Thoughts on Early Warning & Prevention: Key Points for Improving Effectiveness

A multi-stakeholder planning process in Sudan prior to the referendum on independence for Southern Sudan
A multi-stakeholder planning process in Sudan prior to the referendum on independence for Southern Sudan


This note was developed as a quick ‘brief’ for an EU foreign ministry following their request for key issues in improving Early Warning and Prevention in 2011. It is shared here for broader distribution and dialogue in the field.

1.    The Logic and Argument for Early Warning & Peacebuilding/Prevention Still Need to be Made Concrete and Realistic

Far too many government officials, decision makers and staff of governmental and non-governmental organisations (as well as media, academics and analysts, etc) are still unclear about the practicality of early warning and prevention. Discussions are still too theoretical and abstract. The value, benefits and the practical viability of Early Warning & Peacebuilding/Prevention need to be made clearer, concise and credible.

2.     For Early Warning to Lead to Effective Prevention, there needs to be:

  1. Standing Institutional Capacities for Peacebuilding, Conflict Transformation and Violence Prevention in place[1];
  2. Clear Policy & Political Commitment prioritizing (or at least accepting / supporting) peacebuilding as a value and an approach to dealing with conflicts (including commitment to nonviolence, support for human rights, and peaceful resolution of conflicts)[2];
  3. Operational Frameworks – standing frameworks and ‘fora’ which bring together they key institutions and actors which would be involved in peacebuilding / prevention;[3]
  4. Well trained and capable personnel (both specialized and general)[4]
  5. Up-Stream peacebuilding and prevention which addresses issues before they reach crisis;
  6. Systemic strengthening of peacebuilding capabilities in the society, government and key actors on a standing basis

3.     Early Warning Needs to be Integrated Into an Overall / Coherent Conflict Intelligence Capability

Early Warning should be part of a standing, well supported conflict analysis & intelligence capability. This should support on-going analysis and identification of conflicts to improve government and multi-stakeholder capabilities to address and engage with them. ‘Early’ warning should kick in:

  • To identify situations which could escalate
  • To prioritize situations which are escalating or which are in clear threat of escalating

Logic: There is a need to improve overall understanding of conflict and conflict issues. On its own, early warning is too often ignored or not addressed. If it’s part of an enhanced capability for intelligent conflict analysis and understanding as  whole, it can carry greater weight when providing actual ‘warning’. Linking with enhanced conflict intelligence can also contribute to enabling improved upstream approaches to address conflicts before they even become situations requiring ‘warning’.

4.     Training & Capacity Building Are Key

Those responsible for dealing with conflicts often don’t have the necessary skills to do so in a way that mitigates/prevents violence or escalation or deals with them effectively. Police on the front lines often respond with actions/behaviours that escalate violence. Local authorities often don’t know what to do when confronted with escalating situations. Politicians often face choices where there only known/trusted policy options may in fact make the situation worse. Training and Capacity Building for peacebuilding and working with conflict effectively need to be entered into the standing curricula of those sectors and institutional actors who will be responsible for addressing conflict issues, including:

–       Local Authorities

–       Civil Servants

–       Police & Security Personnel

–       Government & Members of Parliament

–       Media

Other institutions / actors which play major roles in addressing conflicts, such as religious, social and cultural leaders, youth, unions and businesses, etc., should also be encouraged and supported to weave peacebuilding skills into their training, charters, and curricula.



Today many governments have barely begun to conceive of the idea of investing in standing peacebuilding and preventative capacities. This is largely because:

  • They previously haven’t considered it;
  • They are still largely unclear about ‘what are’ peacebuilding and preventative capacities
  • They haven’t been convinced (yet) of the logic, viability and practicality – for the most part because they haven’t been significantly exposed to it

Arguments for the importance of building standing capacity can be drawn from the health, military and other sectors. To support the argument for peacebuilding and prevention specific capacity, more work needs to be done to:

–       Make concretely and realistically visible for governments, policy makers (and citizens, media, academics, etc) what capabilities and mechanisms are involved in peacebuilding and prevention; and

–       What would be possible ‘blueprints’, examples of effective preventative capacities[5]

Points to Develop Further:

Infrastructure for Peace (I4P):

Key to prevention is the development of effective infrastructure for peace from the local levels through district, national, regional and international. This should be a key issue recognized and promoted through the conference. (some examples of I4P: Ministries and Departments for Peace, Early Warning, Civil Peace Services, etc. )

Early Warning – Integrated Planning & Engagement

Early Warning needs to be directly linked with integrated planning of engagement / response options linking all key actors involved in structural and operational prevention. Drawing from the Clingendael Institutes’ Conflict Policy Assessment Framework which recognized the need to directly link analysis and intelligence with operational planning. Therefore: in designing the early warning systems, attention must be paid to the institutions and agencies which will respond / address identified crisis and conflicts, to ensure that the information is analysed, gathered and processed in a way which enables them to act upon it.

