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After the end of the Cold War, the achievement of sustainable peace in post-conflict regions became a top priority for the international community. Rising numbers of internal conflicts around the world caused enormous loss of lives and threatened regional and global stability. Concerns over the high percentage of civilian casualties, refugee movements and the spillover effects of these regional frictions launched a new era of interventionism in international relations. The efforts of preventing recurring violence and creating the conditions for long-lasting peace in the post-conflict regions became known as peacebuilding. However, building lasting peace in war-torn societies proved to be a challenging task and many of the peacebuilding operations led by global actors such as the United Nations (UN) have failed to deliver the expected results. The main debates relating to peacebuilding have evolved around the liberal democratic model, its invasive nature, and the shortcomings of its implementation. As Chandler argues, the two major flaws in peacebuilding are the biased conceptualization of liberal peace and the flawed implementation of the liberal peacebuilding process. The following essay argues that these limitations are indeed true and that the model of liberal peace is highly invasive. This argument will be made using empirical evidence from the intervention in Cambodia and the main academic debates on liberal peacebuilding. Cambodia is the first occasion where the UN officially took over the administration of an independent country for the creation of lasting peace and thus constitutes a unique case study for exploring the problems with peacebuilding. The analysis will first briefly defining the term, explaining the liberal approach and the different gradations. It will then outline the main criticisms and limitations of the process and then engage with the case study.
The term ”peacebuilding” was first coined by Johan Galtung in his 1975 work “Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking and Peacebuilding” in which he argued that “peace has a structure different from, perhaps over and above, peacekeeping and ad hoc peacemaking… The mechanisms that peace is based on should be built into the structure and be present as a reservoir for the system itself to draw up… More specifically, structures must be found that remove causes of wars and offer alternatives to war in situations where wars might occur.” The United Nations describes ‘ peacebuilding’ in a similar way by defining it as an intervention that involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacity at all levels for conflict management and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development. In the aftermath of the Cold War and due to the predominance of the Western ideology the most widely accepted way of conducting the peacebuilding process became through the liberal peace framework. The framework combines the establishment of democracy, development, rule of law and free markets (Mandelbaum, 2002: 6; Duffield, 2001: 11; Paris, 2004). because it suggests that states are more driven to cooperate with other states due to the economic ties and interdependence. The establishment of democracy also became vital due to the democratic peace argument that classifies democracies as more peaceful and law-abiding than other political systems. The main objectives are self-sustaining peace in which violence is avoided by conforming to international and western models of governance. The above liberal assumptions are consistent with most policy documentations relating to peace and security (United Nations,2004).
Liberal peace has been favored in post-conflict peacebuilding due to the assumption of its unproblematic structure and universal applicability and its origins can be traced in four main international theories namely the ‘victor’s peace’, ‘constitutional peace,’, ‘institutional peace’ and the ‘civil peace’. The ‘victor’s peace’ derives from traditional realist theory of peace that depends on the military superiority of a victor and allows for his hegemony in international relations leading to lasting stability and peace. The second theory of ‘constitutional peace’ was directly influenced by philosopher Immanuel Kant and his liberal argument that peace derives from democracy, free trade and internationally accepted notion that humans are ends in themselves, rather than means to an end (Doyle, 1983). The third theory is known as ‘institutional peace’ has evolved from the romanticized liberal-internationalist and liberal-institutionalist assumption that states are able to multilaterally agree on the way in which to behave and how to impose or establish that behavior. The last theory, that of the ‘civil peace’ rests upon the phenomena of citizens direct action and advocacy for the establishment or protection of core values and human rights principles, extending from the abolishment of slavery to the active participation of the civil society in international relations today (Halliday,2001)
Liberal peacebuilding has taken various approaches to operations depending on the needs of each state, the actors’ capacities and the interests of the various donors involved. Traditional peacebuilding involves top-down approaches to development and foreign-led administration of political, military or economic domains in the post-conflict region. This model of peacebuilding has been widely criticized as an alien form of hegemony due to its minimal initiatives for local involvement. The attachments of conditionality to economic aid/loans and the use of force by the actors involved have been condemned as coercive and dependency-inducing. In order to overcome such limitations, liberal operations have been increasingly involving more local actors in the process. This approach is known as the local turn in peacebuilding and involves initiatives for local ownership and close cooperation between local elites and foreign actors in administration and the established liberal institutions. Although this model follows a more – bottom down approach and is more inclusive of local cultures, it still seeks to achieve a linear application and transmission of western objectives and norms into the newly built institutions. Such an example would be the failure of the peace and reconciliation process conducted during the Sierra Leone intervention. (elaborate)
