Summary of "At War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict"

Summary of

At War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict

By Roland Paris

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Paris, Roland. 2004. At War's End : Building Peace After Civil Conflict. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

In the post-Cold War world, it has been a widely held assumption amongst scholars and policymakers that the sure prescription for peace after civil conflict is the rapid implementation of liberal democracy and market-oriented economics. In this thought provoking work, Roland Paris argues that this Wilsonian approach, as he calls it, is unsubstantiated and a look at the empirical record suggests, at worst, that liberalization has just the opposite effect. While not suggesting any countries are worse off for having UN peacebuilding operations, the empirical record suggests greater caution as to assertions about the liberal peace thesis. Although liberal market-oriented democracies may be more peaceful, the transformation process is fraught with danger.

Paris tests these claims against the eleven UN peacebuilding operations deployed between 1989 and 1998. He begins with Angola and Rwanda, the clearest examples of peacebuilding failure. In both cases, rather than democratic reforms promoting pacifying tendencies, electoral loss and distrust of powersharing arrangements pushed combatants back onto the battlefield. In Cambodia and Liberia, although initial elections gave reason for optimism, the new governments quickly reverted to anti-democratic practices as electoral competition soon spilled into deadly conflict. Lessons from the Balkans are similarly disheartening. In Bosnia, democratization brought extremists to power, which were only tempered by Western meddling. Croatia's significant success can be attributed more to the fact that one side, the Serbs, largely fled the country rather than to the benefits of democratic and economic reform. In the Central American cases of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the record is more mixed. For the moment, democratic development appears to be in good shape as former combatants have not returned to violence after suffering electoral defeat. At the same time, economic liberalization appears to be recreating the very sources of the prior conflict. Marketization has exascerbated inequality within each of the states, which has fueled soaring crime rates. This in turn has led to growing calls for the military to step in and restore order. Finally, while Namibia and Mozambique are clear successes, Paris argues this does not entirely vindicate the Wilsonian paradigm. Both conflicts were in significant part fueled by external forces (Rhodesia and South Africa) so the complications of former combatants living side-by-side were minimized. Both also face potential problems in the future as some see Namibia becoming a one-party state and Mozambique facing rising economic inequality and a growing crime problem. While considering it premature to make definitive conclusions on Wilsonianism, Paris concludes that "the case studies do suggest that the liberalization process either contributed to a rekindling of violence or helped to recreate the historic sources of violence in many of the countries that have hosted these missions - a conclusion that casts doubts on the reliability of the peace-through-liberalization strategy as it has been practiced to date." (155)

So, what is to be done? Paris argues that much of the problem is inherent in the logic of market democracy itself, namely that it encourages competition and conflict. Where institutions are lacking to govern political and economic competition, violence could result. After considering and rejecting the alternatives of partition and building authoritarian regimes as precursor, Paris explores how the Wilsonian model could be made better. His solution, which he calls Institutionalization Before Liberalization (IBL), is for peacebuilders to focus on constructing institutions that can provide political stability and effective administration prior to initiating political and economic competition. The key elements of this strategy are (188-207):

  1. Wait until conditions are ripe for elections
  2. Design electoral systems that reward moderation
  3. Promote good civil society
  4. Control hate speech
  5. Adopt Conflict-Reducing Economic Policies
  6. The common denominator: rebuild effective state institutions

As Paris concludes, to follow these guidelines and achieve the hoped for outcome, however, requires both greater coordination on the part of the international community and a greater willingness to accept the political and economic costs of longer, more involved operations.