Training & Capacity Building

Training and Capacity building is key. Far too few people actually have effective capabilities for prevention and peacebuilding. A major focus should be to integrate relevant, practical training into core curriculum of staff colleges, diplomatic academies and training institutions preparing people for key civil and government functions.

Training should also be inter-agency cutting across organisations and institutions so people learn the same language, concepts, and operational framework, to improve their ability to work together effectively in prevention of crisis.

Training should also include simulation of actual contingencies and scenarios which are likely to be faced in a situation / region. As with natural emergency crisis management, the more people are prepared and ‘role played’ in actual crisis, and given opportunities to improve inter-agency interaction, communication and coordination, the more effective they will be in responding to actual emergencies and crisis situations.

Prepare Institutions / Sectors responsible for dealing with conflict issues: One of the most important issues in training is to identify the spectrum of institutions and responsibilities which will be engaged in managing / preventing conflicts and crisis and ensuring they are appropriately trained. This needs to be done by weaving training into core national training capacities and institutions (as no external agency can ensure enough people are trained, that the training will fit local needs, and that the training will be continuous / sustainable.).


Governments should develop standing policies, handbooks and operational guidelines for peacebuilding and violence prevention, the same way they do for natural disaster management.

Operational Framework – practical bodies linking key agencies/organisations

Practical operational frameworks linking agencies and organisations which will engage in prevention should be developed and standing (in place) in advance of particular crisis.

Up-Stream Prevention: Peace and conflict sensitizing policies

Upstream prevention is the most important form of prevention, working to address conflicts before they develop. For this, conflict analysis and intelligence are necessary to identify conflicts at these early stages. A means should also be developed for evaluating / assessing the conflict sensitivity of government policies. Often governments may produce policies which escalate violence / conflict.


[1]  Examples here are medical and military capabilities which are enabled on a standing basis to respond to ‘crisis’ when they break out. There would be no ‘warning’ system in health or military without effective capacities and spectrum of measures to be able to address them. The metaphor of the ‘switch and lightbulb’ is appropriate. If early warning is the ‘switch’, the standing capacity of the wiring, the lightbulb, etc., needs to be already invented and in place and in good order(!). A switch with no lightbulb doesn’t exist, and a broken light bulb won’t go off no matter how often you flick the switch.

[2] Many countries actually proclaim their commitment to these values and principles and this can be built upon

[3] Peacebuilding and Prevention require coordination amongst a number of actors and agencies, including government (and local authorities); police and security services; media; NGOs; social, cultural, religious and traditional leaders; economic actors (businesses, unions, etc); educational actors (teachers, professors). Preparation of these actors (capabilities) for peacebuilding and prevention roles needs to be done in advance and on a standing basis, building a culture and practice of peace within these sectors and linking them together. Only if they have standing understanding and operational capabilities can they then best become active in times of need.

[4] The best early warning system without a skilled surgeon is not that effective. The people doing the peacebuilding/‘responding’ need to know how to do it.

[5] While these are still being developed there is more than enough experience in many areas of the world to develop a basic model that would outline some of the elements or architecture / infrastructure for peacebuilding and prevention, and to make visible the logic and how (practicality) of its pieces.


Infrastructure for Peace (I4P): A Critical New Frontier in Peacebuilding


Putting in place capabilities for peacebuilding & prevention – locally, nationally, regionally and globally

Break the Cycle - War - Revenge - Violence - Terrorism

Briefing Paper: Department of Peace Operations

 (DRAFT – To be published shortly by the Department of Peace Operations – DPO. Comments welcome. Please feel free to share further))

Author: Kai Brand-Jacobsen, Director, Department of Peace Operations (DPO)


In nearly all countries, identifying actors and institutions with mandated responsibility and capacity for addressing conflicts, preventing violence, facilitating mediation, peace talks and peacebuilding programming, and helping to plan, implement and support peace consolidation after war and violence, is difficult. That is, where they even exist.

I4P is about building effective capabilities and institutions for peacebuilding and prevention of violence within communities, countries, regionally and internationally. Thinking about this, it’s important to understand what is necessary for I4P to function effectively, how does it fit in to our broader concepts and understanding (landscape) of peacebuilding, and, if it is a valuable contribution to the field, what do we need to know as scholars, practitioners and policy makers to improve and strengthen I4P in practice.

