated World War II model, which does not include enough developing nations. Hence the growing<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">call for reform</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Blum, Y. Z. Proposals for UN Security Council Reform. American Journal of International Law, 2017.</div></div></span>.

The UN General Assembly

The UN General Assembly is another important UN mechanism for international peace and security. The General Assembly is composed of all member states of the UN. Its primary responsibility is to foster international cooperation to address global challenges.

The General Assembly adopts resolutions through a majority vote of member states. However, these resolutions are non-binding, unlike the resolutions passed by the Security Council. The General Assembly also oversees the UN budget. It allocates funding to peacekeeping operations approved by the Security Council. Every two years, the United Nations selects non-permanent members for the Security Council. It also appoints the Secretary-General, who is chosen based on the Security Council's suggestion.

The General Assembly has no enforcement power, but it remains crucial within the UN framework. It sets the agenda, shapes norms and principles, and provides funding and oversight for peace and security activities by other UN bodies, like the Security Council.

Other UN organisations, such as UNESCO, OHCHR, UNEP, and WHO also support peacekeeping. They do it by fostering stability and well-being through areas like education, human rights, the environment and health. Through this multi-sectoral cooperation, the UN system aims to prevent violence and create the conditions for sustainable peace.


Achieving Global Security: Intergovernmental Alliances & Cooperation

The rise of transnational threats has led nations to form intergovernmental alliances like the UN, NATO, and EU to promote security cooperation. However, competing interests and priorities between member states can hamper joint decision-making. Critics argue NATO reflects Western interests more than collective security. But NATO has still sought to bring stability to Europe through collective defence policies. The EU has also contributed to peace through economic integration and joint foreign and security policies aimed at human rights and the promotion of democracy.

Achieving Global Security: Intergovernmental Alliances & Cooperation

Achieving Global Security: Intergovernmental Alliances & Cooperation
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The Need for Intergovernmental Security Cooperation

After World War II, nations have come together and formed a few intergovernmental alliances to promote security cooperation.

The need for such cooperation has been perceived as increasingly pressing in recent decades. This is due to the rise of transnational threats like terrorism, cyberattacks, climate change, and global pandemics.

According to the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">2022 Munich Security Report</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bunde, T. et al. Turning the Tide: Unlearning Helplessness. Munich Security Report, 2022.</div></div></span>, most citizens of major world powers agree that “their countries have no control over global events”. Today's threats do not stop at borders. They affect the security of entire regions and the stability of the international order. While there are still traditional military threats, non-traditional risks are also a major security concern.

Mary Kaldor and other scholars believe that such security alliances were not only formed because of these global trends. Kaldor also believes these alliances exist because of policy decisions made by global powers. In her view, these powers have framed issues such as terrorism as "new wars".

These “new wars” and global developments required new coordinated responses. As a result, there are now expanded networks for intelligence sharing, law enforcement and border security cooperation.

Intergovernmental alliances are thus formed when two or more nations agree to work together towards a common goal. These alliances are typically there to address specific security challenges. For example, modern alliances are formed to combat terrorism, cyber threats, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Intergovernmental alliances allow nations to pool their resources and expertise to address these common challenges. They also allow nations to cooperate. This contributes to trust and understanding in international relations, and ultimately to peace. Alliances can also help deter potential aggressors by presenting a united front against external threats.

Security Partnerships of Modern International Institutions

The United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union (EU) are examples of intergovernmental organisations.

The United Nations and International Security Cooperation

The United Nations, formed in 1945 to promote global peace and security, plays a crucial role in managing conflicts and preventing violence worldwide. Its core institutions, such as the Security Council and the General Assembly, bear the primary responsibility for these tasks. Meanwhile, on the ground, the Peacekeeping Force also plays a vital role in maintaining peace.

See previous section: The UN’s Promotion of International Peace and Security

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s International Security Cooperation Framework

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 as a military pact among several ‘Western’ countries. While the Western label mostly referred to their geographic location, it also was a cultural identification tool for these countries against the other pole in the world that was shaping at the time: the Soviet Union. Western countries shared the same goal of containing Soviet power and communist influence, which led them to establish the NATO alliance.

Proponents of NATO would argue that NATO has played a crucial role in promoting international security cooperation by bringing together nations with shared security interests. They would go on to say that NATO has been instrumental in promoting stability in Europe and North America - which have not seen proper war on their soil since World War 2 - or even the world as a whole.

