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Promoting Democracy in Post-Conflict and Failed States
Lessons and Challenges
Larry Diamond

Abstract
Efforts to assist democratic development in post-conflict states confront distinctive challenges. In particular, they must urgently address the vacuum of order left by the collapse of the state or the decline in its authority and capacity as a result of internal conflict. Yet, if international actors intervene directly to fill the vacuum, they face intense legitimacy problems and a tension between the imperatives of post-conflict stabilization and the logic of democratization. The experiences of Iraq and other recent post-conflict interventions suggest a number of lessons for post-conflict democracy building. These include the need to mobilize sufficient military, financial, and knowledge resources to meet the scope of the challenge, and the value of phasing in the return to democracy, so that local elections come first and national elections may be deferred until the political conditions are more suitable.

As we move into the fourth decade since the great wave of global democratic expansion began in 1974, the task of promoting democracy faces a deepening set of challenges and contradictions. These revolve around two interrelated facts. First, as the number of democracies has increased—from about forty in 1974 to around 120 today (about 60 percent of all independent states)— the task of promoting democratic transitions and consolidation has become more difficult, because the countries with the economic, social, historical, and geographic conditions most conducive to democracy have already installed (and in many cases, largely consolidated) democracy. Second, and related to this, many of the tough cases that remain are so not simply because they lack the classic facilitating conditions for democracy—more developed levels of
Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy, and codirector of the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy. <diamond@hoover.stanford.edu> Copyright © 2005 New America Foundation and the Democracy Coalition Project. All rights reserved. This article was originally prepared for the National Policy Forum on Terrorism, Security and America’s Purpose, September 6-7, 2005, Washington, DC, and has been modestly revised for publication here.

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per capita income, civil society, independent mass media, political parties, mass democratic attitudes and values, and so on—but because they lack as well the more basic conditions of a viable political order. Before a country can have a democratic state, it must first have a state—a set of political institutions that exercise authority over a territory, make and execute policies, extract and distribute revenue, produce public goods, and maintain order by wielding an effective monopoly over the means of violence. As Samuel Huntington observed in the opening sentence of his classic, Political Order in Changing Societies, “The most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.”1 While this sentence (and really, the book itself) does not do justice to the importance of freedom and democracy for good governance, it does orient us to the fundamental importance of a coherent, capable state. It is an insight that has been coming back vigorously into the literatures on both democracy building and state building in recent years.2 The daunting reality of the contemporary world is that perhaps two dozen states either lack this most basic foundation for building democracy, as a result state collapse in war, or are fragile and at risk of collapse. This includes not only the countries that have descended into or are trying to emerge from violent conflict but also others that are chronically besieged or at serious risk of collapse due to rising levels of civil violence. Failed or acutely failing states pose distinctive problems for democracy promotion. In these states, the challenge is not only (or in some cases, even at all) to pressure authoritarian state leaders to surrender power, but rather to figure out how to regenerate legitimate power in the first place. The imperative is not only to empower citizens and their independent organizations but also to endow state institutions with resources, training, organization, and a sense of a common mission. Within this broad context, there are three distinct types of cases. First are the post-conflict states that are emerging (or trying to emerge) from a period of external, or more commonly civil, war. Many of these countries have been in Africa—South Africa, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. Some have been in Latin America (Nicaragua, El Salvador, indeed, much of Central America), in Asia (e.g., Cambodia and one hopes now Sri Lanka), and in the Middle East (Lebanon, Algeria, and now Iraq). Second are the countries that are in the midst of civil war or ongoing violent conflict, where central state authority has largely collapsed, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And third are the states that, while not yet gripped with large1 2

Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 1. See, for example, Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), and Francis Fukuyama, State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).

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“Democracy. and peace implementation (as well as the more conventional forms of peace keeping) have a vital role to play. are at severe risk of it. Larry Diamond. and failing states require focused efforts to get at the sources of state failure. For more extensive discussion of the American occupation experience in Iraq and its legendary mistakes. DC. and Larry Diamond. high levels of crime and privatized violence. Obviously. E. 1. Foreign Aid in the National Interest: Promoting Freedom. Center for Democratic Development. Accra. political parties. This is one of the most pervasive challenges of economic and political development assistance. but this is generally not possible unless a new structure of incentives is institutionalized to foster commitment to the state and the country—the public interest—rather than to the advancement of individuals and their families. “Promoting Real Reform in Africa.4 I will touch on it only briefly as it bears on the class of post-conflict states.5 3 4 5 Perhaps the definitive work to date on this subject is Stephen John Stedman. and the lessons that can be derived from recent experiences. CO: Lynne Rienner. and I will only address it as it bears on the challenge of democracy promotion in these settings. particularly in Iraq. I use Iraq as a kind of critical case here because the American-led intervention and post-conflict reconstruction violated every one of the lessons that were available from previous international post-conflict reconstruction efforts. and governmental institutions. Larry Diamond. Ghana. Nigeria: University of Ibadan Press. www. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. Nigeria). Instead. December 2006 │ 95 . Cousens. GyimahBoadi (Boulder.edu/~ldiamond.” in Democratic Reform in Africa: The Quality of Progress. intervention. 2002). There is a large and distinct literature on this set of challenges. feckless. eds. and tribes. public values. Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements (Boulder. which frequently have to do with ethnic domination and injustice and endemic political corruption.3 In addition to all the usual types of efforts to build democratic civil societies.. March 1.” in Adigun Agbaje. “Building a System of Comprehensive Accountability to Control Corruption. Donald Rothchild. the first imperative for states suffering civil war is to end it. http://www. state institutions in this class of cases need to be strengthened in their skill and resource levels across the board. 2004): 221-242. Development and Good Governance: The Inseparable Links.stanford. and Elizabeth M. 2004): 263-292. See also Larry Diamond.” First Annual Democracy and Governance Lecture. Security. Obviously. and Ebere Onwudiwe. Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq (New York: Times Books. and Opportunity (Washington. 2005). and increasing polarization of domestic politics (for example. weak. see Larry Diamond. which will be the subject of the rest of this essay. and here international mediation. and as I have addressed this extensively elsewhere. Nigeria’s Struggle for Democracy and Good Governance: A Festschrift for Oyeleye Oyediran (Ibadan. because of weak or weakening state authority and capacity.gov/fani/. 2002): chap. Each of these three types of cases requires specific kinds of strategies for democracy promotion. and thus Iraq exposes in vivid relief both the validity of these lessons and the potentially catastrophic consequences of ignoring them.scale internal violence. ed.usaid. patronage networks. parties. the remainder of this article examines the distinctive problems confronting the building of democracy in post-conflict states. 2005.

