17 September 2004 - 19 September 2004

The practical implication of post-conflict peacebuilding for the international community

Chair: Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi

The first conference of Ditchley’s new season, with a fresh, green Director in the chair next to our Conference Chairman, Lakhdar Brahimi, addressed the UN and peacebuilding.

As was inevitable, we strayed well beyond the confines of the conference title itself.  Iraq and Afghanistan featured strongly, not so much as subjects of contentious debate as evidence that the nature of conflict and of the demands on the United Nations was changing from the classic days of UN peacekeeping.  Through a discussion rich with experience and telling points, we tried to reach some conclusions that would not only help inform the peacekeeping debate within the United Nations but also raise some issues for politicians to pay attention to if they are interested in the long-term collective interest.

  Our three working groups covered legitimacy, security and reconstruction/reconciliation.  This note will not seek to go through each of these sub-issues in detail, because the subject matter itself interacts between all three and because the participants justifiably ranged beyond their narrow remits.  The plenary sessions brought out a wealth of comment on lessons learnt and lessons ignored.  The most powerful feeling left from the conference was that a much greater professionalism needed to be applied to conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction;  and that political leaders in a position to contribute action and resources needed to be sent a warning message.  They had to consider how to strengthen the instruments for implementing their global issue objectives or very little would be achieved by the setting of those objectives.

The discussion about legality and legitimacy turned out to be more constructive than the awkward interplay between those two terms suggests.  In the real world, legitimacy was regarded as the more important concept;  though we also recognised that in the world of realpolitik “power trumps legitimacy”.  No-one wished to alter the UN Charter, nor to see the UN Charter ignored.  Issues about legality tended rather to emerge from the interpretation of Security Council Resolutions or from the absence of clarity or specific authority for an action.  Lawyers’ arguments about precise legality often cancelled each other out.  In the view of the conference, it was much more important for the political legitimacy of a policy decision to be established through persuasion and the gathering of support from world opinion.  As one participant commented “lawyers can argue about legality, but people decide whether they support an action and therefore whether they perceive it as legitimate”.  It was pointed out that in international law, as opposed to domestic law, there is rarely any enforcement and no final arbiter of legal judgement.  International and popular reaction conferred a degree of legitimacy;  and there were severe risks in ignoring it.  Above all, successful development of stability, economic reconstruction and reconciliation created its own legitimacy by results..  This discussion about legitimacy was connected with other points on our agenda, not least the importance in any post-conflict scenario of bringing the local actors, with respect for their culture and history, into the post-conflict reconstruction operation.  Their clear understanding, and widespread acceptance, of the action being taken on their territory was regarded as a fundamental requirement of a successful post-conflict operation;  and in itself it reinforced legitimacy.  Against these criteria, no power should assume that it had immunity from the world’s verdict if it used its capability independently.

We looked in depth at lessons learnt.  Some participants believed that the study of best practice could be misleading, and in any case was often ignored.  Even the UN’s best practice unit finds it hard to get attention.  Perhaps it would be more constructive to study “worst practice” and avoid the most obvious mistakes.  It was nicely suggested that modesty and patience were two attributes which could readily be ranked with determination and activism.  Nevertheless certain themes, positive or negative, emerged through the clearing mists of discussion..  The most significant was that, whatever the circumstances that gave rise to a conflict, the future of the people of that specific territory was the most important consideration.  That meant that local actors needed to be brought into the post-conflict decision-making and agenda-setting at the earliest sensible moment.  Even if this seemed counter-intuitive in the eyes of those exercising security control, this principle should be regarded as fundamental.  Too often, in the experience of people around the table – and that experience was very significant – outside models and patterns from previous post-conflict situations could often ossify into structures on the ground which did not suit the new specific circumstances and which did not fit easily with the culture, traditions and practices of the people now concerned.  The identification of plausible new leadership, consultation of local community representatives, the tailoring of new systems to national and local cultures and history were all necessary and would, whatever the awkwardnesses in the beginning, lead to a smoother passage and an earlier conclusion of the international effort.  This would not necessarily mean that an early handover of complete responsibility, or the early holding of elections, would suit the particular circumstances.  But the sharing and later the transfer of responsibility for detailed decision making was vital. 

