More civil conflicts have been resolved by negotiation in the last 15 years than in the previous two centuries.
But the missing ingredient until now has been effective post-conflict peace-building, to consolidate the achievement of the peacemakers and peacekeepers. As nascent transitional governments have struggled to establish their credibility and regain their sovereignty, the key international players have often worked at cross-purposes.
Billions of dollars of assistance pledged at donors conferences have been poorly used, delivered according to the donors' rather than donees' timetables or not delivered at all. Basic underlying causes of tension have gone unaddressed, and countries have tumbled back into deadly conflict. In Angola and Rwanda alone, the failed peace agreements of the early 1990s cost some 3 million more lives.
Nearly every country emerging from conflict has similar challenges: to ensure effective governance, necessary physical security, a functioning economy and basic social justice.
Constructing or reconstructing societies on this scale needs support from the international community - mobilized, properly channeled and sustained over time - and this is where the Peacebuilding Commission's value will lie. But this is only if its potential is fully realized, and this will only happen with a lot more effort from key players.
The point on funding is important. Making the internal setup within the UN solid will enable the Commission to be less dependent on external actors' willingness to get involved in each case. This could allow coalitions to deal with a situation through the UN without one of the bigger countries, e.g. without the US but with another lead nation in case they deem it more important than the US does.Some fear that the United Nations simply has established a new bureaucracy that will add another layer of inertia to the effort. Any body whose core organizational committee involves 31 states is potentially dysfunctional. The commission, its country-specific working configurations and its support office will have to be agile, flexible and fast-moving.
Some unhappy compromises were made, as so often within the United Nations, to get the commission off the ground, including on the crucial issue of resources: The costs of the commission's activities beyond its basic operations will come from a voluntary fund rather than assessed contributions.
The risk is that a coordinating body without the resources to influence actions may quickly become irrelevant. Donor nations must ensure that the voluntary fund is filled. And the commission must be staffed by individuals of stature who can hold their own in tough interagency and international negotiations.
But in the end, the Peacebuilding Commission will always be dependent on external lead nations for funding, capabilities in logistics, and especially, military units. In short: most of the time, most of the situations will depend on the US leaning in. This is why the real deal is not so much the UN Commission proper, but the combination of the DoD Directive 3000 and what happens at State concerning the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction. The 3000 directive defines a policy that makes the Pentagon do the same reflections and analysis that will happen at the Peacebuilding Commission - the 3000 will, in other words, better prepare the Pentagon not only for S&R, but also for cooperating with the UNPC (more on the Directive here).
This in fact where the stakes are highest, and what anyone interested in the UNPC should follow closely.