Today, conflicts or potential conflicts are estimated to exist in around seventy societies across the world. How can the international community best help these societies build peace? How are concepts of peacebuilding, statebuilding and nationbuilding distinct? This paper exposes the problems and contradictions of neo-Wilsonian approaches to peacebuilding. It argues that there is a need for a theoretically informed understanding of the goals and limits of international intervention as well as country-specific knowledge to ensure that interventions support peacebuilding processes effectively. It also argues for the need to distinguish between concepts of peacebuilding, statebuilding and nationbuilding.
Peacebuilding is considered the broadest of the three terms. The literature reflects widely differing notions of peacebuilding, which can limit the usefulness of the concept. Statebuilding and nationbuilding are narrower concepts. Although often used interchangeably, they should be kept separate. The ‘nation’ refers to ‘a group perceiving itself as separate and different from other groups because of language, customs, tradition, religion, or race’. In contrast, the ‘state’ is considered the ‘bureaucratic apparatus to govern autonomously the territory where the nation resides’. In most contexts, the ‘nation’ and the ‘state’ do not coincide.
As such, even after national groups sign a peace agreement, a ‘stateness problem’ can persist. Societies may remain divided along national lines: former adversaries may continue to hold alternative views about the boundaries of the political community and the rights of citizenship within that community. The absence of social cohesion exacerbates the lack of acceptance of the state by the population and hinders the ability of the state to formulate and implement policy. These are the challenging contexts in which international peacebuilding interventions operate.
Wilsonianism, named after the American President who argued that democracy and self-determination are necessary conditions for domestic and international peace and stability, has become the predominant model for contemporary international peacebuilding (and nationbuilding) missions. Contemporary neo-Wilsonianism focuses on political and economic liberalisation as a means to build viable democracies. But such a formula is often unsuitable for countries plagued by identity conflicts and a ‘stateness problem’, with scarce domestic resources and continuing competition between groups wishing to control the state. At least in the short term, political and economic liberalisation can dangerously heighten competition and inequality among groups, thus exacerbating conflict instead of alleviating it.
Liberalisation can undermine other important goals of intervention in weak states, particularly the upholding of individual and group rights. Political liberalisation and elections in conditions of ethnic insecurity, for example, can result in an ethnic census, instead of an expression of democratic principles. International financial institutions tend to dismiss programmes of affirmative action for minorities as incompatible with market liberalisation. In addition, market liberalisation often leaves weak states recovering from civil strife prey to massive unemployment and widespread illegality.
Although policymakers are familiar with these shortcomings, reform remains difficult. The complexity of the task and the stakes involved demand careful assessment of all options for international engagement and the long-term commitment to support the democratic development of weak states. The establishment of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission in 2005 is a step forward. There are still concerns about the Commission, however. No role is foreseen in the Peacebuilding Commission for humanitarian organisations, civil society groups and experts; and the terms of cooperation among the stakeholders remain unclear. In addition, longterm financial resources for the Peacebuilding Commission have not been secured.
The existence of the Commission should not prevent the consideration of other options. In south-eastern Europe, for example, accession agreements with the European Union (EU) and eventual EU membership are a successful form of member-state building. Beyond Europe, regional organisations are well placed to improve coordination among donors and provide indispensable knowledge of local political, economic and social variations. Technology transfer, debt forgiveness and increased aid might also constitute useful tools to prevent state failure and the return to lawlessness.