Peacebuilding in the twenty‐first century involves a multistage process of negotiation and implementation, with a central role for international organizations and the leading states in those groupings. In the past, the United States has played a principal role in promoting the end of civil wars, and then in supporting and financing peace operations through the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The advent of the administration of President Donald Trump represents a dramatic shift in orientation toward peacebuilding in each phase. This will likely have a significant impact on where and by whom peacebuilding activities are conducted, but will not necessarily result in fewer or less effective conflict management efforts globally.

Peacebuilding occurs in post‐conflict societies, and is therefore predicated on ending civil wars so that peacebuilding activities (e.g., elections, reconstruction, reconciliation) can commence. Civil war termination often requires mediation by third parties, and the promise of post‐conflict assistance is usually an element of peacebuilding efforts. The Trump administration has shown little interest in playing the role of conflict manager, and has thus far only been concerned with civil wars in which it perceived a particular U.S. interest and attached little importance to resolving the primary disputes between the main combatants. In the case of Syria and Yemen, that interest has been in defeating the Islamic State (ISIS).

In addition, Trump has shown even less inclination than reluctant previous administrations to support peacebuilding and the United Nations in general. The United States is cutting its contributions to the United Nations overall and has sought to reduce its funding of U.N. peacekeeping from its historical 28 percent to 25 percent of total costs. Under U.S. pressure, the U.N. cut $600 million from its $8 billion budget for peacekeeping in 2017. This will limit the organization’s ability to launch new operations and carry out post‐conflict humanitarian and development activities. The United States also displays little concern about present conditions in Africa, the primary locus of civil conflict in the last two decades and likely to be an important target of future peacebuilding activities; the Trump Administration has no clear Africa policy and is closing a number of military outposts in several countries there.

One might reasonably conclude that fewer conflict management attempts to end civil wars will be undertaken and consequently fewer peacebuilding operations will result. This is conceivable, but it is more likely that other states and organizations will fill the gaps left by the United States, establishing new patterns that will endure after the end of the Trump Administration. Some movement is already under way in this direction, likely to be accelerated by the U.S. policy changes.

If the United States withdraws from the role of conflict manager or is no longer perceived as an honest broker, the most likely state to fill that void is China, at least for conflicts in Africa. As its third largest trading partner, Africa is increasingly important for Chinese economic and strategic interests (Laadam 2018): the large amount of Chinese aid flowing to Africa and the establishment of Chinese military bases there reflect this. Third‐party Chinese mediation, inducements, and pressure could become more common mechanisms for halting civil conflict on the African continent. This would be one indicator of a “power transition” from the United States to China, arriving sooner than analysts have predicted (Lai 2011). It is less clear which actors would step up in other regions, although the European Union would be a logical player in its own region. Conflict management efforts that do not include the United States (in any region) could occur on an ad hoc basis, which was the case when Iran, Russia, and Turkey sought to negotiate over conflict conditions in Syria.

The United Nations is likely to be less involved in carrying out future peacebuilding operations, not only because of reduced U.S. financial and political support, but also because of ongoing disagreements between the permanent members that predate and are not directly caused by Trump Administration policy. If funding concerns and vetoes block U.N. action, the gap could be filled by agents substituting for the U.N. in peace operations. To a substantial extent, the trend is already in this direction. During the Cold War, the U.N. was almost the exclusive provider of peace operations. Since then, however, there has been a dramatic shift toward regional organizations and other collectives. If one adopts a broad definition of peace operations, approximately two hundred of them have taken place since 1948. The U.N. has organized a plurality of them (79 or just under 40 percent), but no longer a majority (Diehl and Balas 2014).1 European‐based organizations (European Union, Organization for Security and Co‐operation in Europe) have been leaders in conducting new peace operations as has the African Union. It is conceivable that regional organizations will pick up the slack, especially for conflicts that occur in their immediate geographic areas.

The peacebuilding legacy of the Trump Administration is likely to hasten a shift away from American‐led multilateralism with new actors and regional organizations filling the gaps. Opening the space for other states and organizations could lead to a permanent shift away from a U.S.‐driven agenda for promoting democracy and other Western values through peacebuilding to one considerably more diffuse and less global.

1.

I have updated the data reported there through 2016.

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