Understandings about the stages of conflict and the most effective means to manage the aftermath of organized violence have been revised since the “linking relief to development” debates of the 1960s and the “continuum model” that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s.  Linear thinking about the sequencing of post-war conflict management initiatives is still common, however.  Peacebuilding initiatives, for example, are often consigned to post-relief and post-rehabilitation phases of war-to-peace transitions (de Zeeuw 2001).  However, several prototype models of peacebuilding that recognize the multiple dimensions and wider relevance of such initiatives are becoming more customary (Miall et al. 1999, Maynard 2002).   The idea that peacebuilding may be preventative, or effectively take place from the outbreak of violence to durable peace gained currency after United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s 1995 supplement to his earlier Agenda for Peace (Boutros-Ghali 1995).

As understandings of peacebuilding have changed, so has the projection of United States power abroad.  The U.S. advanced new, ambitious designs in last year’s National Security Strategy of the United States of America that make the defense of peace and promotion of liberty an explicit national security interest (McFaul 2003).   Specifically, the document maintains that the United States seeks to:

“…create a balance of power that favors human freedom: conditions in which all nations and all societies can choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty.  We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants.  We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers.  We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.” [1]

John Ikenberry describes this foreign policy as “a vision made necessary – at least in the eyes of its advocates – by the new apocalyptic character of contemporary terrorist threats and by America’s unprecedented global dominance” (2002: 44).  Charles Krauthammer sees the current moment as a defining one for the U.S. contending “we are not just any hegemon.  We run a uniquely benign imperium” (2001: 21).  The Project for the New American Century, whose supporters include Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, maintains that America’s new, extraordinary and unparalleled power is now best used “preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.” [2] How the U.S. will strike the balance between the high value put on stability and rhetoric of liberation and defense of peace, especially in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, will be closely watched.

This article does not judge the merits of this foreign policy vision or the virtues of military intervention abroad.  It instead examines the intersection of expanding notions of peacebuilding and the role that stability operations play in supporting or weakening transitions to sustainable peace. With U.S. forces likely to deploy in larger numbers as both belligerents and in traditional peace operations in coming years (Daalder and O’Hanlon 2001, Field and Perito 2002), the relationship of these deployments with peacebuilding and development deserves careful attention.

Methodology & Terminology

For the purposes of this article, a modification of Boutros-Ghali’s original definition of peacebuilding will be applied. Peacebuilding is action to identify and support structures and relationships that will strengthen and consolidate peace in order to avoid resort to, an intensification of, or a relapse to violence (compare Boutros-Ghali 1992). This definition removes peacebuilding from sequential understandings of violent conflict and post-conflict recovery while being broad enough to encompass important socio-economic and political elements of building peace (de Zeeuw 2001). It also remains open to the importance of healing relationships and communities impacted by violence, recognizes the value of local participation and it expands the practice of peacebuilding beyond the simple development of institutions (Maynard 1999). This definition also frames peacebuilding as a policy concept that may ameliorate the consequences of poor development practice (Pugh 1995).  Peacebuilding, then, differs from peace enforcement and peacekeeping in important ways.  In peace enforcement, force may be used to end a dispute and to separate hostile parties.  In peacekeeping, military operations are undertaken usually with the consent of all parties to a conflict to ensure compliance with an agreement or a cease-fire.    Military peacebuilding refers to actions undertaken by stability operations that contribute to the strengthening of sustainable local capacities to manage conflict – not simply military participation in relief and development initiatives, the enforcement of peace accords or the separation of warring parties.  The reference “stability operations” is the title now given by the United States Department of Defense to military peace enforcement and peacekeeping commitments (Department of the Army 2003).

For conceptual clarity, when the term “post-conflict” is used it refers to a period in the cycle of conflict when large-scale organized violence between parties has significantly diminished or ceased.  It is important, especially in the context of the Bosnia example below, to appreciate that a phase that is neither war nor peace, neither conflict nor truly post-conflict often follows hostilities (Bloomfield and Moulton 1997).

Finally, the terms “development” and “development initiatives” refer to actions that expand peoples’ choices and capacities to improve the economic, social, and political character of their communities. A restorative sense of security, opportunity and faith in the future are to be included in such a definition as are elements of sustainability, equity and justice.  This inclusiveness suggests the breadth of activity now considered part of the terrain of development interventions (compare Sen 1999; USAID 2002;UNDP 2002;World Bank 2003).

