Efficacy of Peace Operations in Fragile States: Is It Time for a Major Paradigm Shift?

04/30/2012 09:54 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2012

Notions such as globalization and global governance have been balancing between the realism of our increasing interdependence and the elusive comfort of conspiracy theories. The truth is that we have long lost the luxury of denial and we are irreversibly immersed in a system that is immensely interdependent. The images and sounds of atrocities taking place half a globe away march into our lives instantaneously as restless reality reminders. Our reaction to the profound impact of the brutalities of the past century led to the institutionalization of moral common denominators. International organizations such as the United Nations have as their primary goal to "establish conditions under which justice and respect" can be maintained. This kind of collective moral identity has gone through many controversial phases during its infancy, however we come today vis-à-vis some hard truths. As the Westphalian ideal of sovereignty starts to fade and notions such as the "Responsibility to Protect" keep gaining ground, one cannot help but ponder about a crucial aspect of this trend: the inherent moral responsibility of the intervener. In order for a doctor to be allowed to cut through one's skin, he must be trusted that he is effective in fixing something more critical that lies underneath. So, how effective are our peace initiatives in the so-called fragile states?

The problem with this question is how does one measure efficacy in such operations? How can one measure something based on what did not happen? If I spend the night in Times Square and there are no bombings until the next morning, does that mean I was effective in counter-terrorism? Also, how is state fragility defined? Is there a specific threshold beyond which a state is considered as fragile? Who sets this threshold? These are perhaps philosophical questions, however they pinpoint a crucial dimension of a major bifurcation point on which we currently stand.

For the latter question, the answer is lost in the misty web of realpolitik, however there have been efforts towards answering the first one. Academics have tried to measure efficacy by taking its multifaceted complexity under consideration. Some tried to measure it by evaluating the progress of conflicts after the end of Cold War. Data show that after a peak in the early 90s, civil wars dropped by a staggering 40 percent by 2003. During the same period, more wars ended through negotiations than in the past two centuries. Unfortunately, once these numbers are further analyzed, reality is different despite the optimism they portray. The main implication is that one out of four of these conflicts relapsed within five years. Nicolas Sambanis and Michale Doyle, professors at Yale and Columbia respectively, analyzed the effectiveness of 124 peacebuilding operations for the period 1945 to 1997. Their conclusion was that only 35 to 43 percent of the cases were successful, depending on what is defined as peace, while, in some cases, the peace efforts even exacerbated the progression of the conflicts. Solar panels have an energy conversion efficiency of less than 20 percent with the current technology. This percentage might seem low but we have not yet been able to commercially produce more efficient products, therefore the products that match a performance of 20 percent are considered the best in the market. Is 40 percent the best we can do?

The past few years there has been an increasing trend in the academic and professional community that we can indeed do better. In his book Making Peace Last Robert Ricigliano, seasoned peacebuilding professional and prominent academic, argues extensively on the need for a productivity revolution in the field. His insight is that the focus must shift towards making the collective impact of the plethora of actors involved on the ground greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Given the complexity of these protracted situations, our thinking must shift away from the micro level towards the macro. The efficacy of peace operations will only be improved by creating synergy between the UN, the various NGOs and other actors that are able to engage the immense complexity of such systems. As Mats Berdal and Achim Wennmann argue in their book Ending Wars, Consolidating Peace "the failure to grasp the underlying political economy of a conflict zone, relying instead on crude, value-laden and simplistic labeling of complex problems, has served to perpetuate and stimulate renewed violence."

The question is how can this be achieved? Ricigliano stresses the importance for a defined greater peacebuilding field that will be able to include the wide array of interdisciplinary fields. Together they will aim towards ameliorating the conditions of the fragile states by setting the framework for sustainable peace. The unanimous realization of the importance for a paradigm shift is a necessity for moving forward. This is something that took the medical field many years to achieve and it is part of the infant stages of such interdisciplinary arenas. Coordination, integrity and accountability are the pillars of the holistic approach that Ricigliano proposes.

This holistic concept might seem like a quixotic ideal battling the windmills of realpolitik and bureaucracy. Such radical shifts require a great deal of determination and perseverance. It is quite easy to use the negative inertia of a Behemoth system to justify the lack of efforts for improvement, since this way we cynically attribute our inaction to a third elusive notion. The only purpose of this tactic is to alleviate the burden of responsibility off our shoulders. The time has come that the implications of our inaction outweigh the justification of the system.