However, NATO critics see the organisation in a different light. They argue that the Alliance's actions and alleged expansionist motives have caused instability in certain regions. NATO's expansion, particularly in Eastern Europe, is seen by critics as the root cause of many international troubles, including the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Some go further in arguing NATO is a forum designed to promote US interests and its hegemony, rather than the bearer of some collective security.

Besides these controversies, NATO faces a few internal issues and challenges that impact its effectiveness.

Diverse national interests among member states frequently result in disagreements regarding strategic priorities. This impacts negatively on the decision-making process and reduces the alliance’s speed and effectiveness in responding to emerging security threats. For instance, Turkey, a member of NATO since 1952, has been referred to as a<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">“wild card”</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Gramer, R. and Rathi, A. Turkey Is NATO’s Pivot Point Over Ukraine. Foreign Policy, 2022.</div></div></span>in the NATO infrastructure by Western media. This is due to the Turkish state tending to pursue its own interests in the Middle East and Syria, its ties with Russia, its early opposition to the admission of Sweden and Finland to the alliance, and, more recently, its relatively neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Also, some members contribute a large share of their resources and military capabilities to NATO, while others have more minor contributions. US President Donald Trump had famously denounced these unequal contributions. Under his presidency, the US contribution to this budget fell from 22% to 16%, with Germany<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">agreeing</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Deutsche Welle. Germany to match US contribution to NATO budget. 2019.</div></div></span>to pay more in return. Trump even<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">considered</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Barnes, J. E. and Cooper, H. Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia. The New York Times, 2019.</div></div></span>pulling the US out of the Alliance if other members’ spending did not increase. The US share has remained around the 16% mark ever since.

Variations in national priorities and perceptions of what the real threats are often complicate NATO's decision-making process.

Unanimous agreement amongst NATO’s member states is a requirement for decision-making. This can cause delays and affect the ability of the alliance to respond swiftly to security challenges. NATO's scope and capabilities are indeed limited by its intergovernmental nature.

Still, NATO has engaged in peacebuilding efforts in Europe through various means, including collective defence. The collective defence principle is the cornerstone of its mission. Collective defence means any attack on one NATO country is considered an attack on all NATO countries. The collective defence principle has been instrumental in maintaining stability in Europe by deterring potential aggressors and preventing the outbreak of conflicts.

NATO has also been active in crisis management and conflict resolution in Europe. The alliance has deployed peacekeeping and stabilisation missions in the Balkans. The alliance has developed a few partnerships with countries in the Euro-Atlantic region, including Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, to promote regional stability, security, and reform.

Since the 1990s, it has been famously involved in supporting the democratic transition of central and eastern European countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The European Union’s Security Policies

The European Union (EU) is an intergovernmental organisation of 27 European member states. Its ancestor is the European Coal and Steel Community, which was founded in 1952 by Germany and France to create the immediate conditions for peace in Europe. But, since then, its main preoccupation has evolved from mostly peacekeeping to the creation and expansion of a political and economic union.

The EU’s current configuration was established in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty, but European states have continued to find ways to deepen ‘European integration’ since then.

But while the European Union has become far more than the ad hoc peace organisation it used to be, its evolution has also consisted of strengthening this commitment to building lasting peace on the continent and beyond. In recent years, the EU has developed a range of Common Security and Defence Policies (CSDP), including the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Defence Agency (EDA). As part of these policies and its enhanced integration, the EU has undertaken missions like Operation Sophia and established positions like the High Representative for Foreign Affairs to enhance its role in global peace and security efforts.

<h6 class="textbox" font-size:14px>The CSDP constitutes Europe’s main policy framework through which member states can develop a strategic European culture of security and defence, and address conflicts and crises together. It is designed to protect the Union and its citizens and strengthen international peace and security.</h6>

Even outside of these security policies, through the establishment of economic and political integration among European states, the EU has arguably contributed to the longest period of peace in European history. The common market and a single currency only tightened these ties and interdependence, and have thus reduced the incentives for conflict.

The EU has been a strong proponent of human rights and democracy, not only within its borders, but also globally. It claims to promote democratic governance, the rule of law, and fundamental rights for people around the world. The EU’s contribution to international cooperation cannot be overlooked, especially in areas relating to trade agreements, development aid, and diplomatic efforts.


Principles of Peace Negotiation, Mediation and Reconciliation

Principles like impartial mediation, inclusivity, and transparent communication are critical for resolving conflicts through negotiation. However, deep historical and cultural divides, power imbalances between parties, and external interference often pose obstacles in negotiation processes. For instance, the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement has faced challenges, but provided a framework for reconciliation after a thirty-year civil war in the region. Ongoing work is still needed on legacy issues and remaining societal divisions.

