Webcast Recap

Speaker: Carolyn McAskie, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support
Moderator: Howard Wolpe, Director, Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

On June 11, 2007, Carolyn McAskie was invited by the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity to provide an assessment of the work of the United Nation's Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and to discuss how the UN peace-building architecture is finding its place on the international stage. McAskie described the PBC as an intergovernmental advisory body composed of 31 member states and focused on post-conflict peace-building. The United Nations created the PBC in response to the high number, between 25 to 30 percent, of post-conflict societies that return to violent conflict within five years of a peace accord. As defined by the PBC, the end state of effective peace-building is an environment in which the government has the capacity to keep peace on track and prevent the country from falling back into conflict. McAskie noted that despite the difficulty in reaching consensus in such a representative body as the United Nations, PBC member countries are in agreement that such peace support requires sustained attention rather than short, quick missions.

Recognizing the PBC's ongoing efforts to define and implement its mandate, McAskie indicated that primarily, the PBC seeks to "pass the torch" effectively in post-conflict contexts from crisis responders to development actors and to maintain the gains made throughout the transitional process. The Commission is therefore charged with transforming a lack of international attention into sustained attention in particular conflict contexts by overseeing the peace-building architecture and ensuring that peace-building is effectively integrated into every aspect of the transitional process.

The PBC is currently engaged in Burundi and Sierra Leone, two countries that were both referred to the PBC upon their own request for advice. The PBC's objectives include bringing all the actors together to determine a common understanding of the fault lines of the conflict, identifying the areas in which peace-building efforts are falling short, and conceptualizing what should be done differently to make the post-conflict transition processes more effective. As a result, McAskie indicated, the countries in question will be equipped with the information necessary to determine the key issues that, if not addressed, could result in a return to violence.

An overarching peace-building strategy for each country is the intended result of the PBC's work. While the PBC is on track to deliver the Burundi strategy at the end of June, 2007, the strategy for Sierra Leone has been delayed due to the upcoming elections. McAskie indicated that success will be measured in individual countries by the transformation of sustained international attention into concrete action from the subject governments, regional neighbors, and the international community in support of the development process that ultimately will help prevent a return to violence.

During the question and answer session, McAskie noted that the PBC has been successful in defining its core approach and major goals; however, the challenge to successful implementation of these goals depends on increased financial and political support from member states. The UN Peacebuilding Fund, which supports the PBC, received an initial allocation of USD$250 million as a one-time commitment. However, there is no guarantee of renewed funding, and while there has been discussion of some donors pledging more money if the PBC proves successful, there are no official commitments in place. Consequently, the PBC has to budget effectively. Ideally, McAskie would like to see as much attention and resources devoted to peace-building as are currently directed to peacekeeping.