Recovering from War: Gaps in Early Action

Rahul Chandran, Bruce Jones, Natasha Smith


How can international support for early recovery following conflict be improved? This report from the New York University Center on International Cooperation recommends measures to bridge three key gaps in the international response in the early recovery phase: gaps in strategy, financing and capacity. Work across all three areas is needed, and must start with an assessment of national capacity, or ‘the state of the state’. The deeply political nature of post-conflict recovery cannot be overemphasised.

‘Early recovery’ is defined as early efforts to: secure stability; establish the peace; resuscitate markets, livelihoods and services; and build core state capacity. The period of time involved in early recovery is fluid and dependent on the particular conflict context. The international community lacks mechanisms for providing early support for economic recovery, re-establishment of livelihoods and services, and state-building. Current mechanisms are un-integrated, operate on differing timelines and budgets, and have no overarching strategy.

While positive examples in Lebanon, Nepal, Afghanistan and Haiti demonstrate that effective support for early recovery is possible, reform of the multilateral architecture is needed to improve the international response. There are three primary weaknesses in international performance in early recovery: a strategic gap, a financing gap, and a series of capacity gaps. For example:

  • In Timor-Leste, failure to invest in security, agriculture and youth employment during the first phase of UN administration contributed to renewed crisis in 2006, necessitating new intervention. Different international actors were working to different plans and there was a lack of capacity at strategic and implementation levels. Money arrived on time but was spent slowly.
  • The same applied in south Sudan, where development funds have gone unspent because new local authorities have not established spending priorities or capacity.
  • In Afghanistan, lack of coherent strategy long hampered early recovery efforts.

International action in early post-conflict recovery should be aligned against two core objectives: 1) implementing the peace agreement, and 2) building national capacity to sustain the political process, maintain security, and lead national development efforts. Programming needs to be more fluid and flexible, and accept more risks.

  • Measures required to address the strategic gap include the: establishment of Integrated Standing Early Recovery Strategy Teams of experts to be deployed short-term; development of a standardised Integrated Peacebuilding Strategy, including state capacity assessment tool.
  • Addressing the financing gap requires: expansion of the Peace Building Fund; establishment of an Early Recovery Financing Task Force; in-country piloting of an Early Recovery Fund; and continued expansion of peacekeeping budgets.
  • Required measures to increase capacity include: shared assessment of need, and a coordinated response; investment in building civilian capacity in the South for early recovery deployment; and investment in multilateral capacity and stand-by teams for core sectors such as security reform. Capacity-building programmes need to be willing and able to take risks to build national capacity, even without national direction.


Chandran, R., Jones, B., and Smith, N., 2008, 'Recovering from War: Gaps in Early Action', Report for the UK Department for International Development, NYU Center on International Cooperation, New York University, New York