Can There Be a “Kindered” Peace?

| April 2008
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The author would like to thank Oliver Richmond, Chandra Sriram, and Zornitsa Stoyanova for their comments at various times during the writing process. All errors remain the author’s own.

There are more resources now devoted to the pursuit of peace than at any time in the history of the international system. The participating cast of actors—international, regional, state, and nonstate—seek to create a peace that is essentially Kantian in spirit, and thus heavily dependent upon the maintenance of an international liberal order through international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations. The resultant peace-building strategies are then often justified in terms of the promotion of human rights, democratization, and “human security”—concepts that together form the cornerstone of what has come to be termed the “liberal peace.” Evidence increasingly suggests, however, that the mechanisms used to achieve such a peace typically fail to secure a sustainable peace, and in particular that they may not adequately take into account those actors whose claims for peace may prove especially intransigent—such as those with ethnic and identity claims, and those, ironically, for whom the achievement of human security is particularly pertinent.

This impasse encourages an emerging critique regarding the ability of the dominant actors in the prevailing liberal peace approach: first, to adapt to the wide diversity of actors currently making claims for rights; and second, and related to this, to listen to those whose generational, racial, sexual, and even moral language may differ from their own. This is not to say that the aims of the liberal peace are not appropriate. Indeed, the establishment of democratic institutions and an accompanying rule of law is crucial to the promotion of human rights—including children’s rights—in any postconflict environment. However, the liberal peace framework fails to live up to its lofty principles because, despite rhetoric to the contrary, it remains rooted in an institutional rather than “human” prescription.

The place of children in this morass is particularly pertinent. Arguably, children as a group are among those most affected by contemporary models of conflict. The plight of children, however, is little discussed when it comes to agreeing on the minutiae of a peace proposal, despite the fact that children are widely recognized—even from within the institutions of the liberal peace itself—as significant to the sustainability of peace. Yet rather than concentrating upon this specific group as a potential conduit for long-term conflict resolution, those attempting to secure peace tend to assume that a program of postconflict recovery requires only the redressing of general systemic wrongs that will eventually “trickle down” to benefit youth along with the rest of the population.

As a result, most approaches to building peace marginalize issues surrounding children: they are little discussed in peace-building policies, seldom asked to participate in peace-building projects, and peace-building strategies are rarely informed by knowledge regarding either their wartime experiences or their postconflict needs. Yet given that they are disproportionately affected by conflict, children should be placed center stage, not only as a motivation for a sustainable settlement, but as actors for peace themselves. Not doing so undermines the potential for successful settlement over the long term and indeed the liberal peace agenda itself. With this in mind, this essay argues for a “kindering” of peace such that children are recognized as one of the “fault-lines of the human condition,” which Johan Galtung has argued are so critical to debates regarding the nature of peace.

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Category: Essay, Issue 22.1

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