Peacebuilding and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Difficult and Intractable Conflicts

A User Guide to the Beyond Intractability Website, Built Specially for Peacebuilders

Note Regarding External Links on This Page
We are still in the process of converting the "external resource" links from our old computer system to our new one. Unfortunately, this is a time-consuming task which, because of limited funds, we are undertaking on a time-available basis. In the meantime, many of these references can be found by using our Search Plus External Links system.



The term "peacebuilding" is used by many NGOs to mean post-violence peace work with grassroots citizens. Others use the term to mean bridge building between disputing groups throughout the conflict process, from the very early stages of the conflict, through escalationstalematede-escalationsettlement, and finally, reconciliation.

This website provides a wealth of resources for peacebuilders working at any stage of difficult or intractable conflicts. Included are:

In addition to essays, the site contains:


Essays on the Nature of Conflict

In order to intervene effectively, peacebuilders must understand the situation they are getting into. Intractable conflicts tend to be very complex: they involve many actors, many issues, a lot of history, and strong emotions. The following essays provide background information on the nature of intractable conflict, which peacebuilders may find useful when trying to understand the particular conflict they are working in.

  • What Are Intractable Conflicts? This is an introductory essay that discusses why some conflicts are more difficult to resolve than others. It explores the characteristics, causes, and consequences of intractability, and explains what the Beyond Intractability website is all about.
  • Stable Peace - Stable peace is the ultimate goal of peacebuilding. This essay explains the concept and shows how it differs from unstable peace, dispute settlement, and other "temporary" resolutions.
  • Conflicts and Disputes - Often thought to be the same, this essay explains the difference. Disputes are generally easier to resolve than conflicts. The latter, more deep-rooted problems are generally the domain of peacebuilders.
  • Conflict Stages - Most conflicts go through stages from emergence to escalation, stalemate, de-escalation, settlement, and resolution (often with a few loops thrown in). Some people believe that peacebuilding only happens after some sort of ceasefire or settlement is achieved, stopping the violence (see "Peacebuilding Stage.") Others see peacebuilding as happening throughout these stages of conflict.
  • Underlying Causes of Intractable Conflict and Factors Shaping the Course of Intractable Conflicts are two essays that look at the underlying causes of intractability. Peacebuilders should understand these causes, as they are the things that need to be "fixed," if destructive conflicts are to be transformed into more constructive struggles and eventually resolved.
  • Identity Issues - Threats to personal or group identity (racial, ethnic, national, and cultural) are extremely common causes of intractable conflicts today. Even if a conflict does not seem to involve identity issues, it often does. Peacebuilders should understand the nature of identity, why it is so important, and what can be done when identity is at the core of the conflict.
  • Fundamental Value Conflicts - Another common cause of intractability is fundamental value conflicts. Unlike interests, which can be traded, values change little, if at all. When a person's fundamental values are threatened, the conflict is likely to be particularly intractable.
  • Complexity and Complex Adaptive Systems - Intractable conflicts are typically very complex, involving many parties and issues, a long history, and strong emotions. An understanding of the implications of complexity, how "complexity" differs from simply "complicated" situations, and how complex systems can actually be "adaptive" is very useful for designing an effective intervention.

Peacebuilding Essays

Peacebuilding can be considered one activity, or it can be considered an "umbrella term," covering many different activities. These essays discuss what is involved in peacebuilding in the broader sense, and then consider some of the constituent parts of the peacebuilding umbrella.