Principles of Peace Negotiation, Mediation and Reconciliation

Principles of Peace Negotiation, Mediation and Reconciliation
Photo: United Nations Photo / Flickr

The Main Peacemaking Principles

The concept of negotiation is based essentially on the understanding that finding a cooperative approach is the best and most peaceful way of understanding the other party's position in any conflict or disagreement. In terms of strategy, negotiation can take two main forms: distributive negotiation and integrative negotiation.

<h6 class="textbox" font-size:14px>Distributive negotiation is competitive. The parties see negotiation as a zero-sum game where one side must lose for the other to win. They compete to claim maximum value, even if it harms the other party. The goal is total victory. This adversarial approach can cause poor deals and damaged relationships.

Integrative negotiation is collaborative. The parties aim for win-win solutions that maximize value for both sides. They cooperate to expand the pie before dividing it fairly. This requires understanding each other's needs, being creative, and building trust. The result is mutual gain and goodwill.</h6>

The principles of peace negotiation, mediation, and reconciliation are central to resolving conflicts and promoting peaceful coexistence. These principles are particularly critical in achieving lasting peace in societies that have experienced prolonged conflicts.

The first requirement of peace negotiation is the willingness of all parties involved to engage in dialogue. Dialogue is a paramount principle. Without it, no real agreement can even be considered. All parties involved must be willing to communicate with each other, share their concerns, and listen to the other party's perspective. During the negotiation process, the parties should be willing to compromise and find common ground to avoid further escalation of the conflict.

The second principle is the need for impartiality and neutrality in the negotiation process. The mediator or negotiator must not have a vested interest in the outcome of the negotiation. The mediator should be an impartial third party who can facilitate the negotiation process and help the parties find a peaceful resolution. This principle is critical in ensuring that the parties involved in the negotiation process feel that their concerns and interests are being represented fairly.

The third principle is the importance of inclusivity in the negotiation process. All parties involved should have a seat at the negotiating table, including those who may not have been directly involved in the conflict. This principle is critical in promoting reconciliation and building trust between the parties involved. The inclusion of all parties ensures that their voices are heard and that an acceptable solution can be reached.

The fourth principle is the need for transparency and open communication during the negotiation process. The parties involved should be open and transparent about their concerns, interests, and goals. This principle is critical in building trust between the parties and promoting a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The role of diplomacy in negotiation and peacebuilding cannot be overstated. Diplomacy is the practice of conducting negotiations between nations or groups to resolve conflicts peacefully. Diplomacy involves the use of communication, negotiation, and compromise to achieve a peaceful resolution to a conflict. Diplomats use their expertise to facilitate negotiations, promote dialogue, and encourage cooperation between parties. Diplomacy can also involve the use of economic incentives and sanctions to encourage parties to negotiate and seek peaceful solutions to conflicts. This is particularly the case with Dollar diplomacy which involves the use of a country’s financial power to negotiate or extend its international influence.

The Challenges in Applying Peace Principles to Real-Life Conflicts

While the principles of peace negotiation, mediation, and reconciliation are invaluable in resolving conflicts and fostering harmony, their practical application in real-world situations is often fraught with difficulties.

The existence of deep-rooted historical and cultural divides can constitute a major obstacle to negotiation, mediation, and reconciliation attempts. Long-standing conflicts stemming from complex historical grievances, ethnic or religious tensions, and cultural differences can frustrate mediation and reconciliation efforts as evidenced in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Power imbalances and competing political interests among parties involved in conflict can also hinder the progress of peace negotiations. Parties often seek favourable outcomes for themselves. The prevailing party may expect to be "rewarded" in negotiations rather than compromising, due to public pressure and nationalist sentiments, as well as social biases that<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">dehumanise</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bruneau, E. and Kteily, N. The enemy as animal: Symmetric dehumanization during asymmetric warfare. PloS one, 2017.</div></div></span>or blame the defeated side. This can undermine the spirit of collaboration and compromise, necessary for a successful mediation. This<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">could be due</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Eager, K. The Psychology Of Compassion And Conflict: Why Don’t We Empathize More?. The Organization for World Peace, 2017.</div></div></span>to traumatic conflicts causing psychic numbing and thus lowering empathy levels.

