The New Agenda for Peace: Strengthening application of peacebuilding norms

Dr Armend Bekaj, Programme Manager in the Foundation’s Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace project shares an overview of the most recent online seminar with the International Training on Dialogue and Mediation Alumni Network hosted jointly by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University.

The virtual session started with a presentation by Dr Fletcher Cox, Associate Professor at the Political Science Department at William Jewell College in the United States and currently visiting researcher at Uppsala University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Research (DPCR). Dr Cox’s research and teaching focuses on international peace and security, civil wars and political violence, and peacebuilding in divided societies from a comparative perspective. Dr Cox is a Principal Investigator for the Inclusive Governance and Fragility Research Project (IGFRP), a study of inclusive governance and conflict prevention dynamics in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Conflict Bureau.

In the report Our Common Agenda, United Nations  Secretary-General António Guterres makes a plea for a ‘renewed social contract anchored in human rights’, underpinned by the urgency to promote peace and prevent conflicts, with regional actors seen as ‘central to sustaining peace and preventing and responding to insecurity’.

During the past several months a broad consultative process has contributed inputs to the development of a New Agenda for Peace, to be presented in a UN policy brief by the Secretary-General by the end of June or early July 2023. One of the themes expected to be addressed is how peacebuilding and sustaining peace can be supported and reinforced at the regional level, including how regional-level bodies interface with and complement each other and the UN entities in pursuit of this agenda.

In light of this process the Foundation and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University held an online seminar on the theme ‘Regional prevention and peacebuilding against the backdrop of the development of a New Agenda for Peace’ on 27 April 2023.

Fifty alumni from the network of former participants in the International Training on Dialogue and Mediation (ITDM) joined the virtual session to hear from Professor Fletcher Cox and to share their reflections on the engagement of regional actors in peacebuilding and prevention.

Dr Cox shared his analysis on the need to rethink norms for peacebuilding ‘in an era of global turbulence’. According to Dr. Cox, inter-state conflict is re-emerging as a real threat to peace and security. This threat along with other factors that are reshaping the context in which UN peace operations are conducted calls for a rethinking in how these operations are mandated and implemented. He further proposed that such geopolitical turbulence is leading to an international norm turbulence, particularly around notions of peacekeeping and sustaining peace.

In response to the question of ‘what needs to change?’ one answer often seems to be more inclusive governance, particularly at the regional level.

The ITDM alumni participants generally shared this view, while several speakers also raised challenging questions. For instance, ‘how can one talk about inclusive governance in the context of what is currently happening in Myanmar?’ asked an alumna from Pakistan. Can one really promote the idea of inclusive governance with the junta government as part of the equation? Such questions only serve to note the complex nature of not only stopping the bloodshed, but also of undertaking the difficult task of building long-lasting and sustainable peace. Apart from it being a political task, this is also a question of ethics and justice.

Further, an alumna from Lebanon underlined the implications of security emerging from climate change which require regional and international responses. The state – any state – cannot do this alone.

Participants from West Africa agreed with the concept of inclusive governance but underlined that regional engagement does not necessarily always translate in a force for good. One should be mindful of at least doing no harm. As noted by them, cases could be listed where regional engagement in a country’s particular conflict actually contributed to violence. Thus, the answer is not always straightforward when it comes to regional engagement and  be mindful that inclusive governance as  is not a panacea for ending the spiral of violence. Regional engagement does remain key to sustainable peace and security but must be complemented with other changes in peacebuilding and prevention efforts.

The session concluded with the understanding that with the seeming re-emergence of inter-state conflict, peace cannot be built but with a plethora of players, states as well as regional and international organisations. This is one of the expected messages in the Secretary-General’s anticipated New Agenda for Peace. The Foundation and the Alumni network remain poised to see how we can do our part in implementing this new agenda.