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Book Review
Last Updated: 08/18/2005
Peacebuilding in Postconflict Societies
Jennifer M. Hazen

How to rebuild societies after wars in order to achieve sustainable peace has been a key question in the international community since the end of the Cold War. With numerous interventions to halt intrastate conflicts and prevent a return to war, international practitioners and academics alike have sought clear answers to how to ensure stability and peace once the guns fall silent. Peacebuilding in Postconflict Societies offers an expansive discussion of the various aspects of the peace-building process and the numerous challenges to addressing them. However, Peacebuilding still falls short of answering that key question of which policies work and under which conditions.


Peacebuilding in Postconflict Societies: Strategy & Process

Ho-Won Jeong

Lynne Rienner: Boulder

Paperback $22.50 USD

  

Attention to peacebuilding increased monumentally in the decade following the end of the Cold War. With the end of the superpower rivalry, time and resources became available for addressing intrastate conflicts, their causes and their consequences. With increased attention and study came an abundance of literature on various aspects of the conflict process, but often in a piecemeal fashion and in such a manner as to elude a comprehensive understanding of conflict. Ho-won Jeong’s Peacebuilding in Postconflict Societies: Strategy & Process, makes a remarkable advance in gathering and organizing these various studies under one title and providing a foundation for advancing research and understanding.

  

The intent of the book is to provide an assessment of past peace-building efforts in a variety of contexts in order to identify key issue areas and challenges and produce suggestions on how to improve these efforts in future instances. The assumption underlying this work is that the international community must take a more organized and systematic approach to peace-building; one that does not focus on the creation of democratic institutions alone or on re-establishing the pre-war status quo. Peacebuilding strives to provide an overall conceptual and analytical approach, which identifies the numerous key steps and actions required during peacebuilding in order to build a stable and durable peace.

  

This comprehensive approach bridges the works of various scholars and practitioners by offering an integrative peace-building model aimed at bringing together the pieces of this fragmented research. The result is an overarching classification and discussion of peace-building activities. These activities are classified into four main categories: security and demilitarization; political transition; development; and, reconciliation and social rehabilitation. Within these categories, the author covers dozens of issues ranging from disarmament, protecting human rights, and institutional reform to power sharing, elections, economic rehabilitation, and truth and reconciliation commissions. The breadth of topics covered is impressive. While the space does not allow detailed discussion of each activity, the main concepts and characteristics are identified and even scholarly debates over the use of certain tools are included.

  

Peacebuilding raises a number of important issues that may seem commonsensical on first glance, but that often fail to come to the fore during peace-building planning. The author argues for the need to design peace-building strategies according to the complex realities of the conflict situation at hand, rather than applying a “one-size fits all” approach to all conflicts. In addition, any strategy must identify the activities that are first priority and second priority; these activities should be coordinated and integrated to ensure they support rather than detract from one another; activities should take place at the national, local, and community levels; and, the strategy should contain short-, medium-, and long-term time frames for achieving set goals. The author argues that this kind of extensive planning needs to occur early in the intervention to ensure an effective and coordinated strategy aimed at peacebuilding, rather than a short-term focus on ending violence and holding elections. In many cases, the focus on holding elections as a measure of success fails to address the underlying causes of a conflict and leaves states vulnerable to relapse, yet this continues to be a common approach to ending conflict.

  

Peacebuilding is not a purely theoretical exercise. Although much text is given to the discussion of the issues that need to be addressed and plausible ways of addressing them, the practical dimension of implementation also shines through. The book is replete with examples from contemporary conflicts illustrating the successes and failures of various policies. These examples help to illustrate the challenges to peace-building and the many ways in which various international actors have tried to overcome these challenges, as well as to draw attention to the policies that do not succeed and highlighting potential alternative avenues.

  

Peacebuilding provides any reader with a near complete overview and substantial literature review of peacebuilding. This book will be useful for educators and policy makers who want a view of the bigger picture. This book provides a basic reader for any student, academic, or practitioner interested in peacebuilding. The book is comprehensive in its coverage of the myriad activities encompassed by the term peacebuilding and provides a strong foundation for investigation into any or many of the issues raised.

  

This tremendous breadth of coverage does, however, come with a significant trade-off in the loss of depth and detail in any specific issue, activity, or policy discussed. Some topics, the role of civil society in promoting security for example, are only given a few paragraphs while other concepts are only discussed in passing. Therefore, Peacebuilding should be seen as a foundational book, a starting point for studying and understanding peacebuilding. There are a number of articles and books on the specifics of issues and policies examined in Peacebuilding, which could be read in conjunction with this work and could offer the necesseary details to what is provided here. The bibliography offers a good starting point for additional reading.

  

There is one element that appears briefly, but as a practitioner I would argue requires more attention, and that is the role of the population of the war-torn country itself in the peacebuilding process. In the arena of peacekeeping and peacemaking, tremendous attention is often paid to the role of the international community, the United Nations, and other international actors, while relatively little emphasis is placed on the internal actors. Ultimately, for any peace-building activity to succeed those in leadership positions as well as the society at large must not only pay the largest price for change but must also invest the most time, energy and resources into ensuring changes take place to address the underlying causes of conflict. Thus the burden lands on the lap of the domestic stakeholders, who are often ill-equipped to handle it. Capacity building is a common catch phrase in peacebuilding, but little is really known about whether current efforts at achieving this are effective.

  

While offering a wealth of information about peacebuilding, Peacebuilding does fall short of offering a roadmap for peace-building or an analytical framework explaining which policies work best and under what circumstances. This should be the next step forward in this literature. There is a wealth of anecdotal information available, and Peacebuilding provides this rich detail, to explain the successes and failures of specific policies in certain contexts in the past. The next step is to analyze this multitude of data to derive a best-practices model of peacebuilding that indicates which policies are most effective, why, and when and how they should be implemented. There is arguably no silver-bullet to peacebuilding. Context will always be important, and the author is accurate in stating this upfront and advocating an integrated, coordinated, and multi-sectoral approach to peacebuilding. Peacebuilding provides a strong foundation and framework for future research aimed at improving our understanding of the who, what, when, where, and why of successful peace-building in order to build an understanding of not only how these elements fit together but also how to implement policies that build on this understanding.

Jennifer M. Hazen holds a PhD in International Relations from Georgetown University. Dr. Hazen is currently an Assistant Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace.


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