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Which Type of Conflict Is Most Threatening to Efforts to Build a Lasting Peace in the World

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The world has transformed rapidly in the decade since the end of the Cold War. An old system is gone and, although it is easy to identify what has changed, it is not yet clear that a new system has taken its place

Old patterns have come unstuck, and if new patterns are emerging, it is still too soon to define them clearly. The list of potentially epoch-making changes is familiar by now: the end of an era of bipolarity, a new wave of democratization, increasing globalization of information and economic power, more frequent efforts at international coordination of security policy, a rash of sometimes-violent expressions of claims to rights based on cultural identity, and a redefinition of sovereignty that imposes on states new responsibilities to their citizens and the world community.

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Saving future generations from the scourge of war was the main motivation for creating the United Nations, whose founders lived through the devastation of two world wars. Since its creation, the UN has often been called upon to prevent disputes from escalating into war, or to help restore peace following the outbreak of armed conflict, and to promote lasting peace in societies emerging from wars. Over the decades, the UN has helped to end numerous conflicts, often through actions of the Security Council — the organ with primary responsibility, under the United Nations Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security. When it receives a complaint about a threat to peace, the Council first recommends that the parties seek an agreement by peaceful means. In some cases, the Council itself investigates and mediates. It may appoint special representatives or request the Secretary-General to do so, or to use his good offices. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement. When a dispute leads to fighting, the Council's first concern is to end it as soon as possible. On many occasions, the Council has issued ceasefire directives, which have helped to prevent major hostilities. It also deploys UN peacekeeping operations to reduce tensions in troubled areas, keep opposing forces apart, and create conditions for sustainable peace after settlements have been reached

The Council may decide on enforcement measures, economic sanctions (such as trade embargoes) or collective military action. According to the Charter, the General Assembly can make recommendations on the general principles of cooperation for maintaining international peace and security, including disarmament, and for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations. The General Assembly may also discuss any question relating to international peace and security and make recommendations the Security Council is not currently discussing the issue. Pursuant to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 (resolution 377 (V)), the General Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a Permanent Member, in a case where there appears to be a threat to, or breach of peace, or an act of aggression. The Assembly can consider the matter immediately in order to make recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain, or restore, international peace and security. Early warning is an essential component of prevention, and the United Nations carefully monitors developments around the world to detect threats to international peace and security, thereby enabling the Security Council and the Secretary-General to carry out preventive action. Envoys and special representatives of the Secretary-General are engaged in mediation and preventive diplomacy throughout the world. In some trouble spots, the mere presence of a skilled envoy can prevent the escalation of tension. These envoys often cooperate with regional organizations.

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It is generally agreed that the central task of peacebuilding is to create positive peace, a "stable social equilibrium in which the surfacing of new disputes does not escalate into violence and war." Sustainable peace is characterized by the absence of physical and structural violence, the elimination of discrimination, and self-sustainability. Moving towards this sort of environment goes beyond problem solving or conflict management. Peacebuilding initiatives try to fix the core problems that underlie the conflict and change the patterns of interaction of the involved parties (Henning Haugerudbraaten). They aim to move a given population from a condition of extreme vulnerability and dependency to one of self-sufficiency and well-being. To further understand the notion of peacebuilding, many contrast it with the more traditional strategies of peacemaking and peacekeeping. Peacemaking is the diplomatic effort to end the violence between the conflicting parties, move them towards nonviolent dialogue, and eventually reach a peace agreement. Peacekeeping, on the other hand, is a third-party intervention (often, but not always done by military forces) to assist parties in transitioning from violent conflict to peace by separating the fighting parties and keeping them apart. These peacekeeping operations not only provide security, but also facilitate other non-military initiatives. Some draw a distinction between post-conflict peacebuilding and long-term peacebuilding. Post-conflict peacebuilding is connected to peacekeeping, and often involves demobilization and reintegration programs, as well as immediate reconstruction needs

Meeting immediate needs and handling crises is no doubt crucial. But while peacemaking and peacekeeping processes are an important part of peace transitions, they are not enough in and of themselves to meet longer-term needs and build a lasting peace. Long-term peacebuilding techniques are designed to fill this gap, and to address the underlying substantive issues that brought about conflict. Various transformation techniques aim to move parties away from confrontation and violence, and towards political and economic participation, peaceful relationships, and social harmony (Boutros-Ghali, Boutros, 1995).

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Summing up, a major problem is that the government of a conflict-prone country may resist such action, since it may be the beneficiary of the imbalances

Outside agencies can point to the need to reduce horizontal inequalities, but ultimately such policies must depend on domestic actors. In the short term, policies to change private incentives to fight include providing employment schemes and credit to young men. In the longer term, extending education and achieving inclusive development will enhance peacetime opportunities. Better control and legitimacy of international markets in drugs, timber, diamonds, etc, should reduce opportunities to profit from illegal trade during war.

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Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. An Agenda for Peace. New York: United Nations 1995.

SAIS, "The Conflict Management Toolkit: Approaches," The Conflict Management Program, Johns Hopkins University [available at:

Henning Haugerudbraaten, "Peacebuilding: Six Dimensions and Two Concepts," Institute For Security Studies. [available at:]

Luc Reychler, "From Conflict to Sustainable Peacebuilding: Concepts and Analytical Tools," in Peacebuilding: A Field Guide, Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2001), 12.

John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. (Washington, D.C., United States Institute of Peace, 1997), 75.

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