At this point in the discussions there occurred a mild backlash against too much specificity for local circumstances.  There were surely some well-tested principles which could be applied in most cases.  There were procedures and processes which worked more smoothly than others.  And the practical application of those principles and proceses, and the professionalism with which they were handled, could be the same across a wide range of precise circumstances.  This came out as the doctrine of the three P’s:  principles, procedures and practical application.  Amongst the cardinal principles should be one already discussed above:  the involvement of local actors and the understanding of local culture.  Another was for the international practitioners to expect to work in a certain amount of chaos.  A third was to choose international players, most particularly the Special Representatives of the UN Secretary-General, with great care and with an insistence on high quality.  There was some discussion for the need for SSRGs to be better briefed and de-briefed.  The lack of a “training manual” for SSRGs was cited as an example of a practical measure that could be taken and effectively implemented.  The principles and procedures developed should not focus on exerting control:  rather, they should allow complementarity between local and international players and amongst the wide variety of government, UN, NGO and private sector practitioners who tend to turn up on a post-conflict scene.

This led to an exchange on coordination.  We were concerned not so much with coordination on the ground, which normally follows from decent leadership and from common sense, as with coordination at the centre – normally the UN Secretariat in New York and the wider family of Agencies – and with the governance of the peacebuilding practitioners themselves.  The UN Security Council was not thought to have performed very well on the implementation of its own Resolutions.  While it was understood that the UN Secretariat was the place for the responsibility for implementation to rest, so much was required from the intergovernmental system to resource and follow up a peacebuilding operation that there needed to be a mechanism to ensure that that was done sensibly.  Hopes were expressed that the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel would find some constructive answers to these questions;  and advice, whether solicited or not, was offered as to whether it should really be the Security Council which would be concerned with implementation.  But we did feel that a firmer structure was necessary at the centre and that not only the UN, and certainly not only the members of the Security Council, should be involved:  the International Financial Institutions, operators from other fields, representatives from parliaments supplying resources, for instance, could all be brought in.

It went without saying, and was not said in any repetitive detail, that resources had to be identified and then responsibly disbursed for any post-conflict peacebuilding operation to be effective.  Too often the provision of resources was driven by supply rather than by demand considerations.  All too often promises of funding did not turn into real disbursement.  Remedies for one conflict became diluted, if not forgotten altogether, as other conflicts rolled into public attention.  It was recognised that there were no easy answers in this area.  But the conference thought it important that a major peacebuilding operation should not even be attempted if the likelihood was high that resources would not be provided for a realistic time period.  The creation of high expectations, criticised more generally within our discussion, was particularly frowned upon in respect of financial pledges.  Funding should be multi-year;  should be provided in full transparency;  should follow familiar processes from the first application onwards;  should feature as expected expenditure in the regular budgets of donor governments;  and should recognise the financial needs of areas beyond just the humanitarian and development fields.  Too often, some participants noted, national governments set conflicting priorities when budgeting for development and humanitarian purposes.  A greater degree of coordination was called for in capitals as well. 

We all realised that such rhetorical calls for efficient and fully adequate funding regularly fell on deaf government ears.  But good arguments were put as to why this should be looked at even more seriously than at present.  Conflicts, it was observed, were becoming harder and more lethal to local populations.  Weapons had proven more dangerous and being used more indiscriminately.  The threat of chaos was edging out from failed and failing states into the wider global community.  We did not discuss terrorism in detail, but the implicit thought was recognisable.  More specifically, the discussion brought out the linkage between imposing law and order and establishing a viable new economy in a post-conflict state.  Security could not be broadly achieved without the local population feeling that they had a stake in it;  and without their willing participation in the effort to establish the rule of law, outside military or peacekeeping operations could only achieve a limited amount.  Not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Balkans, East Timor, certain African conflict areas and now Sudan all illustrated the point.  The best foundation for law and order was a whole population accepting that that was the way to seeing their lives improved.  If this meant greater expense for the international community in the early stages, it could bring the dividend of an earlier eventual exit if the principle was recognised.

A similar consideration applied to reconciliation and justice.  Again, it was felt that too much emphasis was being placed on military-type control from the early stages.  Focussing on police, the courts, the training of judges and lawyers, the building of decent detention systems, were often left far too late in the post-conflict peacebuilding process.  Concern was expressed that long-term reconciliation did not have a central headquarters institution at the United Nations to oversee it.  Some of the wider difficulties in this area were recognised.  The high cost of international tribunals, in respect of international crimes, was recognised and regretted.  And the difficulty of applying familiar reconciliation models within a particular local culture was noted.  These things can work better in Africa, for instance, than in the Middle East.  Nevertheless the conference concluded that both short-term and long-term reconciliation had to feature in post-conflict planning and deserved a more organised approach from the international institutions. 