Peacebuilding is developmental action that enhances local capacities to manage conflict in a sustainable way.  Development, as defined above, is action that augments the ability of citizens and governing institutions to better attend to the business of everyday life and the creation of a more rewarding future.  More traditional, bricks and mortar, post-conflict development goals may be achieved through peacebuilding, such as the repair of civil infrastructure, good governance and rehabilitation of education systems.  But peacebuilding emphasizes the importance of implementing methodologies or the process by which developmental goals are achieved and clarifies how developmental outcomes contribute to or undermine the maintenance of peace.

In Bosnia, for example, privatization programs have been effective in getting state-owned industries into private hands, but firms like the large aluminum factory in Mostar have come under the control of nationalists who seek to perpetuate ethnic division and to subvert the peace process in the country (Boyce 2000).  An orthodox emphasis on housing reconstruction in post-war Bosnia, facilitated by peacekeepers, returned refugees not to their original homes but to new locations where they became part of a post-conflict ethnic majority, helping to accentuate the results of ethnic cleansing (ICG 1998; Boyce 2000; Hurtic et al. 2000; Tanner and Fawcett 2002).  Development action is not always peacebuilding.

Many of the observations below are drawn from four years of fieldwork in Bosnia implementing and managing war to peace transition programming for the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives.  I often worked with peacekeepers during that period and later provided training to peacekeeping contingents destined for Bosnia at the Naval Post Graduate School.  Where appropriate, the observations below have been referenced to supporting literature.  However, much of the following may appear to be a disturbingly personal, anecdotal portrayal of the lives of Bosnians.  In defense, this is an account of how Bosnians suffered the war and still experience the uncertainty of the post-war peace – often in their own words.  The structural and relational issues they expose are frequently overlooked by peacekeepers and development professionals and the consequences of this kind of misunderstanding often debilitate peacebuilding and development (Volkan, Demetrios, and Montville 1990; Lilly 2002).

Theory and The Role of The Military in Stability Operations

The debates that occurred prior to September 11, 2001 concerning the role of the U.S. services in stability operations are still relevant, even in an era where a war on terrorism is underway and preemptive intervention has entered the common parlance of foreign policy. Damian Lilly (2002), for example, explains that increased involvement of peace operations personnel in humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and in human security over the last decade has made military contingents important contributors to peacebuilding.  Contingents often provide armed escorts, clear mines, facilitate refugee return and manage disarmament/demobilization and reintegration programs in ways that open political and social space for transitions to durable peace.  Even combat operations, Lilly argues, can be conducted in a way that makes rehabilitation and the return to stability less problematic.  In contrast, a lack of sensitivity to how the military may influence peacebuilding, or how more restrictive engagements may miss larger opportunities to strengthen the security environment, may ultimately deteriorate the stability and peace that contingents are deployed to create.

Tom Woodhouse and Oliver Ramsbotham (1996a) (1996b) of the University of Bradford have noted that military peacekeeping missions have increased in number and broadened in scope over the last decade.  In addition to maintaining the basic security conditions allowing aid to be distributed, peacekeepers now routinely work alongside a wide range of relief and development agencies to address suffering in war zones and post-conflict environments.  This “third generation” peacekeeping in post-conflict reconstruction departs from the studied tradition of containing combatants and their ability to do harm (Kuhne 2001: 378).  This has become necessary, they argue, as stability operations contingents are often the only entities capable of providing critical services in non-war/non peace environments at decisive moments in post-war transitions.  Bosnia provides examples of the minimalist approach of separating combatants in addition to more robust engagements in the transition to peace.  Peacekeeping in Bosnia changed from the restrictive, under-resourced UNPROFOR mission to more expansive IFOR and SFOR missions after the Dayton Accords.

In his 1994 Foreign Affairs article entitled “The Delusion of Impartial Intervention,” Richard Betts argues that intercession into hot wars or simmering post-war chaos, if it happens at all, should be decisive and designed to promote the victory of a chosen party.  The mistake of interventions like early peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, writes Betts, is that they were constrained forays into active wars or simmering post-war disorder that not only brought grief to peacekeepers but condemned the population to the “slow motion savagery” of interminable turmoil (1994: 288).  Betts would have advocated intervention on behalf of one side or the other in Bosnia, for example, despite the dubious ethics of doing so and the impact this would have on post-war recovery.  Saving lives by ending the war is his first priority.  David Rieff (1994) agrees in principle, if not means. Rieff argues the failure of the West in Bosnia was that it did not appropriately intervene early enough.  Attempts to end the war with an anemic UNPROFOR were reckless, resulting in the deaths of over 300 peacekeepers and the prolongation and intensification of the war.  An impartial, professional, aggressive force that would have imposed a peace on all parties was required.

