This Accord publication suggests that, in order to tackle the challenges of cross-border peacebuilding, strategies and capacity need to ‘think outside the state’:beyond it, through supra-state regional engagement, and below it, through sub-state cross-border community or trade networks. To function effectively, supra- and sub-state initiatives need to be strategically linked.
International peacebuilding responses should be aligned to tackle conflict systems. Policy that refers to systems rather than states can shape more flexible and comprehensive responses to cross-border conflicts. It can identify actors and dynamics that exist outside state borders, such as narcotic networks that support insurgent groups, and incorporate these into peacebuilding interventions.
Examples from Asia, Europe, the Caucasus, East, Central, North and West Africa, Central America and the Middle East show that country-based analysis risks limited or flawed conflict responses. A more creative approach is to strategise holistically, focusing on a conflict and its dynamics regardless of borders. How we define the ‘conflict problem’, what constitutes ‘peacebuilding success’ and the strategies we adopt to get from one to the other will be very different depending on whether the analysis and response focuses on an individual state or on a conflict system encompassing dynamics and drivers irrespective of national borders.
States are important peacebuilders. But international policy has become dominated by statebuilding as a response to conflict. Statebuilding involves creating state institutions and the provision of services. While it can be useful to help rebuild fragile societies, it is not synonymous with either peacebuilding or nationbuilding and can ignore or exacerbate cross-border conflict dynamics.
Borderland communities can be politically marginalised and can associate more profoundly across borders than with state capitals. In weak or fragile states, state presence in borderlands can be limited to the police or military, with little evidence of social or welfare services. Legitimacy comes from people, and political legitimacy in borderlands is especially complex. State institutions do not necessarily confer either identity or legitimacy. Borderland communities need to be comfortable with both their identity (nationality), and the legitimacy of the institutions and services of central government (statehood). This can reduce the risk of insecurity in terms of threats to centralised perceptions of sovereignty.
States can do a lot to minimise tensions in borderlands by investing in border areas to reduce the alienation of local communities. More effective border management regimes can facilitate legitimate movement and trade, maintain accountable cross-border security and encourage cooperative management of resources and infrastructure.