or the authority of the state has shrunk back to only a portion of the territory over which it exercises international legal sovereignty. Second. but it is not possible to build democracy without peace (and in fact. More generally. with either no real central state (as in Somalia) or only a very weak one. The third possibility is that an international actor or coalition of actors steps in to constitute temporary authority politically and militarily. peace will be better and deeper with democracy). so that there is no overarching indigenous political authority left. the conflict does not really end. In other instances. an individual country under the thin veneer of a coalition (essentially the case in Iraq with the American administration after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003). If there has been a civil war and a rebel force has ultimately triumphed. then the vacuum may be filled (gradually or even very rapidly) by the rebellious army and political movement as it establishes control over the state. and the tasks of democracy building and of peace implementation are inseparable. By definition. In this situation. South Africa. there may simply be a patchwork of warlords and armies. Nicaragua. 2 . either the preexisting state has completely collapsed.The Distinctive Features of Post-Conflict States Democracy promotion in post-conflict states begins with the problem of order. However. This may be an individual country. Thus. but may wax and wane in decentralized fashion. Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. to determine who will rule after violent conflict. or the United Nations acting through the formal architecture of a UN post-conflict mission. It is possible to implement peace without democracy. Democracy cannot be viable (and neither can it really be meaningful) in a context where violence or the threat of violence is pervasive and suffuses the political calculations and fears of groups and individuals. Volume 2. as in the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) from 1999-2002. and Liberia). we can specify six distinct challenges of political reconstruction in a post-conflict 96 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. Whatever the specific form of the post-conflict effort to build democracy. No. In the absence of an effective state. as in Afghanistan today. a peace agreement (often internationally mediated) may restore the authority of the state over its territory and implement peaceful means for sharing power or regulating the competition for power. a coalition. particularly elections. A vacuum of power is always filled. as the triumph of violent insurgencies usually leads to the replacement of one form of autocracy with another (the American Revolution being a striking exception). the promotion of democracy in post-conflict situations cannot succeed without the rebuilding of order in these contexts. there has been violent conflict. no democracy. this is highly unlikely to lead to democracy. In some instances (such as El Salvador. one way or another. as in Afghanistan. One of the distinctive features of post-conflict state building in the past two decades has been the increasing reliance on formal democratic mechanisms. there are basically three possibilities. Cambodia. one thing must be stressed above all others: no order.

and other violent spoilers. yet time is precisely what the reviving state does not have a great deal of. and intelligence). Designing and implementing a plan for transition to a selfsustaining and democratic new political order. so as not to create a new. Rebuilding the capacity of the shattered state. Moreover. an unelected authority has to administer the country. and meaningful elections can be organized. Developing the political and social institutions of democracy in the state and civil society. The post-conflict state needs an authoritative and capable public security establishment. but this must be constructed carefully. A second tension pits the imperatives of post-conflict democracy building against post-conflict administration and stabilization. through the design of political institutions—and ultimately a new constitution. antidemocratic military Frankenstein. It is. the new security apparatus may face terrorists. It takes time to build the norms of deference to civilian control and respect for human rights and the rule of law. and encompass a number of contradictions. and finally. The new state must have an internal monopoly on the means of violence and the legitimate use of force. 4. Controlling and demobilizing alternative sources of violence in the hands of nonstate actors. whose brutal threats to the incipient new order can be easily seen to justify abridgements of due process and other restraints. fair. and other private armies. with mechanisms and norms of civilian supremacy. but in a post-conflict setting it may be some time before free. warlords. in part. Reducing the structural incentives to violence. 5. First is the tension between order and freedom. Who? The best solution. arrived at through broad public consultation and debate—that give a real stake in the system to each group that is willing to play by the rules of the democratic game. for some interim period. is a transitional government in which the former combatants or (as in Afghanistan) a wide range of disparate and hostile forces December 2006 │ 97 .setting: 1. These six tasks overlap in their temporal sequencing. police. such as religious and party militias. But building up the police (and probably some kind of conventional armed forces) is in tension with the goal of empowering and privileging civilian political actors. the failure to acknowledge and somehow mitigate these tensions that accounts for the failure to build a sustainable democracy in these circumstances. it would seem. 3. The goal may be to establish democracy. 2. warlords. often become highly compressed in time. Thus. 6. Administering the post-conflict nation. including its means of providing order and security (the army.

