A New Global Peace Paradigm

décembre 21, 2017

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Which policies can bring peace to conflict-ridden areas around the globe? At the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, a new paradigm in foreign and security policy has emerged. After years of soul-searching, it is time for the international community of states to decide between nationalist self-interest and multilateralism.

From state-building to stabilization

In politics, paradigms, as simplified ideological representations, serve to communicate an overall strategy to a broad audience. In the field of peace-building, we have seen at least one paradigm shift in recent decades.

Starting with Europe’s reconstruction after World War II, the predominant paradigm was state building. The simplified model went: to build a peaceful world, first build strong states. Convinced by “liberal peace,” most experts and governments in the West assumed a positive relationship between economic development and peace.[1] Development was said to be dependent on strong institutions with an independent judiciary that protects private property.[2] Building strong states according to the Western model with three branches of government and a representative democracy was the solution.

The United States was the most prominent advocate for liberal state building. While the Marshall Plan was quite successful in Europe, intervention and the export of liberal democracy to other regions, fueled by the global “War on Terror”, lead to mixed results at best.[3] Somalia’s divided governments have shown that enforcing the Western model has not led to a unitary, strong, and stable government with peace and control of its territory.[4]

Similar results in post-intervention Iraq and Afghanistan were the prelude to a paradigm shift towards “stabilization” as a state-building light recipe. The United Kingdom is a prominent advocate of this approach to “protect and promote legitimate political authority, using a combination of integrated civilian and military actions to reduce violence, re-establish security and prepare for longer-term recovery by building an enabling environment for structural stability.”[5] Security sector reform and police training are prioritized before institutions can be built or peace and reconciliation processes are addressed. Other European governments, such as France and Germany, also rebranded their foreign security policies with an integrated approach and a strong civilian component aimed at supporting ongoing political processes in target countries.

But the stabilization paradigm does not entirely break with the colonial impetus to intervene and export institutions to replace traditional modes of organizing societies. Libya, with three independently declared states, or Afghanistan, where the United States and NATO led the largest “stabilization” mission ever, show that target countries are far from stable, prosperous, and peaceful.[6]

Detrimental approaches

At this point, two directions have emerged for the future of global peace-building and they were embodied by two leaders at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly: U.S. President Donald Trump and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Mr. Trump, embodying the nationalist self-interest view, showed that he is willing to use force against regimes he sees as problematic, even though he does not consider it his responsibility to rebuild other states with American-style institutions. Every state should prioritize its own population’s interests and with many strong, sovereign, and patriotic nations the global community could reach prosperity and peace. [7]

The latter should resonate well with Russia and China, two longtime self-proclaimed defendants of sovereignty against what they perceive as interventionism, as in Syria. Populist movements that want to see their people put “first” on political agendas would also be supportive. But nationalist self-interest has repeatedly proven detrimental for minorities under a majority rule according to Western institutions – for example during the fascist regimes in Europe during and after World War II.

Multilateralism, on the other hand, is based on the belief that a united approach is much more than the sum of its parts.[8] An international community is not as strong as its self-interested members who are ready to “destroy”[9] their enemies. Its strength is determined by a shared belief in common goals and an informed strategy to reach them. And this belief is the basis of the conflict prevention agenda put forward by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, [10] who has called for a shift from spending more resources on conflicts than on preventing them. Together with other multilateral organizations, like the World Bank,[11] he has implemented the first steps in his own organization, including a new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, increasing cooperation with regional organizations, and a focus on sustainable development for peace.[12]

A new multilateral peace paradigm

Mr. Guterres reminds the international community that cooperation for peace cannot only start after imminent threats. If states take their commitment to the UN seriously, they should design their policies according to a new, truly global, multilateral conflict prevention paradigm.