Greater rigor in identifying and distinguishing what we mean by I4P, deepening systematic study and evaluation of experiences with I4P including different types, functions, capacities and what can be learned about what it takes to make I4P effective, is needed. This contribution seeks to explore why I4P is relevant, giving greater rigor to the definition and conceptualization of I4P, and identifying some questions and directions relevant for further work and research.

Context: 3 Lenses – why I4P matters

This section looks at why infrastructure for peace is needed by taking a quick glance at three critical ‘contexts’:

  1. The State of the Field of Peacebuilding;
  2. Peace and Conflict Dynamics;
  3. Costing the Failure to Prevent

1. The State of the Field of Peacebuilding: Moving Beyond 14th Century Medicine

Peacebuilding is a continuously developing and evolving field. While our capacities today may be nowhere near where they are needed to be able to address the broad range of conflicts and challenges to peace – whether in communities, countries, or globally (witness current events in Syria and elsewhere) – they are developing significantly. Johan Galtung (an early leading contributor to the field) when discussing the ‘state’ of peacebuilding and conflict transformation work in the world in 1996 compared it to the state of western medicine in the 14th century.[i] Since then, the field has grown exponentially.[ii] There are not only more organizations, agencies and practitioners working in the field, there are also a great range of sectors working in peacebuilding and programming to address conflict factors, drivers and impacts (including but not limited to civil society organizations, state institutions, inter-governmental agencies, and many more).

Today, it is not unusual to find governments with strategies for peacebuilding, violence prevention, or post-war recovery and peace consolidation – as well as with units, departments, secretariats or agencies mandated with implementing them.[iii] Whereas graduate programmes on conflict resolution and peacebuilding were relatively few and far between in the 1970s, 80s and even into the 90s, today there are estimated to be more than 400 graduate programmes in the field world-wide.[iv] There are still, however, many challenges. Several key evaluations and reports on peacebuilding – including evaluations of the quality, sustainability and impact of peacebuilding programmes – have identified that:

  • many programmes are ad hoc, short-term, and with little or no sustainable impact;
  • too much peacebuilding is done as ‘projects’ and ‘activities’: there are very few capacities for sustained, medium and long-term work and engagement to support cumulative impact;
  • the quality of peacebuilding work leaves much to be desired. Many staff mandated and with ToRs making them responsible for peacebuilding often have had little or no training or preparation at all;
  • there is often little coordination or coherence between different peacebuilding initiatives;
  • far too little is done to learn lessons from peacebuilding engagements and ensure that some of the most obvious gaps and problems resulting from how programmes are designed, developed and implemented will not be repeated;
  • even when peacebuilding is done well, the scale of peacebuilding programmes often does not fit to the scale of the complexity and challenges of the conflict and violence;
  • there is still limited understanding of peacebuilding and how to do peacebuilding amongst key actors and sectors, including: government, political and conflict party leadership; state institutions; donors; a significant number of people working in peacebuilding programming and organisations;
  • a preponderance of resources and support still goes to external intervention based approaches, with institutions and organisations in the global ‘north’ and ‘west’ still receiving the lion’s share of funding, resources, and substantially larger salaries, and ‘intervening’ into countries/communities affected by conflict from abroad[v]

All of these dynamics are also being challenged – and changed. Work by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) and the Designing for Results publication; research and programmes on reflective peacebuilding by the Collaborative for Development Action (CDA) including Mary B. Anderson’s and Lara Olsen’s Confronting War; training by the International Peace and Development Training Centre (IPDTC) and programmes of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO); opportunities for practitioners to share, exchange and improve their work such as those created by the Action Asia Peacebuilders Forum; John Paul Lederach and colleagues Reflective Peacebuilding Toolkit; and the work of hundreds, and hundreds more, including Berghof’s Handook and Dialogue Series, publications by the OECD-DAC, the work of the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) of the UN and UNDP’s BCPR; Mediation Support Units at the UN, EU, OSCE and the AU’s roster of mediators; ACCORD and WANEP’s publications and programming in Africa and abroad, etc. All of these are gradually deepening and improving the quality, rigor and impact of peacebuilding work.

