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Brussels, November 2007

Scope of conflict interventions: an overview of peace strategies

Examining the aspects of time, geography and the level of society in an intervention strategy

Up to now, conflict interventions have been categorised according to different aspects: objectives, actors, methods and strategy. Three more aspects that are very relevant when either planning or evaluating a nonviolent intervention has yet to be introduced: time, horizontal geographical scope and the level of society the intervention addresses.


Everybody distinguishes short, middle and long-term goals and activities. But it should not be taken for granted that any two persons mean the same thing when they use these terms. Orienting ourselves to the time dimension proposed by John Paul Lederach will be beneficial here. The proposal has the advantage of not being guided by funding directives that describe every project that is longer than one year as long-term just because funds are dispersed annually.

Lederach distinguishes :

  • immediate action (2-6 months) as crisis intervention;

  • short-range planning (1-2 years) mainly used for preparation and training (capacity building);

  • the middle-range decade thinking (5-10 years) for developing a design of social change; and

  • the long-range generational vision (20+ years) for developing a “vision of what we are trying to achieve in order to build toward and reach that vision”(1).

Levels of society

John Paul Lederach’s goes on to distinguishes between three levels of society (top, middle and grassroots), and attributes certain approaches to peace building(2) to each of them.

Most authors dealing with the levels of society in relationship to conflict intervention agree that it is of paramount importance for interveners to reach all three levels. This does not mean that it is necessary for each intervener to have contact with all levels, but intervention needs to reach all of them. An agreement made between top leaders is likely to fail if it does not have the support of the masses - the grassroots level. And vice versa, small grassroots initiatives might find themselves run over by violence, outlawed or simply pushed to the side if the top leaders are not reached as well. Therefore, the middle-range actors play a special role. They may co-ordinate top-level decisions with grassroots realities (3).

Table 1.7 Actors and approaches to peacebuilding

See Associated Documents

Geographical scope

It is known that some projects will only reach one local community or even only one part of that community, others will have an impact on the whole country and/or on the conflict as a whole.

In recent years more and more notice has been given to the development of local peace zones. These are single communities or a number of communities where violence does not take root, which remain peaceful in a violent surrounding, sometimes against all odds. There is little knowledge about what is needed in order to have a local project impact on the conflict as a whole.

Not all interventions involve going to the place where the conflict is. As has been mentioned before, influencing other external parties to get involved, or working on unjust structures might well take place far away from the actual conflict (in the powerful countries(4) ).

Peace strategies

Terms like “strategy” and “tactics” have spilled over from the military jargon not only to common language, but also to thinkers about nonviolence(5). Because there are different, some times contradictory usages (6) of these terms, it is necessary to define what they mean. I will follow Burrowes’ (1996) example and first go back to the military terminology as developed by Clausewitz and Liddell Hart (1967). Liddell Hart defined strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfil the ends of policy”(7) , policy being what “governs the object of war”. Military means can also be called tactics - activities taken within the framework of a strategy. Gene Sharp defines grand strategy, strategy and tactics without referring to its military origin:

“Grand strategy is the broader conception which serves to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of the struggle group toward the attainment of the objectives of the conflict. Strategy, a more narrow term, is the broad plan of action for the overall struggle, including the development of an advantageous situation, the decision of when to fight, and the broad plan for utilising various specific actions in the general conflict. Tactics refers to plans for more limited conflicts within the selected strategic plan.”(8)

Jean-Marie Muller puts it more simply:

“Strategy concerns the conception and execution which regulates and co-ordinates the different activities of an intervention; tactics concerns the conception and execution of each of these activities.”(9)

In this paper the terms “strategy” and “tactics” will be used as Sharp and Muller defined them.

Strategies of conflict intervention

Since the Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali(10), published the Agenda for Peace, the terms peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding have become well known. But it wasn’t Boutros-Ghali who invented them, nor were they originally meant to function in a strict sequential order as Boutros-Ghali puts them. Johan Galtung - who called them “approaches to peace” 20 years before Boutros-Ghali, first described these three peace strategies(11). Since then these terms have been refined by other authors such as the social anthropologist Stephen Ryan (1995). When referred to in this study, they are used within the broad civilian tradition, and not in the tradition of reserved for the UN. Together, these three strategies (or rather “grand strategies”) formulate a general theory of maintaining peace: “keeping the opponents apart, negotiating a political solution and finally, tying the adversaries into something that one could call a peace system.”(12)

Johan Galtung defines peacekeeping as (to): “control the actors so that they at least stop destroying things, others, and themselves”(13).