the EU has worked with local institutions. the People: The United Nations. while the UN mission in Afghanistan operated with a much lighter footprint. involving only “a fraction of UNTAET’s staff and budget … in a country perhaps forty times the size and thirty times the population of East Timor. The scale of operation and formal scope of authority also matter a great deal. 2004). it has not cultivated the tools. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. The dilemma may be reduced when the international transitional authority “has been empowered primarily to hold an election and then withdraw” according to a defined and fairly imminent timetable (as with the eighteenmonth UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia. 2002). and Elizabeth M. 2 . therefore. By contrast. and State-Building (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Transitional Administration. and. 97. broad domestic and international legitimacy) are likely to prove rather unique in the contemporary era. Ibid. the mandate and resources of the UN gave it effective governing authority over the territory for more than two years. A nondemocratic (often in many respects quasicolonial) power is asked to establish a democratic form of government. 98 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. in dealing with candidate member states. You. Simon Chesterman. with the international authority providing both a stabilization force to secure the country and a transitional authority to rule the country. 122. it is difficult to broker such agreements in the midst of violent conflict or state collapse.7 It becomes more serious when the international authority is tasked with both administering the country and preparing it for sovereign democracy. as was initially the case in Iraq and has been the case for quite some years now in Bosnia and Kosovo. ed. Stephen John Stedman.”8 The heavy footprint worked in East Timor. international consensus. with no specific end date. Gerald Knaus and Marcus Cox argue that the European Union’s mission in Bosnia and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) have failed to build democracy in these two territories because they have ruled them as protectorates through a model of “authoritarian state building. In East Timor. UNTAC). “giving them the 6 7 8 Donald Rothchiled. but those conditions (a situation of new nationhood emerging. until a new constitution can be written and elections can be held for a new permanent government. Cousens (Boulder. However.” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreement. No. Volume 2..” While this has achieved some degree of stabilization. “Settlement Terms and Postagreement Stability.share power by some agreed-upon formula until democratic elections can be organized. or at least to help referee the political situation. support and acceptance from the local population. “The instability of postsettlement constitution-building in Cambodia and Angola serves as a warning about the potential brittleness of formal power-sharing institutions. but instead has run roughshod over local resistance. and culture of democratic self-governance. incentives.”6 A frequent model has been international intervention of both a military and political nature. Donald Rothchild. Herein emerges the dilemma. and. 72-73.

Again. nor even Bulgaria and Romania. 10 Stedman. contain.” 215–236. A transitional administration must be strong enough to control. in Bosnia in 1996. but in the worst post-conflict situations. the longer it rules. for deferring national elections until militias have been demobilized. and enable them to build their organizations and mobilize support. some nonelected authority has to rule. and by overriding ethnic or political divisions among them. the development of democratic self-governance. But these territories are certainly not Poland and Hungary. it is a formidably difficult one. This may not be an impossible combination. rushed elections set back the prospects for democracy and.capacity and the incentive to become active forces for development. and time to register and educate voters. after conflict. generating a severely “unlevel” playing field for the elections when they do come.10 There are compelling reasons. If that authority is international. The problem is that the more a post-conflict situation is dominated by undemocratic leaders. However.” Journal of Democracy 16. fear. the more a “light footprint” by the international community may leave only a light impact at best. no. paved the way for renewed civil war. the more it risks a legitimacy crisis with the public it is trying to prepare for democracy. Ill-timed and ill-prepared elections do not produce democracy. during this time. of transitional administration is to promote democracy. and yet “light” enough to allow—and indeed cultivate—the emergence of local initiative and control. or even political stability. and in Liberia in 1997. Instead. Rothchild. a protracted period of interim rule may enable the unelected political forces to entrench themselves in power.”9 Knaus and Cox offer a compelling critique of the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions. or at least one important objective. based on logic and recent historical experience. See. in particular. organize election monitoring. December 2006 │ 99 . if elections are to be truly free and fair (and democratically meaningful). 1 (January 2005): 49. involving time again. there must be time to prepare them properly: time to construct electoral administration and disperse its offices and resources throughout the country. parties. If the mission.. Related to this is the third dilemma. while falling into the model of “authoritarian state building. new 9 Gerald Knaus and Marcus Cox. time to provide conditions of reasonable physical security for campaigns and voters. thereby reviving autocracy and even precipitating large-scale violent strife. eds. and face down undemocratic elements. train political parties and candidates. In Angola in 1992. time to devise an electoral system that can provide the right kinds of incentives to restrain and transcend conflict. especially if they are armed and violent. Ending Civil Wars. “The Role of Postsettlement Elections. “Building Democracy after Conflict: The ‘Helsinki Moment’ in Southeastern Europe. in Angola and Liberia. they may only enhance the power of actors who mobilize coercion. in this collection Terrence Lyons. and movements. and prejudice.” If that authority is domestic. then this requires the holding of free and fair elections. and Cousens.

There is a temptation in a country that has been torn by war to reach for a false sense of peace because it is quicker and easier to obtain—to defer indefinitely the hard challenge of disarmament and demobilization and. let different armed groups keep their arms and armies in exchange for implicit promises or hopes of fealty to the new democratic order. which sought to draw in the warlord Foday Sankoh. for they require not only a neutral and skillful administrative infrastructure but also an informed citizenry. and society over perhaps five to ten years. In many post-conflict settings. The fourth contradiction emerges out of two competing visions of postconflict stabilization. in effect. organized parties. longer-term. it is one of the ironies of a post-conflict situation that the new authority may have to wage new armed conflict in order to create the conditions for a more organic and sustainable peace. and democratic media and ideas generated. Such a genuine and democratic peace often requires a comprehensive “DDR” plan for the disarmament. In a context of shattered political order. demobilization. and potentially costly in lives as well. electoral infrastructure created. However. that would seem to require an extended process of institution building in the state. or certainly much longer than the two or three years that typically intervene between the end of conflict and the holding of national elections. truly free and fair elections take a long time to prepare. and has been a major factor behind the subsequent rising levels of violence. especially where the state has collapsed or there is no previous history of democratic elections. and more costly. financially expensive. Implementing a more thoroughgoing stabilization—in which alternative sources of violence outside the state are systematically demobilized— is time-consuming. It happened quite dramatically in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. particularly with the country’s most important spiritual leader demanding elections for a national parliament as soon as possible. Indeed. 2 . post-conflict administrations must seek a difficult balance between the need for speed to get to a legitimate (elected) government and the need for time to prepare decent democratic elections (see below). and reintegration (into society. and with the failed attempts at disarmament in Angola.moderate parties trained and assisted. and monitoring. which led to the resumption of civil war. and a political climate largely free of coercion and violence. and. into the new police and army) of various nonstate armed forces. DDR plans require much money. they also need sufficient military power to forcibly disarm those groups (“spoilers”) that will not voluntarily sign up. the reality was that there was no way of constituting legitimate authority for very long in the interim. This happened with the first false start at peace in Sierra Leone. Volume 2. It would have been better in the abstract for post-war Iraq if national elections could have been deferred for at least five to seven years. and thus to ensure the compliance of those groups that have made commitments to demobilize 100 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. polity. Often then. If they are going to succeed. preparation. No. the other easier to secure but far more vulnerable to failure. organization. selectively. one deeper.

