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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


At War?s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict
Roland Paris

(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004) 302 pp, PB, 15.49, ISBN 0-521-54197-2

What happens after a peace agreement has been signed and how is a society transformed from a state of conflict to a state of peace? Roland Paris touches broadly on these issues in his analysis of ?post-conflict peacebuilding?. More specifically, Paris?s book deals with the role of peacebuilding missions carried out by external/international actors in post-conflict settings. According to Paris, the main bulk of post-conflict peacebuilding missions during the 1990s were inspired by what could be referred to as a liberalisation and democratisation ethos (?Wilsonianism?) and the book therefore sets out to evaluate the connection between these factors and the achievement of sustainable peace.

The book argues that although ?market liberalisation? is a significant factor in post-conflict peacebuilding in the long run, it is necessary to consider the possible negative effects of these measures when they are introduced too soon in the volatile environments that often characterise post-conflict societies. Drawing on a number of case studies, Paris argues that the predicted peaceful effects of liberalisation (as argued by Wilsonianism) are rarely accomplished when introduced too quickly following a war. As an alternative, he offers his ?Institutionalization Before Liberalization? (IBL) approach (179). While recognising the importance of liberalisation/democratisation, Paris?s approach also claims to take into account the destabilising impact these might have in the short run. Compared to the alternatives, i.e. ?authoritarianism or partition? (211), the IBL approach proposes the following: ?gradual and controlled liberalization, combined with the immediate construction of domestic institutions that are capable of managing the destabilizing effects of democratization and liberalization? (ibid).

Although Paris argues cogently for his IBL approach and tries to foresee and meet potential criticism, one point appears particularly worrying, namely the argument that the role of international peacebuilders should be strengthened, taking on the role of ?nation builders? (206) and acting as ?surrogate governing authorities for as long as it takes? (ibid). This raises the complicated issue of what post-conflict settings would actually be selected for IBL reconstructive peacebuilding and who would be responsible for making these decisions. Paris?s suggestion that a new international peacebuilding body be created to oversee this might sound good in theory, but one wonders if reality is not too complex and multi-layered for this approach to be a success. For instance, the number of (competing) agendas within the international community would certainly appear to make this approach problematic.

It should finally be noted that Paris?s book certainly offers a thorough account of the connection between international peacebuilding missions in post-conflict societies, the introduction of democratisation/liberalisation through these missions, as well as how these combined variables contribute to/prevent peace. Paris backs up his arguments well with case studies along with convincing and relevant examples, statistics and quotes throughout the book.


Jessica Blomkyist, Queens University Belfast, Belfast Conflict Resolution Consortium



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