The Cambodian peacebuilding intervention constitutes a unique case study that illustrates the core limitations of liberal peacebuilding. For the first time in history, the UN took over the administration of an independent country in such a large-scale state-building effort. The UN Transnational Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) promised a ‘comprehensive peace’ settlement (Doyle,1995: 13). Its mandate was focused on the accomplishment of democratic elections between the four opposing factions (the Cambodian People’s Party, the Khmer Rouge, the KPNLF and the FUNINPEC party) and the establishment of a legitimate representative government. Other goals included the drafting of a new constitution, the control of the administrative apparatus, the disarmament and ceasefire in the post-conflict regions, the maintenance of human rights and the resettlement of refugees. What the international community expected was that if transparent and democratic elections were carried out that would result in a power-sharing system and thus help calm down the power struggle and political conflict. In addition, the establishment of liberal economy and liberal institutions would contribute to stability and lay the foundations for a lasting peace. This assigned UNTAC with a gigantic state-building task. The intervention initiated in 1992 can be characterized as a traditional liberal peacebuilding operation, as described above, due to the centralized and foreign-led administration, the minimum local involvement and the transmission of western understandings of good governance an democratic values. Some NGOs and other independent actors did engage in more local approaches but the biggest part of the interventions was administered by purely outside forces. The mission assigned to UNTAC was a form of social restructuring and state-building, based on liberal principles and the belief that the only way to achieve lasting peace was through democratization. This pioneering attempt was expected to achieve its ambitious objectives within a short time frame. The new government would be powerful, representative and able to regulate the Cambodian population without the need for arms use and violence. Moreover, human and political rights would be protected by the state and the liberal economy and capitalist practices would ensure the economic freedom and empowerment of the civil society. The funding and work of NGO’s and other independent actors would further strengthen the local population and give initiatives for the creation of pressure groups and other representative interest groups.
Indeed, the peacebuilding intervention did accomplish some positive outcomes for Cambodia. NGO’s have become an indispensable part of local society since their introduction in 1992. They have helped empower the civil society through their monetary aid and have contributed to the overall functioning of liberal peace. In fact, figures presented by Pact (2005) show over four hundred NGOs being active in Cambodia. The task of carrying out the 1992 elections can also be deemed successful since over ninety percent of Cambodians voted to elect a new government. The refugee resettlement also delivered astonishing results with almost 400,000 individuals being repatriated (Doyle,1995: 371). The armed conflicts had ended and the UNTAC mission was able to withdraw having achieved their short-term goals giving credibility to the Western methods and the liberal peace concept.
With the departure of UNTAC, there was open room left for other actors to take over the tasks previously performed by the UN administration. A plethora of peacebuilding actors emerged to continue the organizational tasks and ensure the continuation of liberal peace. International financial institutions such as the IMF, NGO groups and other international actors became increasingly involved and between 1992 and 2001 more than 4 billion in dollars were given to Cambodia in the form of funding (Peou, 2005: 112). Loans intended for the boosting of the economy were provided by these international actors and Cambodia saw an average annual economic growth rate of 4.6 percent until 200 (Sok, Acharya, 2002: 14-15). However, besides these significant successes, the peacebuilding exercise can only be evaluated by the assessment of its primary goals: achieving long-lasting peace, good governance, effective democratization, rule of law, human rights maintenance and a powerful civil society.
Democratization proved to be a difficult task for the UNTAC administration. Although they formally achieved to carry out the elections of 1992, that was not enough to prove that a consolidation of the democratic process was established. The elections of 1992 and the following 1998 and 2003 elections did not lead to a true representation of the population’s will. They only acted as a superficial remedy and did not cure the dictatorial elements deeply embedded in the native political tradition. Hun Sen’s political party via the façade of representative elections used the provided infrastructure to attain a monopoly of power and credibility. 11This event did not resonate with the Khmer Rouge party, which willingly departed from the peace process accusing the National Council of Cambodia of harboring abuses of power and lacking in legitimate representation. Indeed, although the official results of the elections landed King Sihanouk on the top of the Cambodian administration, Hun Sen continued to influence the direction of politics and in 1997 possessed enough power to carry out a coup d’état. In the following elections and with the fear of being defeated he managed to destroy the two most powerful opposition parties, namely the Sam Rainsy Party and the FUNCINPEC, in order to once again cheat the system. The discontent with the malfunctioning democratic system was apparent in Sam Rainsy’s statement: as a fake democracy, Cambodia is a country with only a democratic façade made up of apparently democratic institutions, which are functioning in fact in the most autocratic way (Phnom Penh Post,2005).