Still: in most societies and countries in the world today, and at the regional and global levels, while we have grown our capacities for working with conflicts, preventing violence, and supporting peace consolidation after war, our capabilities today are not where they need to be to deal with the scale of the challenge. Gaps and shortcomings remain. While there are efforts to support and strengthen national ownership, to address the sustainability, impact, coherence, gender and policy gaps and challenges, much, much more needs to be done – and can be done – to improve the quality and effectiveness of peacebuilding, and to strengthen our capacity within communities and countries to handle conflicts effectively and constructively, and to prevent violent conflict. Infrastructure for Peace is a key part of this. It is, in essence, about putting in place effective capabilities for peacebuilding, prevention of violence and armed conflict, and post-war reconciliation and healing – at every level (local communities, nationally, regionally and internationally).

2. Peace & Conflict Dynamics: Help Wanted – and needed

Peacebuilding scholars and practitioners  – and many cultures and civilizations around the world – have long seen conflict as something normal. It doesn’t matter what our age, race, gender, profession, religious, ideological or political beliefs and convictions, or where we come from in the world, all of us have conflicts. This includes both countries that may be experiencing or have experienced war and armed conflict, as well as those which have not – or which may be participating in wars abroad in other countries.

Critical to the field of peacebuilding – and to finding how to deal with conflicts more effectively in our societies – is the recognition that ‘conflict’ and ‘violence’ are not the same thing. Conflicts may exist for years or decades before violence breaks out, and may continue after wars and violence have ended. If left unaddressed this may lay the foundations for future rounds of violence. The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Risks insight report identifies many conflicts and challenges that will confront countries, societies, and humanity globally in the years to come.[vi] In many cases, they already are. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Major systemic financial failure;
  • Severe income disparity;
  • Failure of climate change adaptation
  • Mismanaged urbanization
  • Irredeemable pollution
  • Water supply crisis
  • Food shortage crisis
  • Rising rates of chronic disease
  • Mineral resource supply vulnerability
  • Pervasive entrenched corruption
  • Global governance failure
  • Entrenched organized crime
  • Critical fragile states
  • Terrorism

To this could be added conflicts over land use and unequal land distribution. Publications by OECD-DAC, the Norwegian Government, and the Secretariat of the Geneva Declaration point to the fact that more people are being killed from armed violence (murder, homicide, gang violence, police brutality, etc) than from ‘war’ and armed conflict. The numbers of people dying from suicide are much, much higher still.[vii]  In this context, there are five critical facts essential for governments, policy makers, practitioners, and citizens broadly to understand:

  1. Current Methods and responses often don’t work, are not enough, and frequently make the situation even worse: From the micro to the macro levels, current response to conflict (whether within or between countries) often rooted in militarized-security approaches frequently fail to adequately or effectively address and transform conflict dynamics, and, in many cases, may even intensify and worsen conflict and directly fuel violence.[viii]
  1. Root causes, structural fragility/vulnerability, and drivers of violence can often be identified long before the outbreak of actual violence. In many contexts, specific ‘triggers’ or ‘at risk moments’ can also be identified. Violence doesn’t simply happen. There are root causes, drivers, and proximate factors that shape and affect conflicts and drive them towards violence. In most cases these factors can be identified long before the actual outbreak of violence. Frequently, it is also possible to identify several ‘moments’, events or triggers that may increase the likelihood for potential outbreaks of violence – such as elections.


  1. There is a critical shortcoming / gap of expertise and capacity to deal with conflicts and violence effectively – within communities, countries and globally. This extends to a lack of capacity in many contexts for taking appropriate action before conflicts escalate into violence: within governments, at societal levels and within the United Nations and inter-governmental organizations there is still a critical shortage of real, deep expertise and capacity on effective approaches to working with conflicts and peacebuilding. While many governments, if they want a war strategy or options for dealing with a conflict situation through the tools of violence, diplomacy or trade can turn to a Ministry or Department of Defense / Foreign Ministry, few governments know where to look for more rigorous, effective and appropriate identification of strategies for engaging with conflicts;

In this context:

  1. Many communities and states remain affected by or at risk of armed violence and violent conflict
  1. The failure to address conflicts, prevent violence, and build sustainable peace after war has severe negative impacts at the human, societal, economic and political levels

At the same time:

  1. We know from experience that it is possible to deal with conflicts more effectively, to prevent many (or most) cases of violence / war, and to strengthen good governance, sustainable development, and protection of human rights through more effective peacebuilding and prevention

To do this, however, we need to strengthen our actual capabilities for peacebuilding, prevention and peace consolidation – within communities, countries and globally. Again, Infrastructure for Peace – a critical component in enabling communities, countries and regional and international organizations to deal with conflicts effectively and prevent – or at least dramatically reduce – incidents of violence, war, and recurrence of violence.