Alternatively, Edward Luttwak argues that peacekeeping interventions into civil wars and post-conflict environments are futile since lasting peace is rarely achieved.  In his 1999 article “Give War a Chance,” Luttwak warned against premature peacekeeping since it artificially interrupts implosive internal wars and counteracts the “transformative effects of both decisive victory and exhaustion” in bringing about lasting peace (1999: 272).  No matter how robust or enlightened the peace operation, if the conflict has not run its course, intervention, peacebuilding and development initiatives are futile – and possibly harmful.

Luttwak’s reticence to engage armed forces in civil wars until the fighting has ended or a hurting stalemate has developed has been eclipsed by a combination of new peacekeeping and new world foreign policy.  Moreover, many civil wars have reached a sustainable equilibrium fueled by portable resources and a calculus of greed (Stedman 1997, Stedman 2001).  Betts’ and Rieff’s advocacy for forceful engagement is largely limited to how military forces should be decisively committed to end hostilities between warring parties.  They offer little guidance on the military’s role in the post-war period.  But their arguments do preface the kind of peacekeeping described by Lilly, Woodhouse and Ramsbotham.  Slim (1995), Pugh (2001), and Lilly (2002) would concur that peace operations, where forces provide humanitarian assistance, armed escorts, protection of civilians, demobilization management, information sharing and civil engineering expertise, will characterize post-combat stability missions for the foreseeable future. Military peacebuilding will only occur in the context of this broader engagement, however, to the extent that military personnel recognize how their actions and resources influence the achievement and maintenance of post-war peace.

Bosnian Poltergeists

U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia were often removed from the trauma and disorientation in the surroundings in which they performed their duties.  The maintenance of peace was perceived narrowly, as in ensuring arms agreements and cantonment policies were fulfilled.  Few peacekeepers recognized that Bosnians, from the first days of the war have passed from nonchalance to disbelief, exasperation to anger, astonishment to fear, then resignation to submission and powerlessness at being unable, in many circumstances, to control events or even define who they are.  Descriptions of this bewilderment, helplessness and distress are below.  Examples of challenges to stability operations in these kinds of environments are provided in a subsequent section.

Reloading the Rifle: The Erosion of Normalcy

In winter 1993, neighbors who had become enemies in divided Mostar taunted one another from their respective bunkers across a city street, just before firing rounds into each other’s positions.  A multi-ethnic gymnastic team in Sarajevo practiced in a dark high school gym to the sounds of shells, heavy caliber weapons and the roaring of the sick lion left in the zoo.  Cooking stoves were fueled with the shavings sheared from the stumps and roots of trees that were cut last season in the parks. Whatever could be scavenged was burned with flooring, pieces of gum and the books in libraries – starting with works by Marx and Engels.  The war years turned into a convulsion challenging the best imaginations and intentions but amid the ambiguity of diplomats and the spiritless intervention of the United Nations, peace was simply the moment required to reload the rifle.

Dignity and choosing the manner and time of one’s own death was a small comfort for some.  In 1993, Mala, a young Sarajevan woman, casually remarked over coffee one summer evening “When winter comes I will kill myself.  It is just a matter of turning right rather than left on the street so the sniper can see me.  It is quick and clean and not embarrassing like shrapnel.” [3]

Food riots, massive movements of traumatized rural residents into urban centers, a numbing sense of betrayal, residents living for seasons in stairways or basements, lunar rockets, sniper fire and shelling designed to maximize psychological and physical damage were the features of daily life for four years in Bosnia Herzegovina.  In the 1400-day siege of Sarajevo, many of these effects were magnified.  For residents that managed to escape that city and who began to return to it in 1996, the survivors wore t-shirts admonishing them with the question: “Where were you?”  “Where were you?”

Constructing a new normalcy has proceeded incrementally with Bosnians describing the time required to feel comfortable that the transition to peace will move inevitably forward, instead of backward, in decades or even generations.  This nervousness over transition momentum is no small matter.  Quick expressions of concern over force reductions and cuts in development aid reveal how fragile individuals faith in the future remains, even after seven years.  Worry over whether the international community will stay the course with Bosnia until a new post-war normalcy may stand on its own creates a undercurrent of uncertainty that erodes confidence and sustains mistrust (ICG 2001).

