Post-conflict policies and activities: An EC perspective

The rationale for and nature of post-conflict peace building
The international Community has progressively acknowledged a concept of peace  building embracing the moral and political responsibility to help societies recover from violent conflict.  This is underpinned by the twin recognition that, firstly, post-conflict reconstruction is a complex and expensive process which the concerned country can rarely undertake on its own and, secondly, that the enormous cost in human suffering of violent conflicts will be perpetuated unless the long term-causes of the original war are addressed and the problems solved.


Beyond the moral imperatives of the “responsibility to rebuild”, post conflict activities simply make economic sense. Fifty percent of peace agreements break down within five years of signature. It is a lot cheaper to channel conflict into dialogue and constructive action than to deal with the consequences once it has regenerated into violent confrontation.
The nature of post-conflict peace building has been best described by the UN Secretary-General in his 1998 report on The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa:

“By post-conflict peace-building, I mean actions undertaken at the end of a conflict to consolidate peace and prevent a recurrence of armed confrontation. Experience has shown that the consolidation of peace in the aftermath of conflict requires more than purely diplomatic and military action, and that an integrated peace building effort is needed to address the various factors which have caused or are threatening a conflict. Peace building may involve the creation or strengthening of national institutions, monitoring elections, promoting human rights, providing for reintegration and rehabilitation programmes, as well as creating conditions for resumed development”

Peace building is thus to be understood as going well beyond post-war reconstruction, for to reconstruct after a war may simply be to put back in place the system and structures that led to war in the first place. Its four components are interdependent pillars:

  •  security
  •  socio-economic development,
  •  building political institutions and
  •  reconciliation

If there is a failure on any one of these areas the whole structure may collapse.

The EU‘s approach to post-conflict peace building and the role of the European Commission
The European Union has, since its origins, engaged in conflict prevention through a number of instruments directly or indirectly relevant to this particular area of foreign policy.  The very nature of the EU helps to explain the rational behind its commitment to conflict prevention:  The EU is in itself a peace project, and a supremely successful one.  This was explicitly recognized in the original 1952 Treaty of the European Coal and Steel Community which resolved to “create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts”.  Thus the European Union has underpinned the reconciliation and peaceful development of Western Europe over the last half century, helping to consolidate democracy and to assure prosperity.

However it was not until the Communication on Conflict Prevention (COM (2001) 211 final of 11 April 2001) that the Commission explicitly stated that conflict prevention was a key cross-cutting issue for Community external relations in general and external aid/development co-operation in particular[2].  This Communication represented an important policy contribution on the Community side to the EU Programme in the Prevention of Violent Conflict adopted by the Göteborg European Council in June 2001.

Rather than looking at the traditional model of conflict which does not address the recurring nature of many conflicts, the EU has thus acknowledged the cyclical nature of conflict. Its definition of conflict prevention policies and activities ranges from situations where there has not been a violent conflict in recent years, situations of pre-conflict with significant violence signaling possible escalation through to situations of recent violent conflict where peace is being restored.  In the latter conflict prevention aims to “avoid a relapse or re-igniting of violence."

Within the overall EU institutional framework, the scope for the European Commission for engaging in post conflict reconstruction is extensive and concerns primarily the so-called First Pillar.  This contains institutions, procedures and instruments assigned to the European Community (EC) by the Treaties. It covers the EC's original areas of competence, such as agriculture, industrial policy, and the common market. Also included in the EC portfolio are external policy areas connected to the common market, such as international trade and development  where the EU can engage in post-conflict reconstruction through a wide range of external assistance policy frameworks (for ACP-Africa, Caribbean & Pacific, ALA-Asia/Latin America, MED- Mediterranean countries, PHARE and TACIS-central and eastern European countries and CARDS-Balkan countries), through targeted economic measures (regional integration, relief, rehabilitation and development), and through special programmes for human rights, gender and democratization.

As stated in the Communication on Conflict Prevention, EC assistance in post-conflict situations “will concentrate on the consolidation of peace and the prevention of future conflicts, in particular through rehabilitation programmes, child- related rehabilitation measures and DDR programmes as well as programmes supporting reconciliation processes”.