3. Costing the Failure to Prevent: The Disease of Violence and Its Impact

In many ways, violence is to peace what disease is to health. The same way we exert efforts to improve health and overcome disease, we can do the same to strengthen peace and overcome violence and war (see below for further exploration of the medical parallel). The failure to do so is costly. Armed violence – which is in all cases a direct result of policies, actions, attitudes, behaviours, and conflict factors which contribute to violence – has human, social, economic, political, cultural and other impacts. These can be both short and long-term. The visible and invisible impacts and effects of violence may scar individuals and countries for years. According to DFID’s Preventing Violent Conflict[ix]:

  • 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by political violence, organised crime, exceptionally high murder rates or low intensity conflicts;
  • Of the 34 countries furthest from reaching the MDGs 22 are in the midst or emerging from violent conflict;
  • The average cost of one conflict is nearly equivalent to the value of annual development aid world-wide;
  • Almost all 39 countries which have suffered civil wars since 2000 also had one in the previous three decades

IANSA, OXFAM and Saferworld, in their 2006 report on Africa’s Missing Billions, estimate that armed conflicts in Africa between 1990 – 2005 cost the continent approximately $284 billion – an amount which exceeded all international aid flows from major donors.[x] According to the World Bank’s World Development Report in 2011, poverty rates are on average 20 points higher in countries where violence is protracted than in other countries, while the average civil war costs a country approximately $65 billion dollars.[xi] Kenya’s leading business association assessed economic losses from the few short weeks of violence that followed the disputed election results in 2007 at US$ 3.6 billion.[xii] Making visible the costs and impact of violence – and the policies and measures which may make violence more likely, including the failure to take appropriate preventive action to address and constructively transform conflicts before they escalate – is one crucial pillar in raising understanding and awareness of states, societies, policy makers, and practitioners. The other, is making visible what can be done to prevent it.

While these three lenses provide brief background and context, the following sections will make visible why I4P is needed and place it in context – conceptually and operationally – in the peacebuilding field.

Towards Understanding and a Definition of Infrastructure for Peace

There have been a growing number of publications on infrastructure for peace over the last 5 – 6 years. The Department of Peace Operations’ (DPO) special Peace Praxis newsletter on I4P identified 75 key publications including: case studies (single case and comparative); research papers; government policy, planning and strategy papers; UN publications, etc. Authors including Chetan Kumar and Ozonnia Ojielo of UNDP-BCPR, Paul van Tongeren, and Andries Odendaal have written several seminal works.[xiii] The Journal of Peacebuilding and Development (JPD) has prepared the first major journal publication fully dedicated to I4P including case studies and framing papers. A Handbook on I4P, building on the model of International IDEA, UNDP, CIDA’s superb Democratic Dialogue Handbook, is being prepared.[xiv] More, however, is needed.

Understanding the concept of ‘Infrastructure’

Peacebuilding is not the only field to engage with the concept of infrastructure. Practitioners and scholars can usefully draw upon how others understand the term to give greater rigor to our own use. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines infrastructure as[xv]:

  1. the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization);
  2. the permanent installations required for military purposes
  3. the system of public work of a country, state, or region; also: the resources (as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity

Wikipedia includes the “basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise” as well as “the set of interconnected structural elements that provide framework supporting an entire structure of development.” It’s often taken to refer to “the technical structures that support a society, such as roads, bridges, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so forth.” [xvi] The US Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines it as “the buildings and permanent installations necessary for the support, redeployment, and operation of military forces.”[xvii] A US National Research Council used the term to refer to both “specific functional modes” and “the combined system these modal elements comprise. A comprehension of infrastructure spans not only these public works facilities, but also the operating procedures, management practices, and development policies that interact together with societal demand and the physical world….”[xviii] Other useful distinctions include those between hard and soft infrastructure, with hard infrastructure referring to “large physical networks” while soft infrastructure refers to “institutions which are required to maintain the economic, health, and cultural and social standards of a country, such as the financial system, the educational system, the health care system, the system of government, and law enforcement, as well as emergency services.”[xix] Gloria Mark, Ban Al-Ani and Bryan Semaan, in their joint article on Repairing Human Infrastructure in a War Zone, add two more levels of distinction[xx]:

  1. Physical, technological and human infrastructure: with physical referring to physical foundations, technological to IT and computing infrastructures, and human “to be the underlying foundation of a social system constituted by the pattern of relationships of people, through various networks and social arrangements.”
  1. Critical infrastructure: which addresses “those infrastructure elements that, if significantly damaged or destroyed, would cause serious disruption of the dependent system or organization.”

