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From Practice to Research: When Peacebuilding Fails: The Limits of the Liberal Peace

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

Since the ratification of the United Nations Charter in 1945 and the deployment of numerous peacekeeping missions, one could conclude that peacebuilding is a difficult concept to grasp. It involves many actors and activities, including the demobilization of troops and the provision of humanitarian assistance, at different levels, from the community to the region. However, there seems to be a common thread in how the UN conceptualizes and implements peacebuilding around the world: an emphasis on the importance of economic liberalization and democratization to achieve peace. From the emphasis on substituting ballots for bullets, to the argument on the stabilizing effect of economic prosperity derived from open markets, the dominant peacebuilding approach is deeply rooted in the liberal peace paradigm. But can this approach be applied to all cases?

Although the UN’s approach has been relatively successful in countries like Namibia and Croatia, other countries like Rwanda, Angola, and Nicaragua have been uncontested failures. In a recent paper on the role of peacebuilding in internal conflict, Doudou Sidibé (2014) focused on cases where a liberal peace approach had negative unintended effects. Sidibé argues that the recurrence of violence following peacebuilding missions in intrastate conflicts is potentially the product of three major factors that policymakers and researchers have failed to fully address:

Although open economies tend to be less likely to go to war, there is less evidence that opening an economy will reverse or stop conflict. In post-conflict situations, political institutions are extremely fragile and hence inappropriate to shepherd profound economic reforms.
Democratization and liberalization promote competition, but the positive effects of this competition can quickly translate into destabilization and violence in economies that are not ready to compete with multinationals, and in cases where ethnic minorities do not have the political weight to gain representation through elections.
Reconstruction strategies in post-conflict states lead to increasing debt, which can impair economic development, especially if combined with poor governance and corruption.
According to Sidibé, although democracy and liberalization can be essential to peacebuilding and economic prosperity, it is a mistake to not question their negative effects, especially in cases of internal conflicts that can quickly degenerate. In this sense, more research on the mechanisms behind the unintended effects of peacebuilding to inform policy is certainly needed.


Sidibé, D. (2014). Peacebuilding in internal and inter-state conflicts. Perspectives for the future. Presentation at the 27th Annual Conference of the International Association for Conflict Management (IACM).


Kyong Mazzaro

Kyong Mazzaro supports the coordination and management of research agendas as Project Coordinator at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining AC4, Kyong Mazzaro was… MORE >

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