Under the rubric of security, there was considerable discussion of the value of Chapter 7 as opposed to Chapter 6 operations as mandated by the Security Council.  It was noted that different interests are in play within different parts of the international system.  Troop contributing countries in a classic peacekeeping operation often want their soldiers involved for the advantages of experience, reliable funding, international reputation and healthy occupation.  What they do not want is a fight.  Chapter 6 mandates therefore attract mainly third world troop contributors, some of them effective and determined in military terms, but still nervous about casualties.  At the UN in New York, on the other hand, a Chapter 7 mandate is seen as evidence of a serious approach by the Security Council to a particular issue and as a sign of high grade and properly resourced activity.  The politics and the practicalities of organising an effective peacekeeping operation therefore seem to be at odds with each other.  It was anyway noted that many developed world governments felt that it was not politically feasible or militarily welcome to have their military forces put under UN command for high risk operations.  Some had learnt through bitter experience that the UN was not capable of managing a complex military operation and were disinclined to take that risk.  The conference working group looking at this question thought that the practice of starting off an operation with a more capable coalition, before passing it on to a more classic UN peacekeeping operation, seemed viable.  Whatever the truth in these areas, it was regarded as vital that the UN, both intergovernmentally and within the Secretariat, continued to look for ways of improving the present situation, which the Brahimi report of 2000 had tried honourably to address but without meeting all the gaps still evident.

The conference did not fight shy of debating the role of the United States in all of this, most particularly in the security field but also more widely.  There was agreement that the US was indispensable for a serious level of resource input, as well as for vital practical areas such as strategic lift.  But it was generally agreed that other nations, and also the regional organisations (with the EU showing the way?), needed to be encouraged to structure their forces and budgets for global peacekeeping and peacebuilding purposes to reduce a dependence on the US.  It was also suggested in the post-Iraq world that the perceived loss of US moral authority might mean greater problems in turning to the United States in future.  We acknowledged the resource problems of the regional institutions in the developing world.  There had been some progress, although still insufficient, in building up the capacity of regional actors;  and it was regarded as being in the self-interest of richer nations to do more to support this process. 

A significant theme within the discussion on security was the nature of relations between international forces and the civilian authorities where they were operating.  The need for local governance to be restored quickly had to be balanced against the fundamental requirement for law and order.  But a gradual merging of international and local capabilities was advisable, at the earliest sensible stage.  In Bosnia this might have been tried too early;  whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan the opposite was probably true.  We concluded that the handing back of power as soon as possible was a good principle, but in practice required extremely good judgement.  Early elections, some felt, could be counterproductive and not conducive to the effective consolidation of peace, security and reconciliation.

In spite of the general awareness that a lot of things had gone wrong in international peacekeeping and peacebuilding over recent years, successes were noted as well as failures and there was a general optimism that things could be improved if the political will was there.  The UN’s record in promoting stability and democracy after conflict was calculated by one US participant as being, according to the recent historical record, more successful than that of the United States.  Nevertheless the conference felt that a strong message should go out that improvements in the institutional approach to post-conflict peacebuilding should be forcefully recommended.  The main areas for positive action included the following:   

  • Political leaders, including members of national legislatures, need to understand the difficulty of peacebuilding and to invest more in the quality and professionalism of an area which is bound to affect their nation’s long-term interests, however remote they may be from the field of conflict; 
  • Expectations in any operation should not be set too high, including on the protection of civilians.  Clarity and transparency, though often awkward at the time, pay dividends; 
  • There should be professional and expert analysis of both aims and means for a potential peacebuilding operation before the mandate is set in concrete;
  • The governance of the peacekeeping operation itself, both in its quality of competence and in its standards of behaviour, must be controlled from headquarters; 
  • Lessons learnt, and especially poor practice identified, must be brought home to those involved in a new operation.  The evidence of poor preparation and little training, including of SRSGs and other operational directors, is striking; 
  • The teams who will have to implement a peacebuilding operation must be involved in the planning before deployment, something which happens all too rarely;    
  • Local actors must be involved, if possible from the planning stages onwards.  If risks are taken, they should be in the direction of early transfer to local responsibility; 
  • International public support is essential, and the role of the media must be considered from the planning stage onwards; 
  • The supply-driven nature of funding arrangements must be addressed.  If resources are unlikely to be sufficient for an operation, the Secretary-General should consider refusing to initiate it;   
  • The United States is an essential partner of the United Nations in this whole area.  Differences have to be bridged, and the US view of global security taken into account with understanding.  But the US must also be asked to resource peacebuilding requirements more consistently. 

