Institution-building lies at the heart of most peace-building mandates. Experience has shown that laying the foundations for effective government institutions is of fundamental importance for securing durable peace in post-conflict societies.
However, despite many years of effort in a range of different settings throughout the world, it is far easier to point to examples of qualified failure than it is to any of unqualified success. Put simply: effective institution building is inherently difficult; no clear blueprint exists for doing it effectively; and considerable work remains to be done to develop both our understanding of best practice and the practical tools available to us to do the job. This discussion on post-conflict institution-building is therefore timely.
New Zealand has been a key contributor to numerous peacebuilding operations, including our participation in successive UN Missions in Timor-Leste, and in UN-mandated operations in Bougainville, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands. We are actively engaged in the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s process for developing and monitoring Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations in these countries. We have also been active in providing bilateral peacebuilding assistance within our region and beyond.
I would like to share the following lessons we have drawn from our past involvement in institution-building in post-conflict societies.
First, missions with a significant institution-building component must make national capacity building a core consideration in their planning and operations from Day One.
This requires a careful assessment of existing domestic capacities and identification of priority capacity-building needs from the earliest stages of mandate formation. Such assessments must also consider how the benefits of institution-building can be spread beyond capital cities, both through helping extend the reach of national institutions, and by ensuring local and regional capacity building needs are taken into account in planning and priority setting.
Effective institution-building also requires consideration at each successive phase of a Mission’s life of how its activities can best foster national capacities, and, conversely, how they can avoid displacing such capacities where they exist or stifling their emergence. This is as true of a Mission’s indirect impact on local business as it is of its direct impact on government institutions. In this regard, further consideration is merited of how a greater emphasis on local procurement can contribute to the development of local economies.
Effective institution-building requires a clear definition from the very earliest stages of Mission planning of the specific institution-building objectives being pursued, and of how assistance will transition from the Mission to traditional development partners once these have been achieved. This is essential, for example, for Missions such as UNMIT in Timor-Leste if they are to achieve a smooth transition over the coming years.
Further work is required to develop the tools for rigorous evidence-based analysis necessary for a more consistent approach to planning and managing transitions. We support the ongoing efforts of the Secretariat in this regard.
At the same time, it is necessary to balance this clarity in direction and ultimate goals with sufficient flexibility for Mission leadership to enable them to be responsive to changes in their often fluid operating environments.
Secondly, institution-building must be pursued in accordance with nationally agreed priorities and objectives.
This is not only a requirement of meaningful national ownership, it is also crucial for facilitating effective coordination of international assistance, and for improving prospects that capacities being developed will be sustained over the long term.
National ownership can itself act as a catalyst for the strengthening of domestic institutional capacity. Recent experience of domestically-led annual and medium-term national development planning in Timor-Leste has demonstrated what is possible when host Governments are given adequate space to articulate their own needs and priorities. But in many cases this also requires early attention to building capacity in core government institutions responsible for national planning and priority-setting, as well as those responsible for seeking and absorbing international assistance.
Local communities and civil society play a crucial role in holding together the fabric of conflict-affected societies. It is therefore important that an inclusive approach is taken to post-conflict planning and priority-setting that ensures their perspectives are also adequately reflected. Our experience has also demonstrated the importance of ensuring the full, equal and meaningful participation by women in each stage of post-conflict institution-building.
Thirdly, institution-building assistance must be grounded in a clear-eyed assessment of what capacities are appropriate and sustainable over the long term.
Missions must ensure that the institutions they help develop are capable of surviving their departure without placing excessive strain on the limited resources of host Governments. To do otherwise is to risk generating expectations that cannot be fulfilled, or to set states up for long-term dependence on external assistance.
Timely, well planned, and phased departures - rooted firmly in the local context - are an important consideration to ensure that national capacities remain sustainable.
Fourthly, effective coordination of institution-building assistance is crucial to ensure its coherence and effectiveness.
The past few years have seen important strides made within the UN system on Delivering as One. This nevertheless remains a work in progress. It is vital that clarity is established early on amongst actors and leadership teams on the ground regarding respective roles and responsibilities, and regarding which UN agency is best placed to lead in each sector and on each task.
Better coordination is also required with other actors, notably international financial institutions, bilateral donors, and civil society. In particular, we welcome ongoing efforts by the Secretary-General to enhance UN-World Bank coordination on post-conflict institution-building, both at headquarters and in the field. Significant scope still remains to make such coordination more systematic and effective, and we encourage both organisations to work towards this goal.
Fifthly, there must be a clear recognition of which institution-building tasks Council-mandated Missions are best placed to lead, and on which tasks other actors may enjoy a comparative advantage.
UN Missions have demonstrated the crucial role they have to play in carrying out immediate peacekeeping and stabilization tasks, and in supporting the early development of core state institutions necessary for maintaining stability and security. Missions also have a central role to play in the early articulation of institution-building priorities and in providing a platform for the provision of assistance by others.
However, given the inherently specialised and long-term nature of institution-building challenges, many will remain better suited to agencies and donors with a longer-term focus and with a greater accumulation of relevant skills and experience.
Finally, there is an urgent need to enhance the UN’s ability to identify and deploy relevant civilian expertise in a timely manner.
Effective institution-building requires a complex and diverse mix of skills from a broad range of disciplines, a blend of relevant domain and development expertise that is in many cases in short supply globally. A key lesson from recent peace-building experience has been that existing mechanisms for generating such expertise in a timely manner are inadequate.
Too often the expertise provided is determined by available supply rather than identified need. Too often the process of identifying and deploying experts drags on for a year or more. And too often the ad hoc nature in which expertise is generated results in it being provided by a plethora of actors with differing and even conflicting approaches and advice.
If we are truly serious about the UN playing a leading role in post-conflict institution-building there is an urgent need to significantly strengthen the UN’s ability to rapidly identify and deploy appropriately-skilled civilian experts; utilising local skills and expertise as much as possible.
To achieve this, Member States need to provide the Secretariat with greater flexibility to mobilise and utilise existing expertise from throughout the UN system. In turn, the Secretariat needs to continue exploring more flexible arrangements for utilising the resources offered by Member States, such as those currently being employed in Missions such as UNMIT. And we need to consider how the UN can develop better mechanisms for drawing on external pools of relevant civilian expertise at the national and regional level, particularly those from the Global South.
In this regard, we look forward to receiving the report of the recent review of international civilian capacities, which we hope will provide concrete suggestions in each of these areas.
Institution-building in post-conflict societies is a complex, difficult and costly challenge that defies easy generalisations and quick fixes. It requires the sustained investment of resources and expertise over many years, with uncertain prospects for success and many paths to potential failure. But equally, building effective and resilient institutions is a fundamental requirement for building a durable peace.
We have much to learn about how post-conflict institution-building is best carried out, and much work to do to provide ourselves with the tools necessary to undertake these tasks successfully. But it is vital that we do learn the lessons, both positive and negative, from our collective experiences to date in order to strengthen our performance, and move a step closer to meeting the lofty goals we have set ourselves in this area.