Manufacturing Ethnic Nationalism

In the autumn of 1995, the intensity of wartime trauma and the inflexible positions of the war’s protagonists produced an imperfect peace agreement at Dayton.  The framers of the document acknowledge that the text froze ethnic fault lines and maintained the power bases of those responsible for the war.  This was to be the price of peace (Holbrooke 1998; Cohen 1998). The United States committed peacekeepers for six months and then an additional eighteen months as part of an implementation force designed primarily to separate ethnic armies.  War by other means continued, however, in a country now divided into four political units; one illegitimate unrecognized para-state of Herceg-Bosnia, the two political “entities” of the Federation and the Republika Srpska, on all of which is superimposed a fourth unit, the theoretical nation-state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A joke circulated among Bosnians in the late 1990s about how the country needed an “identity hotline” for people to reconstitute their sense of self.  What was needed, it was argued, was a 1-800 number where people could call to ask, “Quick, tell me, what am I?”  This was especially resonant after the introduction of the term “Bosniac” to secularize Muslim identity.  But it was dark humor.  Choosing an ethnic identity was, in some cases, a life or death decision.  Even though many citizens of Bosnia rejected marking their ethnicity on the 1990 census form, in some cases penciling in “penguin” or “druid” to defy ethnic categorization, by 1992 they had little choice but to decide which ethnic label they would assume.

“Tell me”, says Amir, “my brother is married and his wife’s mother is catholic.  Her father is orthodox and my brother is muslim. They have a daughter.  What about their daughter? What is she?  She is four years old.  Who gets to choose what she is? And what about all those like me who do not practice a religion?  And those people not from Croatia or Serbia – I do not want to call them Croats or Serbs because to me that means they are from there.  And I am not a ‘Muslim’.  We are all Bosnians but no one says this anymore.  Nobody is just a human being anymore.” [4]

Music, colors, dress, hand gestures, food and social habits have each undergone a painful reassignment of meaning.  One micro-enterprise assistance project envisioned giving yarn to groups of women so that they might create items that would then be sold for income.  When yarn was delivered to a Bosnian Croat women’s group in central Bosnia, they refused the green bundles saying “save that for the Muslims”.   Green was a color that had come to be associated with the Bosniacs.  One election poster, created by an international agency during the marathon of elections in Bosnia, angered some Bosniacs because of suspicion that the red and white check design in a child’s shirt pictured on the poster was subtle, pro-Croat propaganda. Red and white had become associated with the banner of separatist Bosnian Croats.

The remnants of Serbo-Croatian have been actively re-engineered into distinct languages for each of the former warring parties.  Bosniacs infused their version of Serbo-Croatian with breathy “h’s” and Turkish idioms.  Bosnian Croats took guidance from a standing government language committee in Zagreb, Croatia authorized to purify and standardize a true Croatian tongue.  Serbs insisted that their language be attuned to pronunciations more common to Belgrade, Serbia.  How one speaks remains no small matter.  Bosnia was, is, a country where most anyone can place the speaker within 20 kilometers of a hometown within the first few sentences of a conversation.  Each version of Serbo-Croat is strikingly similar and indelibly dyed with the character of geographic regions rather than ethic origin, but it does not stop even the current leadership of each faction from often insisting that official documents now be “translated” into all three “languages”.

Within such a challenging operational environment, stability operations – especially those in identity conflicts – may easily inhibit the reassembling of lives with ill-conceived actions that reinforce wartime categories of identity and aggravate post-war social tensions like those described above.

Renegotiation of Social Identity

The episodes of war in Bosnia aggravated other social anxieties in addition to sharpening exclusive ethnic identities.  Urban-rural distinctions, understandings of gender roles, the character of faith and the importance of region and wealth were challenged (Bringa 1996).

Generational relationships changed, especially as teenagers working for aid agencies became the breadwinners of extended families.  An 18-year-old Bosnian program officer once described how the small income that the International Rescue Committee paid him supported his large family and ten relatives.  He would leave his pay on a table in the kitchen of his home where it would quietly disappear into his mother’s apron or father’s pocket, both being too ashamed to take it from him directly. [5]

Young women had a similar if not more profound experience.  They were preferred as assistants, program officers and interpreters for aid organizations in Bosnia.  They enjoyed greater freedom of movement than young men, spoke better English, were not prone to be conscripted and were inherently better suited to negotiate access through zones of control and checkpoints.  The professionalism of many of these 18 to 23 year olds was outstanding and inspiring.  Their work brought them to the most desperate camps for the displaced, to the front lines, into meetings with brutal militia commanders and unpredictable, well-armed paramilitaries.  It brought them to the sites and to the victims of the latest atrocities and into meetings where discussions of how rape was being used as a weapon of war took place.  At the end of the day, many would return to traditional homes where they were expected to become children again.