Through agreement with the parties to the conflict, the Commission has been able to fund rehabilitation projects in a number of sectors, including water, gas and electricity supply, new school buildings, agricultural development and railways. In order to provide a secure physical environment for reconstruction, demining operations have also been made a priority in post-conflict situations (e.g. EC mine action in 2004 is focused on Bosnia Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia/Abkhazia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan, Angola, Eritrea and Peru/Ecuador). A Regulation on antipersonnel landmines, provides for destruction of landmines and specific rehabilitation programmes both for affected individuals and communities.

Another important area - not least in its link to stabilising the security situation - is that of Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR). Too often in the past, the international community has overlooked the specific concerns of former combatants in countries emerging from conflict. The assumption has been that once a peace agreement has been signed, fighters from each side will return quietly to their homes. Fortunately, the international Community has come to recognise the importance of ensuring adequate provisions for the reintegration of former combatants and to incorporate such provisions into the negotiation and implementation of peace agreements.

The Commission has a lot to contribute in this area. Along with several other donors, the Commission has for instance supported the demobilisation process in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Burundi and Eritrea.

A major area where action is often required to prevent the recurrence of conflict in vulnerable post-conflict situations is the one of children affected by armed conflict. During times of conflict, displacement and general insecurity can interrupt children's normal learning environment. Thus, as a direct result of crises, children often spend a long time in refugee camps without access to education or other value-creating activities, and as a consequence, they are often left with no other choice than joining rebel groups or participating in criminal activities after the conflict. Thus, emergency education programmes as well as child related rehabilitation measures are crucial to ensure that children and young adults do not become destabilizing elements in post crisis situations. Therefore, children are a cross-cutting priority for EC humanitarian assistance, and the Commission has funded emergency education for children affected by armed conflict in countries such as DRC, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. Moreover, the Commission is directly supporting international efforts to improve the availability of hard core data on children affected by armed conflict.

The importance of reconciliation processes needs also to be borne in mind. The EC’s well recognised support for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good example.

The link between relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD) of 23 April 2001 is central to the overall  purpose of conflict prevention. The communication on LRRD of identifies a range of measures that could improve the Community’s contribution to international efforts in post crises situations. This includes better integration of the long-term perspective into relief operations, adaptation of development programmes and instruments in order to allow for quicker and more effective take-over from relief interventions and improved donor coordination.

Lessons learned : the Afghanistan case
Post conflict reconstruction is a complex process where political and financial trade offs are almost inevitable as resources are limited and needs immense.

The track record of the international Community in this area is mixed. As stated by the International Commission on intervention and state sovereignty, too often in the past, the responsibility of the international community to rebuild war torn countries has been “insufficiently recognized, the commitment to help with reconstruction has been inadequate  and countries have often found themselves   at the end of the day still wrestling with the underlying  problems that produced the original conflict”.

Given its interests and ambitions and the considerable resources it has committed to assistance and co-operation, there is no doubt that the EC should continue to seek to project stability also beyond its own borders.  An examination of the EC’s recent actions in Afghanistan provides a case study of the strengths and weaknesses of the EC’s post-conflict response:

The main lesson which has been drawn is the importance of identifying a strategic focus for EC support early on helps for a rapid start up and impact. Whilst the EC performed acceptably in this regard in Afghanistan, a more aggressive proactive approach in the initial stage could have benefited the operation.  A key is to focus funds on no more than three sectors (unless the country is particularly small and the budget exceedingly large). This may appear arbitrary but in practice it can facilitate the whole crisis response. The selection of sectors will depend on the country’s needs as identified in the EC’s strategy but obvious choices where the EC has clear comparative advantage include good governance, economic infrastructure (eg. roads or urban utilities) and social sectors such as education or rural development.

Whatever the few core areas, an allocation should also be made for small projects in civil society, media and political work (eg. elections preparation). Management of such projects is resource-intensive but they can have a high impact and visibility. The EC must also recognise that while cross cutting themes (especially demining and gender) should be integrated into all projects, they can also usefully be addressed with specific and separate allocations as well (eg. parks for women in Afghanistan).

