PS 601 Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

This class focuses on an old problem but one that has received new international attention since the end of the Cold War: how to rebuild states and societies after war, in particular after civil war. Since the early 1990s, the predominant form of warfare across the globe has been civil war in which two or more armed groups fight each other for territorial control in an internationally recognized state. Whereas global powers often neglected such “small wars,” their importance has increased significantly since the end of the Cold War. This is the case for two main reasons. The first is that of international security. In today’s world, a pronounced international threat is globalized terrorism, and for the past two decades global terrorist organizations have based themselves most commonly in countries with ongoing civil wars. The second is increased emphasis on global humanitarianism since the end of the Cold War. Civilian actors around the world have demonstrated increased interest in the suffering of those harmed through war, human rights violations, and poverty. With the end of the Cold War, the United Nations faced an opportunity to fulfill one of its core mandates, which concerns the wellbeing of all people everywhere. These two broad trends have coalesced in a number of policy domains. One of those concerns the stabilization and reconstruction of states and societies following a period of armed conflict and, often, significant human rights abuse. That broad agenda typically goes under the heading of “peacebuilding.”

By and large, policy documents and initiatives have framed the analytical discussion and the range of action concerning peacebuilding. International policymakers have also typically encouraged and invested in a standard set of prescriptions: international peacekeepers or foreign armies, liberal democratization, power sharing, military integration and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, free-market economic policies, infrastructural investment, and some mechanism of accountability to unearth and often to punish past crimes.

Somewhat absent from the policy has been a theoretical account, informed by historical experience and empirical analysis, of the actual dynamics and challenges in a post-war society. Indeed, the record suggests that a great deal of variation exists in the policies and approaches that post-war governments pursue. Why do some governments pursue a particular package of initiatives while other governments pursue other ones? Moreover, the record suggests how difficult it is to achieve peace after war. The majority of countries that experience civil war fall back into civil war within five years of the first war ending, at least during the last 25 years. Why? Why do countries fall back into civil war? What can we learn from the empirical record in order to better understand the challenges of peacebuilding?   

This course privileges these and related questions. The course approaches the topic in three main ways. First, the course examines some of the major policy documents that exist and that shape the actions of governments and international organizations. Second, the course focuses on some of the emerging academic literature on post-conflict reconstruction with the understanding that this literature is both disparate and nascent. Yet a number of new and important studies exist. Third, the course will look at a number of case studies. The cases come from different world regions. They represent both a variety of policy trajectories (in terms of post-conflict paths out of war) and a variety of outcomes (in terms of their overall success at building peace after war—though what constitutes “success” is up for discussion). Through the case studies, we shall assess how well both the policy frameworks and the academic literature works.