The tension between urban and rural cultures in Bosnia was acute.  Samir, an urban youth living in the city of Tuzla complained; “The people from villages, where they lived their whole life, now they have run from war and live here.  And they can’t go back home because there is no home.  I understand this.  But they bring their cows and chickens in the apartment building… and they throw their trash out the window and in the stairwells.  They make a farm in the park. They do not know how to behave and they are angry.  They ask me why I am not fighting for them – or for my family…  I don’t believe in it (this war) and I will shoot myself in the leg to keep from going.”  He then proceeded to describe how, if you fire a gun through a loaf of bread into your own leg the telltale powder burns that give you away do not appear. [6]


In the Bosnian city of Tuzla, a shell hit the center of the city square one early evening killing and injuring over 70 teenagers sitting together in the warm air at outdoor cafés.  Nearly everyone in Tuzla knew at least one of the casualties.  Afterwards, a young local colleague said: “It is embarrassing to die now.. it is not uncommon or unique or startling.  We’ve moved beyond outrage.  There are few tears and we’re so tired.  Our corpses give others trouble.. to bury.. to feel sad about.  It is not heroic now to die and we are not martyrs.  We are just heavy, bleeding corpses.” [7]

This was surrender to a destiny seen as unavoidable and to bewilderment at being so hated for being someone she took little part in becoming.  From the residents of Sarajevo who walked the streets during the siege in their best formal wear, showing they retained dignity in the face of continued shelling, to young women in Kabul who return to reopened schools to restart their education, there is often a desire in post-conflict environments to return to feeling fully human (Volkan 2000).  It is a desire to regain the freedom to choose (Sen 1999).  The challenge of peacebuilding and successful development in Bosnia and elsewhere is to acknowledge this trauma and this determination while refusing to become unwitting accomplices of separatism, dependency and dehumanization.

Military Peacebuilding: Lengthening the Fuse

As one retired U.S. peacekeeping commander describes it, military forces go from brilliance in war fighting to blindness during post-conflict reconstruction. Armed forces are carefully prepared to fight and win wars but are reluctantly committed to participate in the rehabilitation of war-torn societies.  “There is nothing wrong with nation building” states National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, “but not when it’s done by the American military”. [8] In practice, the American military is regularly committed to, and has a long history with, nation building activity as recent interventions in Haiti, Grenada, Panama, Bosnia and Kosovo demonstrate.  But with the lack of preparation that accompanies the denial that this is a suitable role for the services, military participation in humanitarianism, development and peacebuilding is ad hoc and inconsistent.

Military peacebuilding is no substitute for the expertise and capacities of civilian agencies and local organizations.  It is an important complement in securing post-war peace, however.  If U.S. armed forces will more often engage abroad in coming years and behave as Lilly, Woodhouse and Ramsbotham suggest they will, they must prepare for the daily prospect of becoming unwitting accomplices of separatism, insecurity, dependency and de-humanization during post-war recovery.   Recognition of four basic principles in stability operations will lengthen the fuse in fragile post-conflict environments.

Even the smallest action is politically significant.

The question is not whether stability operations and development programs have a political impact during and after violent conflicts but what the extent and character of that impact is (Anderson 1999). Is assistance enhancing the legitimacy of self-appointed leaders or militia commanders?  Are peacekeepers or development agencies paying for airtime or public service announcements on a radio or television station that broadcasts hate speech or divisive programming?  Is aid getting to those for whom it is intended or is it placed into the hands of someone who then distributes it as patronage?  Are the shops and coffee bars frequented by peacekeepers and aid workers owned by local hardliners, a local criminal or a separatist official?  Each act carries consequences it may take an entire rotation of personnel to overcome.

Peacekeeping commanders often learned the hard way that it was important to be consistent when imposing conditionality in negotiations or when providing reconstruction assistance, for example.  Uncertainty and variance from one instance to another often created distrust and was a signal for spoilers to exploit an initiative.  The same was true among relief and development organizations that were inconsistent in their record of conditioning post-Dayton assistance.  Criteria that precluded assistance to nationalist officials responsible for war crimes and ethnic separatism often lost ground to the unconditioned aid that was available.  Hard-line authorities shopped around for assistance on their terms – and they often found it – allowing the results of ethnic cleansing and wartime patronage networks to stand and for war-by-other means to continue unchecked (Tanner and Fawcett 2002).

