Why Swiss Peace Promotion Policies and Practices Need a Rethink

Inclusive Peace’s Director & Founder, Thania Paffenholz, recently attended the closing panel of the International Cooperation Forum Switzerland, where she joined colleagues from the field in a discussion on the state of peacebuilding today and Switzerland’s role in peace promotion.

The phrase: Not a World War but a world at war – was the starting point of the concluding panel of the International Cooperation Forum Switzerland titled ‘What is peace” on April 12. I had the honor to participate in the panel with Ambassador Mirko Manzini and Comfort Ero moderated by Simon Geissbühler.

The world of peace promotion is changing as we see the highest number of armed conflicts since 1945 and these wars have the longest duration ever. The diminishing power of the UN and comprehensive peace agreements as well as new actors on the scene challenge many of the concepts we as an expert community have developed over the last 25 years.

The use of force has become a new normal in conflict resolution. We see a loose, but emerging non-alignment movement where both, the ‘West’ and the ‘East’ are fighting for influence, and it’s a fact that the dominance of Western influence is over.

What does this mean for Switzerland, precisely for Swiss peace promotion policy and practice? Switzerland entered the peacebuilding and mediation field like many others at the end of the 1990ies by institutionalising Swiss peace policies in diplomacy and international cooperation.

The legal framework was set up, the Peace and Human rights division within the political department and a conflict unit with the SDC were founded as well as civilian efforts by Swiss NGOs working more coherently with the government by coordinating efforts and information exchange under the Center for Peacebuilding (KOFF) at swisspeace that I had the pleasure of being the founding director.

Swiss peace promotion policy quickly professionalised with priority countries with advisors working at the Embassies, joint country programs, and mediation training courses that became signature courses in our field. Switzerland also put a strong focus on supporting the efforts of the UN and regional organisations, in particular the OSCE.

25 years later an entirely new world order is emerging, and Swiss peace promotion policies and practices need a rethink based on three dimensions: ‘

First, a differentiated analysis of the variety of different contextual situations that present different responses (e.g. closed political spaces like Afghanistan or Myanmar; new emerging national dialogue spaces in different political sectors; situations of military coups and armed conflicts with no peace processes or minimal ones). This analysis also entails consequential conversations about the core values and strategies and how to achieve them considering changing actors and contexts. This might require the courage to let go of established concepts such as a linear understanding of peacebuilding including the tracks and our understanding of success.

Second, there is a need for a move towards flexible and creative response strategies that build on core Swiss strengths, such as defining entry points and niches for change quickly and strategically; intentionally influencing policy spaces that matter including and beyond the UN system, e.g. OECD/DAC; World Bank, IMF and new forums set up in the ‘Global South’.

Third, providing dialogue platforms for interesting topics to advance the field and include fostering dialogue with new actors from the emerging non-alignment alliance as well as other unusual actors within and beyond our field. This is a role Switzerland can play much easier than other actors in particular when co-chaired with new actors.

Swiss peace promotion policy is built on a solid base and can allow itself to be courageous to foster its relevance in a new area.