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Dimensions of postconflict peacebuilding and democratization. (Review Essay).

Thomas Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999), 411 pp.

Elizabeth Cousens and Chetan Kumar, eds., Peacebuilding as Politics: Cultivating Peace in Fragile Societies (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000), 248 pp.

Shepard Forman and Stewart Patrick, Good Intentions: Pledges of Aid for Postconflict Recovery (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000), 432 pp.

James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 445 pp.

Ian Smillie, ed., Patronage or Partnership: Local Capacity Building in Humanitarian Crises (Westport, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 2001), 212 pp.

United Nations Development Programme, Development Dimensions of Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building, an independent study prepared by Bernard Wood for the Emergency Response Division, UNDP (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2001), 56 pp.

What do East Timor, El Salvador, the former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Haiti have in common? The United Nations has overseen concerted peacebuilding activities in each one. They are also formal democracies. (1) Democracy promotion and democratization are exercises in applied political development. Peacebuilding is an exercise in sociopolitical engineering. When attempted in countries transitioning from violent conflict, democratization and peacebuilding as advocated and modeled by the West encounter tremendous challenges. This essay explores how scholars study these challenges and how their scholarship helps inform our understandings of the relationships between these concepts.

What are the terms of this debate? At present, the peacebuilding literature lacks conceptual and terminological precision regarding what "peacebuilding" comprises. The problem can be characterized as one of definitional bounty and inconsistency. In his 1992 An Agenda for Peace, Boutros Boutros-Ghali defined the term peacebuilding in largely unspecified terms. (2) By 2001, the UN Security Council (3) and the UN Development Programme (2001) defined peacebuilding in expansive terms that are not wholly consistent with earlier definitions. From the perspective of strategic planning, definitional multiplicity and inconsistency inhibit interagency cooperation. From the perspective of research and analysis, the operational expansion of the term, while signaling recognition of the complexity of contemporary conflict, paradoxically renders the rigorous study of peacebuilding more difficult.

The democratization literature, in contrast, reflects greater consensus and a narrowing of definition in recent years. A more circumscribed political definition of democracy has trumped broader economic definitions (see Charles Call and Susan Cook in this issue). As widely used, democratization here refers to the processes whereby the rules and procedures of citizenship are applied to political institutions previously governed by other principles (coercive control), expanded to include persons not previously covered (ethnic minorities), or extended to cover issues and institutions not previously subject to citizen participation (state agencies). (4) Here, conceptual precision aids in the analytic study of democratization. However, the static nature of the concept could be indicative of a failure to recognize the changing features of contemporary political transitions, especially in postconflict settings.

Several recommendations about the direction of future research emerge that may advance our knowledge about peacebuilding and postconflict political construction. First, learn from, rather than repeat, the past. Second, recognize the potential benefits of augmenting abstract knowledge with practical knowledge--techne and metis. Third, bridge the disjuncture between local priorities and donor interests. The works reviewed here reveal that progress in these areas has occurred largely in word rather than in deed. Multilateral and bilateral efforts to promote peacebuilding and democratization require continued refinement and evaluation at both the strategic and operational levels, and research in these fields must engage these issues directly and critically.

Learning from, Rather than Repeating, the Past

Is the recent enthusiasm by the United States for democracy assistance merely a reenactment of U.S. promotion of foreign democratic political development of the l960s? If so, what does this say about the stated policy goals of U.S. democratization programs and their outcomes? These critical questions are posed, and to some degree answered, by Thomas Carothers in Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve. Carothers surveys the past half-century of democracy aid and concludes that while it has remained a central foreign policy goal of the United States, democracy programs today reflect minimal levels of learning and reform, have met with significant setbacks and failures, and are plagued with gaps between expectations and accomplishments.

How has the United States responded? Carothers is perhaps too kind in concluding that some learning among democratization proponents has taken place. In fact, the author's case studies overwhelmingly reinforce a different conclusion. U.S. democratization assistance models (based on holding elections, creating state institutions, and promoting civil society) have been retooled merely through shifts in emphasis and technique within the existing and historically unchanged model (for example, greater emphasis on civil society and less on elections). This should not be interpreted as indicative of a learning pattern per se. Moreover, shifting emphasis among programs that have been unsuccessful in the past to address new postconflict political reconstruction challenges further stifles strategic innovation. It also inhibits democratization proponents from developing potential new alternatives outside the traditional framework.