Peacemaking “is concerned with the search for a negotiated resolution of the perceived conflicts of interests between the parties”(14). Activities shall be called peacemaking activities if they bring together groups or individuals in dialogue about possible resolution of the conflict. Contrary to Ryan’s notion, this can occur at the diplomatic level or between ordinary citizens that are caught in the conflict.

Peacebuilding “is the strategy which most directly tries to reverse those destructive processes that accompany violence”(15).

These strategies must not be confused with certain activities. For example: “dialogue” might be used both to find a solution to the conflict and to foster understanding between two groups in conflict. The former usage puts it in the realm of peacemaking, and the later in the realm of peacebuilding. This shows that many activities include aspects of at least two, if not all three strategies. Nevertheless, I believe that it makes sense to distinguish between them because they highlight different functions and problems.

The three strategies need to be applied at the same time (16). Peacekeeping without peacemaking and peacebuilding would be very difficult because the violence might overwhelm the process, and any group wishing to sabotage a peace initiative would find it easy to provoke armed clashes. If peacebuilding is ineffective, the decision-makers might lose the support of their communities, and if peacemaking is ineffective, the perceived disagreement that caused the conflict will remain unresolved, and the probability that violence would start again soon is high(17).

The three strategies are not per se nonviolent strategies. As has been shown before, they may include coercion - like mediation with muscle or military peacekeeping. But on the other side, all nonviolent tactics/methods can easily be related to one, or sometimes to more then one of the strategies (18).

The peace strategies are usually presented as strategies to be used after a conflict has escalated to violence. Ryan and Galtung as well as Butros-Gali seem to assume this although the first two reject the idea of a sequential order for their application.

It shall be argued here that the same strategies are also used before the violence takes place. They are usually covered by the term prevention, but looking closely at what activities (tactics) fall under prevention, it is obvious that they are broadly the same. Therefore, although prevention is an important concept when looking at any given conflict, the peace strategies used are the same no matter if the conflict is pre-violent or post-violent, only some of the tactics (means) used might differ. The difference is that prevention deals with the formation of the conflict while the three peace strategies deal with violent conflict, conflict transformation and social change(19). Prevention includes what otherwise is called peacemaking such as diplomacy and peacemaking efforts by local actors. There has been preventive peacekeeping (UN peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, for example(20) ). The most sustainable tactics of prevention have to do with socio-economic change, good governance and the like(21).

Table 1.8. See Associated documents

Looking at the peace strategies in detail

Peacekeeping is a primarily dissociative approach. Galtung points out that the idea of keeping the opponents apart is also the underlying philosophy of the politics of balance of power(22) . Peacekeeping, “is often the most urgent and necessary of all peace strategies because it is the only one which deals directly with the warriors on all sides who are engaged in mutual destruction.”(23) It is traditionally considered a task of the military and perhaps the police. The practice developed by the UN of sending peacekeeping troops, so-called blue helmets, gave the strategy of peacekeeping a classical instrument; strategy and instrument often are considered synonymous. There is no logical reason why unarmed civilians could not carry out the same task, and there have been some cases of larger-scale civilian peacekeeping actions (see 2.4).

Authors (24)who are mainly interested in nonviolent intervention have broadened the concept of peacekeeping to include other, smaller-scale activities like (unarmed) accompaniment of activists threatened by death squads. Since these activities are also about control of violence by using a dissociative approach, it makes sense to include them in the peacekeeping strategy, only with a more limited scope than the violence of a conflict as a whole. Lisa Schirch describes four approaches of separating the parties involved in a conflict:

  • Buffer zones (“demilitarised and unpatrolled areas”)

  • Peace zones (“civilian-occupied spaces where no fighting takes place”)

  • Interposition peacekeeping (“peacekeepers placing themselves physically between groups engaged in violent conflict in an impartial stance to all parties”)

  • Antirecessionary peacekeeping (which “maintains unequal distance between the parties” and is used when the parties in conflict are not easily separated

Generally, two main tactics of peacekeeping can be distinguished: accompaniment of individuals and groups, and monitoring of situations.

