Fourth Annual Conference on Best Practices in Peacebuilding
Co-sponsored with the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee

Conference Report
October 21-23, 2004
University of California, Irvine

Summary of prior best practices conferences

The conference hosted at the University of California, Irvine on October 21 – 23, 2004 was an extension of discussions and learning from four prior research conferences:

  • Reflecting on Peace Practice project (CDA Inc.);
  • New Paths to Peace: Collaborative Post-Conflict Reconstruction (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee);
  • USIP Track One - Track Two Cooperation Symposium (US Institute of Peace); and
  • Best Practices Conferences (University of California, Irvine)

Summary of this conference

The main goals of the conference were to collect lessons learned and best practices in planning and implementing peacebuilding processes from participants who have considerable experience doing such work in various conflict zones and analyze which lessons in cross-sector collaboration are applicable to the Afghan and Iraqi contexts.

Participants at the conference had experience in working in Afghanistan, Iraq, and/or other war torn regions.  They work in various professional sectors including grassroots conflict resolution, official diplomacy, security, humanitarian relief, civil society development, and political development (including political party, parliamentary, human rights, constitutional and rule of law development).  They came from both public and private organizations in the United States as well as Northern Ireland.  They represented such official actors as the US Military and the National Security Council.

Over the course of the conference a couple of major topics were highlighted in the discussions.

Paradigm shift for peacebuilding since September 11th.  The question was raised about whether Iraq, and to a lesser degree Afghanistan, should be seen as unique cases or whether the experience there has changed significantly the way peacebuilders will go about their work in the future.  Especially poignant in those related discussions was the question of security and whether the post-September 11th War on Terror has created a paradigm shift in changing the calculations of NGOs and their relationship to the military in their post-conflict recovery work.  The participants (both military officers and NGO members) expressed that the “new” security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq was difficult for both sides.

Most NGOs are not trained or accustomed to operating under such extreme security situations and are not effective in conducting their work from safe compounds without being able to act in the field.  They also have difficulties in carrying out their daily work when accompanied by armed guards or military personal.  This new relationship to or interaction with the military challenges their own understanding of their role and the perceived neutrality they are accustomed to operating with.  This raises the difficulty that up until now many NGOs used their distance from the military or state run institutions to further their trustworthiness among locals.

“It’s hard to do anything when you have to travel around Iraq like this accompanied by two tanks.” (Major Joseph Kopser)

“If you don’t talk to the security people you can’t get anywhere” (Bill Stuebner)

“Many NGOs have seen more combat than many in the military.  Now we’re hearing about them pulling out – has there been a shift in the risk analysis?” (Major Schweiss)

“It’s hard for anyone from within our community to associate with the military since anyone who would do so could therefore be seen as possibly being a collaborator.” (Liam Maskey)

People on the ground are leery of the role of the US “neutral” humanitarians versus the military intervention.  Example: PRT doing visibility patrol and then seen in Hummers giving out backpacks to school children.  Military out of uniform taking on reconstruction projects.

In addition, the kidnapping of foreigners in Iraq and Afghanistan has complicated the situation even more.  Though many of the NGO workers would like to stay in the crisis region and continue their work, their home offices and governments are requesting them to leave because of the potential danger and cost that might result.  Jim Prince and Caesar Sereseres explained that many NGOs which have been confronted with a kidnapping situation are now unwilling to take another risk.  Moreover, the apparent lack of concern for or ability to stop the occurrences of kidnappings has a damaging effect on the local level where NGOs are operating far from their headquarters in either the US or Europe.  Politics prevail.  Headquarters do not want problems in the field that could affect long-term revenue collections.

“Where is Margaret Hassan, today?  When the Iraqi Director of CARE was kidnapped it didn’t even reach the papers here.  This is seen as very significant to Iraqis.  Iraqis wonder the consequences of a peaceable woman kidnapped and no one can do anything about it.” (Jim Prince)

 “When UN bombing occurred then there goes coordination and it had a great impact on the NGOs.  The bombing of the Red Cross was also a blow to NGOs on the ground.  Since 9/11 security has risen to top priority.  Save the Children, for example, had armed guards.  We’re dealing in a new era; the UN had been funding a lot so when they pulled out so did the NGOs.” (Adib Faris)

From the military perspective the situation is complicated as well.  In the past, the military was able to concentrate its work mainly on providing overall security and coordination.  It now must provide more and more of the social services and peace-building that NGOs are no longer able to offer due to the increased risks.  This means that the military has to supervise projects, serve as judge of confrontations between local groups, etc. However they are not usually trained for these operations, “the only folks we have who have a clue that there are other people are the civil affairs guys … who are only 15 in Afghanistan meaning 3 guys responsible in a 100 mile radius” (Major Schweiss).  There needs to be a “mental shift between Warrior and Diplomat” (Major Schweiss).  Many of the younger recruits want to stay in their “safe” complexes instead of going out to play social worker and justice of peace with the local civilians.  Major Schweiss and Kopser also pointed out (emphasizing the situation in Iraq) that there are too few troops to take care of the additional peacebuilding tasks normally performed by NGOs and other groups.  They also explained that the military leadership has the added pressure of peacebuilding in the midst of a serious security threat during this new situation and that often the leadership in this area has to make the difficult choice between one or the other.  Many believed “real men don’t do peacekeeping” (Major Schweiss), but especially the situation in Iraq is making headway towards a change in the military culture. (Major Schweiss and Kopser)