The real contribution that Carothers's Aiding Democracy Abroad makes to the literature on democratization is the unabashedly pragmatic assessment of the strengths and limitations of U.S. foreign democracy assistance, the overarching strategic framework, and the "menu" of activities employed under the broader model. The assumptions nested in the "democracy template"--the superiority of the U.S. democracy framework, its focus on institutional modeling, and a belief that democratization follows a natural and linear sequence--are not realistic. (5) When transitions depart from the assumptions and the menu, the U.S. model remains woefully unable to adjust.

Finally, it is not clear from this analysis why the tendency of backsliding during the democratic consolidation process, something that has been explored by other democratization scholars, (6) has been ignored by U.S. agencies and democracy policymakers. Of the nearly 100 countries considered to be transitional democracies in recent years, only one-fifth are clearly en route to becoming "successful, well-functioning democracies or at least have made some democratic progress and still enjoy a positive dynamic of democratization." (7) The difficulties of consolidation are among the factors that make postconflict transitions distinctive, for it is here that the interface between democratization and conflict resolution/peacebuilding is most critical and deserves greater attention from the practitioners and academic communities involved in policymaking.

How has the international community responded to challenges of peacebuilding and postconflict political reconstruction? Pursuant to calls by the Brahimi report (8) for a radical rethinking of the international community's framework of peace operations, including an enhanced role for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UNDP in 2001 commissioned an independent study, authored by Bernard Wood, focusing on the role of development in crisis and postconflict situations. This report, entitled Development Dimensions of Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building, addresses how development cooperation can most effectively be applied in situations of transition from violent conflict and in consolidating peace and restoring sustainable development. The UNDP peacebuilding strategy focuses on political reconstruction and governance programming in addition to economic and sustainable development efforts.

This trend is being mirrored. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank have recently engaged in governance and conflict-related work. They have also invested substantial resources in political programs in postconflict recovery and reconstruction settings. For example, the World Bank's 2001 Operational Policy statement on development cooperation and conflict (9) and the 2001 OECD guidelines on development (10) contain features that are similar to the recommendations made by Wood for the UNDP. In practical terms, this new emphasis on strengthening capacities for governance and political reconstruction responds to conflict prevention and management concerns--something that the U.S. model has not done.

Are these changes in donor approaches evidence of learning? Perhaps. Recognition of the nexus between development and governance is a positive step forward in advancing development goals and political goals. One of the more promising features of the UNDP report is its emphasis on the complexities of postconflict transitions and development. The proposed strategic framework explicitly addresses the links between social and economic development, reconciliation and postconflict retributive justice, and the development of political stability and democratic governance. All of this is, moreover, emphasized within the context of prioritizing the role of local-level participation (p. 52)- enabling local ownership and building durable local capacities. The organization is actively reassessing its work in response to the realities of conflict and postconflict societies. According to Carothers, the U.S. continues with business as usual in spite of those realities.

However, close examination of the UNDP's proposed postconflict governance package (p. 47) reveals something very similar to the U.S. democratic assistance model, giving cause for skepticism. The menu includes holding competitive elections; promoting institution building; strengthening civil society; and promoting the rule of law, justice systems, and respect for individual and group rights. The inductive approach used to reframe UNDP's role in peacebuilding and to include a democratization/governance component is praiseworthy. Yet, as Carothers aptly demonstrates in Aiding Democracy Abroad, the results of promoting democratic governance along the lines of a U.S. model have been unimpressive, especially in postconflict transition societies. Great care will be needed in implementing these programs to avoid the mistakes made by U.S. assistance.

Striking a Balance Between Abstract and Practical Knowledge: Techne vs. Metis

Models of peacebuilding and democracy assistance are only as good as the knowledge that goes into them. New knowledge should in turn contribute to improving those models, creating a feedback or heuristic of improved performance and adaptability. When mechanistic attempts at institutional modeling founder on local structures of power and interests, (11) democracy assistance tends to unravel.

According to James Scott, the Greek term metis represents the wide array of practical skills and acquired intelligence used in responding to constantly changing environments. Metis is knowledge gained through experience-practical knowledge. When incorporated into the development of postconflict reconstruction strategies, metis may provide the building blocks for effective governance. It may do so in a way that another type of knowledge, techne, which represents abstract, settled, or top-down knowledge and the quantified and rational representation of complex social facts, does not. The concept (if not the term) of metis is used by each of the works surveyed here. It is an underanalyzed but critical element that affects peacebuilding and postconflict political reconstruction strategies, and its importance is well articulated in the following two works.