The EC should aim for a geographic focus where large countries are concerned, although flexibility is required in the early phases as emergencies dictate. In this regard, most of the peace dividend tends to be overly focused on the main cities.

A coordinated EU wide response is called for from the outset, avoiding the danger of having up to 26 different (Member States plus Commission) responses to the same problem. To this end, coordination networks for politics and assistance should be set up immediately with the EU member states both in the field and at HQ and political pressure should be exerted early on at the highest level possible to agree who does what and where. An EU coordinated approach was pursued in Afghanistan and helped avoid overlap on certain sectors and regions but a clearer political objective of arriving at an EU wide response was missing.

In the first year of any post conflict situation, emergency repair and employment generation (correctly) will be the dominant objectives of all projects whatever the sector so as to restart and stabilise the economy and to prevent resurgent conflict.  But from the outset, the EC must not let this initial emergency focus deflect it from preparing projects with longer term developmental goals. Experts should be used from the needs assessment phase to start developing these longer-term projects in the core sectors that can be implemented from year two.

Based on Afghanistan and other examples, certain projects always seem to be required in the first year of a post conflict country. This raises the possibility that such projects can be identified and prepared in advance – so facilitating a rapid reaction by the EC. The details of such standardised schemes will change depending on the level of development of the country concerned – such projects were different in Kosovo than they were for Afghanistan.  Five broad types of projects can be identified:

(1)  Good Governance: restarting government. This falls always in two sub-projects - restarting salary payments and re-building capacity of key ministries. Salary payments will be done usually through a multi-donor trust fund so cannot be prepared up-front by the EC. But EC also needs to focus quickly on capacity building of ministries in EC target areas which can be prepared upfront and which require always the complementary components of experts, policy development, office supplies and works to repair war damage. The classic partners here are the UNDP and UN OPS, certain NGOs (eg. CARE) as well as certain private sector companies (seen in the Balkans).

(2)  Good Governance: civil society and democracy. The EC must also address the grass roots level of good governance from the outset. Such projects include: (i) media (eg. an independent newspaper and an “independent” news programme on the national radio broadcaster); (ii) democracy/political process work (eg. “Loya Jirga” style work and more substantive election preparation); and, (iii) civil society work with local communities and NGOs (eg. human rights, culture and advocacy mini projects). The classic partners here will be international NGOs (eg. BMC or AINA).

(3)  Productive Sector Development. Employment schemes to put the general local population back to work and get them out of conflict situations are obvious choices and can be as easily focused on rural (eg. rural feeder roads or irrigation repair) or urban areas (eg. drainage and sanitation clean up projects). The classic partners here will be international NGOs (eg. ACTED). 

(4)  Infrastructure Development: emergency repair work. This is especially valuable initially for roads, electricity, water and airports. In a developing country, this involves hiring a local player with plant for heavy grading and essential rehabilitation. The relevant ministry works department will also need capacity building for improving capacity to maintain infrastructure. The classic partners here will be international and local NGOs but could be local private sector companies in more advanced post conflict countries.

(5)  Infrastructure Development: civil military cooperation (CIMIC). These CIMIC programmes help occupying force win local hearts and minds. They focus on small infrastructure projects such as schools and kindergartens. The partner here will be the EU international peace-keeping force that the EC can contract (generally) via the ministry of foreign affairs of the relevant EU member state.

In summary, the intensive engagement of the EU in post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan has aimed to address the challenge of bringing stability and security to the country itself and to the wider region as a whole.  These aims are shared in all situations of post-conflict reconstruction.  Experience has demonstrated that meeting the formidable array of challenges in countries emerging from conflict requires coherent approaches recognizing the importance not only of military capabilities but also trade, development assistance and multilateral diplomacy.  Such strategies not only work but are in fact essential.

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[1] All view expressed are the author's only.

[2] Conflict prevention had already been identified as a key cross-cutting issue in relations with Africa (Commission Communication on Conflict Prevention in Africa, SEC(96) 332 of 6 March 1996).