The new security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we are still in an active stage of war and the US is a combatant, will necessitate collaboration between civil and military interventions.  Cross-sector collaboration is possible where some NGOs will hire security and intelligence organizations to protect property and staff working in the field.

Summary of conclusions from break-out sessions on collaboration efforts:

There needs to be a clearinghouse between the NGOs and military.  USAID can serve that purpose.  Although others expressed that USAID is problematic because it is a US government agency with an agenda.  “Can’t have good peacekeeping without civil society development.” (Major Kopser )

There needs to be a means to convey the lessons learned.  The UN has already done it with an online database of who is working where AREU (Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit).  It does the analysis for policy makers on issues of transitional justice, impunity, land reform, health, women and children’s rights.

Coordination requires two levels of information: (1) who is out there; (2) something else is needed at a local level to initiate cooperation.

Awareness needs to be raised between conflicting groups of each other.  Interaction between conflicting groups, perhaps coordinated by an outside group, can lead to more understanding and tolerance. (Liam Maskey)

From military perspective liaison Civil Affairs Officer (from Reserves) is seen as irrelevant, out of their area of expertise, and therefore marginalized.  Result – all NGO work is done with interaction with the War Fire Center, not civil affairs.  NGOs seen as just another item to be concerned with from a safety point of view.

When the interaction works well: private security forces work with the military and the civil-military cells track locations of the NGOs.

There is a common culture among the military of any country and most don’t have a clue that there are other people involved. (Tina Schweiss)

We need risk-takers on both sides, civilian and military, to reach out to each other.

Oftentimes communities are on opposite sides of the conflict, which makes it that much more difficult to cooperate. (Paula Garb)

NGO’s can help build trust for the security forces.

We should not blur the lines between what the military is doing versus what humanitarian aid organizations are doing.  “The military should not be involved in the non-military issues such as civil society building, etc.” (Adib Faris)

Consistency is a problem because personnel are rotated in and out every 6 months, and relationship building in the Arab world is especially important. (Milt Lauenstein)

Coordination between sectors is severely complicated because of constant rotations and changes of staff within each sector.  Maintained exchange and collaboration is extremely important but difficult. (Paula Garb)

Importance of timing for political development and democratization.  The issue of democratization was also discussed at length by the participants, and whether the timing was ripe for that type of citizen peacebuilding.  The group agreed that forcing political development was a major source of the failure in Iraq.  Nancy Bearg posed the question whether Iraq is ready for citizen peacebuilding.  This line of debate lead to a series of questions being raised about the conditions that need to be in place for citizen peacebuilding to be effective.  Several political and strategic decisions and events that further weakened the situation for peacebuilders were enumerated.

There was a window of opportunity, which was not used; there was a time period after victory was declared when the hearts and minds of the local people were not in question.  There was a time when reconstruction was possible (Jim Prince).  However, without a clear strategy on how to stabilize the situation in Iraq (Major Kopser) or a plan on how to deal with the Northern Alliance / Warlords in Afghanistan (Major Schweiss, David Poplack) instability and subsequent insurgency was only a matter of time.  Some wondered if it is possible to fight an insurgency at the same time you are nation-building.

“Nation-building is rooted in our reserves, not combat troops.  The US military reserves and national guard units are made up of medics, teachers, construction specialists, psychological operations and civic action units, and military police.   Most of those in Iraq doing these jobs are reserve or national guard personnel.” (Caesar Sereseres)

“Military has to do everything in uniform, not pretend to be something else.” (Bill Stuebner)

“Who wins on the battlefield is not relevant compared to political will.  The military and police of the state can consistently “defeat” insurgents and terrorists, but the long run decides the “victor” – this is about political win and less about the number of “wins” on the battlefield.” (Caesar Sereseres)

“The Northern Alliance is running Kabul.  There is no infrastructure in Afghanistan.  People are tired of war.  In Iraq, they are angry from being under the thumb of a dictator.  The will of the people in Afghanistan may adapt to democracy.” (David Poplack)

“Some NGOs thought Iraq was going to be like Afghanistan and thought it would be difficult for awhile, maintain a small presence, but things got worse, much worse.  NGOs were caught off guard, didn’t know what was happening on the ground, they wanted the big money that USAID was offering.” (Adib Faris)

The high expectations established, especially in Iraq, particularly in the areas of democratization and security were unrealistic.  This automatically put all actors on a pre-programmed path of failure. (Major Schweiss, Jim Prince)  Adib Faris spoke about this in light of the financial shortcomings and problems and the consequent difficulties that result when trying to involve local organizations and groups.  The shift in funding priorities by USAID impeded the work of peacebuilders on the ground.  NGOs were forced to change from local rebuilding and community work to voter education and political party development.  This caused distrust and the end of work with many local groups, and the eventual departure of many NGOs who were not able to support voter registration programs (Adib Faris).