Post-conflict reconciliation<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">means</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Hughes, J. and Kostovicova, D. Introduction: Rethinking reconciliation and transitional justice after conflict. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2018.</div></div></span>providing transitional justice. Transitional justice<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">includes</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Transitional Justice. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014.</div></div></span>mechanisms such as truth commissions, reparations, criminal accountability, or any programme aimed at delivering justice to victims or people affected by conflict. This<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">proves</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>World Politics Review. The Challenges Facing Transitional Justice—and the Dangers of Ignoring It. 2020.</div></div></span>difficult as there can be logistical challenges and political opposition to such efforts. Moreover, post-conflict reconciliation finds a dilemma in striking the right balance between accountability and forgiveness, healing and punishing.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to any mediation and reconciliation process, however, is the presence of external interference. That is, actors who may actively undermine the peace process to protect their own interests. External actors may have specific reasons to frustrate any peace negotiations and keep the conflict going. A country may benefit directly or indirectly from the continuation of conflict through economic or geopolitical gains, and directly or indirectly push to keep the peace negotiations a failure.

The Northern Ireland Peace Agreement

The Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, marked a major turning point in bringing an end to decades of violent conflict and civil war in Northern Ireland. Signed on April 10, 1998, after intense negotiations, this agreement set the stage for reconciliation between the Protestant Unionists and Catholic Republicans.

At the core of the Peace Agreement is the establishment of a power-sharing government called the Northern Ireland Assembly. This arrangement enables unionist and nationalist parties to govern together and ensure all voices are represented. Cross-border institutions were also created to strengthen relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The agreement addresses the complex roots of the conflict including political rivalries and contested questions of identity and sovereignty. It recognizes the diverse aspirations of both communities and aims to include diverse voices in the region’s governance. The agreement also outlines methods for dealing with the legacy of the conflict through truth recovery, reconciliation initiatives, and victim support. It recognised and acknowledged the sufferings and pains the conflict had caused to all communities involved in this conflict.

While the process of peace negotiation has not been plain sailing and the Good Friday Agreement has faced many challenges, it has nevertheless provided a framework for progress. Since negotiated and agreed upon, the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement has<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">contributed</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Landow, C. and McBride, J. Moving Past the Troubles: The Future of Northern Ireland Peace. Council on Foreign Relations, 2023.</div></div></span>to a significant reduction in violence.

Still, Brexit has shown how difficult it is to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">maintain the balance</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Teague, P. Brexit, the Belfast Agreement and Northern Ireland: Imperilling a Fragile Political Bargain. The Political Quarterly, 2019.</div></div></span>found in the Good Friday Agreement, with different communities holding opposing views. A key aspect of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement was avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. However, the UK's decision to leave the EU has disrupted this status quo.

The majority of unionists supported Brexit, hoping to regain fuller sovereignty. In contrast, most nationalists wanted to remain in the EU and maintain closer ties with the Republic of Ireland. As a result, Brexit has exacerbated divisions between the two communities.

Furthermore, societal divisions remain present in certain segments of society, such as<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">education</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>The Economist. Northern Ireland’s schools are slowly becoming less segregated. 2021.</div></div></span>and<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">housing</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Capener, D. Belfast's housing policy still reflects religious and economic division. The Guardian, 2017.</div></div></span>. These social realities are rooted in history and social perceptions and explain why certain parts of society lag behind.


Community-Based Approaches to Peacebuilding

Community-based peacebuilding recognizes local groups are best placed to understand post-conflict challenges and develop tailored solutions. This approach stresses relationship building and inclusive participation. International NGOs like the Peace Corps and Red Cross take community-focused approaches by partnering with local volunteers, leaders, and institutions. But grassroots movements also lead their own peacebuilding initiatives with minimal outside support, as seen in places like Liberia and Northern Ireland.

Community-Based Approaches to Peacebuilding

Community-Based Approaches to Peacebuilding
Photo: Kimon Berlin / Flickr

Community-based approaches<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">involve</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Haider, H. Community-based approaches to peacebuilding in conflict-affected and fragile contexts. Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, 2009.</div></div></span>engaging communities in peacebuilding efforts, focusing on their specific needs, and empowering them to take ownership of the peacebuilding process.

These approaches to peacebuilding recognise that local groups are well-positioned to identify the distinct challenges their communities face after conflict. It is built on the idea that they can develop solutions tailored to their specific contexts. This approach also<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">stresses</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kantowitz, R. and Riak, A. Critical links between peacebuilding and trauma healing: A holistic framework for fostering community development. Peacebuilding in traumatized societies, 2008.</div></div></span>the importance of building relationships and trust within communities, which helps strengthen social cohesion in the long run.

