Emergent Peace governance in the Anthropocene

#WR2050 8 / June 2021

Author: Farai Chipato, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Ottawa

In the 1990s, global powers sought to promote peace and democracy in the Global South, with a clear destination in mind, where a war-torn society would be transformed into a Western style liberal democracy, with a market economy, human rights and the rule of law. However, by the early 2000s, it was clear that this vision has failed, as stable democracies stubbornly refused to emerge across the world, despite huge expenditures of time and money. Even the small gains that were achieved have proven incredibly fragile in the face of political contestation, authoritarian government and civil conflict.

This failure has prompted a new consensus to emerge, drawing on two decades of critique, from academics to peace practitioners. This perspective argues that the liberal peacebuilding model should be abandoned, in favour of something more flexible, open-ended and sensitive to the complexities of the world. This drive has taken inspiration from wider debates across Western thought, which have critiqued the artificial separation between culture and nature and focused on social life as an entangled ecosystem, which resists both our will to understand it and our ability to control it. These conversations have centred around the emergence of the Anthropocene, a proposed new geological era characterised by humanity as a major force shaping the planet’s ecosystems and climate.

These new perspectives have been articulated as resilience, adaptivity or “perpetual peacebuilding”, all of which seek to address the shifting, complex, entangled societies in the Global South through non-linear, shifting interventions. This new form of peacebuilding does not fixate on numerical results, clear endpoints, or “victory”, but instead views peace as an emergent process, whose job is never done. Adaptive peacebuilding promotes “local ownership” of the peace process where work is led in communities by local NGOs, powerbrokers, activists and officials. Global actors will intervene through governance, that is networked, diffused co-ordination, negotiation and influence, rather than top-down, direct intervention. Peace work will merge with climate change alleviation and other development paradigms, moving governance towards a constant state of mitigation and disaster management.

This new approach has yet to be applied widely, but points towards a future form of peace governance in the Global South, replacing the focus on liberal governance. In this new paradigm, the boundary between peace and war breaks down, just as culture and nature become blurred together in much of contemporary political thought. Wars will never truly end, and peace will never be achieved. Instead, peace becomes an adaptive process, an ebb and flow of violence and respite, characterised by improvisation and negotiation. Peace governance replaces the old “failed state” paradigm, which unfavourably compared states in the Global South to a Western model. Instead, the new adaptive governance is accepted as both a legitimate form of statehood and the ultimate end point of politics outside the West. Emergent peace governance in the Anthropocene replaces the goal of perpetual peace with perpetual adaptation, as stability is abandoned in favour process and negotiation.