Ian Smillie's Patronage or Partnership: Local Capacity Building in Humanitarian Crises analyzes capacity-building efforts across five crisis or postconflict settings. Methodological consistency runs refreshingly through the cases and, unlike other works in the peacebuilding literature, Patronage or Partnership takes great pains to employ conceptual and definitional clarity as regards the goals and targets of capacity building. Chapter contributors assess competing understandings of capacity building and civil society, attempt to explain trends and tensions in North/South peacebuilding and democratization cooperation, and evaluate the need for continued reforms in humanitarian and development assistance methodologies and institutions.

One of the most formidable obstacles facing capacity building is the idea that simple transfers of information require little effort or skill, but that building knowledge, changing behavior, and altering attitudes require investments of significantly different orders of magnitude. Valuable insights are generated regarding the complexity of factors that lead capacity-building efforts to fall well short of their goals. The conclusions are eye-opening. In nearly all the cases, capacity building fails. In some cases, capacities are retarded or injured. In others, inappropriate capacities are emphasized. Some efforts have failed because of their poor design; others have failed because of misplaced intentions, emphasis on technical rather than substantive programs, or inappropriate knowledge transfers.

The latter two factors, in particular, feature prominently in most capacity-building efforts undertaken in contemporary postconflict settings. The international community's preoccupation with institution building and making a quick impact is an indication of a techne-driven, top-down strategy for capacity building (see Peter Uvin and Charles Mironko in this issue). As pointed out by Mike Leffert in Smillie (p. 145), sponsors of these programs are under time-limited, must-spend budgetary constraints and know what they are going to do before they arrive. While the idea of capacity building is attractive to donors and has a feel-good ring to it, the cases in Patronage or Partnership reveal that at both the strategic and operational levels, meaningful capacity building remains largely an idealistic enterprise.

In Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, James Scott advances the argument that the most tragic episodes of state-initiated social engineering are the outcome of a combination of four elements. First, states are driven by an instrumental need to standardize complex, dynamic, and unique circumstances of local environments (techne over metis). Second, they overemphasize the importance of modern, highly technical knowledge in carrying out that standardization. Third, states underestimate the potential for postconflict consolidation of undemocratic governance structures. And fourth, civil society in these settings often does not possess the capacity to resist undemocratic structures when they emerge. Many of these elements are found in peacebuilding and political reconstruction programs. Moreover, they also serve to reinforce the differing emphases that are placed on how knowledge is transmitted through these activities--whether priority is accorded to techne or meti s.

Indeed, the entire strategy of improving postconflict peacebuilding and democratization via capacity building has little chance of contributing to democracy unless it helps create a civil society that is independent of government and committed to principles that undergird democracy. Building this kind of capacity takes time, is susceptible to ebbs and flows, and requires acknowledged modesty by extemal actors (UNDP study, p. 13). Outside involvement in peacebuilding and democratization in postwar countries cannot and should not aspire to devise and impart solutions for civil society without participation by civil society.

It is true that when complex facts are simplified and standardized, essential knowledge about those facts is lost. However, it is equally true that when essential knowledge is not subjected to some degree of standardization, its successful transmission from one individual to another or from one sector of a society to another may be impaired. Scott does not appear to be concerned with the latter danger in his analysis. He portrays abstract and practical knowledge as being deeply incompatible, placing both concepts at opposite ends of a spectrum where a stepwise move away from techne represents a stepwise move toward metis.

Yet seldom can these types of knowledge be separated analytically from one another. The contributions that each one makes in peacebuilding and democratization may vary enormously across conflict settings. Perhaps a more useful way of viewing the relationship between techne and metis is to recognize their mutually constitutive characteristics. Taken together, techne and metis help integrate the top-down with the bottom-up. In terms of developing effective peacebuilding and democratization frameworks, practical knowledge (metis) must be emphasized relative to abstract knowledge (techne), not as its replacement.

Bridging the Gaps Between Local Priorities and Donor Interests

If donors prioritize peacebuilding and democratization in transitions from violent conflict, then it is imperative that donors ensure that their assistance effectively advances these goals. How do these goals get matched and prioritized against local interests? The peacebuilding literature addresses this question to varying degrees; however, the works that are examined here do it particularly well. Each emphasizes different analytical aspects of peacebuilding and postconflict political reconstruction and reinforces the general conclusion that it is rare for donor practices and interests to align themselves with the needs of local environments.

Elizabeth Cousens and Chetan Kumar's Peacebuilding as Politics takes this misalignment as the analytic starting point and employs it across five case studies to formulate a compelling critique of the peacebuilding and democratization enterprises. These enterprises reify structure over agency, and donor priorities (institution building chief among them) over local interests (where the development of processes, not institutions, would be paramount). The editors deliberately selected a wide range of cases to address common weaknesses in the peacebuilding literature, which include competing understandings of the term peacebuilding, appropriate objectives, and effective methods.