Finally, I record that the quality of the presentations in plenary, of the chairmanship of the groups and their rapporteurs’ reports, of the conference rapporteur’s articulate and telling insights in the final session, and of the discussion generally was very high.  We were particularly fortunate in having a chairman of the wisdom and experience of Lakhdar Brahimi.  His final thoughts, chiding us gently for the scant reference in our discussions to Israel-Palestine, castigating the Iraq operation for its discounting of the United Nations and mourning the loss of the UN’s invulnerability and perceived neutrality, will be part of our memory of this excellent conference.  He nevertheless left us with a note of optimism:  there is more progress in the evolution of events than meets the eye;  and more potential improvement in our institutional approach if some of the lessons of recent history can be learnt.  The conference participants hoped that the product of their discussion would be a wake-up call in this respect. 

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.



Chairman: Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi

Special Adviser to the Secretary-General.  Formerly:  Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2001-2003)


Dr Simon Chesterman
Executive Director, Institute for International Law and Justice, New York University School of Law.

Rt Hon Gareth Evans

President and Chief Executive, International Crisis Group, Brussels.  Formerly:  Foreign Minister of Australia.


Dr Agnes Hurwitz

Programme Associate, International Peace Academy, New York (Jan 2004-).  Formerly:  Ford Foundation Fellow, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

Ms Lotte Leicht

Brussels Director, Human Rights Watch;  Advisory Board of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation.


Ambassador Paul Heinbecker
Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation.  Formerly:  Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations (2000-2003.

Dr David Malone

President, International Peace Academy (1998-2004).  Formerly:  Director General Global and Human Issues Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade;  Director General, International Organizations Bureau (1997-98).

The Hon Robert K Rae PC, OC, QC

Partner, Goodmans LLP, Toronto.  Formerly:  Premier of Ontario (1990-95);  Leader, New Democratic Party of Ontario (1982-96);  President, Forum of Federations;  a Director, Canadian Ditchley Foundation.

Dr Gordon S Smith

Executive Director, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria;  Chairman of the Board, International Development Research Centre;  Co-Chair, Canada Corps.


Mr Wouter Wilton

Acting Head, Delegation of European Commission to Sri Lanka.  Formerly:  Head, Press and Public Affairs Office, European Commission, New York.


Dr Eric Chevallier
Deputy-director for International Crisis and Conflicts Monitoring, French Prime Minister’s Office;  Senior Adviser to Minister Bernard Kouchner (2001-2002);  Special Adviser to SRSG Kouchner, UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (1999-2001).


Mr Nitin Desai
Fellow, Centre for Global Governance, London School of Economics.  Formerly:  UN Under Secretary-General, Economic and Social Affairs;  Chief Economic Adviser, Indian Finance Ministry.

Dr Rama Mani

Associate Faculty Member, Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

HE Kamalesh Sharma

High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.  Formerly:  Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations (1997-2003);  Special Representative of the Secretary-General to East Timor (2003-04).


Mrs Sadako Ogata

President, Japan International Cooperation Agency (2003-).  Formerly:  Scholar-In-Residence, The Ford Foundation (2001-2003);  Co-chair, Commission on Human Security (2001-2003);  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1991-2000).


Mr Mark Laity

Special Advisor on Strategic Communication to Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Senior Fellow, Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College London.  Formerly:  Special Advisor to NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson (2000-2003).


Professor Mats Berdal
Department of War Studies, King’s College London (2003-).


Mr Kishore Mahbubani
Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore.  Formerly:  Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to the United Nations (1998-2004);  Singapore Foreign Service (1971-2003).


Mr Masood Ahmed
Director General Policy and International, Department for International Development.

Mr Jeremy Carver CBE

Consultant, Head of International Law, Clifford Chance LLP;  Board Member, International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Co-Chair, IRC (UK).

