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Peter Wallensteen Quality Peace: Peacebuilding, Victory and World Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 262.

Reviewed by: Simon Dalby (Balsillie School of International Affairs).

The United Nations (UN) has been actively involved in what is now called peacebuilding since the end of the Cold War. There have been some notable successes and some failures too. But what is it that is supposedly being built in these interventions by the UN and other agencies? Crucially, what are the determinants of lasting peace? How do these relate to larger issues of world order? These questions reveal key themes addressed in this book.

Security Council Debates Post-conflict Peacebuilding 2016. photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

Wallensteen draws on a lifelong career of peace research to suggest that the traditional notion of negative peace, understood as an absence of hostilities, is not very helpful in thinking about how to prevent the reversion to conflict in a situation where warfare is temporarily suspended. Neither is it helpful in preventing conflict in the first place. The series of social aspirations usually linked to the idea of positive peace is not, as Wallensteen suggests, precise enough to act as a policy guide. Something more is needed for academic analyses of conditions for successful peacebuilding and for guidance of the practitioners. “Quality peace” is suggested as a formulation that provides just such a framework.

Specifically, “quality peace means the creation of post war conditions that make the inhabitants of a society (be it an area, a country, a region, a continent, or a planet) secure in life and dignity now and for the foreseeable future” (p. 6). Understood in these terms, peace is more than a state of non-war. “It is a matter of maintaining conditions that do not produce war in the first place or — as some form of “peace” has failed previously — not repeating the failures” (p. 6). Without these conditions quality peace does not apply, and if these conditions do not apply then the situation may once again revert to a violent conflict.

The early chapters in this book analyze academic attempts and engage theoretical matters of building peace. Subsequent chapters reflect on cases of quality peace in post-civil war situations, state formation conflicts, and in inter-state disputes. Later chapters connect these detailed discussions of quality peace with matters of world order and the roles of international organizations. The concluding chapter lays out no less than twenty-five tentative findings as an agenda for further research and elaboration.

While victory and peacebuilding may appear to be different situations – and clearly how post-war conditions are shaped by a victor is likely to differ from a peace agreement between antagonists that have suspended hostilities – Wallensteen’s “quality peace” conditions apply to both situations. The historical example usually used is the successful rebuilding and integration of the losing states in the Second World War into the international community. But, while some insights are relevant, the lessons from that episode are not easy to apply in the very different circumstances of smaller scale and diverse conflicts in the twenty-first century.

Most of the contemporary literature focuses on civil wars, many of which are at least temporally resolved by some form of peace agreement short of outright victory by one party. Nonetheless, the cases of complete victory in for example Rwanda and Sri Lanka illustrate that peace building has to consider these too. In the long run failure to effectively incorporate the losers in civil wars into the post conflict society runs the risk of future conflicts.

Focusing on the dignity of all participants in a peacebuilding operation and considering a wide range of actors, not just the most prominent protagonists and state agents, is the key to providing the conditions for quality peace, as Wallensteen suggests. We will need to consider the conditions of minorities and women too, if sustainable development is to be attained. Without inclusive societal processes, that ensure livelihood and dignity for all, the potential for resumed conflict remains. Thus, contemporary peacebuilding is inextricably tied into the larger canvas of the sustainable development goals and their implementation.

The detailed specific situations in post-Cold War cases are also related to the larger patterns of world order and the involvement of external powers as well as the practical interventions by the UN. Wallensteen is clear that the uncharted waters of contemporary relations between Russia, China, and the US will shape the future of peacebuilding. All of which became more difficult in recent years amid the uncertainties caused by growing Russian concerns about American designs in regions close to its borders as well as the international changes brought about due to the rising economic power of China.

Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All 2017. photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

This detailed investigation of the policy as well as academic literature on peacebuilding in this volume is not for the theoretically faint of heart. The text is dense, richly referenced, and draws on numerous examples to tease out the complicated processes of peacebuilding in practice. The comprehensive index itemizing the numerous case histories runs up to twenty pages. Given the breadth of its scope, this volume is an important contribution to the discussions of contemporary peacebuilding as well as a useful cautionary tale warning us against a simple assumption that there exists a formula for success that is applicable in all circumstances.

This volume makes clear that fraught situations in many parts of the world require both a sensitivity to particular contexts and a recognition that the roles of external powers as well as international agencies matter. Alas, there is no clear indication that the task of peacebuilding will be finished any time soon; the diplomatic good offices of the UN will continue to be needed for the foreseeable future, as will the practical efforts of peacebuilders engaged with difficult conflicts on the ground. Both will be more efficacious if the rich insights collected in the pages of this book inform both policy and practice.