“Elections don’t equal democracy; we need to grow a sense of democracy.” (Major Tina Schweiss)

“We put the cart before the horse and began training in campaigning instead of discussing what kind of democratic system they want.  You can’t have military people talking about democracy.  Electoral policy does not equal democracy.” (Jim Prince)

“In Iraq, peacebuilding hasn’t been put into the Iraqi context; without voter education then it’s meaningless.” (Jim Prince)

“Security, jobs, services – elections are way down on the priorities.” (Rebecca Linder)

“We need to look at timing and how you determine when is the right time to do what kinds of work; there is evidence that you have to have lengthy periods of other kinds of development, peacebuilding and democratization work before you can hold elections without doing harm.” (Bruce Hemmer )

You can organize at the street level but once you interject political party development and preparations to hold elections, the progress breaks down.” (Adib Faris)

Role of donors in collaboration efforts.  The participants discussed the need for an incentive, most notably financial, to encourage coordination or collaboration of efforts on the ground.  When an NGO first enters the field they want to know the who’s who, but once a project gets underway you become a slave to it and the reporting process to headquarters.  It is typically not an institutional goal to coordinate; it is more dependent upon the interest of the manger to pursue.  There has to be a financial component in order to get the NGO to collaborate, and this will have to come externally from the funder (Paula Garb, Adib Faris).  One suggestion posed was an inter-donor dialogue to share the political context and collectively determine how to structure funding to an area to obtain coherence.


The participants voiced some suggestions on how to proceed given the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Major Kopser pointed out that citizen peacebuilding in Iraq could immediately begin in the Green Zone.  Liam Maskey suggested bringing people out of the country and training them in other countries much like the EU did during the conflict in Northern Ireland.  Adib Faris encouraged the group to think of primarily working with local groups and staff.  He related his positive experiences in working with “community action groups” before Catholic Relief Services had to leave Iraq.  He also mentioned, however, the challenges of performance control in these projects, especially when NGO personnel cannot freely travel to supervise the projects. Heidi Burgess sees a chance in using more soft power and especially in collaborating more closely with European experts, who have many experiences in this area. Nancy Bearg sees a major opportunity in aiding local operations by helping people to start their own small businesses where NGOs provide the training and expertise (“self-empowerment”).

The possibility of supervising and leading projects from the “outside” through modern communication was also raised and tentatively supported by the participants; however, several downsides to such an approach were also voiced, namely the lack of local staff development to adequately monitor projects with remote supervision and no assurance of financial accountability.

Next Steps

There was a strong consensus expressed among the conference participants that one of the conference goals was to come away with actionable conclusions, publishable recommendations, and further research questions for investigation. Closing discussions focused on the need for another gathering to move ahead on a set of focused policy recommendations based upon the lessons learned and best practices in planning and implementing cross-sectoral collaborative peacebuilding processes.

Research topics still needing further discussion and study included:

  1. the specific lessons learned by NGOs operating in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  2. the degree to which social capital must be built before political development should be pursued;
  3. the need to develop alternatives to building security without the military;
  4. the most effective uses of soft power in light of the new age of the war on terror;
  5. the nature of evaluation, need for better measures of progress. How could we refine our methodology and implementation efforts?

There was much discussion about reframing the role of the U.S. in peacebuilding from one of a neutral third party to a conflictant.  Paula Garb raised the question, “Now I am a conflictant.  As a peacebuilder in the field what have I learned about people in conflict who are willing to take the risk of bridging the gap?”  One notable action item suggested was to develop an essay on the plans and possible approaches (“a plan on the shelf”) to peacebuilding from the perspective of a conflictant.

Another actionable conclusion raised was to put together an edited volume consisting of general lessons learned and specific case studies on cross-sectoral collaboration.

All participants agreed that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought new challenges to peacebuilding, especially in terms of security and military-NGO relations. It was decided that at future conferences these topics need to be discussed and studied further in order for citizen peacebuilding groups to train their people and to develop strategies for dealing with these new conflict forms and the unexpected challenges they bring.

Future Plans
Inspired by the results of the conference and further telephone-conferences and meetings afterwards a preliminary action program has been established. It was agreed that the projects to work on are a book publication about the results of the conference as well as a conference in which the possible authors of the book as well as well-known speakers would present their thoughts on the lessons in collaborative peacebuilding learned from Afghanistan and Iraq and possible future consequences of this.

For more information please contact:
Paula Garb
phone:  (949) 824-1227


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766