Ms Karin Christiansen

Fellow, Overseas Development Institute.  Formerly:  Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office.

Major General Tim Cross

General Officer Commanding, Theatre Troops Division (2004-);  Team Leader, End-to-End Implementation Team (2003-04);  Deputy Head, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, Baghdad (2003).

Ms Catherine Day        

Post-Conflict and Reconstruction Unit, Department for International Development.  Formerly:  Civic Education Section, Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad (2003-04).

Mr Nik Gowing

Main presenter/anchor, international TV news service, BBC World (1996-);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Alistair Harrison
Head, United Nations Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2003-);  Political Counsellor and Alternate Representative on the Security Council, UK Mission to the United Nations (2999-2003).

Dr Mukesh Kapila
Senior Advisor, Health Action in Crises and HIV/AIDS, World Health Organisation (WHO) (2003-).  Formerly:  Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sudan (2001-2003).

Mr James Leach
International Director, Oxfam.

Ms Bronwen Maddox
Foreign Editor, The Time (1999-).  Formerly:  US Editor, The Times (1996-99);  leader writer, Financial Times;  Director, Kleinwort Benson Securities (1991-96);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Professor Oliver Ramsbotham
Director, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford.

Mr David Richmond
Director General, Defence and Intelligence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  UK Special Representative to Iraq (April-June 2004);  Alternate UK Special Representative to Iraq (2003-2004).

Brigadier Jonathon Riley

Commanding General, Multinational Division, South East Iraq (Major-General designate) (2004-).  Formerly:  Deputy Commanding General, Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, Iraq (2003-2004).

Professor Sir Adam Roberts KCMG
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations and Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford (1986-).  Formerly:  Lecturer in International Relations, London School of Economics (1968‑81);  a Governor, the Ditchley Foundation.

Ms Beatrice Stern
Special Adviser to the Secretary of State, Department for International Development.

Mr Adam Thomson
Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (2002‑).

The Rt Hon Baroness Williams of Crosby PC
Secretary of State for Education and Science (1976-79);  Paymaster General (1976-79);  Professor of Elective Politics, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (1988-);  A Governor and Member of Council, the Ditchley Foundation.


Mr Salman Ahmed
Special Assistant to Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi.

Mr Sam Daws
Executive Director, United Nations Association of the UK (Sept 2004-).  Formerly:  First Officer, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General.

Mr Ahmad Fawzi
Director, News and Media, UN Department of Public Information, New York (2004-).  Formerly:  Spokesman for the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq (2004).

Mr David Harland

Chief, Peacekeeping Best Practices Unit, United Nations, New York (2003-);  Senior Policy Advisor, United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2000-2003).


Ms Nancy Barnes
Chief, Strategy Planning Unit, United Nations Bureau of Development Policy.

Mr Stephen Browne
Principal Adviser on Capacity Development, Bureau of Development Policy  (UNDP).


The Honorable Frederick D Barton
Senior Advisor, International Security Programme and Co-Director, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies (2002-).  Formerly:  Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (1999-2001).

Ambassador Jim Dobbins

Director, RAND, International Security and Defence Policy Unit.  Formerly:  Special Advisor to the President for Kosovo and Dayton Implementation (1999-2000);  Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on National Security Council Staff (1996-99).

Professor Larry Goodson

Professor Middle East Studies, Department of National Security and Strategy, US Army War College;  Advisor to General John Abizaid, US Central Command (CENTCOM) (Mar-Aug 2004).

Dr Kim Holmes
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organisation Affairs, State Department.

Mr David T Johnson
Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires, US Embassy, London (2003-).  Formerly: Afghan Coordinator for the United States (2001-2003).

Mrs Wendy Luers
Founder and President, The Foundation for a Civil Society (1990-);  Co-Founder and Director, Project on Justice in Times of Transition, Harvard University;  Member, Advisory Council, American Ditchley Foundation.

The Hon William Luers
Chairman and President, United Nations Association of the United States of American (1999-).  Formerly:  President, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1986-99);  Ambassador to Venezuela (1978-84).

Professor Jeswald W Salacuse
Henry J Braker Professor of Commercial Law, The Fletch School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
(1986-).  Formerly:  Dean, The Fletcher School (1986-94).

The Hon Abe Sofaer
George P Shultz Distinguished Scholar & Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, California (1994-);  Professor of Law, Stanford Law School (1996-).


Dr Richard Caplan
Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.