in that their presence can provoke resistance. 11 12 Joanna Spear. and so on. but Joanna Spear argues that there is a common imperative to demobilize (disband) large-scale military or paramilitary formations outside the state. and more especially if they become undisciplined and themselves violate individual rights and the laws of war. knowledge of the specific environment. Indeed. and economic reconstruction could never really be implemented because of the widespread violence. societal. there is no one standard model or formula for the control of violence. Afghanistan faces the same problem today. Social and cultural (and political) realities may require a concession that allows the citizens to keep small arms. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. ed. where American troops have been both a bulwark of security and a lightning rod for nationalist resistance and insecurity. “Disarmament and Demobilization. This was a problem that the American occupation of Iraq never adequately grasped. 2002). 141-182. All of these are important.12 To summarize. and this requires considerable political will and skill. particularly if they kill local combatants. legal. these foreign troops may also become part of the problem.and disarm. civil society organizations. the ambitious conceptual plans for political. “Liberia: A Warlord’s Peace. Donald Rothchild. such as the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in Liberia. post-conflict settings are distinctive in terms of the roles of violence. but it has also been evident in some African cases.” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreement.” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreement. If stability in the transitional period is secured with international troops. and Elizabeth M. in a way: When we mention the term democracy promotion or democracy building. Consequently. and economic —will fail. Donald Rothchild. December 2006 │ 101 . Adekeye Adebayo. if international military force must be mobilized to demobilize private militias and violent challengers to the new democratic order. and Elizabeth M. and often financial and military resources. Cousens (Boulder. and “stateness.11 Another irony is that. However. Like other dimensions of post-conflict democracy promotion.” If these challenges are not met. post-conflict setting. civic. Cousens (Boulder. Stephen John Stedman. This has become a big part of the problem in Iraq. 2002). 599-630. representative and legal institutions. ed. all of the things that need to be done to promote and develop democracy in a historically authoritarian setting must be done in a postauthoritarian. To a lesser degree. Stephen John Stedman. order. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. all the others—political. they usually are not large enough in number and robust enough in their rules of engagement to take on this task. we tend to think of a fairly conventional set of tasks—helping to develop political parties.

because state collapse generates conditions that are very unfavorable to the development of democracy. in postconflict settings. 2 . and that often require not just democratic assistance but also a much more massive and wide-ranging set of international commitments (see below). political. Inadequate understanding of the local context—including such vital issues as political leaders and alliances. 13 Chesterman. Still. the late UN administrator. and sociological dimensions. Probably the single greatest lesson to be learned from previous efforts at stabilization and democratization of conflict-ridden states is that there is no one lesson or model. No. 102 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. Understand the local context in its historical.13 The American occupation of Iraq. Understanding the context is crucial. the scope of international intervention is likely to be far greater (if there is to be any chance for democratic success). Thus.Some (Tentative) General Lessons and Guidelines Post-conflict situations vary considerably in their dynamics and distributions of power. 63. cultural. despite the profound differences in the political. For example. and in the hierarchy of challenges they face. brought to the new UN mission in East Timor the same basic model he had used in Kosovo—only to find that it did not fit. You the People. Sergio Vieira de Mello. Just as generals always fight the last war. historical trends and grievances. geopolitical. or of some earlier historical model that may be quite a limited fit. seems to have been inspired to some extent by the last major American occupation of a country. and the structure and loyalties of private militias— can be crippling. and historical conditions of those two occupations. Volume 2. ethnic and subethnic divisions. so do nation builders always apply the model of the last post-conflict mission. I begin by formalizing the first imperative that was just mentioned. and the margin for error is at the same time much less. While this is generally important for assisting democratic development in any context. religious. there are some lessons that from recent post-conflict democracybuilding and stabilization experiences that appear to be generally relevant. under the sweeping authority of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Douglas MacArthur’s postwar administration of Japan. it is especially vital in the wake of violent conflict or state failure. sociological. 1. the sources of legal and illicit revenue.

ethnic divisions. deployable military force is a far more finite resource than money alone. Finally. a serious effort to promote democracy in a post-conflict state must begin early on with a fairly intensive and comprehensive mobilization and integration of existing country knowledge from all sources.The problem is made worse by the fact that many of the countries whose states are emerging from conflict or collapse are poorly understood by Western governments or by actors in the international community. it is financially costly. diplomatic. Thus. War may also alter many of the structural parameters (political leadership. because all resources are scarce. and intelligence experts. academic and operational. but ideally historians and anthropologists (as well as economists when they have acquired some expertise on the country). their lack of size and strategic importance tends to their being shortchanged in analytic attention. ineffectual character of its occupation. any international mission should be advised on the ground. 2. This is probably the most difficult lesson to apply. on an ongoing basis. and for Western intelligence agents to penetrate. has broken down over an extended period of time. The failure of the United States to mobilize and more fully utilize expert knowledge of Iraq from the beginning was an important contributing factor to the bumbling. it is risky in that countries contributing forces may suffer casualties. and more likely to be committed soon to other war-torn African states. As for smaller troubled states such as Somalia or Liberia. Challenges and Change noted that with 60. and alliances) which had previously been understood by academic. the world is running out of December 2006 │ 103 . For one thing. not just from one country. not just political scientists. and it is very difficult to get the primary national and multilateral actors in the international community to commit the military force necessary to truly stabilize a country where the state. Mobilize and commit adequate military and financial resources. and with it civil order. private and public. make many failed and failing states difficult to study. These experts should be drawn from across the available resources in the international community. Next. and their leaders may then pay a high political price. War. governmental and nongovernmental. For another.000 UN peacekeepers deployed in sixteen missions around the world by the end of 2004. and before it a long period of brutal misrule or social disintegration. The recent Report of the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Threats. This is partly because extremely closed countries such as Iraq under Saddam and Afghanistan under the Taliban are difficult for Western social scientists to visit and research. by some number of leading experts on the country. until they collapse and create problems for regional and international order.

