Global Policy Forum

The UN Peacebuilding Commission:


By Peter Gantz*

September 12, 2005

One of the most important goals of the current U.N. reform agenda is the effort to enhance the U.N.'s peacebuilding capacities. Around half of the countries that emerge from war fall back into conflict within five years. Many U.N. peace operations have failed to secure a permanent peace — indeed, they might more accurately be called "lidkeeping" missions. Rather than eliminating the root causes of violent conflict, thus enabling a country to develop lasting institutions of governance and sustainable development, the U.N. often can do little more than contain and delay a renewal of violent conflict.

One particular problem is found within the U.N. system itself. In Secretary-General Kofi Annan's own words, "No part of the United Nations system effectively addresses the challenge of helping countries with the transition from war to lasting peace." For that reason, a Peacebuilding Commission and a Peacebuilding Support Office have been proposed, most recently by the secretary-general in his report "In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All."

The secretary-general envisions the Peacebuilding Commission as a central point for the creation and promotion of comprehensive strategies for peacebuilding. As such, the proposed commission would encourage coherent decision-making on peacebuilding, and would support, but not replace, effective country-level planning for recovery. It is also intended to provide a forum where representatives of the U.N. system, major bilateral donors, troop contributors, relevant regional actors and organizations, the international financial institutions and the national or transitional authorities of the focus country share information about their respective post-conflict recovery activities.

The secretary-general suggests that by bringing together the critical actors, the Peacebuilding Commission can do four things: "It can ensure that the international community as a whole is effectively supporting the national authorities; it can propose overall priorities, and ensure that those priorities reflect country-based realities; it can mobilize necessary resources, both for early priorities in recovery and in particular for sustained financial investment over the medium to longer term period of recovery; and it can provide a forum for ensuring coordination and resolving complications or differences where these emerge."

For the Peacebuilding Commission to work effectively and efficiently, the secretary-general proposes that a Peacebuilding Support Office within the U.N. Secretariat be established. The primary functions of the PSO would include gathering and analyzing information, providing inputs to the planning process for peacebuilding operations, and conducting best practices analysis and developing policy guidance as appropriate. The PSO staff would have expertise in post-conflict strategy development, particularly with the civilian aspects of post-conflict peacebuilding.

Refugees International believes that the secretary-general's proposed Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Support Office, as outlined above, are urgently needed reforms that have the potential to enhance UN peacebuilding capacity. Nevertheless, there are several concerns with the current proposals. Although the secretary-general notes that a Peacebuilding Fund is essential for the operation of the commission and the PSO, it remains an open question whether member states will provide any money for it. Furthermore, the cost of establishing the Peacebuilding Commission and the PSO should ideally come from additional funds provided to the U.N. for that purpose, but for over a decade the U.N. has been forced to maintain a zero nominal growth budget by the U.S. Without a relaxation of such stringent budget caps, the commission and the PSO stand little chance of success, yet the Oil for Food scandal makes additional funding for the U.N. budget even less likely.

The U.S. recently made public a lengthy list of objections to many parts of the U.N. reform agenda at a very late stage in the preparatory process. This could bode ill for the September summit. With regard to the Peacebuilding Commission, however, the U.S. appears to be supportive, with solid backing coming from the National Security Council and Department of State's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.

There is one serious concern with the proposed Peacebuilding Commission: it has been given no real authority to manage the conflict transition process. It has no executive management responsibility over the multitude of U.N. agencies, international institutions, bilateral agencies, national and local agencies, and civil society organizations to design and carry out a coherent and effective post-conflict plan. These myriad institutions may choose to cooperate with the commission or they may not, but the commission will be able to do little to ensure cooperation, and in the end that may prove to be a major flaw in the design of this essential reform.

In sum, the proposals for a Peacebuilding Commission and the PSO need further clarification and definition. To succeed they will need adequate staff and resources. But the proposals respond to a real problem — the need to manage the transition from war to peace more effectively — and they move the U.N. toward a more coherent solution to that problem. The U.S. should provide leadership in turning the secretary-general's proposals into policies.

About the Author: Peter Gantz is the peacekeeping advocate at Refugees International.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on the Peacebuilding Commission
More Information on the UN Financial Crisis


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.