These instabilities in the democratization process can be attributed to the uniqueness of the Cambodian traditional political system in which power and violence often converge. International actors often fail to embrace or build on existing political or economic practices of the local populations during the process of peacebuilding. As in the case of Cambodia, the indigenous structures were discarded as completely dysfunctional even though some of them were indeed suitable for the local needs. Foreign models of governance/institutions were consequently favored and liberal peace practices were judged as a necessary remedy. The foreign actors viewed the indigenous political/economic landscape as a complete tabula rasa ready to take on their own ideas of governance in order to achieve lasting peace. This oversimplification and disregard of local dynamics undermined the effectiveness of UNTAC’s mission. Cambodia’s conflict was essentially a competition between the four warring parties over the monopoly of political power, military and economic resources. The recommended liberal model of governance allowed exactly that under the assumption that the democratically elected government would be of unbiased nature, without aspirations of exploiting power. As Roberts argues (2001: 32) elections ‘merely changed the vehicle for communicating hostility and confrontation, from war to elections’. The struggle for power has not essentially stopped but rather facilitated through the establishment of foreign institutions.
These abuses of power and the apparent failures of the democratic establishments led to the conclusion that strong international involvement was still necessary after UNTAC’s departure. International donors, NGOs, and other agencies filled the space left by the UN-led administration and acted as a support mechanism for sustaining the imposed liberal model. The frustration caused by the ineffective government and the epidemic of corruption lead the donors to direct their funding towards NGOs instead of the state authorities. This again limited the state’s capacity in handlings its own affairs without further intervention. Limited indigenous involvement further escalates the problem since the government is stripped of the knowledge and expertise required to perform its tasks independently in the future. The corruption and failing local administration led the IMF and the World Bank to impose conditionality on their monetary loans. (Kaufmann, Kraay & Mastruzzi, 2003). This strategy often results in further loss of a state’s authority to direct its own economy since the loans come with predetermined economic policies.
With regards to the rule of law in the post-intervention Cambodia society, the problem of corruption is once again present. The hierarchical social and political infrastructure of the country allows for deceit at every level of the daily life in Cambodia. A study of the Social Development Centre revealed that even in the aftermath of the intervention corrupt practices stretched from public services to education and judiciary establishments (Nissen,2005). The monopoly of power aided by the democratization allowed further development of top-down networks and patronage. These corrupted practices are of course observed in western countries too and are unavoidable bugs of liberalism, but their development in environments whit scarce resources renders the problem even more severe. Clientelism and patronage were thus not aided by the intervention but rather further encouraged by the monopoly of power.
Human rights have also had a somehow problematic application in the Cambodian society. Although UNTAC’s mandate was centered on the promotion of Human Rights figures show that they failed to take root in this post-conflict environment. Reports showcase severe political and human rights deficiencies in the country. According to CSD research, the judiciary ranks amongst the worst and ‘most dishonest institutions’, followed by law enforcement authorities and customs. (Nissen, 2005:101). These problems have triggered more interventionism by the UN, which in 2006-10 launched a development assistance framework for Cambodia. The self-sustaining promise of the liberal peace initiative has thus failed to ensure the promotion of human rights without the need for foreign assistance or supervision. The difficulty in the maintenance of human rights is a common pattern in international intervention efforts. Despite the dysfunctional infrastructure and or corruption working against their promotion, human rights as conceived by the West are not always what local population envisions. There is a common misconception of the universal applicability or desire of such norms. In many cases, such as in Cambodia, the indigenous population has had a different understanding of what rights are and thus Western models lack demand in such environments. Differences in education, a cultural experience or local elite structures all create this gap between what the West expects and what the civil society calls for.
Moreover, as far as liberal economic principles are concerned, Cambodia has once again failed to yet achieve the expected economic prosperity. The democratization of the markets highly depends on healthy competition between actors, but in the Cambodian context, this translated into the takeover of the resourced by the political elite who did not engage or promote its distribution to accomplish a balance in civil society capital share. Thus liberal economics helped stretch the gap between the rich and poor further worsening inequalities. AS Peou argues this gap is a ‘consequence of liberalization without adequate state intervention or protection’ (2005: 116).
All in all, the above analysis helps paint the picture of what the limitations of peacebuilding are in practice and in theory and why the liberal model is seen as invasive. The intervention efforts in Cambodia saw the UNTAC mission depart prematurely, having assumed that the initial success of the elections would ensure lasting peace and balance of power. Such top-down, outside-in approaches to peacebuilding fail to deliver the expected results. They often suffer from poor coordination and insufficient intervention. The rapid transformation of post-conflict societies leads to the problematic implementation of democratic governance models. Rushed elections, although superficially successful, they result in worsening of tensions and power abuses. Moreover, the economic transition to liberal principles without the establishment of sufficient safeguards stretches the economic gap between elites and civil society. As for the theoretical concept of liberal peace itself, it often showcases the lack of understanding of local politics or post-conflict society dynamics. The Western understanding of good governance and human rights does not always coincide with the local needs. Basing the state-building process on such one-sided notions is highly invasive to indigenous structures. The complete disregard of local ways of conducting politics as dysfunctional leads to the problematic application of Weberian state models alien to the post-conflict communities. Liberal economics, loans, and conditionality remove the agency from the local apparatus and create long-term dependency upon foreign direction.
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