Ryan distinguishes three methods of peacemaking (25)as the imposition of a solution through either:

  • 1. Violence and power

  • 2. Law

  • 3. Negotiation (classical mediation or second-track diplomacy)

Much of the literature on conflict resolution deals with negotiation and related methods. In fact, often conflict resolution is used interchangeably with peacemaking(26), because peacemaking is the strategy that deals with the contents of a conflict. Many different tactics and methods have been proposed. Again, the terminology varies widely among the different authors. I would like to make mention of two issues in this context:

First, there is usually a continuum defined between third-party negotiators who use considerable pressure to bring the parties in conflict to an agreement (examples: the Dayton agreement after the NATO bombing in Bosnia 1995, and the Rambouillet negotiations carried out under the threat of military intervention in 1999), and third-party negotiators who act as facilitators helping the parties in conflict to find their own solution. How these different negotiating techniques are named, differs. Perhaps the major confusion stems from the fact that in international politics mediation is often used for the more coercive forms of negotiation, while in the intra-societal projects (family mediation, community mediation) mediation means exactly the opposite viz. not making one’s own proposals.

Kumar Rupesinghe proposes some rather fundamental differences between state versus non-state diplomacy.(27) State-based diplomacy is, he says, based on perceived self-interests, state-to-state relations, the principle of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. It relies on UN, international organisations and bilateral governmental relations, and is a short-term approach. Non-state diplomacy, in contrast, is based on people-to-people relations, concentrates on trust building, networking and solidarity, has a long-term commitment, is flexible and creative and is low-profile foundation building.

Finally, Peacebuilding, more than peacekeeping and peace making, is the grand strategy because the ordinary people are included in the peace process. There are many examples of peace processes that have failed because there was no peacebuilding. The recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a good example of this problem.

Peacebuilding activities include many very different tasks.

One major sector of peacebuilding is those tactics, which concentrate on encounter between the opponents, having as a goal the removal of distrust and hatred, and making it possible for former enemies to live together. Ryan emphasises that encounters per se are usually not helpful because interaction alone might not reduce prejudice and tension. He distinguishes seven sub-strategies of peacebuilding that combine contact with something else :(28)

  • 1. Contact plus forgiveness is the religious approach of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others. The question is, is it pragmatic enough to reach a sufficient number of persons?

  • 2. Contact plus the pursuit of superordinate goals (joint sports, inclusion in a state umbrella like the EU etc);

  • 3. Contact plus economic development, as soon as there is subjective economic justice for both sides;

  • 4. Contact plus confidence building (e.g. law reforms);

  • 5. Contact plus education for mutual understanding (e.g. multi-ethnic schools);

  • 6. Prejudice reduction;

  • 7. Exploring cultures.

There are other psycho/social tactics as well, for example, psychological aid for traumatised people.

Peacebuilding activities in the social/economic field include resettlement of refugees, development co-operation, rebuilding of infrastructure and the revitalisation of the economy etc.

Among political measures are the organisation of elections, establishment of democratic rules and rule of law, development of civil society, free media, respect for human rights and the like.(29)

On dissociative and associative characteristics

At the end of the day, all non-violent conflict transformation is about bringing the parties in conflict together in a new relationship, and probably in a new context. This is what the nonviolent approach distinguishes from other approaches: Nonviolence always is searching for a future for all parties to the conflict, while other approaches might be content to have pacified and silenced one side, or in the extreme case even aim at their extinction.

The peace strategies described above have been characterised either as associative or as dissociative, with peacekeeping being the strategy that is considered primarily dissociative. This means that it is mostly intended to keep the parties in conflict apart, by being a buffer that cannot be passed over without sanctions (blue helmets monitoring ceasefire lines and buffer zones, civilian peace monitors interpositioning themselves between demonstrators and the police etc.). It is what Mahony/Eguren(30) call a strategy of deterrence where the potential aggressor is kept from attacking because he fears the consequences. These can be anything from international pressure and sanctions to losing face or relapse into general war. But behind this dissociative character there is an eventual associative element, even if it is an indirect one. Peacekeeping or creating the precondition necessary for allowing other work of bringing the parties together, fighting for justice and for political change is the reason why a dissociative strategy has a place in conflict transformation.

Two aspects regarding association need to be mentioned as well:

The first is that association may be easier for some social groups than for others. A primary example is the experience of women who often find it easier to relate to each other than to men. Because women are not as involved in direct fighting as men and because women are politically low-key having and no public leadership roles in most societies, and because they may find it easier to identify with each other across conflict lines since they share many common life experiences and interests. This fact has even been recognised by the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Women(31) , and by the theme “Women, Peace and Security: Women Managing Conflict” of 2001’s International Women’s Day.

