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Piecemeal peacebuilding problematic: Paris

by Archives February 16, 2005

“Is market democracy the answer? Yes, it is the answer.”

Roland Paris knows how to get a crowd’s attention. Few academics would begin an hour-long lecture by answering the question in the lecture’s title within the first few minutes. But then, few academics would find themselves senior policy analysts on Canada’s Privy Council only four years after earning their PhD. Fewer still would be playing a key role in the most important overhaul of Canadian foreign policy in decades.

Paris seemed to enjoy himself as he returned to his favourite area of research, what he called “peacebuilding” in post-conflict states, after a year and a half of wrestling with the intricacies of Canada-U.S. relations on behalf of the Canadian government.

Paris explained the reasons he believes liberal democracy should be the goal when reconstituting war-ravaged states: “Democracies tend to be more peaceful, both internally and with their neighbours, they tend to be less repressive of their own people, less prone to humanitarian disasters such as famines, and they’re also more likely to manage their natural environment well.”

As for the free market part of the equation, “If we’ve learned anything in the past 50 years, it’s that some kind of market economy is the most reliable recipe for economic growth in the longer term. Command economies have been a colossal failure, and in addition to failing economically, they’ve imposed great hardship on the people who’ve been subject to these experiments.”

He then dealt with the view that some commentators have, that “peacebuilding is a form of neocolonialism.” Paris explained that colonialism, as it was practiced by the European powers, was explicitly a policy of exploitation for direct profit. The billions of dollars invested in peacebuilding operations, however, could not be expected to make any money for the investor, at least not for a very long time. Also, the nations that participated in peacebuilding did not retain the necessary control over the states to ever reap any financial gains from their intervention, so there was “no comparison” between colonialism and peacebuilding.

Paris went on to make a clear distinction between the “coercive model” for the establishment of market democracies by force, using Afghanistan and Iraq as examples, and the multilateral and voluntary peacebuilding undertaken in places such as Haiti, Bosnia, Liberia and Cambodia. While not condemning the coercive models outright, he explained that they brought with them a very different set of problems, and weren’t good examples of the kind of peacebuilding that he was advocating.

So if the international community has the right end goals, why have our efforts at building market democracies in post-conflict states been so unsuccessful? This was the real focus of Paris’ lecture, and is also the topic of his book, At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict.

After studying14 peacebuilding missions that were undertaken by the international community between 1989 and 1999, Paris found several crucial issues that kept arising.

First, peacebuilding has a better chance of success when democracy is already the goal of the party (or parties) involved in the post-conflict state. “Most of the countries that have asked for peacebuilding operations have embraced democracy from the grassroots up, and that’s reflected in the remarkable turnout rates for many of these post-conflict states in their first elections. Angola and Cambodia, for example, had turnout rates well over 90 per cent. For democracy to take root, it needs to be seen as an indigenous creation, not as a foreign import or imposition.”

Second, peacebuilding needs to move ahead at a realistic pace, appreciating the complexities and consequences of the radical changes that come along with it. “In the ’90s, peacebuilders tended to rush ahead with elections and market reforms, believing that simply by setting a country on the path to market democracy, the rest would take care of itself. In practice, rushing ahead with a poorly planned program of political and economic reforms can serve to reinforce or even reignite the problems in society that the reforms are intended to moderate.”

He cited Angola as an example, where the country was hurried into a two-party election, which was relatively free and fair, but neither side won the necessary 50 per cent of the vote. “Before the second round of votes could be organized, one of the parties went back into the countryside and relaunched a full-scale war which resulted in more deaths in the following 22 months than in the preceding decade of civil war.

Paris said that the 1992 election was a catalyst for renewed violence, forcing the latent conflict between the two leaders to surface just after they had decided to stop fighting. He said the all-or-nothing rules for the vote, and the lack of preparation for the possibility of one candidate rejecting the result makes Angola “a textbook case of elections coming too soon.”

Third, because a slower and more patient approach to peacebuilding is, by definition, a longer process, Paris believes that in order to mitigate the inevitable feelings of occupation and lack of soveriegnity on the part of the citizenry, the peacebuilders need to involve the local population in all levels of the process as much as possible.

“This in turn can create more legitimacy, more space and more time for peacemakers to do the work of helping to establish the foundations of a state that will last. Specifically during the period leading up to the first elections, steering groups can be created at the national, regional and local levels that include representatives from all the major constituencies in the country.” These bodies would be involved not only in shaping the way in which peacebuilding takes place, but would also be consulted when problems arise.

Fourth, the UN could create a “Peacebuilding Commission,” a new international agency, to manage peacebuilding operations. Inviting representatives from the state in question would be another way to add legitimacy to the operations, and would help to deal with the problem of unaccountability on the part of the UN and other international organizations in managing these situations.

Paris explained the “quick and dirty” approach to peacebuilding can, in fact, produce the worst of all outcomes. He cited recent social studies research which shows “countries that have engaged in a partial but incomplete transition to democracy are the most likely to engage in internal conflict, and also the most likely to get involved in wars with other states.”

“It’s time to move beyond the assumption that we can organize an election, push through a package of economic reforms, and then pull out and expect the almost magical production of a stable peace,” he concluded.

Look for Roland Paris’ mark on the results of the Federal government’s foreign policy review, due to be released soon.

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