Applying this to peacebuilding we could suggest that, infrastructure for peace refers to:

  1. the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization) of peacebuilding;
  2. the permanent installations required for peacebuilding purposes;
  3. the system of public work of a country, state, or region for peace; also: the resources (as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for peacebuilding activities;
  4. the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of peacebuilding and prevention; as well as
  5. the set of interconnected structural elements that provide framework supporting an entire structure of peacebuilding and prevention; this includes both
  6. specific functional modes; and
  7. the combined system these modal elements comprise. It is also
  8. the buildings and permanent installations necessary for the support, redeployment, and operation of peacebuilding capabilities

When planning infrastructure for peacebuilding it is also necessary to look at the operating procedures, management practices, and peacebuilding policies and practice of that infrastructure and to identify the physical, technological and human components. The concept of critical infrastructure can also be helpful to assess: what institutional capabilities and framework / system of organization of peacebuilding are critically necessary in a county to prevent conflicts from becoming violent?

Therefore, infrastructure for peace can:

  1. refer to government infrastructure as well as civil society infrastructure.
  2. refer to infrastructure within a community / country, as well as infrastructure at a regional or global levels.
  3. refer to infrastructure to support, facilitate and enable a peace process as well as to implement and sustain peace consolidation after the process, to support reconciliation and healing and to infrastructure to prevent wars / armed conflict from ever breaking out in the first place;
  4. be an overall ‘national’ system or ‘architecture’ for peace as well as specific functional modes and components of that system
  5. be a permanent, standing system or institution or be a temporary system developed specifically to enable a necessary peacebuilding activity

Illustrating each of the above, infrastructure for peace can include (letters below link to the letters in the section above):

  1. Ministries and Departments of Peace, Peacebuilding Support Offices, National Peace Councils, which may be partially or wholly part of government structures, are all examples of infrastructure for peace, as are peace institutes, peace universities, local, national, regional and global civil society platforms for peacebuilding, etc.
  2. Local Peace Committees and National Peace Structures as well as the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, the Conflict Management Directorate of the AU Commission, the Panel of the Wise, and the AU’s continent-wide early warning system, UNDP-BCPR, the inter-agency team on prevention, the UN Communities of Practice, the Peacebuilding Commission, Peace Support Office, and the UN-wide Operations and Crisis Centre to be established in 2013.
  3. Peace Secretariats, Common Space Initiatives, Peacebuilding or Negotiation Support Offices in governments or for conflict parties, Peacebuilding Coordination Units as well as early warning systems and standing mediation teams or Peacebuilding Support Offices in government which can advise on how to prevent measures, legislation, and policies which may contribute to conflict and support those which may assist in strengthening state and societal resilience and transforming underlying structural causes and drivers of violence;
  4. Comprehensive national or continent wide ‘systems’ such as those developing in Ghana and the AU or the UN system as well as individual training centres such as the International Peace and Development Training Centre (IPDTC) or individual peacebuilding organisations and networks such as WANEP and ACCORD – all three of which bring critical capacities and expertise to strengthen and support peacebuilding engagements;
  5. Many of the above, as well as rapid response teams or ‘groups of friends’ deployed to address specific incidents or crisis, or multi-stakeholder dialogue and planning initiatives, commissions and other structures brought together to address specific moments in a conflict

What peace infrastructure is not, or not only

What peace infrastructure is not only are ‘networks.’ While networks – formal and informal – can be part of peace infrastructure, this is not the core or the end of the concept, neither is networking the point and the goal of peace infrastructure. Peace infrastructure is also very specifically not 1. Processes or 2. Strategies. The whole point of the concept is that peace infrastructure is the institutional / organizational framework / body which implements processes and strategies.

The critical heart / core of the concept: learning from medicine, education and military

As stated above, too much of peacebuilding over the past 20 – 30 years has been implemented as projects or activities, often by well meaning – and sometimes extremely dedicated and capable – individuals, frequently coming from outside of countries. These initiatives are almost always fundamentally unsustainable. They also represent dramatically less than what we are capable of. Take, for a moment, the examples of medicine and education. Rather than waiting for a foreign NGO or UN system to set up a medical unit or health center, most countries would prefer to have well functioning health systems in place within the country. Rather than waiting for an international charity to set up a school, most countries would prefer to have a quality education system in place. In order to enable military capability, countries put in place standing national structures and forces (capabilities). These include: command, communication and control, training institutions, military instruments and technologies, actual armed forces, centres for the study of war and development of doctrine, etc. Last year, more than 1.63 trillion US$ was invested in the maintenance of these systems and production of weapons. This comes to more than 3 million dollars per minute.