The second is what Johan Galtung has named the “Great Chain of Nonviolence”(32) , where at first the association is at least an indirect one. There are conflicts where the two sides are socio-psychologically so distant from each other, one side having de-humanised the other, that no direct communication is possible. In that case external parties may step in and create an indirect link. One example is the occupation of the American continent by the Europeans in the 15th century. At the beginning, the occupiers denied any humanity to the Indians, believing them to be mere animals. Only when some courageous members of the Catholic Church intervened was this view changed. These church representatives clearly belonged to one of the parties in the conflict - the party of the occupiers. But exactly because they did, they managed to get a hearing. Another example is the event in Berlin, Germany 1944 where the Jewish husbands of German-Arian women were arrested and were to be deported to concentration camps, the women protested in front of the police headquarters, and eventually achieved the release of their husbands.(33)

Sometimes more than one intermediary might be needed; some intermediaries will share social characteristics with the oppressed, others will be socially closer to the oppressors.(34)


  • (1) : Lederach 1997:76 f, referring to Elise Boulding for the generational vision.

  • (2) : What Lederach subsumes under ‘building peace’ in this text later will be distinguished into ‘peacemaking’ and ‘peacebuilding’.

  • (3) : Schirch 1995:1, citing an unpublished manuscript by Lederach.

  • (4) : Think of the anti-war movement against the Vietnam war in the US which eventually played a major role in bringing the government round to withdraw from Vietnam (Boulding 2000:78).

  • (5) : The most recent examples are possibly Burrowes 1996 and Muller 1999.

  • (6) For example, Ropers call “strategies of conflict resolution” things like “directive mediation”, “non-directive mediation” and so on (Ropers 1995:46f). These would in my terminology be tactics.

  • (7) : Liddell Hart 1967: 321f, quoted from Burrowes 1996:29.

  • (8) : Sharp 1973:493.

  • (9) : Muller 1999 p.4, translated by CS.

  • (10) : Boutros-Ghali 1992.

  • (11) : Reprinted in Galtung 1982.

  • (12) : Galtung 1982:8, quoted after Müller/Büttner 1998:8.

  • (13) : Galtung 1996:103. His original definition: Peacekeeping aims to “halt and reduce the manifest violence of the conflict through the intervention of military forces in an interpositioning role” (Galtung 1975:282-304, quoted after Miall et al 1999:186 f. This is the original English version of the article otherwise quoted here as Galtung 1982.

  • (14) : Ryan 1995:106. Galtung 1975 a.a.O. describes peacemaking as being ‘directed at reconciling political and strategic attitudes through mediation, negotiation, arbitration and conciliation’

  • (15) : Ryan 1995:129. Galtung 1975 a.a.O.: Peacebuilding addresses ‘the practical implementation of peaceful social change through socio-economic reconstruction and development’.

  • (16) : Lederach, who acknowledges the need for a comprehensive approach in order to achieve conflict transformation, uses the term ‘peacebuilding’ for all three of them. (Lederach 1994:14). In order to avoid confusion, I prefer the more narrow definition.

  • (17) : Ryan 1995:117f.

  • (18) : see Müller-Büttner 1998.

  • (19) : Miall et al 1999:16.

  • (20) : Moeller in: Matthies (ed) 1997:278-304.

  • (21) : Miall et al 1999:111 pp. distinguish ‘light’ prevention (diplomacy) and ‘deep’ prevention (promoting good governance).

  • (22) : Galtung 1982:53.

  • (23) Ryan 1995:106.

  • (24) Schirch 1995, Mahony/Eguren 1997.

  • (25) : Ryan 1995:106 pp.

  • (26) : See Ropers 1995.

  • (27) : Rupesinghe1998:111

  • (28) : Ryan 1995:134 pp.

  • (29) : See Miall et al 1999:203 (but attention: they define peacebuilding more broadly than it is defined here), and Ropers 1995.

  • (30) : Mahony/Eguren 1997:84 pp.

  • (31) : Security Council resolution 1325 (S/RES/1325) of 31 October 2000 urged an enhanced role for women in preventing conflict, promoting peace, and assisting in post-conflict reconstruction and the incorporation of a gender perspective into United Nations operations. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, the Security Council devoted an entire session to a debate on women’s experiences in conflict and post-conflict situations and their contributions to peace.

  • (32) : Galtung 1988, Galtung 1996:118 pp.

  • (33) : Jochheim 1993

  • (34) : Galtung 1996:118