Local organisations like non-profits, women's groups, youth networks, faith institutions, and grassroots movements frequently play important roles in community-led peacebuilding worldwide. Engaging these diverse community stakeholders helps ensure inclusive peacebuilding that represents various viewpoints.

International Peace Corps

The International Peace Corps, as an organisation, is<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">heavily involved</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Rice, G. T. Twenty Years of Peace Corps. Peace Corps, 1981.</div></div></span>in community-based peacebuilding efforts. As an international NGO, it spends a good deal of budget and workforce to enable local peacebuilding action and accompany local groups.

The Peace Corps is an independent, international agency run by the US government dedicated to promoting peace, friendship, and community-driven sustainable development worldwide. It was established in 1960 and has operations in over 60 countries.

In practice, it sends American volunteers to live and work alongside local communities in countries around the world. These volunteers work alongside community members to address their specific needs and promote sustainable development.

On the ground, Peace Corps volunteers work closely with community members. They aim to learn from local people while also sharing their skills and knowledge. Importantly, volunteers also facilitate peacebuilding. In this context, they work with communities to organise training and help develop conflict resolution skills within the local communities. The Peace Corps also partners with other organisations and government agencies to address the root causes of conflict and promote peaceful coexistence between groups.

The International Red Cross and Principles of Impartiality

The International Red Cross is another international NGO that is very active in community-based peacebuilding efforts. Guided by the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, which it helped create as one of the world’s founding humanitarian organisations, the Red Cross<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">provides</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Dromi, S. M. Above the Fray: The Red Cross and the Making of the Humanitarian NGO Sector. University of Chicago Press, 2020.</div></div></span>emergency humanitarian aid, including food, shelter and medical care to a multitude of people around the world.

On the ground, the organisation<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">works</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Labbé, J. and Daudin, P. Applying the humanitarian principles: Reflecting on the experience of the International Committee of the Red Cross. International Review of the Red Cross, 2016.</div></div></span>with communities to strengthen their resilience and provide them with the skills and knowledge to address the root causes of conflict. The Red Cross also engages in advocacy efforts to promote peaceful coexistence and address the underlying drivers of conflict.

The Red Cross takes a community-based approach by working directly with local volunteers, leaders, and institutions to understand the needs on the ground. Red Cross branches recruit volunteers within communities, which facilitates greater access, trust, and local ownership.

Programming is based on close consultation with community members to adapt to their priorities, vulnerabilities, and capabilities. For example, the Red Cross may train community volunteer teams in first aid, disaster preparedness, or epidemic prevention so they can serve as first responders. It partners with local schools or clubs to offer programs promoting tolerance and non-violence values in youth.


The Peace Corps and the Red Cross are two central international organisations working to bring communities front and centre of the peacebuilding efforts in their home regions. However, these are only two examples: many more humanitarian organisations, agencies, and programmes exist.

Still, communities also find very diverse ways to develop their own peacebuilding mechanisms, with minor assistance from international NGOs. This has been the case with peace movements like Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in Liberia or PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland in the early 2000s.


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Learn more

Stats, Databases & Infographics

1. Peacekeeping Database. International Peace Institute.

2. Number of active United Nations peacekeeping missions. Our World in Data. 

3. 2023 Global Peace Index. Institute for Economics & Peace, 2023.

4. Peace Agreements Database. University of Edinburgh.

5. Global peacekeeping data. United Nations Peacekeeping.

Articles, Reports & Books

1. Smith, D. et al. Special report: Truth, justice and reconciliation. The Guardian, 2014.

2. Does UN Peacekeeping work? Here’s what the data says. United Nations, 2022.

3. Jaensch, J. A seat at the negotiating table: How women are building peace in Yemen. The Lowy Institute, 2021.

4. International Organisations in Peacebuilding: critical assessments and future impulses. Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, 2018.

5. de Coning, C. What Peacekeeping Can Learn from Peacebuilding: The Peacebuilding Dimensions of the A4P. IPI Global Observatory, 2018.

6. Gowan, R. What’s New about the UN’s New Agenda for Peace?. International Crisis Group, 2023.

7. Giessmann, H. J. Negotiations, dialogue and mediation: Which approach leads to intra-state peace?. Berghof Foundation, 2021.

8. Participatory methods in peacebuilding work. Berghof Foundation, 2023.

9. Davies, G. et al. Community engagement, protection and peacebuilding: reviewing evidence and practice. Humanitarian Practice Network, 2023.

