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A Relational Approach to Peace Initiatives in Conflict situations

This tool is based on a dynamic and multi-causal understanding of conflicts and peacebuilding. Given that conflicts vary in time, this means that they manifest themselves differently in various areas of a given context and are produced by the combination of multiple social factors at the economic, political and cultural levels. This in turn implies that a range of actions is required if a comprehensive peace is to be achieved.

Three theoretical contributions support this approach:

  • Theoretical contribution 1a: Stages of conflict

The first theoretical contribution asserts that the evolution of conflicts has different phases or stages: a period of latency characterized by conditions that will possibly generate situations of confrontation between at least two of the actors; a time of confrontation, often in a violent manner, which leads the conflict to escalate or stabilize for a given duration; a time of rapprochement between the actors which can lead to the conflict’s de-escalation; and finally, a post-conflict period, which does not signify the end of the conflict, but instead the entrance into a new state of latency. In the various areas affected by conflict different stages can be manifest simultaneously.

  • Theoretical contribution 1b: Peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding

Parallel to this approach, peace theorists have proposed three main strategies for the transformation or resolution of conflicts: peacekeeping; peacemaking; and lastly, peacebuilding, a strategy that constructs peace and prevents the recurrence of violence. Here one finds prevention strategies [1], most required when the conflict is still latent or in the post-conflict phase and the goal is to prevent its resurgence. Peacekeeping efforts [2] are due during a phase of escalation in which the protection of the civil population from the impact of the armed conflict is most imminent. There is a need for negotiation and peacemaking [3] when rapprochement between the armed actors is achieved and they are in search of a peace agreement to put an end to the conflict. In turn, efforts towards the sustained construction of peace (peacebuilding) [4] seek to reconstruct social fabric and heal wounds in the post-conflict phase. This can support the reforms that aim to reverse exclusionary practices, which underlie the conflict, and advance the process of social reconciliation. Sustainable peacebuilding, needed during different phases of conflict, requires the creation of a culture of peace, rooted in social life, which operates as a preventative element for future violent conflicts. Considering that conflicts vary over time and that they pass through various phases in different areas of a given context; it is implied that the efforts in the construction of peace should simultaneously display strategies of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding, putting an emphasis on the strategy most pertinent to the phase of the conflict found in each particular context.

Image : The phases of conflict and comprehensive peace building:

  • Theoretical contribution 2: The relational approach

The proposed tool takes into account the dynamic nature of conflict in its analysis of peacebuilding processes. It therefore starts with looking at the strategies that the different actors affected by conflict apply and the situations that arise from the interaction between them.

The underlying conviction is that the interaction mechanisms between actors are what determine the changes that occur in the dynamics of conflict and the achievement of peace in specific territories. A second theoretical contribution is helpful in this regard: the relational approach developed by sociologists such as Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow and Doug MacAdam. It links the impact that peace initiatives may have on the situations of violence to their ability to alter the relations between the actors involved. The understanding and implementation of mechanisms that have the potential to alter the relationships between conflict actors will help to generate processes or circumstances favorable to the reduction of direct violence and the transformation of structural and cultural conditions favorable to peace.

In terms of understanding peace efforts, this approach has a significant implication: conflicts, both in their origin and in their development, depend on types of relationships that ensure the continuous creation of the conditions that keep conflicts alive. Similarly, their resolution cannot be thought of as acts of goodwill, (the government and guerrillas’ disposition towards peace, the participation of civil society, the involvement of the international community, etc.) but in terms of the transformation of the types of relationships that fuel the violent conflict. In a way, this approach focuses more on the transformation of the relationships amidst particular conflicts, in which negotiation is just one moment, rather than holding a view in which conflict takes one trajectory (at the beginning of the journey), passes through negotiation (in the middle) and arrives at peace (at the end). This implies analytically abandoning the opposing purist correlation between peace and violence, between violent actors and peaceful actors, and between acts of peace and acts of war. If the objective is to give an account of the transformation of the relationships, peace and violence would not be more than elements of a long term social process, and not easily reduced to states of "peace" and "violence."

