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Theory and practice of State Building 2.0



“I believe that the nature and characteristics of contemporary conflict suggest the need for a set of concepts and approaches that go beyond traditional statist diplomacy. Building peace in today’s conflicts calls for long-term commitment to establishing an infrastructure across the levels of society” - John Paul Lederach

In an increasingly more complex and turbulent world, where wars and intra-state conflicts seem to blossom and prosper globally, the need to “bring diplomacy back” appears now urgent and necessary. To do so, a new encompassing understanding of peacekeeping and peacebuilding theories and practices must be developed.

To begin with, it’s vital to highlight three key aspects of the peacebuilding process. First, it has to involve multiple actors, starting from high-level diplomacy professionals down to everyday interactions between communities and individuals where violence might erupt. Second, peacebuilding is mostly about the “software”: how people interact, work together, build trust, and maintain positive attitudes. Third, since general conflicts are bound to happen, peacebuilding aims to stop them from turning violent.

Therefore, the multidisciplinary nature of State Building brings together two different disciplines: A) International relations, helping to define the context of conflict and providing the framework for action; B) Psychology and sociology, providing tools and guides into group and personal conflict resolution.

International Relations Perspectives

Intervention in the internal affairs of another country must occur within a framework of international law to be legitimate. However, the majority of concrete actions conducted by the UN Security Council aimed to deploy interdiction forces (peace-keeping) instead of planning a peacebuilding strategy. Of all the UN missions, only three—UNTAG, the UNTAC in Cambodia (1992), and ONUSAL in El Salvador (1991) —had mandates that attempted to holistically address the restoration of stable peace. In particular, the UNTAG (United Nations Transition Assistance Group) mission was established in 1989 to oversee Namibia's transition to independence from South African rule. It was one of the largest and most complex UN peacekeeping missions. UNTAG's main objectives included supervising the withdrawal of South African forces, organizing free and fair elections, ensuring the protection of human rights, and facilitating the demobilization of armed groups. The mission played a crucial role in facilitating Namibia's transition to independence, which was achieved in March 1990.

Comprehensive peacebuilding actions are built on de-escalation and prevention strategies. During times of peace, negotiations are conducted and stable relationships are established and reinforced. However, when violence erupts, efforts are made to contain it and halt its spread through ceasefires. The subsequent phase is preventive: it seeks to stop violent actions and alleviate tensions, potentially employing measures such as sanctions, coercive diplomacy, or deterrence. Originally devised as diplomatic strategies for interstate conflicts, these methods equally apply to conflicts within states.

Social Psychology Perspectives

Understanding why people fight, what can make them stop, and the challenges that persist after conflicts can be explored through physiology, psychology, and social psychology. Behavioural psychologists explain that fighting is a learned response, strengthened by success over time. Social influences, like belonging to a tribe, church, or nation, also shape individual and group aggression. These are just some of the complex factors that must be addressed in peacebuilding efforts. While physical separation may temporarily contain violence, it doesn't address the underlying issues or help conflicting parties coexist. Peacebuilding focuses on repairing relationships between individuals and communities harmed by violence.

Two main strategies for building grassroots relationships can be identified as "therapeutic" and "organisational." The therapeutic approach views violent conflict as a type of trauma, with survivors needing various forms of therapy to heal and promote peace among neighbours. On the other hand, the organisational approach is more about rebuilding community structures and institutions that have been damaged or lost. This involves forming community advocacy groups, promoting democracy and community development through organisations like the National Democratic Institute (NDI), implementing legal programs, and so forth. Although not a new concept, this approach has been supported by numerous case studies linking the structural needs of economic and social development to the challenges of achieving peace. Essential skills for implementing these approaches include leadership, organisational abilities, understanding of local society, politics, culture, and access to resources to support community mobilisation efforts.

In conclusion, although the theory of peacekeeping is well developed, long-lasting missions may obstruct the progress of reconciliation, effectively pausing the conflict by providing parties with an easier (and cheaper) alternative to a genuine resolution of their dispute. Therefore, the core lesson stemming from State Building theories is that the type of intervention should be subordinate to the nature of the conflict, the actors, and the stage to which the conflict has progressed. Different types of intervention are appropriate at different levels as the conflict progresses or de-escalates, setting the diplomatic tool as a priority, to finally give peace a chance.


Last, D. M. (1999). From peacekeeping to peacebuilding: Theory, cases, experiments, and solutions. Royal Military College Working Paper. Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Michael S. Lund, Preventing Violent Conflicts: A Strategy for Preventive Diplomacy (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996), p. 37.

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