2 . because the situation confronting international actors is not truly one of “post-conflict. Cousens (Boulder. Challenges. a judgment must be made (following Stedman’s model) as to whether the violent actor in question is a “total spoiler” who “sees power as indivisible” and seeks to conquer it all. 2004). since it is not a UN mission. Stephen John Stedman. it takes many troops to create the enabling environment for democracy building and national reconstruction. and Change (New York: United Nations. or merely a tactical.” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreement. violence continues. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 12-13). ed. Stephen John Stedman. “Introduction.” War in its conventional form may have ended. significantly more international peacekeeping/enforcement forces must be made available. and armed groups stand ready to use violence and intimidation to enhance their political position or to undermine the implementation of any peace agreement that does not meet all of their key demands (the latter marking them as “spoilers”).available forces for peacekeeping and peace enforcement. and Elizabeth M. 216. cold war-era structures. but even 150. is already feeling the strain on its own sustainable military capacities. and should do more to transform their existing force capacities into suitable contingents for peace operations. but order has been shattered. along with “sufficient transport and logistic capabilities to move and supply those who are available…. In either case. “ greedy” spoiler who utilizes violence to obtain more power and resources (pp. with the best military in the world. The developed states have particular responsibilities here. but I believe the term can usefully be applied as well to any post-conflict situation where there is broad domestic participation in the effort to stabilize and rebuild the country but some armed groups use violence to undermine the process for strategic gain.15 One of the two greatest obstacles to the democratization of post-war Iraq has been the lack of adequate force for stabilization of the country after the end of formal hostilities (with the 14 15 A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility.”14 Sometimes. No. and it is clear that the United States. 11-14. 69. The effort to stabilize Iraq has been bloodily undermined by both total and tactical spoiler forces. 2002). the armed forces of many of these countries have outmoded.000 troops have not been able to stabilize that country over more than three years. Stedman reserves the term “spoiler” for leaders and factions who use violence to undermine a signed peace agreement. par. Volume 2. Report of the High-level Panel on Threats. (The panel did not mention the military engagement of the American-led coalition in Iraq. 104 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy.” Currently. “with less than 10 percent of soldiers in uniform available for active deployment at any given time. and one of the great political failings of the United States has been its inability to separate the latter from the former and to draw them into the political process with a judicious mix of assurances and inducements. Donald Rothchild.) As the UN panel’s report makes clear. 9.

000 troops. and Afghanistan—concluded: “There appears to be an inverse correlation between the size of the stabilization force and the level of risk. diamonds and timber are much more easily tradable than oil.. the lower the number of casualties suffered and inflicted.” in Ending Civil Wars.”18 Being able to mobilize adequate resources for post-conflict stabilization and (democratic) reconstruction requires three further imperatives. neighboring states hostile to the peace agreement (or the new.” in Ending Civil Wars. James Dobbins et al.collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime). Squandered Victory. which if replicated in Iraq would have meant an initial international force of 460. First. identified three factors in particular that are “most commonly associated with a difficult environment. including President Bush himself. Stedman. “Introduction. blinding refusal on the part of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other key Pentagon and Administration officials.S. but oil provides a huge incentive for a potential spoiler group to seek substantial or total control over the area producing it. 3. the likelihood of spoilers. “Evaluation Issues in Peace Implementation. 165–166. the more rents that flow to the new state from tradable commodities or even huge foreign aid flows. The higher the proportion of stabilizing troops. America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq (Santa Monica. But the RAND study. and about the resulting casualties. With regard to commodities. in the most systematic and comprehensive study to date of peace implementation efforts.”19 The difficulty of peace implementation also increases with five additional factors that emerged as important: the number of warring parties. See also George Downs and Stephen Stedman. this was not due to lack of advance warning of what could be expected during the “post-war” period.. or at least twice as large as what has been utilized). special envoy for the post-conflict missions in Bosnia. 10. second. especially total spoilers. Somalia. 198. but rather to a stubborn. December 2006 │ 105 . democratic post-conflict political order).000 to 500. the absence of a (noncoerced) peace agreement before 16 17 18 19 Diamond. which sought an invasion and stabilization force of several hundred thousand troops. chap. 2003). the actors who would intervene must assess the difficulty of the mission and the prospects for success. easily tradable commodities. Kosovo.16 The Army’s initial request for troops in Iraq was much more in line with the ratio of foreign troops to domestic population in the international interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Ibid. Haiti. 43-69. “spoils—valuable. and third. In general. especially if the oil lies in their traditional area of ethnic and political dominance. the greater the stakes in controlling the state. CA: RAND. As I and others have argued repeatedly. to heed the experts on post-conflict stabilization and on Iraq (including the senior command of the United States Army.” These are first. led by James Dobbins—who had served in the previous decade as U.17 Pentagon planners probably worried about the capacity of the United States to mobilize such a large force. Stephen Stedman and his colleagues.