Health systems also involve elaborate ‘infrastructure’, including: hospitals; mandated government authority from local to national levels; universities and training centres training medical professionals; national school systems teaching health education; national media and awareness raising systems promoting public health knowledge; the world health organization globally; local, national and international health associations, platforms, civil society organisations, etc.[xxi] Still people fall sick and die, wars are won and lost, and many children receive good education while many do not. Infrastructure is not meant to be a ‘magic wand’ solution to all problems. It is, however, the result of recognizing that: if we want to address conflicts more effectively – or to enable any significant capacity in any field of human activity – we need to build, develop, support and strengthen critical organizational and institutional capacities – the framework and foundation. It is more than ‘activities’, ‘processes’, ‘strategies’, or even ‘networks’. It is the institutional expertise and organizational architecture and capability needed to do the work.

Major Challenges

There are many critical challenges to development of infrastructure for peace including:

  1. Shells & Potemkin Villages: The idea of ‘infrastructures for peace’ has in some ways become the ‘flavour of the month’ for some organizations and agencies and a few governments. This is leading to ‘infrastructure’ such as Ministries, Peace Secretariats and Peace Committees being set up, which may often lack the actual necessary capabilities to function effectively. Some of the major challenges they face include:
    1. Lack of Clear Mandate: not knowing exactly what they should do;
    2. Lack of Capacity: staff may have little or not background, training, confidence or capabilities for doing peacebuilding, mediation, prevention or the work they’re mandated for;
    3. Lack of Authenticity, Legitimacy and Acceptability: imposed created from above (governments) or outside (governments, foreign organizations, national organizations from outside the community), they may not have established authentic trust, relationships and acceptability;
  1. Artificial: Linking to the above, there is an inherent challenge of externally supported or government imposed architecture in that the programmes to support strengthening of state and societal capabilities are often not well thought through, not well implemented, and frequently managed by people who may themselves have little or no background and experience in peacebuilding. Milestones and targets are created, ‘infrastructure’ is set up, but it is affected by many of the challenges listed above;
  1. Unsustainable: A huge challenge for I4P is sustainability. When infrastructure is created as part of foreign donor or NGO funded activities, it often ceases to function / exist when the funding runs out. Very few programmes to create I4P effectively engage with how to develop/build sustainable institutions and structures rooted within a society/community. Government established infrastructure may also be shut down – as was down in South Africa – if there’s a lack of understanding and recognition of why it’s of value;
  1. External Models & Infrastructure: Very little has been done to try to map, identify and understand traditional infrastructure for peacebuilding, prevention and conflict management. While it has been popular since the mid 90s to speak of ‘local capacities’ and local approaches, much more could be done to try and understand and identify what structures and institutions already exist for handling conflicts. Importantly: it shouldn’t simply be assumed that strucures designed for one purpose (handling cattle and land disputes) can morph to address another (genocide). Traditional structures (as well as cultures and approaches) within societies should be drawn and learned from however, and are a critical component of work on I4P;
  1. Scope breadth (horizontal) and depth/heights (vertical): Even where I4P is well-developed and well-functioning, there is often a challenge with scope: if local peace committees have been set up by an NGO initiative in 60, 70, or 80s villages or districts, what if there are hundreds or tens of thousands more? If local peace committees are established to handle conflicts within communities and local disputes, what is put in place to address national and regional dynamics and impacts?
  1. Abuse: In many countries and communities, ‘peace committees’, ‘peace secretariats’ and ‘peace ministries’ have been open to many forms of abuse, including: corruption; use of resource to fund party supporters; use of structures to enable processes supporting constituencies; mobilization of ‘peace structures’ to support one parties war aims and mobilization;
  1. Failure to Perform: Do to all of the above and more, there are also times when I4P is needed, in place, and fails to perform (either overall, or at the level necessary). In 2007/2008 Kenya had elements of ‘infrastructure for peace’ already in place. The extraordinary work done on managing the crisis and preventing escalation by several examples of I4P – from the Concerned Citizens mobilization and initiative to regional and international engagements – helped to prevent a worse crisis.[xxii] The national government structures in place, however, did not function as fully as it may have been hoped they would have.

So does it work at all?

There are literally hundreds and thousands of examples where institutions, organizations and structures put in place to deal with conflicts have worked effectively and contributed to the prevention of war and armed violence, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and strengthening of sustainable peace and post-war consolidation and recovery. Publications such as GPPAC’s People Building Peace (Volumes 1 & 2) capture many of these stories. Cases cited by van Tongeren, Odendaal, Kumar and others add to the evidence. In longer pieces, the evidence and how infrastructure for peace works / can work can be explored (and needs to be explored) in detail. The evidence is there.