The practical application of this approach is that a possible intervention in the relationship between the opponents aiming to transform their interaction patterns would be much more effective than "(...) the attempts to modify individual behavior, to impose greater limitations on impulses or to eliminate harmful ideas " (Tilly: 2007, 9). Accordingly, the creation of conditions for peace would occur, in large part, through the understanding, intervention and modification of the dominant forms of interaction and negotiation between the actors directly involved in the conflict.

lImage: Relational analysis of the actors and the dynamics of conflict and peace:

Thus, the tool offers a dynamic perspective of conflicts and the possibility for changing the conditions that have led to violence.

  • Theoretical contribution 3: Social change theory

The third theoretical contribution refers to the theories of social change. The idea behind the discussion of social change is that there exists a state of things likely to change, reaffirming the dynamic view according to which reality is not inevitable but can still be affected and altered. Authors such as Lofland (1993: 23) and Garcia (2006: 61) assert that theories of change in organizations and peace movements can be understood as the way they conceive and define the nature of conflict and pose effective alternatives (the initiatives’ cultural frameworks and justifications) [5].

Finally, as previously mentioned, this dynamic perspective of conflicts requires a comprehensive and procedural vision of peace. Fisas Vicenç´s (1998) concept of peace, which incorporates Johan Galtung´s concepts of positive and negative peace, asserts this holistic and procedural view of peace: "If we call the absence of war which negative peace, the absence of violence would equate a positive peace, in the sense of social justice, harmony, satisfaction of basic needs (survival, welfare, identity and freedom), independence, dialogue, solidarity, integration and equity.¨ In this comprehensive perspective, the concepts of peace and development go hand in hand; Fernán González expresses it in the following way (1999, 5): ¨the construction of peace is essentially linked to the development of the regions affected by the political and social conflict and the construction of a public space for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.¨

[1Prevention is understood as all actions taken to prevent the escalation of existing conflicts to a violent level within society. It includes the identification of problems and conflicts that could lead to violence; the design and implementation of policies to positively transform these conflicts; and early warning systems aimed at preventing the eruption of violence and its effects on civilians (Cf. López, 2004: Volume II, pp. 963-964; Suifon, 2005).

[2Peacekeeping is not only understood, as it commonly is, as military operations to maintain peace (see López, 2004: Volume II, pp. 923-926). We consider other peace studies which also include civil actions to contain the conflict and open spaces for peacebuilding. “Most people think of peacekeeping as a military activity, involving troops sent into a conflict area by the United Nations or some other official body to stop the fighting and restore order. In its broader sense, however, peacekeeping can include any activity that seeks to reduce violence and create a safe environment for other peacebuilding activities to take place. Many peacekeeping activities can be carried out just as effectively by unarmed civilians” (Wallis and Samayoa 2005, 363). We also consider part of this peace containment as work achieved by the victims and at-risk populations who have strengthened their capacity to resist the actions of the armed actors.

[3Peacemaking (the establishment of peace) is understood as all the efforts made to advance negotiations leading to a peace agreement that would put an end to armed conflict. (see López, 2004: Volume II, p. 926). This includes all of the efforts that form part of the peace process; mediation efforts and rapprochement of the actors; negotiations; peace agreements; and conditions that establish the DDR and the post-conflict phase. (see Darby and MacGinty, 2003).

[4Peacebuilding (the construction of peace) is understood as all the efforts being made to build a durable and sustainable peace and to prevent the resurgence of armed conflict. It includes virtually all aspects of life in society who have been affected by armed conflict. It entails, among other efforts, the implementation of peace agreements, the reconstruction of society after the war, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of armed groups involved in the conflict, the political and social reforms that seek to address structural problems that underlie the conflict, the promotion of alternative development, the promotion of a culture of peace, the process of transitional justice and an accurate account of the past, and the promotion of the dynamics of reconciliation in a society fractured by conflict (see López, 2004: Volume II, pp. 920-922; Reychler & Paffenholz, 2001, van Tongeren et al, 2005).

[5See the approximation about change, social movement and collective action espoused by Benjamin Tejerina, which highlights the need to understand the history of social movements from the "normative and symbolic elements" in addition to the three areas in which different authors coincide: political opportunity, structures of mobilization and social processes. (Mc Adam, McCarthy and Zald) in Social Movements. Pedro Ibarra. comp. p111