Much the same occurred regarding instances of ethnic “balancing”, as when one national group demands an equal share of resources, regardless of whether they need it, simply because another ethnic group receives aid. Resources “balanced” in the name of expediency contributed to embarrassing waste and reinforced wartime divisions.  Succumbing to “ethnic balancing” entailed, among other things, becoming complicit in ethnic separatism. A number of projects around a divided settlement in central Bosnia illustrate this point.  The delivery of materials to the destroyed portion of town where Bosniacs lived was delayed until local Croat authorities secured assurances from international NGOs that they would receive equal amounts of resources for their less destroyed neighborhoods.  This was tacit recognition of illegitimate Croat separatist control over the area and it contributed to a waste of materiel and the strengthening of separatist patronage networks as the unneeded materials were often then distributed among friends and supporters of Croat officials who had brokered such ethnic balance agreements (DeMichelis 1998).

In a similar way, early military contingents and aid organizations often unknowingly repaired infrastructure in a manner that contributed to the isolation of ethnic populations.  At various times, Bosniac, Serb and Croat leaders each requested “parallel” and separate water systems, schools, clinics, electrical power generating sources and access roads.  Good intentioned but naïve organizations and contingents complied.  The result was a lessening of mutual dependence and interaction between ethnic communities, the reinforcement of ethnic stereotypes, a tacit acknowledgment of the results of ethnic cleansing and a subversion of political process by illegitimate regional power brokers (Tanner and Fawcett 2002, DeMichelis 1998).

The very act of choosing where a peacekeeping contingent places its resources, or whom field representatives of that contingent regularly speak with, is deeply political.  A Dutch NATO commander who shared coffee with the soon-to-be indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic discovered that he and Mladic’s image had been captured and reproduced on posters, television and in newspapers.  This was shortly before Mladic presided over the “ethnic cleansing” of Srebrenica where nearly 8000 Bosniac men and boys disappeared (Honig and Both 1997).

Development initiatives implemented with negligible regard to political impact will often undermine stability and post-war recovery (Uvin 2001).  Peace operations that assist or undertake their own similar initiatives become complicit in impairing the maintenance of peace (Lilly 2002).  Contingents engage in peacebuilding only to the extent they recognize the political context of their actions, manage their resources and measure their behavior to marginalize spoilers and mitigate the divisive undercurrents that are the vestiges of wars.

Local citizen participation, not elite solicitation, moderates possible negative consequences in local engagement.

In Bosnia, local political and military authorities were seldom the best persons to be describing what types of assistance communities required in the two years following Dayton.  Many of these individuals were complicit in prosecuting the war and in continued ethnic division.  Yet many of the early efforts of peacekeeping contingents focused on fostering cooperation between nationalist military and political leaders.  There was a cost to this approach.  The illegitimate authority of many of these officials was reinforced with regular interaction with foreign military representatives.   In addition, opportunities to consolidate the security environment and cultivate new sources of information from among local residents were neglected.  Many local residents harbored far more willingness and imagination than their leadership to design and take part in rehabilitation and reconciliation projects.  Initiatives that brought neighbors together to discuss the rehabilitation of common infrastructure and services and where local citizens identified, contributed to, and maintain projects have ultimately produced some most sustainable results among the many development projects underway in the country (USAID 1997).

This has been a difficult lesson for the military to learn.  Local engagement by military contingents often aims to win hearts and minds by showing that foreign armed forces are present to make a positive difference in the lives of local communities.  Unfortunately, the community-level projects that contingents often completed were frequently vetted by civil affairs personnel working in conjunction with self-appointed, local political leaders.  These local authorities often had ownership interest in the structure selected for repair, were less than genuine in their support for the peace process or benefited from kickbacks from the local suppliers who sold material to peacekeepers.  As a consequence, projects intended to demonstrate goodwill instead strengthened the position of problematic authorities, contributed to corruption, hardened ethnic divides and undercut the capacity of local residents to take part in community decision-making or to demand accountable and transparent leadership.

To make matters worse, peacekeepers frequently completed all stages of work on such projects, from planning to banging nails, while community members watched from the sidelines.  This was quite on purpose and done to create the impression that foreign armed forces were there to help improve the conditions of local communities.  Local residents were often too polite to confide that peacekeepers had paid too much for the materials from the cousin of the mayor; or that the design and materials used in the building would prove impossible for the local population to maintain; or that ultimately the building was too small for their needs; was built in a flood plain; that local officials would request prohibitive fees for its use; or that other ethnicities would be precluded from the services of the new facility. Valuable peacebuilding opportunities to create a participatory ethic in communities and to encourage local capacities for change and conflict management were overlooked.

