Peacebuilding Strategies in Post-Conflict States

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Mohandass Kalaichelvan's picture

War and peace have been intertwined in the history of mankind since time immemorial. When primatologists such as Richard Wrangham argue that humans might be hardwired to engage in warfare for resources and power, it may be tempting to construe that war is an inevitable aspect of our existence. However, the statistics on war itself in the most recent century seem to paint a more positive outlook for humankind. Although the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history due to World War 1 and 2 with “187 million killed or allowed to die by human decision”, statistics from the Uppsala Data Conflict Program (UCDP) indicate that the period of warfare since 1946 has been dominated by smaller-scale civil wars (Hobsbawm). Conflicts between great powers, which have the most potential for large casualties, have largely disappeared in the 2000s. Utilizing UCDP’s definition of a war (25 battle deaths per year), only 6 of the ongoing 32 armed conflicts in 2012 reached the intensity of a war.  

Despite this “rosy picture”, peace is hardly a guarantee in today’s world. I aim to recommend several peace-promoting strategies for states engaged in intrastate conflicts. Although conflict could take on any one of four forms, namely, extra-state, inter-state, internationalized and intrastate, I believe that the global landscape will continue to be dominated by intrastate civil conflicts for 2 reasons.

First, great power wars will be non-existent due to the stalemating effect of nuclear weapons. As Jervis notes, great power peace will largely be maintained because military victory is no longer possible and the status quo is relatively easy to maintain. In terms of intrastate conflicts, I will not focus on ex-ante civil war prevention strategies. Second, civil wars are notoriously hard to predict and by extension, hard to prevent. Although computer models are being developed to predict the outbreak and spread of civil strife, difficulties arise because civil war is often fuelled by social factors that are hard to capture in algorithms (The Economist, 2012).

“Liberal Peace” Manifesto in Peacebuilding

Daniel Philpott argues that the “dominant thinking [in peacebuilding strategies] is the liberal peace - dominant in that it pervades the most powerful and prestigious institutions and governments who take on the work of peacebuilding (5). Its aims are simple and familiar: to end armed violence and to establish human rights, democracy, and market economies. It envisions the UN, outside intervening states, state governments, and oppositional factions, undertaking mediation…. refugee settlement, and the creation of free government institutions, free markets, and a free media” (Philpott and Powers, 4). Although the “liberal peace” idea has merits, I believe that this narrow definition is too esoteric to achieve benefits on the ground in these strife-ridden countries.

Improvements to the “Liberal Peace” Manifesto

Any overarching strategy to promote peace in post-conflict states must encompass two key components. First, the strategy must realize that sustainable peace can only be brought about by a wide array of actors at all levels of society. Second, and more importantly, peace proponents must seek to do their best to promote “just peace”. As Obama mentioned in his Nobel Acceptance speech in 2009, peace is not merely the absence of conflict. He also added that sustainable peace can only take root in a post-conflict society when the inherent rights and dignity of every individual are respected.

Democratizing a post-conflict state has proven to be a harder task than expected. As mentioned earlier, many democratic experiments have failed in the past due to an overemphasis on the conduct of elections without providing real structural reform to the other essential characteristics of a democracy. Proponents of the “democracy export” school understand that democracy is a powerful tool to align the interests of the majority with the ruling coalition; yet, they fail to appreciate that it is imperfect at the same time, needing to be designed to suit the state in question. These failures are easily seen when the US tried to promote democracy in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. Riyad al-Gharib, an Iraqi writer sums it up perfectly by saying that, “the Iraqi dream of democracy is likely to fade away. Political elites have long undermined the meaning of the democratic process and therefore citizens – who look up to these elites – have begun to view democracy as a problem[1]”.

In light of these problems, a peacebuilding strategy based on democratization should only be implemented if the transitional state can develop a robust constitution that constrains the power of the state and individual rights such as freedom of speech and freedom to peaceful protests can be guaranteed. These two conditions are based on the track record of successful democratic experiments in the past. For example, both India and Brazil have been able to survive as largely peaceful democracies because they both put limits on the power of the government and provided guarantees for individual rights[2]. Both of these countries avoided the allure of majoritarianism which prescribes that winning the ballot box entitles the majority to do as it pleases, the very trap that the Iraqi democratic experiment fell into.  I also believe that fledgling democracies based on robust legal institutions will largely reduce the possibility of disenchanted minorities taking up arms to contest illiberal majorities which is a major problem in post-conflict societies.

