Peace-building in Syria is missing a piece

  • National Newswatch

On December 18th, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to facilitate the creation of temporary Syrian governance.  The plan would see the new Syrian nation hold elections within 18 months of the drafting of a constitution.The determination of the international community to bring peace to Syria is unquestionably a positive development. Rushing into elections, however, would be a costly mistake.  The Syrian people have only known a repressive dictatorship and have been muzzled for multiple generations with the fear of being imprisoned, tortured, or killed.  Furthermore, when citizens of a war-torn country are rebuilding their homes, as well as securing their livelihoods and the well-being of their children, their basic concerns will take precedence over holding a government accountable.  It is the classic case of most developing countries.Creating a democratic state requires a medium to long-term culture-building undertaking that needs an informed and consulted population to ensure its sustainability.  To encourage such a scenario, Canada would be well-placed to propose the implementation of a neutral transitional administration mandated by the United Nations.  A transitional administration of this sort would be expected to:implement, through public consultation, basic institutions and services that would ensure stability; put in place a public healing and reconciliation process; mentor the inaugural government for years after to ensure the new democracy is stable; and accept a smooth transition out of power at the appropriate time.The transitional government should spend the time required to help build public support for the fledgling government and would be accountable for public administration.Research suggests various tools and resources necessary to conduct 'successful' nation-building. Although there have been cases categorized as successfully-built nations post-violent conflict -- e.g., Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Namibia, or Liberia - these countries, until today, still lack profound democratic cultures.  Most of these nations are, in fact, very close to re-emerging into violence and their governance is fragile.We know from RAND's research on nation-building that successful democratization rests on the strength of civil society, egalitarian income distribution, and a market-oriented economy. However, the missing element is the necessary investment in the building of a culture of democracy.  As of yet, no peace mission has invested into this fundamental pillar.Why do we expect post-war, newly democratic countries to overcome the precursors and effects of civil war or dictatorship? Can they be expected to seamlessly practice transparent, democratic and people-powered politics?The most vulnerable solution would be to hasten the election process and sacrifice the fundamental need for culture-building in order to reinforce the powers and mechanisms of democracy, including the notions of social and human justice.As importantly, this needs to be met with several years of healing and reconciliation to ensure a new beginning for public life.  If efforts are not invested in transitioning the country into a new culture of democracy, any Syrian government elected within 18 months is likely to fail.  A peace-building effort designed to give rise to a democratic Syria will require the implementation of a medium-term transitional UN team composed of neutral representatives, most of whom can be of Syrian origin.The UN team's mandate should be to administer and ensure the viability of basic national services and infrastructure (e.g., local security, schools, hospitals, justice system, infrastructure, economy, free media, etc.), launch a healing and reconciliation process, while encouraging the gradual adoption of a democratic culture through practices of public involvement in policy and information-sharing.Once the process of building the democratic culture is deemed advanced enough to launch an election, the transitional team should gradually - and strategically - transition out of the administration role into a long-term mentoring relationship that sees the team helping to ensure the sustainability of the newly-elected government.  These changes should not be implemented through an imperialistic approach but rather through the empowering of Syrians, based on a bottom-up strategy, to strengthen the democratization process and its sustainability.The Arab Spring is a recent example that illustrates the failure of nation-building and peace-making.  In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, we witnessed a rush to hold elections (i.e., establish nascent democracies), combined with a failure to address the primary needs of the population (i.e., basic infrastructure and services) and little, if any, effort to establish a process of democratic culture-building.With these recent failures fresh in our mind, we have an opportunity before us to implement new models of nation-building that ensure investments by the international community bring sustainable results - results than enhance the prospects for more peaceful and just societies to succeed. If Canada were to propose such a democratization mechanism, it would mark itself once again as a leader and innovator in international peace-building.Nadine Medawar is a graduate student in Conflict Studies at St-Paul University in Ottawa. She was a candidate for the Liberal Party in the October 2015 election. A songwriter and performer, Nadine Medawar is also a recording artist whose work has been distributed across Canada and internationally. She is a co-founder of Hope Without Borders, a charity that supports small social projects in disadvantaged countries, and has also worked in strategic planning and analysis in the media industry.