Conflict Management and Peacebuilding: Examining the Interface between Local and International Approaches

3 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2011

Date Written: June 26, 2011


The field of conflict management continues to expand as the sources and nature of contemporary conflicts change in varied ways. New actors, newly emerging issue areas and novel approaches challenge established paradigms. It is becoming increasingly difficult to define the scope and parameters of the field.

At the macro level, intra-state conflicts constitute one of the greatest areas of concern for scholars and practitioners alike. There is a rapidly growing body of knowledge and practice that now fall under the expanded rubric of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, conflict management, and peacebuilding. Despite this rapid growth, two nagging problems persist. The first relates to the continued absence of voices from conflict-affected countries. The field remains largely dominated by Northerners - more accurately, male Northern scholars and practitioners - and thereby exhibits certain serious mental blinders. The second, which is inevitably linked to the first, relates to the continuing disconnect between local and international approaches to conflict management and peacebuilding.

While making a strong plea for more systematic and concerted efforts to support the development of the field of conflict management and peacebuilding in the South, this paper will focus on the gap between local and international approaches to conflict management and peacebuilding. The paper is part of ongoing research on local perspectives on peacebuilding.

For the Istanbul conference, the paper will specifically address the difficulties involved in aligning local and international approaches to conflict management and peacebuilding. It will be based upon the rich body of literature on international peacebuilding as well as selected case studies from Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia that examine local perspectives on peacebuilding. In addition, the paper will review the recent policy discourse by international actors - especially the United Nations and donor governments - on local ownership of continuing gap between rhetoric and reality.

Ongoing research indicates that there are important areas where local and international approaches to peacebuilding tend to diverge. Six key areas include:

1. Conflict Analysis: International actors often bring a standard analytical template and a limited understanding of any given country which contribute to underestimating the deep-rooted social, cultural and historical dimensions of a conflict. Conversely, local actors are often too close to the conflict to see it in its totality or in a larger comparative perspective.

2. Mapping of Conflict Actors: An accurate mapping of conflict actors, their motives, interests, and strategies is essential to peacemaking and peacebuilding. Yet, research suggests that internal and external actors have different perceptions of the most relevant actors and their roles as connectors, dividers or spoilers. With the burgeoning literature on regional conflict formations and transnational threats, the role of external actors (including the UN, IFIs and aid donors) as critical players in local conflicts is increasingly being recognized.

3. Assessing Local Capacities for Peace: Multiple case studies suggest that external ctors approach local capacity building from a perspective of capacity deficits. Many needs assessment frameworks start with an analysis of gaps, limitations and weaknesses. On the other hand, local actors view conflict management peacebuilding through an assessment of existing assets, including indigenous authority structures, local elites, religious leaders, people’s voices and civil society which are often not visible to international actors who tend to deal primarily with government authorities or selected national counterparts.

4. Identifying Peacebuilding Priorities: While there is consensus that security is a rerequisite for sustainable peace, external and internal actors differ as to the timing and sequencing of peacebuilding priorities, including the trade-off between competing issues such as employment and poverty alleviation before liberalization; stabilization before democracy; justice before reconciliation.

5. Prioritizing Local Ownership: There is strong evidence that, despite their declared commitment to local ownership, external approaches to peacebuilding crowd out or replace local capacities and local level initiatives. Yet, there are divergent views at the local level as to what constitutes local ownership.

6. Time Frame for Peacebuilding: Perhaps the sharpest difference between internal and external perspectives on peacebuilding revolves around the essential time frame. External actors are often guided by artificial timelines linked to UN mandates, donor frameworks and project funding cycles while local actors view peace in generational terms.

These are only some the most common and consistent findings that are emerging from an initial analysis of selected case studies from Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia. However, they provide important insights into why there needs to be a deeper investigation of the persistent gaps between local and international approaches to conflict management and peacebuilding - especially if international actors are serious about enhancing local ownership. One area that merits special attention is a comparative analysis of the conflict management strategies and mechanisms employed by different internal actors at the local, sub-national and national levels.

What is becoming evident is that there is little knowledge of the different conflict management and peacebuilding efforts undertaken at multiple levels by numerous domestic actors and the extent to which they contribute to a larger national strategy which then becomes the foundation for a stronger alignment between national and international approaches. However, deeper understanding of national and local level processes and mechanisms would require strengthening of the field of conflict management in the South as well as the increased participation of Southern academics and practitioners from conflict-affected countries in long-term research alongside their Northern counterparts.

Suggested Citation

Tschirgi, Necla, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding: Examining the Interface between Local and International Approaches (June 26, 2011). 24th Annual IACM Conference, Istanbul, Turkey, July 3-6, 2011, Available at SSRN: or

Necla Tschirgi (Contact Author)

University of San Diego ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

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