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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


Sustainable peace: Power and democracy after civil wars
Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild

(Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY, 2005) 392 pp, PB, £12.50 ISBN: 978-0801489747

This volume is a comprehensive investigation into the potential solutions to ethnic conflict. It examines ?recent experience of internationally imposed power sharing? and concludes that there are ?dilemmas in power sharing [and?] international interventions and protectorates? (25). In the three parts, the authors assess recent post-conflict cases (Bosnia, South Africa, Ethiopia etc.) and conclude that the current power-sharing strategies applied compromise the long-term peace for the needs of short-term peace. This analysis is also referred to in post-conflict literature as ?positive peace? and ?negative peace?. A shared national identity (?identity constraint?) and the ability of the state to fund the duplications of administration necessary for the regions and ethnic groups (?resource constraint?) are limited in post-conflict societies, effectively curtailing the chances of workable power-sharing. For example, in Chapter Nine, Marie-JoŽlle Zahar examines power-sharing in Lebanon from the Ottoman period through the French and Syrian protectorates to the present day. She concludes that, in spite of the relative peace during times of ?protection?, the various power-sharing strategies implemented have ultimately led to an ?increase [in] the incentives for sectarianism and thwarted the development of a nonconfessional democracy? (238).

The theoretical solution advanced by the authors is a strategy of nation-state stewardship. Nation-state stewardship involves implementing an institutional framework based on the American system, whereby there is a division of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary. In sum, according to the authors, ?allocat[ing] state powers between government and civil society with strong, enforceable civil liberties [?] take[s] many responsibilities out of the hands of the government? (15). The importance of this power division is that the different ?decision-making centres? ensure that the ethnic groups are kept in check. The stewardship also involves ?guidelines concerning both the form and timing of interventions by the international community and the occasions when partition may be the best option? (15). These timings concentrate on implementing a two-point short-term power-sharing arrangement during the ?initiation phase?; majority reassurance that minority rights will be protected during the initial post-conflict period and a ?principle of proportionality for one-time, pump-priming decisions, such as the initial staffing of new bureaucracies and the armed forces? (320). One policy recommendation that must be examined in closer detail is delaying intervention. This policy suggests that for long-term peace and democratic consolidation, international intervention must wait until there is one clear victor, irrespective of the short-term costs in people?s lives (338).

This volume provides essential analysis to the examination of contemporary post-conflict strategies and provides an important contribution to a theoretical solution. However, in practical terms there are many holes in this solution. Some are listed here. It is misguided to claim the American ?division of powers? democratic model as the practical framework for the resolution of ethnic tensions in post-conflict societies. This ignores the incapacity of the American political system to deal with its own ethnic problems, from slavery, to its alienation of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, to the government?s continually poor treatment, if not genocide, of Native Americans. There are many ethnic divides in America and it has been shown that the system cannot cope. Moreover, this volume makes the implicit and optimistic assumption that transition-based democratisation will deliver a consolidated peaceful democracy. There is no suggestion that structuralism and its critique of transition theory has any standing, but this is unsurprising given the transition-based nature of its solution. A final, minor criticism is that, in my opinion, Chapter One did not provide a clear introduction to the aims of the work. Overall, and rather like my attitudes to Marxism, I find the critical analysis of the status quo in post-conflict strategies to be thorough, but the solution proffered to be inadequate.


Dr. Matthew Alan Hill, INCORE Research Associate



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