  • An Introduction to Peacebuilding - This essay introduces the concept of peacebuilding and describes different settings in which it is used. It examines the structural, relational, and personal aspects of peacebuilding and begins to describe the different kinds of people who engage in peacebuilding efforts.
  • Hierarchical Intervention Levels - In his classic book Building Peace, John Paul Lederach describes the "peacebuilding triangle," which illustrates three levels of intervention: elitemid-level, and grassroots. This essay describes those levels in general; each level is described further in its own essay.
  • Envisioning - One of the hardest parts of building peace is helping disputants imagine a peaceful future. This essay describes several approaches to envisioning that help such positive images of the future come alive.
  • Disarmament / Demobilization / Reintegration of Ex-Combatants - Reintegrating combatants into a peaceful society is one of the first jobs of peacebuilding. Combatants must have an alternative way of earning a living and an acceptable identity (other than "warrior") if they are going to be willing to give up the fight.
  • Humanitarian Aid and Development Assistance - Providing humanitarian aid and development assistance is another strong post-violence task. Some people would call this peacebuilding; others would not. But it is certainly an "associated task" at least, so we include it here.
  • Human Rights Protection - Human rights are often the first victims of conflict, and the restoration and protection of those rights is a key component of peacebuilding. The database has two essays on this topic — one on human rights violations, and another on protection.
  • Transitional Justice - Before reconciliation can be achieved, people must somehow come to terms with the past. This can be done in several ways — most commonly, truth commissions, and/or criminal prosecution of human rights violators. This link is actually a link to a parallel "user guide" on transitional justice, while the links to truth commissions and criminal proceedings are actual essays.
  • Apology and Forgiveness - The ultimate goal of truth commissions is generally apology and forgiveness, which paves the way toward reconciliation and ultimate resolution of the conflict. This essay explores the importance of these concepts, and how and when they can be achieved.
  • Trauma Healing - This is sometimes the most difficult part of peacebuilding, as the traumas experienced during the conflict were so widespread and severe. Yet, healing is possible, and this essay examines how and when it can be pursued.
  • Transformation - This is a primary goal of peacebuilding — changing the conflict from a destructive one to a constructive one, which is possible to do, even before the conflict is fully "resolved." This essay discusses John Paul Lederach's view of conflict transformation, and how it differs from other possible end states of conflict "management" or "resolution" processes.
  • Reconciliation - Reconciliation, according to John Paul Lederach, is the intersection of peace, justice, truth, and mercy. It is the ultimate goal of most peacebuilding efforts, when both the structural and emotional damage of a conflict is "set right" and people can go on with their lives. It doesn't require forgetting what happened, but rather coming to terms with it on all sides and moving ahead in a positive way.
  • Joint Projects - Much of peacebuilding is done through joint projects, with people on all sides of a conflict working together to achieve a common goal. This essay describes some such projects and explains how they are helpful in achieving peace.
  • Democratization - Democratization is sometimes seen as a tool of peacebuilding. This essay and the one on democracy and conflict management discuss the role of democracy in bringing about long-term peace. Election monitoring is another aspect of democratization and peacebuilding that is important to ensure the legitimacy of any elections that take place.
  • NGOs and Peacebuilding - NGOs play a pivitol role in peacebuilding around the world. This essay examines the history of NGOs and their role in peacebuilding in many different conflict contexts.
  • IGOs and Peacebuilding - Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) also play a central role in peacebuilding. That role is described in this essay.
  • Track II Diplomacy - Much peacebuilding takes place through "track II" or "citizen" diplomacy programs that work with "regular people," rather the elite. This essay explains the many variants of track II diplomacy, and why it is so important in obtaining lasting peace.
  • Track I-Track II Cooperation - In most complex conflicts, official (track I) diplomats are working alongside or simultaneously with track II efforts. Sometimes the two approaches behave as if they were in conflict; sometimes they coordinate their efforts well. Coordination and cooperation is far preferable, and allows each effort to be more effective.
  • Multi-Track Diplomacy - Louise Diamond and John McDonald coined this term years ago to illustrate that there are many players who contribute to peacebuilding in many different ways. William Ury has been saying the same thing in his work on The Third Side, which explains the ten different roles that ordinary people can play to help bring about conflict transformation and eventually peace.
  • Intervention Coordination - Most complex conflicts involve many parties and many intervention efforts, which are often taking place simultaneously. Though seldom completely linked and orchestrated, the more coordination there is between efforts, the more effective those efforts are likely to be.

Associated Processes

Peacebuilding often takes place at the same time as other peace processes. By understanding what else is going on and how peacebuilders relate to other peaceworkers, the chance for meaningful progress is increased.