The focus on methods, in particular, represents a significant contribution to the peacebuilding literature. Multilateral or bilateral approaches to peacebuilding, whether driven by donor tools and capacities ("deductive" in Cousens and Kumar's terms) or by conflict parameters ("inductive"), help shape and determine peacebuilding outcomes. Because deductive approaches disregard questions about peacebuilding priorities and tend to favor institutions over processes, they often result in failed or mixed outcomes. For example, the international community's push to build formal political institutions and hold elections in Bosnia contributed greatly to the consolidation of the country's tripartite division and mitigated against the development of democratic governance.

In contrast, inductive approaches to peacebuilding are problem driven and tend to deploy international assistance to redress chronic inequities or social cleavages, in addition to aiding conflict resolution efforts. This approach invites a more nuanced assessment of the post-conflict setting in which these strategies are being employed, stresses that local priorities be identified at all levels of society, and focuses on processes rather than on institutions. Taking the Bosnia example one step further, donors were not concerned with whether effective political competition had evolved that would allow political institutions to emerge around that process. Disregard for local power struggles and blind adherence to donor time lines in Bosnia may actually have served to reinforce antidemocratic practices in that country.

Like Carothers, Cousens and Kumar note that donor preoccupation with the reproduction of institutional forms should be avoided unless careful analysis of the sociopolitical impact is undertaken. Where the need to retool institutional modeling is confirmed, reconfiguration that suits only particular donor interests will be less effective without local input. Disconnections of postconflict political assistance from its local context--without due accord to stakeholders, local power arrangements, and institutional asymmetries--will likely fail. The peacebuilding literature tends to overlook this consideration.

Just as the signing of a peace accord does not equal "peace," pledges of aid do not equal delivery of aid. The chronic gaps between pledges and delivery of aid can and do jeopardize the consolidation of national peace and postconflict transitions. The cases in Shepard Forman and Stewart Patrick's Good Intentions: Pledges of Aid for Postconflict Recovery raise important, but seldom analyzed, questions about the variables that affect bilateral and multilateral donor aid commitments. The cases also yield further insights into the disjuncture between bilateral and multilateral donor and local peacebuilding priorities. These include the timely delivery of aid versus building capacity; current expenditures of aid versus lasting investments; and the necessity of balancing elite participation and the promotion of egalitarian growth at critical stages of the peacebuilding process. Good Intentions is one of the only works in the contemporary peacebuilding literature that focuses on these important trade-offs, which set the tone for subsequent reconstruction programs.

Because the delivery of aid does not usually transform the power or interests of the major political forces in recipient countries, it alone cannot neutralize the entrenched forces that oppose democratization (Carothers, p. 305). Proposed changes to UNDP policy appear to reflect these limits. The new policy stresses that donors and other international actors recognize that they, as external partners, need t o be explicit in indicating the limits of what they can and cannot support and what they can achieve. The diplomatic attractiveness of making large aid promises and proposing "quick impact projects" must be tempered by a sense of responsibility among donors. However, it is unclear whether UNDP is advocating that donors must learn to live with local power asymmetries, or whether donors should engage the local political context to change this and create opportunities for aid to be more effective.

Forman and Patrick conclude that postconflict transition outcomes depend greatly on whether and to what degree this disjuncture between donor priorities and peacebuilding priorities is addressed. When addressed inadequately, donor commitments may become less stable, and aid pledged is highly likely to become aid unrealized. Based on the data presented, the cause for concern here is not insignificant. For example, donors have delivered less than half of the U.S.$3.4 billion and U.S.$800 million pledged to the Palestinian Territories and Cambodia, respectively.

In cases where the international community fails to honor its postconflict assistance pledges, the legitimacy of peacebuilding and democratization may be jeopardized, resulting in the further frustration of recipient society expectations (see Michele Griffin, this issue). The UNDP study (p. 51) notes that, in 1995, major donors made promises in Rwanda that were central to promoting justice in that country. Failure to deliver the aid pledged stalled early reconciliation and reinforced distrust about the intentions of the international community. Similarly, in Kosovo in 1999, urgent prewinter housing promises (exceeding U.S.$400 million) did not come to fruition until the following summer.