Infrastructure for Peace: An Action Agenda for Making Peace Work

A Global Initiative on Infrastructure for Peace (I4P) is currently being developed. The aims of the initiative are to:

  • Create a shared platform for local, national, regional, and international organizations – state and non-state – to share experiences and improve common efforts and collaboration for the promotion and development of I4P;
  • To rigorously and systematically evaluate and gather lessons and experience on I4P, including examples of successes, challenges, and critical lessons;
  • To provide a ‘one-stop’ portal for resources on I4P to enable improved sharing of lessons and avoiding duplication of mistakes;
  • To develop a Handbook on I4P, similar to International IDEA’ superb handbook on Democratic Dialogue, which will go into the key building blocks and issues to consider when developing I4P, and be illustrated with practical cases and examples;
  • To provide practical operational support to governments, regional organizations, the UN, and local, national and international civil society actors;
  • To bring about a shift in how we approach conflicts, from war strategies and violence intensification/escalation and external-based interventions to effective strategies and measures, local and national ownership, and collaborative approaches

Much remains to be done, but this is the beginning of a critical new phase in peacebuilding – and in how societies and states deal with conflicts – which will develop significantly in the years to come.

[i] Johan Galtung. Presentation to participants from former Yugoslavia and internationals at the Democracy, Human Rights and Peaceful Conflict Resolution 10-week programme in Lillehammer, Norway, 1996.

[ii] Cf. Brand-Jacobsen, Kai, ‘Peacebuilding: The State of the Field’ in Ricci, Andrea, From Early Warning to Early Action?: The Debate on the Enhancement of the EU´s Crisis Response Capability Continues, (Vol 3) Publications Office, Brussels (2010) for an overview of some key dynamics.

[iii] This includes both those of donor countries (eg. Norway, UK, Germany, Sweden, etc) and countries with national strategies (eg. Ghana, Kenya and many more)

[iv]  In 2008 a report in the International Herald Tribune gave the figure of more than 400 graduate programmes in peace and conflict studies

[v] See for example Mary B. Anderson and Lara Olsen’s Confronting War, reports of the International Dialogue on State-building and Peacebuilding; publications of the Reflecting on Peace Practice project of CDA; the Utstein Rerport on German, British, Dutch and Norwegian funding of peacebuilding programmes; reports of the UN Peace Commission; and Brand-Jacobsen, et al. Searching for Peace in Iraq, DPO-PATRIR / NOVA, February 2012; and Brand-Jacobsen, Palestine and Israel: Improving Civil Society Peacebuilding Strategies, Design and Impact, DPO-PATRIR / NOVA 2010

[vi] World Economic Forum, Global Risks Report 2012: 7th Edition

[vii]  Add source from DPO prevention work.

[viii] Eg. the impact of poor policing on many demonstrations which may lead to increases of violence; US response to September 11 2001 in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and growing global militarization

[ix] DFID Preventing Violent Conflict 2006

[x] IANSA, Oxfam and Saferworld, Africa’s missing billions, 2007

[xi] World Bank Reports World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development; The Costs of Violence, 2009; Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy, Paul Collier, et al, 2003

[xii] Discussed further in van Tongeren, Paul and Kai Brand-Jacobsen, Infrastructure for Peace: A way forward to peaceful elections in New Routes, NUMBER 1, 2012. Elections: Free, fair‐ and nonviolent?

[xiii] Add reference to all their major works included in DPO Peace Praxis newsletter.

[xiv] For the Democratic Dialogue Handbook, available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and other languages, please visit: The Handbook on Infrastructure for Peace is planned for publication in 2013.

[xvi] Infrastructure, Wikipedia, Infrastructure, Online Compact Oxford English Dictionary,

[xvii] Infrastructure, JP1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, p. 260, 12 April 2001 (rev. 31 August 2005)

[xviii] Infrastructure for the 21st Century, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1987

[xx] Mark, G., B. Al-Ani, and B. Semaan, Reparing Human Infrastructure in a War Zone, Proceedings the 6th International Conference on Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM 2009),

[xxi] Towards an Effective Architecture-Infrastructure for Peace: Learning from Medical Health; Kai Brand-Jacobsen; Annex of Working Paper on Infrastructures for Peace (July 2010), GPPAC

[xxii] Add reference to George Wachira’s piece