  • Overview of Intervention Options - This essay gives an overview of many different intervention options for intractable conflicts. Often, many of these will be taking place simultaneously, so intervention coordination becomes a major issue.
  • Preventive Diplomacy and Violence Prevention - Sometimes this is considered a peacebuilding activity; sometimes it is not (according to your definition of peacebuilding). Regardless of what it is called, it is a very important aspect of maintaining peace before violence breaks out, and of making a ceasefire "stick" after it has been achieved.
  • Peacemaking - Often confused with peacebuilding, in An Agenda for Peace, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali defined peacemaking as "the diplomatic negotiations that are undertaken to forge ceasefires and eventual peace agreements."
  • Track I Diplomacy - This essay describes "official" diplomacy undertaken by governments to resolve conflicts.
  • Peacekeeping - Another oft-confused term, peacekeeping refers to the prevention or ending of violence within or between nation-states through the intervention of an outside third party that keeps the warring parties separated. Unlike peacemaking, which involves negotiating a resolution to the issues in conflict, the goal of peacekeeping is simply to prevent further violence.
  • Protective Accompaniment - Related to peacekeeping, this track II approach provides protection to individual people or groups who are at risk of attack in intractable conflicts.
  • Negotiation - A fundamental approach to conflict resolution, this essay gives an overview of the negotiation process, and links to many other essays on theory and strategies of effective negotiation.
  • Mediation - A "staple" of the conflict resolution field, this essay gives an overview and introduction to several additional essays on various types of mediation processes.
  • Evaluation of Interventions - In order to determine if one's efforts are being effective, evaluation of intervention efforts is extremely important. This and several related essays discuss why evaluation is important, and how and when it can be done.
  • Reconstruction - This essay explores programs that can revitalize the economies of communities ravaged by conflict. These programs can build prosperity and limit the poverty and despair that underlies so many intractable conflicts.
  • Compensation and Reparations - In 1951, the first Chancellor of Germany announced, "In our name, unspeakable crimes have been committed and demand compensation and restitution, both moral and material, for the persons and properties of the Jews who have been so seriously harmed." In cases such as the Nazi's genocide against the Jews in WWII, governments sometimes offer compensation to try to make amends for past grievances and to promote healing. This essay examines that process.
  • Social Structural Change - This essay examines fundamental changes that at times need to be made to the way a society is organized if their conflict is to be resolved. A prime example is when South Africa abandoned its system of racial apartheid in favor of a majoritarian constitution.

Teaching Materials on Peacebuilding

Working with Conflict: Skills and Strategies for Action, by Simon Fisher, ed.

This source book provides a range of practical tools, processes, ideas and techniques for tackling conflict. Arranged in four parts (Analysis, Strategy, and Learning) the book draws on the experience of over 300 practitioners worldwide. It has been translated into several languages, including French, Russian and Spanish.

Peace Skills, by Alice Frazer Evans

The material in this handbook was developed through various workshops focused on community peacebuilding and has been used with groups of civic and religious leaders in several communities in North America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The book is meant to guide community leaders in conducting community conflict transformation workshops.

Teaching and Learning for Peace: Peace-Building Activities for Creating a Peaceful World

Teaching and Learning for Peace seeks to assist the need for peace-building and new ways of thinking to be incorporated into not only teaching and learning programs within our educational communities but into our daily living as well. It promotes and supports a simple redirecting of thinking, one which uses thinking positively and constructively, in order that we may be able to make the changes needed to create a more peaceful world. It presents possible peace-building activities and encourages the telling of peace-building stories...ones with happy endings...endings in which everyone wins...endings which honor our children's right to inherit a peaceful and peace-loving world.

Public Conversations Project: Tool Box

Site provides useful information to promote their mission to foster a more inclusive, empathic and collaborative society by promoting constructive conversations and relationships among those who have differing values, world views, and positions related to divisive public issues.

Breaking Through to Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation and Responsibility

This excerpt from a longer guide to organizing dialogue on race, is designed to promote racial healing in communities.