Not surprisingly, the issues described above demonstrate that multilateral and bilateral donors "discriminate" in their levels of commitment to both crisis and postconflict settings. Pledges and delivery of aid are linked to national interests of donor states--in short, to political will. Donor interest is a critical variable in such an undertaking; however, the prescriptions offered in Good Intentions only scratch the surface here. And, by focusing their analysis on external resources, the authors themselves recognize the risk this approach has in reifying the role of donors in evaluating outcomes of postconflict transitions. Why is not the disjuncture between donor and local actors' priorities more injurious to donors? First, agencies, be they multilateral or bilateral, profit from failure. Second, and perhaps even more disturbing, these same agencies operate in an assured environment: another complex emergency is just around the corner. Finally, agencies are not hurt by placing emphasis on donor priorities because they get to evaluate "lessons learned" without ever having to test the assumption that learning has actually occurred (Smillie, p. 131).


What is required for peacebuilding and democratization strategies to succeed? To be more effective, peacebuilding and democratization frameworks must sharpen and retain their focus and original purpose, which should be to consolidate peace in the short term while increasing the likelihood that future conflict can be managed without resorting to violence. In the majority of postconflict settings, this will involve some combination of (re)constructing or strengthening authoritative, and eventually legitimate, governance mechanisms (Cousens and Kumar). As the works reviewed in this essay reveal, multilateral agencies are revisiting their peacebuilding and postconflict political reconstruction strategies. Bilateral strategies for democratization, especially those of the United States, however, are in continued need of reformulation and retooling. Democratization proponents are overly focused on how governance can be enhanced through institution building.

Building capacities with appropriate types of knowledge from appropriate segments of society helps enhance the legitimacy of peacebuilding and postconflict political reconstruction activities. Institution building is only one part of this process. Where perceptions of institutional legitimacy are high, the potential for institutional longevity is good. Wood's recommendations for UNDP reflect this, as do Cousens and Kumar and Carothers, respectively. Smillie picks up on this theme as well in Patronage or Partnership. After all, capacity building is not just about transforming knowledge into something real and tangible. It is also about joining Scott's concepts, metis with techne--two of the guiding elements in making peacebuilding and democratization solutions sustainable and meaningful to the populations they intend to serve. Shifting the strategic enterprise of these activities from a deductive, structural perspective to an inductive, process-driven one brings local priorities to the fore, rather than subord inating them to donor priorities.

Different postconflict settings require different strategies. Of critical importance in any postconflict society, however, is that multilateral and bilateral donors recognize that when strategies are well devised and efficiently employed, they have the potential to generate a range of benefits that extend well beyond the postconflict phase. They should also help contribute to more stable, effective, and legitimate forms of governance. Effective governance is a critical underpinning of development. The ultimate challenge of governance is managing conflict without violence, which can best be served through democratic institutions and processes developed with local participation and the use of appropriate forms of knowledge.


(1.) See Thomas Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm," Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (January 2002).

(2.) Boutros Boutros-Ghali defines peacebuilding as "action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict." See his An Agenda for Peace, 2d. ed. (New York: United Nations, 1995), p. 46.

(3.) United Nations Security Council, Presidential Statement, 20 February 2001, par. 5.

(4.) For an in-depth discussion of the concept of democratization, see Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions About Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), chap. 2. See also Giuseppe DiPalma, To Craft Democracies: An Essay on Democratic Transitions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); and Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

(5.) For an even stronger articulation of this claim, see Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm."

(6.) See Larry Diamond, Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

(7.) See Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm."

(8.) UN General Assembly Res. A/55/305 and UN Security Council Res. S/2000/809), Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (New York: United Nations, 2000).

(9.) World Bank, Operational Policy Statement on Development Cooperation and Conflict (Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group, 2001); World Bank, Framework for World Bank Involvement in Post-Conflict Situations (Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group, 1998).

(10.) OECD/DAC, Conflict, Peace and Development Cooperation for the Threshold of the 21st Century, Report and Supplement (Paris: OECD, 1998, 2001).

(11.) See Carothers, "The End of the Transition Paradigm."

Melissa Labonte is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Brown University and research assistant for the Governance in War-Torn Societies project at Brown's Watson Institute for International Studies. Her research focuses on humanitarian affairs, international organizations, and multilateral peace operations, and her most recent publication is "Humanitarian Actors and the Politics of Preventive Action: Is There Room in the Peacebuilding Framework?" in W. Andy Knight and Tom Keating, eds., Building Sustainable Peace (University of Alberta Press, forthcoming 2003).
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Title Annotation:Patronage or Partnership: Local Capacity Building in Humanitarian Crises; Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed; Good Intentions: Pledges of Aid for Postconflict Recovery; Peacebuilding as Politics: Cultivating Peace in Fragile Societies; Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve
Author:Labonte, Melissa
Publication:Global Governance
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Previous Article:Civil wars: what we don't know. (Review Essay).
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