Criteria for successful Norwegian peace engagement
Written by Anette Wilhelmsen and Javier Fabra-Mata, project leaders, Evaluation Department.
Since the early 1990s, Norway has been engaged in a number of peace and reconciliation processes, making peace diplomacy a key feature in Norwegian foreign and development policy. There is a widely shared perception, both in Norway and internationally, that Norway is a nation that has a special tradition of promoting peace.
However, evaluations and assessments of Norway's engagement in the peace processes in both Sri Lanka and South Sudan show that the experiences are mixed. One important question is: What are the most important criteria for being a good facilitator in peace engagements?
A new evaluation by the Evaluation Department documents and analyses Norway's role in the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC in the period 2010-2016. Together with Cuba, Norway acted as a facilitator and played a key role in the peace process. The evaluation shows that Norway had most of the criteria for being a good facilitator in place, but there were some challenges.
Trust is key
One important criteria for being a good facilitator is trust, which was important for Norway being invited as a facilitator to the Colombian peace process in the first place.
Of importance were Norway’s reputation as a trustworthy peace facilitator, the fact that Norway is not bound by the European Union’s ban for interaction with any designated terrorist groups, and its financial resources and long-term commitment to peace. Both the government and the FARC could therefore agree on inviting Norway into the peace process.
An existing Norwegian ‘diplomatic peace footprint’ in Colombia was also an advantage. The personal connections established by Norwegians on the ground, their knowledge of the different stakeholders in Colombia, and their ability to navigate a highly complex political landscape, were significant in this regard.
In the Colombia case, the evaluation finds that trust was not only a condition for Norway to succeed, but also an aspect Norway consciously contributed to build.
However, the evaluation finds that more could have been done to build public trust in the peace process. This is especially related to the referendum on the peace agreement in October 2016, where the Colombians rejected the peace agreement. Norway could have invested more time in helping Colombians better understand the peace agreement more generally ahead of the plebiscite.
In addition, Norway could have prepared for a scenario in which the initial peace agreement was rejected in the plebiscite. Even though Norway was quick in its response to the new, post-plebiscite reality, the evaluation found limited evidence of preparation that could have increased the effectiveness of Norwegian support.
Need for prioritisation
Another criteria for being a good facilitator is capacity, both in terms of time, access to expertise and knowledge, and resources. In Colombia, Norway adopted an approach of working through three focus areas during the peace talks: women’s participation and a gender perspective; transitional justice; and demining.
This approach had not been systematically undertaken in any other peace negotiations involving Norway and is assessed as positive by the evaluation. Internally, focus areas were devised as anchors for Norway’s work, and to enable different individuals, sections and departments within the MFA to rally behind the Norwegian effort. Externally, tangible achievements were made in all of the focus areas.
The fact that Norway operated through a small team is assessed as positive in the evaluation for gaining the trust of the negotiating parties as previously mentioned.
Secondly, it facilitated the acquisition of the inside knowledge necessary to make the guarantors’ support effective – a type of experiential knowledge that is difficult to obtain through either occasional participation or transferring knowledge from individual to individual. However, this strategy was not without challenges.
Logically, the smaller the team, the harder it is to accompany the whole process inside and outside of the negotiations, and the more vulnerable the team becomes. To offset these challenges, a small team requires effective back-end support at different levels.
The Norwegian team did to an extent receive the support it needed, but it could have benefitted from more assistance. This is especially true in relation to operations (to free up team members’ time so they could focus on other pressing tasks), communication (to develop tailored messages), and knowledge facilitation and technical expertise.
Future Norwegian peace engagement
The evaluation of Norway's role in the Colombian peace process shows that peace engagement can be successful if the right criteria are in place. It shows that trust and capacity are crucial for Norway to be a successful facilitator. The evaluation also shows that there is a need for an increased recognition of what this requires from the Norwegian government. The Norwegian government should therefore prioritise when and which peace processes they engage in. This way, Norway can be a good facilitator also in future peace processes.