By Niamh Gibbons
23 November 2005, updated on 21 December 2005
On December 20, 2005 the General Assembly and the Security Council approved resolutions establishing a new U.N. Peacebuilding Commission, one of the reform proposals the heads of states agreed to during a U.N. summit in September. In late November, we talked with Dr. Necla Tschirgi, vice president at the International Peace Academy, about the new body. Tschirgi describes the Peacebuilding Commission as “a very unusual and unique experiment”. Having worked on peacebuilding issues since the early 1990s, she says that experts would have preferred to see an entity with much more muscle than the model agreed upon by governments in September. In its current form, the commission is an intergovernmental advisory body. Tschirgi says “considerable ground was lost as a result of the negotiations leading up to the [2005 World] Summit. This led to a much reduced concept than was advocated by many experts …We had a meeting in October of last year, and proposed that peacebuilding needs a home at the U.N. where decisions can be taken and implemented. As it is, the proposed model will have little money and authority. It will therefore be a much less effective body than what many had wished for”.
Under the resolution passed on Tuesday, the new commission will have 31 members, seven each from the Security Council [including the permanent members] and the 54-nation Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), plus five each from the top financial and military contributors [excluding those already appointed from the Security Council]; and seven from the General Assembly to ensure over all geographical representation. Members will serve for renewable terms of two years. The agenda will be set based on either an invitation from the Security Council, the country in question, the secretary general, or ECOSOC and the General Assembly, with the consent of the country in question. The commission will report directly to the Security Council on cases on the Council’s agenda, and to the General Assembly on an annual basis. The current arrangements for the commission will be reviewed in five years to determine whether the commission is working well, needs revision, or is not meeting its intended purpose.
Where did the need to create a Peacebuilding Commission come from? What problem will this body fix at the United Nations?
The Security Council has very little machinery to deal with countries which are in danger of failing or which are in need of reconstruction as they emerge from conflict. The job of the Peacebuilding Commission is to propose strategies for their recovery efforts, ensure sustained international attention and financing, and coordinate the activities of the parties involved [such as –national authorities, neighboring countries, regional and international organizations, international financial institutions and NGOs] in post-conflict situations.
Do you think the new commission, in its current “watered down” form, can still make a contribution?
Yes. It can be a platform where different stakeholders can come together, exchange views, develop common strategies. The commission can also be an arena where experiences, lessons learned, knowledge and information can be accumulated and disseminated. In that sense, it is a tremendous improvement.
Who will fund the new commission?
The peacebuilding fund will be derived from voluntary contributions [from governments, regional organizations, IMF and World Bank] and will be used as seed-money or as a quick disbursal mechanism to avoid going through the lengthy process of generating funds for immediate needs. So it is almost like petty cash. Much thought has to be given to expanding the pot and mechanisms to replenishing the pool regularly. The support office and its staff will be funded through the regular U.N. budget.
Some observers suggest at least $2 billion should be made readily available. How much do you think is adequate?
That is a totally unrealistic figure, and since the Peacebuilding Commission does not have an implementation role, it does not need a standing fund of that order. Moreover, donors will never be prepared to relinquish control over their contributions to another body. Accordingly, the commission should see its role as a catalyst for deploying donor funding around a common framework.
Do you see the commission taking over from the U.S. in Iraq?
Absolutely not, I think it would be the kiss of death for the commission. If the commission is used initially for cases where the international community can do a good job and is successful, it will strengthen the commission. If it starts with very difficult cases where there is a tremendous amount of polarization, then it will be very destructive for the commission. Plus it really has to be a post-conflict situation; in Iraq the violent phase of conflict continues.
What should be the new commission’s first priorities?
The Peacebuilding Commission would be well advised to start with countries that voluntarily seek support, or where the U.N. is already active - countries that are ready to move from the docket of the Security Council to a developmental stage. It is, in the first instance, definitely going to be more of the cases where there is agreement that its time for the international community to engage more effectively, more constructively – such as Burundi, probably Haiti.
All agree that the national authorities of the subject country should play a key role. But how would the commission deal with a situation where the national authorities are either non-existent, non-cooperative or illegitimate?
At this stage we can only speculate. The Peacebuilding Commission will work in different configurations, and will address diverse problems, with varying levels of political engagement, political incentive and disincentive etc. None of us quite know what exactly the content of the commission will be. That will depend on who is at the table, and what level of expertise and quality of advice will be lodged in the support office.
Some countries are concerned that this is yet another way for powerful countries in the Security Council to exert their influence in the rest of the world. Are their concerns well placed?
I don’t think so. The commision is designed as a multi-stakeholder mechanism to assist countries who want international support and assistance. It is also intended to ensure that the international community does not lose interest in countries that are making a difficult transition from conflict to peace. The challenge for the commission would be to overcome international neglect rather than to ward off unwanted international intervention.
Do you think the Peacebuilding Commission will be operational by January 2006?
There will be a lot of loose ends to tie up in the New Year. This is not a one-shot type of deal - I anticipate ongoing discussions about some of the different aspects of the commission and the establishment of the peacebuilding support office well into the New Year.
Necla Tschirgi was the Vice-President of the International Peace Academy (IPA) from September 2001 through December 2005. IPA is an independent, organization which works with the United Nations and other stakeholders to promote the prevention and settlement of armed conflicts through research and development.