they have tried. and can discourage future interventions (even ones that are more likely to succeed). a collapsed state.20 Iraq. there is a fair number of armed combatants (though not in terms of formal armies). The insurgency has consisted of a number of different elements with different interests.”22 The lessons learned from failed peace implementation efforts are sobering. and demands for secession. When implementers were challenged. Volume 2. the missions failed. “Introduction. requires the commitment of a major international or at least regional power. This generates a third lesson. and there are various other armed militias in the mix as well. it is better not to intervene than to do so with a level of resources and commitment that makes failure quite likely. usually with catastrophic consequences. Stedman found: “All too often in the 1990s international and regional organizations were sent to implement peace agreements in extremely challenging environments where no major state possessed a security interest. 3. This means not just an international organization (such as the UN) or loose international coalition. as well as a powerful state willing to bear at least a considerable share of those risks and costs. 106 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. which views stabilization in its own vital strategic interests. Ibid. in this regard. but at least one powerful state. Oil looms large. was completely off the charts in terms of difficulty —virtually all of the above eight unfavorable conditions specified by Downs and Stedman were strongly present. The more difficult the (post)conflict situation. After surveying the bloodied landscape of peace implementation. particularly Syria and Iran. 20 21 22 Downs and Stedman.21 Facing down spoilers and stabilizing a war-torn country where peace must really be imposed. not simply kept. the number of combatants in the conflict.” 55-57.” in Ending Civil Wars. It was clear that neighboring states. there is no peace agreement. 2 . If the international actors that are intervening to implement peace —and democracy can be meaningful and viable only in a context of peace —do not judge the difficulty wisely. they will likely fail. the more successful implementation of peace requires an accurate estimate of the difficulties involved and the resources—and sacrifices—that will be required. and are not willing to commit adequate resources. the state has collapsed. indeed. And since failure entails a tragic loss of lives and resources. No. about the international circumstances that will more likely call forth the necessary resources.intervention. and there is powerful Kurdish sentiment for secession (along with periodic threats from Kurdish elites). especially if there were a prolonged occupation. Stedman. would be hostile to the construction of democracy and would try to sabotage it—as. Analysts warned that a violent insurgency (consisting of dedicated spoilers) would emerge in the postwar situation. “Evaluation Issues.

Establish international legitimacy and active support for the post-conflict intervention. Simon Chesterman writes: “Modern trusteeships demand. the need for a powerful state to take a vital interest in the mission increases. As the difficulty of the challenge rises. Chesterman advises that. when the United Nations and other international actors come “to exercise state-like functions. If the local population has no trust in the initial international administration and its intentions. Such an intervention will more likely raise and sustain the necessary resources and commitment if there is a shared sense of importance and commitment in the international community.”23 Unfortunately. all-out occupation 23 24 Chesterman. but that alone will probably not be enough to generate success unless there is significant international participation. they must not lose sight of their limited mandate to hold that sovereign power in trust for the population that will ultimately claim it. In the final page of an impressively wise and learned book on postconflict state building. 257. 4. which require that the intervention not be seen as (and truly. but also because of the imperatives of legitimacy internally in the country. the occupation of Iraq lacked these qualities. Ibid. and will then need to spend most of its military (and administrative) energies defending itself rather than rebuilding the country and its political and social order. This is not only because of the need to distribute and share the burdens.”24 This requires a balancing of international trusteeship or imperial functions with a distinctly nonimperial attitude and a clear and early specification of an acceptable timetable for the restoration of full sovereignty. You the People. the intervention can become the target of popular wrath. Generate legitimacy and trust within the post-conflict country.3. No international reconstruction effort can succeed without some degree of acceptance and cooperation— and eventually support and positive engagement—from the people of the failed state. The humiliating features of an extended. ideally formalized by a United Nations Security Council mandate. sensitivity. not be) the imperial action of another powerful state. and the Iraqi people knew it. and respect for local traditions and political aspirations that has often been lacking in international administration. above all. trust on the part of local actors. December 2006 │ 107 . Earning and keeping that trust requires a level of understanding.

International interventions that seek to construct democracy after conflict must balance the tension between domination for the sake of implanting democracy and withdrawal in the name of democracy: 25 26 27 Stephen Krasner. but needs to be paired with a clear indication.” while also stemming the accumulation of local resentment and frustration. No. Force must be used.should be avoided as much as possible. Chesterman. 2 . but also on that state’s retention of de facto sovereignty over most conventional aspects of policy.” Journal of Democracy 16. Shared sovereignty is for the longer run. to be held accountable. 1 (January 2005): 69-83. scrutinized. from the very beginning. only international military intervention in some form—or the fairly rapid (and often brutal) victory of one side or another— can fill the vacuum left behind when a state has collapsed and a country is in or at the edge of or just emerging from chaos and civil war. or at least effectively deployed and exhibited. 153. and the prevention of any means by which the occupying authorities could be questioned. You the People. Hold local elections first. these formulas are viable precisely because they build not only on the de jure sovereignty of a state. whenever possible. 108 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. or the peace implementation force. but in scope as well. and themselves held accountable. In fact. Some theorists and practitioners have been searching for a formula for international intervention to democratize failed states that stops short of fullscale imperial rule (whether by one nation or many). however. as was done in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban. when failed states have begun to revive. In the nearer term. allowing for the occupier.) 5. “Building Democracy after Conflict: The Case for Shared Sovereignty. One could speculate that such formal abridgements of sovereignty would be more likely to be palatable if they were negotiated with international institutions or multilateral actors rather than a single powerful state.”25 However.27 (Two huge mistakes of the American occupation of Iraq were the establishment of an indefinite occupation with no clear timetable initially for the return of sovereignty. “as to how a temporary military occupation is to begin the process of transferring political control to local hands. no. Volume 2. Military occupation does not legitimate itself.”26 Such a framework should limit the political occupation not only in time. the better course will be to avoid international occupation altogether and organize a broad-based national conference to choose an interim government. Ibid. to restore order. Such mechanisms of accountability can “encourage the emergence of an indigenous human rights and rule of law culture as well as improve the day-to-day governance of the territory. One possible approach is through some form of “shared sovereignty.

