Europe can offer a ‘new way’ to solve conflicts. But this requires political will – and creativity to think outside the box. We need to reinvent how to build peace in the 21st century. By Martin Griffiths

Peace-making has never been so important. It has never been so examined, so scrutinised and so discussed. However, we – the community of peacemakers and mediators - have been unable to meet the anguished demands of people in conflicts around the world. Of course no peace process is a perfectly designed operation. Peace processes are based on compromises and have been skilfully shaped by mediators. However, many peace processes fail to build peace. Understanding the reasons for failure is a key step towards making mediation and peacebuilding more effective.

We need to use the lessons of Europe’s history. A history of war and peace. A history of reconciliation, comprise and vision. Europe can offer a ‘new way’ to solve conflicts. But this requires political will – and creativity to think outside the box. We need to reinvent how to build peace in the 21st century. We need to get better in preventing conflicts. We need to increase the quality of mediation. And we need reinvent our diplomacy.

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Mediation is still operating on the old model of two parties coming together in a smart room in a third country under the auspices of a disinterested third party to reach a written agreement, finalised by a public handshake. Is this really how peace is built? For most families in Syria the issue is not whether Bashar al-Assad will be President or not (which is central to the diplomatic process) but whether they can eat tomorrow and whether their children can go to school. Stopping the war and building peace are two separate yet interconnected issues.

Only if we manage to increase ownership of peace processes will we have a chance to resolve the conflicts of the 21st century

The absence of violence is not peace. Sustainable peace is the condition produced by an accountable government, systems that ensure the rule of law, no more random arrest or executions, a fair economy and a future for the next generation. The role of mediators in this process is to plant the seeds for sustainable peace. Too often, mediators leave the responsibility for sustainable peace to those who make war. But people who can agree to stop a war are not necessarily the same people who can imagine and create a just society. Peace agreements should be frameworks for the actions of those who really create a peaceful and just society. In other words, we should not make the mistake to confuse peace agreements with conflict settlements.

Mediators are well advised to listen carefully to peace builders. During negotiations they are often observers (usually at a good distance) which can result in dangerous imbalances. Their insistence on peace is still missing from the calculations during negotiations. Mediators can plant the seeds for peace, peace builders are the guardians for a sustainable peaceful society.

A longer version of this article can be found in the yearbook Alert 2016! Report on conflicts, human rights and peacebuilding