Political Order in Post-Conflict States

A Theoretical Framework

Peacebuilding interventions typically fall short of achieving their aspirations because of a mismatch between the objectives of the international community and those of post-conflict elites. The United Nations is intent on building the basis for effective and legitimate governance through a transformative approach to peacebuilding. Domestic elites, by contrast, are intent on forging a very different type of political order, one geared toward bolstering their own political survival and power, with claims to governing authority that are rooted in the distribution of patronage spoils. These post-conflict elites are empowered by the strategy of institutional engineering pursued by international peacebuilding interventions and, in turn, manipulate it, pursuing different tactics of institutional conversion that result in a neopatrimonial political order. This chapter advances a theoretical framework for understanding why and how this transpires, arguing that peacebuilding outcomes are best understood as the result of a phased contest over the course of the peacebuilding pathway between two alternative visions of post-conflict political order.

The practice of externally supported attempts to simultaneously construct states and democracies in developing countries is relatively new and offers fertile ground for mid-range theory generation. My approach to understanding the puzzling outcomes of peacebuilding interventions begins with the premise that the pursuit of effective and legitimate governance through peacebuilding must be situated in the context of the broader quest for modern political order. The first part of this chapter thus lays out a general framework for understanding the nature of political order and what we know about how it is typically established over time - focusing on the incentives elites everywhere face and the consequent choices they make in ordering power in specific ways. In that light, I then build a sequenced causal framework suggesting the outcomes we should expect to see obtain over the course of a peacebuilding intervention - one that links scholarship on conflict and peace to that on political, institutional, and economic development. At each stage of this causal sequence, I weave together relevant thematic threads from different literatures in comparative politics, international relations, and political economy about the manner in which elites negotiate and respond to moments of transition and shape the political order emerging from those formative moments. These insights are grounded in a historical institutionalist approach, viewing institutions as the arenas in which agents interact with structural historical forces and emphasizing the temporal dimension of causal processes, especially their sequencing.[1] Through this lens, institutional arrangements can be seen as both an outcome of the power struggles of the past and a crucial factor in determining the form of political order that emerges as a result of transformative peacebuilding.

In post-conflict states, through the transitional governance approach, the United Nations attempts to create administrative and political institutions to underpin effective and legitimate governance and serve as the foundations for lasting peace. In practice, these formal institutional arrangements become the site of contest between the international community’s vision of political order and the political- economic interests animating the power struggles among domestic elites. At each of the three critical phases of the peacebuilding pathway, therefore - the peace settlement phase, the transitional governance period, and the aftermath of intervention - we see a mismatch between the goals of the intervention and what transpires in the real world. The theoretical framework advanced in this chapter explains this gap, suggesting what we should expect to see at each phase as domestic elites attempt to build post-conflict political order and resist and manipulate international interventions as they do so. At the peace settlement phase, elites preoccupied with their own survival and empowerment come to an agreement to end the conflict. But that settlement, instead of serving as an end to conflict, becomes the next stage over which their internecine struggles to create a political order continue. In turn, during the transitional governance phase, the simultaneous attempt at statebuilding and democratization becomes co-opted by a small subset of domestic power-holders, paradoxically closing down the political space and stunting state capacity. In the aftermath of the intervention, domestic elites attempt to find the balance between distributing patronage through their clientelist networks to build political support and delivering a measure of stability and public goods in order to create an environment of some collective stability and prosperity. Thus, in post-conflict countries, we see a hybrid political order emerging that is neopatrimonial in nature - forestalling the effective and legitimate governance of the modern state to which international peacebuilding aspires.

  • [1] Pierson 2004; and Thelen 1999.
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