In the case of Iraq. and (2) to hold elections and get out as soon as possible. America’s Role in Nation-Building. This violated Chesterman’s general guideline that executive authority should be devolved to local actors as soon as practical. it then undermined their authority by failing to give them meaningful resources and authority.. and if some meaningful scope of authority and resources had been devolved to the newly elected bodies. December 2006 │ 109 . and as soon as practicable.The two competing temptations are (1) to transform the country’s institutions and values through an extended and penetrating occupation (à la British colonial rule).”29 That could well have happened in Iraq if local elections had been allowed to proceed during 2003. The pressure for rapid national elections might have been contained better if the United States had not constructed a full-blown occupation. the United States would have faced a broader. Dobbins and his RAND coauthors find that holding local elections first “provides an opportunity for new local leaders to emerge and gain experience and for political parties to build a support base. whether at the municipal or national level. 243. and if the international authorities in Iraq had allowed local elections to take place fairly soon. Promote knowledge of institutional choices for democracy. local actors should be able to exercise that power meaningfully. motives—was “not long. Then.. and that “once power is transferred to local hands.S. 6. and more legitimate array of Iraqi interlocutors. more diverse. Ayatollah Sistani. constrained only by the rule of law. the answer—readily apparent from the history of Iraqi resistance to British colonial imposition in the 1920s.”28 In general. and the elected local bodies could have provided one basis for selecting an interim government. Even when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) did organize at least indirect elections for provincial and local councils. there is a strong logic to holding local elections before national ones. Post-conflict societies are generally weak in knowledge of the 28 29 Ibid. and of democratic principles and norms. and from the profound and widespread suspicion among Iraqis of U. A key question is always how long international rule can be viable. Dobbins et al.-led occupation and the most revered religious and moral leader in Iraq. 154. but rather transferred power back to Iraqis quickly through a broad-based national conference with UN assistance.S.” The failure to establish early on a date for national elections to choose a constitutional assembly became a major bone of contention between the U.

the more attempts at democratization will tend to neglect one of the biggest threats to post-conflict 110 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. 7. but in simpler terms for the mass population as well. the Kurds and some Shia in favor of a highly decentralized form) has proceeded with limited awareness of the lessons from experiences of other countries. and to generate incentives for moderation in political behavior. tolerate. there is a compelling need to decentralize relief and reconstruction efforts. and the better the prospect for the accumulation of political trust and cooperation with the overall transition project. each side (for example. Assisting the formation and development of research institutes and NGOs that promote understanding of institutional designs to manage ethnic conflict and respectful debate on constitutional options for political reconstruction should be an early priority for democratic assistance. as well as democratic civic assistance. A mass civic education campaign must make people aware of their rights. No. So should efforts by various types of NGOs and state institutions to educate the public about democratic norms. Both for the effectiveness and speed of economic revival. The more reconstruction efforts are centralized in international aid or occupation missions. principles. as much as possible. train them in the arts of active citizenship. Disperse economic reconstruction funds and democratic assistance as widely as possible.institutional options for structuring democracy to manage ethnic and other group conflict. and respect opposing views and interests. 2 . Any effort to promote democracy in this setting has to involve the dissemination of knowledge about the likely effects of different institutional designs. and for the building of local trust and acceptance. Volume 2. the more likely that economic reconstruction and democracy-building efforts will be directed toward the most urgent needs. the Sunnis completely opposed. to protect individual and group rights. The more the international administration and private donors work with and through local partners. with some detail and sophistication for political elites. and lead them to hear. In the polarized debate on Iraqi federalism. and values. The choice in Iraq’s first election (in January 2005) of a national-list proportional representation system that was highly likely to reinforce ethnic and sectarian solidarities was only the latest example of this (the choice was made not just by Iraqi officials but by an experienced UN expert!).

and who can therefore distribute the funds to a much larger number of small. It may make it more difficult to obtain the kinds of receipts that permit auditing. Donald Rothchild. Decentralization and rapid impact require dispersing some operational and spending authority to lowerlevel international officials who are resident in different cities and provinces. New jobs in labor-intensive rehabilitation of the economy and infrastructure. mine-clearing. “Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation. Cousens (Boulder. to evaluate performance. but it can strengthen accountability and stimulate recovery in the long term. Stephen John Stedman. April 2005.” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreement. Gerd Junne and Willemijn Verkoren (Boulder.”31 There is a particularly urgent need to diffuse sustainable employment opportunities. while at the same time rebuilding the country’s physical infrastructure. there was a particularly compelling need for the creation of jobs. promote reconciliation between previously (or still) warring parties. in the hard and urgent circumstances of a post-conflict situation.”30 In Iraq.S. as in Bosnia and so many other post-conflict cases. This need could have been met more rapidly if the repair and reconstruction contracts had been channeled more extensively through a wide range of local Iraqi contractors.32 30 31 32 Susan Woodward. and the new security forces. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. It may be more conducive to corruption—though corruption was hardly contained in the centralized operation in Iraq. Diffusing authority over reconstruction is cumbersome and time-consuming. “Economic Policy for Building Peace. as well as in agriculture. ed. CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. As Anne Ellen Henderson concludes based on the Iraqi reconstruction experience. Bertine Kamphuis.stabilization: “high unemployment that affects a large majority of the population in the first years after war. along with early efforts. can help to reintegrate militia fighters and excombatants into society. 138. industry. ed. there is a case to be made for decentralized dispersal of small contracts and grants. 187-193. and Elizabeth M. particularly ones beyond the temporary and somewhat distorting servicing of the international aid community itself. indigenous contractors and employees. health services. Anne Ellen Henderson.” in Post Conflict Development: Meeting New Challenges. However. and thus promote their commitment to the new political order and their faith in the future. instead of through the big U. December 2006 │ 111 . give people livelihoods. 201. gathering as much information as possible. and educational system. Special Report No. 1. corporations. who get to know the local social and political contexts. 2002).” United States Institute of Peace. “The Coalition Provisional Authority's Experience with Economic Reconstruction in Iraq: Lessons Identified. Difficult choices must be made. “Reform and reconstruction initiatives imposed from above—whether by an occupying power or a centralized regime—are vulnerable to failure because they create so few empowered owners with the capacity and desire to ensure their implementation. 2005).