10. Measuring Peacebuilding Cost-Effectiveness. Vision of Humanity.

Eductional Resources

Teaching ideas and recommendations

Classroom resources about The Role of International Organisations in Peace and Conflict

1. Where We Operate - Interactive Map of UN Peacekeeping Operations. United Nations.

2. United Nations Peacekeeping - Teaching Guide and Resources. United Nations Visitors Services, New York

3. United Nations Peacekeeping - Infographics. United Nations.

4. The United Nations matters - Teaching pack. United Nations Association – UK.

5. United Nations Peacekeeping – Lesson Plans and Learning Activities. United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

6. UN Security Council: To the Rescue! – Lesson Plan and Worksheet. Academy 4SC.

7. Keeping the peace: Education Activities. Australian War Memorial.

8. Designing a New UN Security Council - Lesson Plan, Reading Comprehension Activity. World101.

9. Global Governance – Lesson Plans and Activities. World101.

10. Disarmament Education – Activities, Infographics, Presentations. United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.

11. Conflict solution, peace-making and peacekeeping activities – Lesson Plan. PRACTICE.

12. Resolving Conflicts - Lessons and Activity Sheets. Overcoming Obstacles.

13. Conflict Resolution Unit - Facilitator Guide with Activities. Haile-Manas Academy.

14. Lessons for Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills. Fairfax County Public Schools.

15. Hodnotové strety hrou - Teacher's Guide and Educational Activities. Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia.

Classroom resources about Active War Zones and Regions in Need of Humanitarian Aid

16. Global Conflicts and Human Rights – Lesson Plans and Activities. PRACTICE.

17. Newsthink - Teaching Resources focused on ongoing conflicts and wars. British Red Cross.

18. Global Conflict Tracker – Interactive atlas. Center for Preventive Action.

19. Detailed interactive atlas of news from ongoing wars. Live Universal Awareness Map.

20. Conflict and its Consequences – Lesson Plans and Activities. British Red Cross.

21. Chemical Weapons and the Laws of War - Teacher Briefing and Lesson Plan. British Red Cross.

22. Teaching About a Year of War in Ukraine - A collection of teaching ideas. The New York Times.

23. Humanitarian Education Curriculum Guidebook – Lessons and Resources. Canadian Red Cross.

24. Forced to Fight - Interactive online resource based on personal stories. Canadian Red Cross.

25. Teaching About War – Lesson Plans and Articles. Educators 4SC.

26. The Outbreak of War – Lesson Plan of the First World War. British Council.

27. The Korean War and It’s Legacy – Inquiry-Based Learning Activities. Korean War Legacy Foundation.

28. The Extermination of a Nation: The Genocide in Rwanda – Lesson Plan. Ohio State University.

29. Lesson Plans and Activities on Genocide in Rwanda. Survivors Fund.

Other educational resources about The Role of International Organisations in Peace and Conflict

30. Maintain International Peace and Security. United Nations.

31. Peacebuilding and Peace Preservation. International Organization for Migration.

32. Terminology. United Nations Peacekeeping.

33. New York Diplomacy for Peace Exhibit Presentation. United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, 2023.

34. Peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peace building. Britannica.

35. Peace and Security. United Nations.

36. Peace Mediation Guidelines. European External Action Service, 2020.

37. Guidance for Effective Mediation. United Nations, 2012.

38. Peacebuilding and Peace Preservation. International Organization for Migration, 2021.

39. Conflict Prevention, Peace building and Mediation. European External Action Service, 2021.

40. Human Rights and Peacekeeping. Peace Operations Training Institute.

41. An Introduction to the UN System and Its Role in International Peace and Security. Peace Operations Training Institute.

42. Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the OSCE. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 2014.

Lectures & Debates

1. Zimmerman, S. Is The Future Of Peacekeeping Peaceful?. TEDx Talks, 2016.

2. The Role of International Organizations in Armed Conflict. American Society of International Law, 2021.

3. The role of international organisations in making peace. Blavatnik School of Government, 2018.

4. Conflict Prevention in a Changing World: The Role of International Organizations. Woodrow Wilson Center, 2019.

5. Howard, L. The Power of Peacekeeping. TEDx Talks, 2018.

6. Lederach, J. P. From Conflict Resolution to Strategic Peacebuilding. University of Notre Dame, 2011.

7. Cooperation for Development and Security. Global Security Forum, 2021.

8. Negotiating Peace: A Guide to International Mediation. International Peace Institute, 2018.

9. Art and Criteria of a Successful Peace Negotiation. Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, 2020.

10. Global Security: Cooperation or Confrontation?. Deutsche Welle News, 2014.

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