Saving Libeal Peacebuilding
Roland Paris is the author of At War’s End, a book published in 2004 criticizing liberal peacebuilding. In this article, he argues that liberal peacebuilding has some shortcomings but there does not exist a viable alternative. He believes that criticisms about liberal peacebuilding increased on weak grounds so much that liberal peacebuilding has to be saved. The challenge for him is not to come up with an alternative approach to move beyond liberal peacebuilding but to reform it within a liberal framework.
Paris thinks that the evolution of debate on liberal peacebuilding by scholarship is like a pendulum swing. In the early post-Cold War era, liberal peacebuilding was praised by scholars and promoted by leaders. Following debatable success/failure of liberal peacebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq, the approach has been the subject of very harsh criticism and rejection. He argues that these are two extremes. He admits that rushing to hold multiparty elections rather than creating a lasting peace is destabilizing. But such shortcomings should not lead us to totally reject liberal peacebuilding.
He continues with identifying five mistakes in the criticisms of liberal peacebuilding.
Mistake 1: Conflating post-conquest and post-settlement peacebuilding
Paris believes that we have to make distinguish UN-supported multilateral peacebuilding operations following a peace agreement from peacebuilding efforts following a unilateral intervention. He notes that the US operation in Iraq started with an invasion and followed by peacebuilding efforts. In such cases, Paris argues, peacebuilders are viewed as occupiers by local people.
Mistake 2: Equating peacebuilding with imperialism or colonialism
First of all, Paris does not reject the view that there are similarities between European colonialism and today’s post-settlement peacebuilding. Belief that advanced people of Europe have a duty to improve life of underdeveloped people has translated into a contemporary objectives of ‘good governance’ and ‘capacity building’. It is true that both have wished to redesign the state and the societies of their target but the comparison should not be taken too far. It is also true that, Paris maintains, UN-sponsored peace missions reflect the interests of the major power and cannot be viewed completely innocent missions. However, unlike colonialism, flow of resources during peacebuilding missions are from developed nations to underdeveloped nations. According to Paris, association of peacebuilding with colonialism delegitimizes peacebuilding and frames it as exploitative and destructive.
Mistake 3: Defining the ‘liberal peace’ too broadly
It is possible that in some peacebuilding missions, some elements of the mission may contradict with liberal ideas. Paris argues that we should avoid including defining liberal peacebuilding too broadly that all ethical issues are regarded as liberal principles. In such cases, discussions may lead to delegitimization of liberal peacebuilding.
Mistake 4: Mischaracterizing the peacebuilding record
Acknowledgement of schortcomings and some problematic effects of peacebuilding does not prove that peacebuilding has been harmful. Paris agrees with the view that international actors in Bosnia supported the dysfunctional state structures. However, it is also true that people have not been killing each other for over a decade. He argues that it is not fair to highlight some unsolved issues in war-torn nations and conclude that peacebuilding is harmful.
Mistake 5: Oversimplifying moral complexity.
Paris argues that the scholars criticizing liberal pecaebuilding pay little or no attention to moral implications of the possibility of non-intervention. Withouth considering alternative courses of action in conflicts, questioning moral implications of liberal peacebuilding is not fair.
In conclusion, Roland Paris believes that there is no viable alternative to liberal peacebuilding. He argues that peacebuilding approaches that are not based upon liberal principles are likely to create more problems.