New Paths to Sustainable Peace

War and armed conflict affect the lives of some 2 billion people worldwide. A new initiative that includes Bert Koenders, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, aims to find paths to lasting peace.

Robert Bosch Stiftung | April 2021
Bert Koenders visits the Israeli-Palestinian border.

For Bert Koenders, peacemaking is a joint effort by the people concerned on the ground. The photo shows Koenders' visit to the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Many peace processes falter and fail after an average of just seven years. As a UN Special Representative in Mali, what weaknesses did you experience in current approaches to peacemaking?

Bert Koenders: As a rule, we follow a top-down, hierarchical process in every country, backed by a UN resolution that was negotiated in New York and accompanied by high expectations. But when I arrived in Mali I realized that this way of peacemaking is not sufficient. If we want to succeed we will have to leave behind the hierarchical approach and stop treating every country in the same way.

Which way do you think is a more promising one?

There is no easy solution. Peacemaking is a joint effort by the people concerned on the ground. That is why we need to listen to these people. All the different groups of the local population should be involved in the peace process: women, youth, young and old. We must not make the mistake of talking only to those who have taken up arms. Inclusion is a key to success. We must also accept that peace agreements can only hold in the long term if they are monitored by the people on the ground themselves. 

You support the Principles for Peace initiative and have become a member of its international Commission For Inclusive Peace. The initiative is led by Interpeace in Geneva and supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, along with partners such as the Swedish and Danish foreign ministries. What is your goal?

We have set ourselves the challenging goal of finding appropriate approaches to peacemaking for the 21st century. Together with other experienced policymakers and practitioners, I am exploring the question of why existing approaches to peacekeeping so often remain unsuccessful. We will then develop new guidelines and standards that will fundamentally change the way we approach and implement peace processes. 

Our primary focus is on those directly affected by conflict.

How do you plan to meet the requirements on the ground?

The Commission’s work will involve hundreds of thousands of people with experience in peace processes. Our primary focus is on those directly affected by conflict. We also pay particular attention to often marginalized population groups. In addition, we can build on the support of an extensive stakeholder forum of international and local organizations working to build peace around the world. Overall, our work will incorporate the experiences of over 42 countries. Over the next two years, we will be engaging in conversations at the international, regional, national, and local levels, and will be briefed by leading researchers on lessons that have been learned from previous peace processes.

What has convinced you that you will succeed?

What sets Principles for Peace apart is the combination of local and global perspectives that it brings together. This enables us to develop guidelines that are widely accepted and change the way we think about and act during peace processes. In this way, we can help lay the foundation for sustainable peace.