To be successful, states must address the issues that have made state building and stabilization approaches fail. The paradigm of liberal peace is not entirely wrong, but flawed in its conceptions of prosperity and democracy. Prosperity as net national economic growth with increasing inequalities, and democracy as a nationalist tyranny of the majority cannot lead to sustainable peace. As stated by French President Emmanuel Macron during the same General Assembly session, a belief in multilateralism is not naïve optimism or an “instrument of the weak,”  but the basis of the UN, and still the most efficient way of countering global threats and the law of the strongest. [13]

Now, action must follow. Policies under the new peace paradigm must reduce inequalities and foster inclusiveness at all levels. Respecting the diversity of institutions and societies, they must appreciate the particularities of every conflict, and acknowledge the need for context-specific, long-term solutions, instead of military interventions and neo-colonial exportation of Western institutions. And they should put the world’s most vulnerable people first. Mr. Guterres’ revival of “Human Rights up Front” is a great example of this at the UN-level. The Presidents of France and Nigeria have reminded the world to act on behalf of persecuted minorities around the world.[14] If other countries follow their lead, a true shift can take place; from interventionism, liberal peace-building, and ideological wars, towards a far-sighted approach to reigning in of self-interest and building a sustainably peaceful global society.


Photo Credits: UN Photo/Mark Garten



[1] In International Relations Theory, paradigms refer to “realism,” “liberalism,” “exceptionalism” etc. While these arguably influence peace-making paradigms, I argue it is appropriate to speak of a different set of paradigms in peace-building. For an overview of international relations theories and paradigms, see Walt, Stephen M. “International Relations: One World, Many Theories.” Foreign Policy, no. 110 (1998): 29-46. doi:10.2307/1149275.

[2] Oliver P. Richmond. Failed Statebuilding: Intervention, the State, and the Dynamics of Peace Formation. New Haevn; London: Yale University Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1thc.

[3] Aidan Hehir. “The myth of the failed state and the war on terror: A challenge to the conventional wisdom.” Journal of intervention and statebuilding1, no. 3 (2007): 307-332.

[4] Ken Menkhaus. “State Failure, State-Building, and Prospects for a “Functional Failed State” in Somalia.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 656, no. 1 (2014): 154-172.

[5] Government of the United Kingdom – Stabilization Unit. The UK Government’s Approach to Stabilisation (2014). http://sclr.stabilisationunit.gov.uk/publications/stabilisation-series.

[6] Astri Suhrke. “A contradictory mission? NATO from stabilization to combat in Afghanistan.” International Peacekeeping 15, no. 2 (2008): 214-236.

[7] Donald Trump. Statement at the 72. Regular Session United Nations General Assembly, New York, 19. September 2017. https://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/72/us_en.pdf

[8] Robert O. Keohane. “Multilateralism: an agenda for research.” International Journal 45, no. 4 (1990): 731-764.

[9] See note 7 above.

[10] Tanja Bernstein. “United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: The first 100 days.“ ZIF Policy Briefing. ZIF Center for International Peace Operations. April 2017. http://www.zif-berlin.org/fileadmin/uploads/analyse/dokumente/veroeffentlichungen/ZIF_Policy_Briefing_Bernstein_Guterres_April_2017_EN.pdf

[11] The World Bank Fragility, Conflict and Violence, Overview – Strategy & Partnerships (20.09.2017)


[12] Antonio Guterres. United Nations Secretary General Address to the 72. General Assembly, New York, 19 September 2017. https://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/72/unsg_en_fr_es.pdf

[13] Emmanuel Macron. Speech to the 72. General Assembly of the United Nations, New York, 19. September 2017. https://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/72/fr_en.pdf

[14] Gerrit Kurtz. “Making the United Nations System More Effective on Conflict Prevention”. Global Public Policy Institute. 24. July 2017. http://www.gppi.net/publications/peace-security/article/making-the-united-nations-system-more-effective-on-conflict-prevention/

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Sarah Bressan

Sarah Bressan is currently completing a Master’s degree in International Security and Political Science at Sciences Po Paris and Freie Universität Berlin. As a founding member of The Policy Corner, she has supported the project’s development in various capacities and currently manages our team project at Sciences Po.