Recognize the role that renegotiation of identity plays in generating and in recovering from violent conflict.

Exclusive ethnic nationalism in Bosnia, as in many of the identity-based conflicts around the world, is characterized and manufactured by separatist leaders that prey on latent animosities and who manufacture fear for their own ends.  It is a formulaic process of provocation, propaganda, atrocity and escalation.  Moreover, it is a process that depends a great deal on the successful reassignment of meaning, especially of the reference points of personal identity and the measures of social acceptance.  Control over media outlets, for instance, is a defining element of separatist political agendas (Price 2000).   Peacebuilding requires that the influence such elites exercise over the social agenda be reduced. Sustainable peace and development in Bosnia will require the continued reversal and annulling of this corrosive reassignment of meaning and the diminishing of the fear that fuels it.  It is a reversible process (Brass 1991, Hardin 1995, Bell-Fialkoff 1996, Volkan 2000).

Values and norms, the role of faith, language, history, family and what constitutes a reasonable expectation for the future are in various states of disorienting adjustment in post-conflict environments.  In Bosnia this is certainly true of generational, political, professional and personal identities.  In places like Afghanistan, the renegotiation of understandings of gender roles will be critical to peacebuilding, for example.  But it is important to recognize the reference points that influence the renegotiation process for identities that will be central in post-war development and peacebuilding.  Local and national media, for instance, often broadcast and publish messages crafted to appeal to nationalist sentiments long after a conflict ends (Price 2002).  In Bosnia, a divisive recounting of atrocities, a strong sense of victimization by all parties, educational curricula, and the continued salience of wartime religious and political symbols contribute to mistrust and the endurance of a meta-narrative of separatism (Bringa 1996).

Peacekeepers maps and the spoken names given to towns and villages may unwittingly give the impression of ethnic preference.  The Croat designation “Uskoplje” and the Bosniac “Gornji Vakuf” refer to the same central Bosnian town, for instance.  How one learns and then attempts to speak a local language or makes hand gestures may carry connotations of identity preference.  The upraised two-fingered “V” for victory – or peace – common among American forces is also the hand signal prevalent among Croat nationalist signaling ethnic solidarity among the Croat separatists of Bosnia.

Opportunities to constructively support the work of local groups with “peacebuilding identities” like professional associations of medical workers, sports teams, civil engineers or women’s organizations may be overlooked (Varshney 2002).  Even the small gestures a military contingent may make to repair a playground may undermine peacebuilding, dependent on who controls the use of the facility, how the decision to repair the facility was made and how work is completed (Bush 2000).   Building local capacity to manage conflict will require successful renegotiation of divisive identities associated with violence towards more inclusive and neutral understandings of belonging.

A lessening of resolve or unwillingness of stability operations to go the distance required to consolidate the security environment not only complicates options for a successful exit, it weakens the influence of rehabilitation, development and peacebuilding initiatives.

Cuts in development aid and the complete withdrawal of U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia are being considered in the face of new global threats.  Bosnia, as frustrating as it is, has worn thin the patience of countries now preoccupied with new anxieties.  The United States and Europe could simply declare peace operations to be over, literally acting on “in together, out together” assurances from the Dayton process to terminate foreign presence altogether.  Short of this, one alternative being discussed is to drastically reduce the number of U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia, from the 3,100, or 17 percent of the international force of 18,000, to an emergency presence confined to local bases.   Token forces of this nature, at this point in Bosnia’s transition, would be highly vulnerable and might necessitate a reentry by larger numbers of foreign troops into a far more hazardous situation at a later date.  This is not victory.  It is dangerous for the U.S. military, it is a foreign policy failure and it would likely herald a new cycle of violent conflict for Bosnians (Latal 2002). “Until you reestablish the rule of law here, you can’t reduce the military presence,” says Maj. Gen. H. Steven Blum, recent head of NATO peace operations in the American sector in Bosnia.  “Leaving now would be like quitting after 25 miles of a marathon race” (Dao 2001)

Downsizing and recalibrating the nature of forces is not problematic in itself – it is necessary as the security environment warrants.  But security and the maintenance of peace is the sine qua non of post-war reconstruction.  Exit or force reduction without an alternative method for maintaining the peace until local capacities are up to the task is premature and will cast doubt on the nature of the international commitment in many post-war environments.  Alternative means of providing peace operations support have been advanced by specialists like Kimberly Field and Robert Perito (2003).  They argue that standing units, trained to better engage in civil-military relations, coordination, constabulary duties, the creation of the rule of law and community reconstruction should be substituted for U.S. brigades once peace enforcement measures have run their course.  These units would allow the armed forces to return to roles for which they are trained and better suited.  However, these proposals have gained little traction with policymakers.