Next, I would like to focus on improving the second tenet of the “liberal peace” agenda: economic liberalization and open market economics. I argue that economic liberalization does not seem to be aiding these states in their quest for sustainable peace. The main reason is that although capitalism and liberalism sound good in theory, they inevitably create winners and losers (Philpott and Powers, 143). This condition is exceptionally acute in states that are at high risk of civil war. Hence, I recommend the solutions put forth by Collier and Paris who argue that new systems of international governance are needed to manage international trade in natural resources so that warring parties cannot use illicit trade to finance wars (Philpott and Powers, 260). Such an approach will ensure that combatants will not be able to exploit the state’s natural resources.

Although the aforementioned solution will help to dis-incentivize one of the major reasons for ongoing civil conflicts, it does not achieve much in terms of getting rid of income inequality. I also argue that economic liberalization and trade policies that are specifically targeted at post-conflict societies must consider the needs of the state as the utmost priority. Smith argues that very too often, “the policy agenda of market liberalization is not one that emerges from a democratic foundation of deliberation among sovereign equals; rather, reflects long-standing patterns of global domination and subordination (261). I assert that such a misguided approach will not be able to create a firm basis for just peace. Hence, I recommend that developed countries should only conduct trade that proportionately benefits post-conflict societies in terms of improving domestic income inequality.

Third, international institutions can be improved to aid in peacebuilding efforts in post-conflict societies. From the outset, it seems contradictory that international organizations impede peacebuilding in post-conflict societies. However, Chesterman highlights that the “UN experience of post-conflict operations is characterized by countless ill-coordinated and overlapping bilateral and UN programs with inter-agency competition preventing the best use of scare resources” (131). Hence, I propose that international organizations must only engage in post-conflict societies when they have established the best plan for the state in question with key stakeholders (ie. national government, rebel factions and other international organizations) to ensure that the mandate is accepted by the majority. This solution will also prevent any overlapping or opposing mandates from interfering with the peacebuilding agenda.

Lastly, in response to the aforementioned criticism of “benevolent autocracies” that seek to build peace from the outside, I propose that international organizations should only intervene when the actions undertaken also include a comprehensive plan to “create local processes, provide resources and create the space for local actors to start a conversation that will define and consolidate their polity by mediating their vision of a good life into responsive and robust institutions” (Philpott and Powers, 137). Current peacebuilding strategies in this aspect are too focused on developing international presence first in a post-conflict state before proceeding to grow domestic institutions. I argue that these two processes must be pursued in tandem for successful peacebuilding.

The Way Ahead

Although I have critiqued the central tenets of the “liberal peace” manifesto, I still believe that these ideas have the ability to ameliorate the conditions and promote peace in post-conflict societies today. The tenets of the “liberal peace” manifesto have to be modified and improved upon in order to aid peacebuilding efforts. Although the majority of the developed nations can sit back and enjoy the peace in their communities, there can be no true “just peace” in the world if we are knowingly unwilling to help such post-conflict societies achieve their potential and build sustainable peace.


1. Anthony, Andrew. "Does Humanitarian Aid Prolong Wars?" The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

2. Chesterman, Simon. Whose Strategy, Whose Peace? The Role of International Institutions in Strategic Peacebuilding. Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World. Print.

3. Collier, Paul , ‘The market for civil war’, Foreign Policy, May-June, 2003.

4. "Democracy." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

5. Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War." American Political Science Review 97.01 (2003): 75. Print.

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7. Fast, Larissa The response imperative: Tensions and dilemmas of humanitarian action and strategic peacebuilding, In Daniel Philpott and Gerard Powers, eds., Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World (Oxford University Press, 2010)

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10. Paul Collier and others, Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2003).

11. Roland Paris, At War’s End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict (New York: Cambridge University Press)

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13. Jervis, Robert. "The Nuclear Revolution and the Common Defense." Political Science Quarterly 101.5 (1986): 689. Print.

14. Philpott, Daniel, and Gerard F. Powers. Strategies of Peace. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

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