No. not merely through the election of a constituent assembly or a constitutional referendum (or ideally. and through the organization of an extensive national dialogue on constitutional issues and principles. Institutionalize the capacity for effective intervention and democracy promotion in post-conflict settings. “Constitution-Making after Conflict: Lessons for Iraq. Liberia. Volume 2.8. Jamal Benomar. The study was a joint project of the United Nations Development Programme and the United States Institute of Peace. and proceed with humility and respect for the opinions of the people in whose interest the intervention is supposedly staged. Such ambitious international intervention cannot succeed. or certainly can be. 2 . poverty. Prominent among these is the establishment of a Peace-building Commission (with a significant permanent 33 Jamal Benomar. unless there is some sense of participation and ownership on the part of the people in the state being reconstructed. both). The UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel has offered a number of promising and ambitious suggestions for enhancing and institutionalizing capacity in the UN and the international system. This is one of the major findings of the process of creating a permanent constitution in nineteen transitional countries. but through the involvement of the widest possible range of stakeholders in the substantive discussions and procedural planning. Nicaragua. One of the study leaders. and South Africa). And it is why the process of constitution making must be democratic and broadly participatory. or fatal conceit. It is why it is so vital to engage local partners. and urgency of need of the recipient state—up to the point where that state has failed altogether and is more or less helpless. The danger of arrogance. There is.” Journal of Democracy 15 (April 2004): 89. East Timor. as extensively as possible. and the institutions it establishes cannot be viable. This is why holding local elections as early as possible is very important. in postconflict relief and economic reconstruction. Promote local participation. a large dose of arrogance in any effort at international assistance. grows with the weakness. including democracy promotion. 9. concludes: “Constitutions produced without transparency and adequate public participation will lack legitimacy.”33 And illegitimate constitutions augur poorly for future stability. “most of which have emerged from armed conflict in the last three decades” (such as Bosnia. 112 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy.

However. and socially. Ibid. A specialized department would provide a permanent. to assist the transition from conflict to peace (and one hopes to democracy. As I envision it. institutionalized standing capacity to land on the ground quickly after conflict and (in concert with local actors and a wide range of other international donors) help the country reconstruct itself politically. These assets would not be well situated in the Departments of State or Defense. par. and. economically. the conduct of diplomacy and the conduct of war—not the rebuilding of war-torn or collapsed states. the United States needs to strengthen its own efforts for coordinated.36 34 35 36 A More Secure World. rapid deployment into post-conflict settings. and it proposes to strengthen.. “and in particular to marshal and sustain the efforts of the international community in post-conflict peacebuilding over whatever period may be necessary. A separate cabinet department would enable us to have a coherent administrative and reconstruction capacity. would be by creating a cabinet-level Department of International Development and Reconstruction. shake up and professionalize the UN Secretariat. effective. the Department would also incorporate traditional development assistance work now done by USAID and would give the U. in essence. with a mix of experiences and language capabilities and close working relations with other government departments and agencies. 91-92.support staff) to identify countries at risk of state failure and intervene early to prevent it. This requires specific training and skills and a substantial professional and reserve corps of civilian experts. December 2006 │ 113 .35 Fortunately. I believe. the establishment of the UN Peace-building Commission is now under way. 84. which have as their purposes. much readier to deploy. respectively. the panel recommends that member states “strongly support” the efforts of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations to facilitate more rapid deployment by enhancing strategic stockpiles and standby arrangements for peacekeeping deployment.”34 In addition. 69. based on the studied absorption of lessons from previous experiences. building on the core of USAID and incorporating as well the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. though the panel does not mention this). the ability to engage and coordinate among other donors with the same cabinet-level representation that many other industrialized democracies have for their international cooperation and development work.S. 164. The best way to do so.

37 It would be better if. Yet. not any country can become a democracy at any particular moment. they are often preferable to the harder authoritarian alternative. even in the hard cases. Even then. in granting some space for opposition and dissent. If a new authoritarian state emerges.” in the Journal of Democracy 13 (April 2002): 21-80. rhetorically. or civil war —still wish for something better politically. the hard truth is that we lack in the international community today the finances. even if half-heartedly. the political will— and probably also the knowledge—to promote democracy successfully in the most forbidding cases. It is not inevitable that we will fail to promote democracy. the troops. Sometimes. as Hun Sen and his Cambodian 37 See the cluster of essays. and with concrete programs for democracy assistance. the struggle to promote democracy resumes. However. once the failed state has begun to take shape on less than democratic grounds. morally. At a minimum. and at least a less thoroughgoing authoritarianism than what otherwise might have emerged. the international intervention may leave behind fragments of hope for political pluralism. Failed states pose among the most difficult challenges for democratization. to build democracy. Nevertheless. Volume 2. as in South Africa and Nicaragua. we should not regard that as the end of the story. however. as in Cambodia. on more familiar if incremental terms. The tragedy. and certainly not quickly. is that once a new authoritarian regime consolidates its grip. In all likelihood. in countries such as Cambodia. No. or social structure. Iraq will bear out this sad truth once again. Still. while winding up with a partially democratic system—a country at least struggling in the “gray zone”—than we would have been if we had just resigned ourselves to dictatorship from the start. “Elections without Democracy. No country is ruled out because of its history. and leave open the possibility of eventual democratization. the people who suffer under new forms of oppression— however much they fall short of genocide. the international community will claim to be promoting democracy. 114 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. Sometimes democratization—assisted heavily from the outside—will be an indispensable means for the restoration of order. Authoritarian states do not become democracies just because they hold elections in which opposition parties compete and win some seats. we owe it to them to remain engaged. 2 . In these circumstances. culture. the international community would summon the resources and the will really to promote and insist upon democracy. it is possible that we are better off having tried. absolute dictatorship.Conclusion The remarkable growth of democracy in the last three decades—reaching nearly all major cultural zones and over a third of the world’s poorest countries—suggests that every country can become a democracy eventually. when it does not have the stomach or resources for the fight. diplomatically. When we do.

“Cambodia: Getting Away with Authoritarianism. 38 Duncan McCargo. post-conflict countries do provide an arena of considerable fluidity for building a more democratic state and society. particularly if it has authoritarian neighbors and defenders.38 it may be very difficult to dislodge. December 2006 │ 115 .” Journal of Democracy 16 (October 2005): 98-112.People’s Party have done in Cambodia. For all their challenges and vulnerabilities.

116 │ Taiwan Journal of Democracy. 2 . Volume 2. No.

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