Downsizing and exit while a security gap still exists emboldens spoilers to exploit newfound fears and disorder to intensify international criminal activity and to pursue wartime agendas.  In identity conflicts, a radicalization of ethnic character and an erosion of secular statism often occurs.  Distrust of international commitment erodes the gains and momentum of peacebuilding and development initiatives. In Bosnia, separatist officials who are still influential stress “We have waited five hundred years for this moment and we will wait a few more years for you to leave.”

Clear, continued international commitment gives local moderates, activists and reformers the courage and political space needed to hasten the transformation of Bosnian society.  It will require the continued, robust facilitation by peace operations contingents of the return of “cleansed” populations, the removal of obstructionist individuals, the arrest of war criminals and increased support for civilian implementation of the accords.  Continued assistance in closing illegal and offensive media outlets will also be necessary.  Support for the integrity of the electoral process may also be required to ensure moderate candidates have the opportunity to capture the imagination of the exhausted population.  If there is retreat from providing this kind of assistance – assistance that stability operations may still be pivotal in providing – there is the risk of resetting the clock and encouraging spoilers to continue the waiting game (ICG 2001, Latal 2002).

Peacebuilding is the exit strategy of stability operations.  The earlier local institutions and civil society relationships are able to manage conflict on their own, the earlier military contingents may downsize and depart altogether.  Developmental interventions that are peacebuilding in character and stability operations that are sensitive to cautions like those set out above will more readily provide the security environment necessary for effective war to peace transitions in war-torn societies.


Despite U.S. ambitions in a post-September 11th world and the de facto enlargement of U.S. military engagement in post-conflict reconstruction tasks, does the nation have what it takes to go the distance to build peace in post-war societies?

President George W. Bush has recognized the danger that failed states and unstable post-conflict environments pose warning that “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” [9] Yet our track record of consolidating peace in such situations is mixed.  Fifty percent of nations recovering from conflict return to violence within five years (Azam, Collier and Hoeffler 2001).  Of the 18 democratic transitions the U.S. has forcefully assisted in the last 18 years, the results have been sustained in only five instances (Pei and Kasper 2003).  Simon Chesterman (2002) and others have suggested that the U.S. is congenitally unable to stay the course in such matters.  The U.S. has backed into post-conflict recovery responsibilities, often with deep denial and reluctance resulting in a lack of commitment when the going gets tough.  “The importance of domestic politics in the exercise of American power,” he writes, “means that it has an exceptionally short attention span – far shorter than is needed to complete the long and complicated task of rebuilding a country”.

The U.S. must improve its track record in war to peace transitions and increase the proficiency of the nation’s intervention agents to strengthen local capacities to build peace and security – particularly if the duration of U.S. commitment is uncertain.  Effective development practice and the successful exit of U.S. armed forces depends on it.  Rather than reconciling peacebuilding to a post-peace enforcement, post-peacekeeping role, or to the sidelines of development practice,  peacebuilding from day one may accelerate security gains and speed post-war recovery.  During conflict and in combat, and throughout the conflict cycle, the nature of engagement by military forces matters.  Military peacebuilding, while no substitute for peacebuilding and appropriate development activity by civilian organizations, is an important complement to efforts that augment local capacities to manage conflict in post-war transitions.

<em>Ray Salvatore Jennings is a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and teaches at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.  He has directed and advised overseas programs for the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank and many non-governmental organizations in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Peru, and Afghanistan.</em>


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[1] Available at Excerpt from p.1 (accessed 21 February, 2002)

[2] Information on the Project for a New American Century available at  This excerpt from page one of the organization’s mission statement.  (accessed 15 December, 2002)

[3] Interview with the author July, 1993.

[4] Interview with the author, October 1995

[5] Interview with author, July 1995.

[6] Interview with author, August 1993.

[7] Interview with author, December 1995.

[8] Condoleeza Rice, “Foundation for a Nation,” Washington Post, October 29, 2001, p. A17

[9] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002.  p. 3.


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