Center for Strategic Decision Research


Post-Conflict Peace Building and Disengagement

His Excellency Dr. Joris J. C. Voorhoeve
Former Minister of Defense of the Netherlands

Defense Ministers prepare troops to deter aggressors and to send soldiers into combat or on peacekeeping operations. Traditionally, we do not concern ourselves with civil reconstruction, development assistance, or building democracy in other countries. But the time has come to also concern ourselves actively with those non-military tasks. The possibility of bringing our troops home after the completion of their military operations depends on the progress made in civil reconstruction, and military disengagement depends on post-conflict peace building. As we have seen in Bosnia, the length of time our troops must stay in a war-torn zone depends on the progress we make in building a stable, peaceful state.

The rising number of peacekeeping operations during the 1990s has justifiably increased the attention paid to post-conflict peace building. The concept of this effort was introduced in 1992 by then-Secretary General of the U.N. Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his “Agenda for Peace.” There he defined the concept as “action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict.” In a recent report to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan once more pointed out the importance of integrated peace building and effective coordination by the U.N. The Secretary-General proposed establishing a strategic framework that includes aid structures for peace building.


I would like to discuss with you some of the problems concerning peace building. In the Netherlands, the strong relationship between peace building and peacekeeping is widely acknowledged. We have, therefore, started to break down the traditional division between various forms of aid in the context of development cooperation and other forms of foreign aid. Defense Department activities used to be focused strictly on the particular conflict, and “development cooperation” on the post-conflict situation. We are now looking to establish integrated and, therefore, well-coordinated, peace-building operations.

Working Toward Peace Building

Steps in this direction have also been taken by the international community. Along with the Netherlands, the United States has supported the idea of a special facility at the World Bank for releasing aid money to poor countries that have been through an armed conflict. In addition, in 1997, the OECD developed special guidelines within its Development Aid Committee that are also applicable to peace building. NATO carries out an important task in Bosnia with its “Cimic” (civil-military cooperation) units. NGOs such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance also play a major role. And regional organizations such as the European Union, OSCE, and the Council of Europe are active as well, though their expertise in peace building should perhaps also be applied beyond their regions.

But more coordination of reconstruction activities is still needed. The example of Bosnia, where 450 international organizations and various NGOs are active, shows that coordination by the U.N. and the Senior Representative could be improved. Part of the problem is that all of the various organizations have different mandates: political, military, and humanitarian. This makes cohesion among political mediation, military and security operations, emergency aid, and development aid even more vital.


Successful peace building requires a clear idea about the society that needs to be built. In order to rebuild a war-torn nation, social and economic reconstruction, a secure environment for the population and the reinforcement of democracy are necessary. Active participation by local institutions is also important, because these are the very institutions that will run the country when the international community withdraws. When peace building is undertaken, attention to specific national circumstances is as important as the determination to adopt universal values.

Good government and democracy are the foundations of a stable and peaceful society. In areas outside Europe, the donor must not be obsessed with introducing a Western-style multiparty democracy. More important is the creation of conditions for the division of power; pluralism and proportionality in political decision-making; and anchoring the legal security of the individual in a democratic constitutional state.

International support for the police and justice system of the country is essential for the restoration of the legal order. The Netherlands, therefore, advocates the foundation of a UN Standby Police Force which could play a major role in the peace-building phase with regard to the restoration and maintenance of the public order, the supervision of human rights violations and, if necessary, tracking down war criminals. In many peacekeeping operations, there is a shortage of international police advisors, observers and trainers. Donor countries are slow to make contributions from their civil police forces. Countries which have gendarmerie, carabinieri, or marechaussee organizations at their disposal can react more adequately. The combination of their military and police training has proved essential in Bosnia, Haiti and elsewhere.


As I indicated, there is often only a thin line between civil and military aims during peacekeeping operations. Obviously, reconstruction activities should be carried out primarily by civil institutions. Still, there are certain tasks to which military organizations are more suited than civil organizations, due to their earlier presence, mobility, and equipment. An example is the contribution by the NATO Cimic forces to the civil reconstruction of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

NATO is currently considering a structural expansion of its Cimic capacity. I welcome this initiative, but I also believe that some form of distinguishing among Cimic tasks is desirable. Cimic tasks should not obscure the fact that defense forces are first and foremost for the maintenance of peace. Moreover, certain Cimic tasks could endanger the impartiality of the peacekeeping force. We also should make sure that local authorities and international organizations do not become structurally dependent on the peace force’s Cimic operations.

The Netherlands is investigating whether we can contribute to the expansion of the NATO Cimic capability , for example, by providing a framework Cimic group as described in the Force Proposals for 1998. This Cimic capability can also contribute to operations in other contexts, such as UN peacekeeping operations which are based on the UN Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS) and, in the future, also the Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (Shirbrig).


It is clear that there are no easy answers with regard to peacebuilding, but we are learning with each experience. The lessons about the relationship between peace-building and peacekeeping may provide us with tools for durable peace in the next century.

One thing is clear: peace-building requires patience, consistency and coordination. Long-term involvement is a precondition; attempts to force immediate results are doomed to fail. Better structured and more effective reconstruction is essential for societies that have been destroyed by war, civil war, collapse of government or harsh suppression.

In Europe, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia (FYROM) and the rest of the Balkan countries require our attention. Elsewhere, Afganistan, Ruanda, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, and Haiti are currently examples of countries which require the attention of the world community in order to help create a more stable society by means of peace-building.


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