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Constructing Sovereignty for Security

Fragmentation and rivalry in the donor community constitutes as big an obstacle to peacebuilding as divisions in war-torn countries. Would the creation of a multilateral decision-making body as a counterpart for governments receiving aid help international state-building efforts? This paper from the International Institute for Strategic Studies supports the establishment of an inter-governmental Peacebuilding Commission to oversee UN operations to rebuild states after conflict. This would provide a useful institutional framework and deliver aid in ways that are accountable to the global community and to reconstructed countries’ citizens.

For centuries, stronger powers have intervened to establish politically acceptable forms of order. The generalisation of the sovereign nation-state and the UN system has altered the environment for latter-day state builders. While they may have differing motivations, all face the problem of maintaining order and security in an increasingly integrated global system. Operations must provide aid, war fighting, peacekeeping, economic and democratic assistance, often without a coherent strategy. The Peacebuilding Commission proposed by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change would exercise authority over a Peacebuilding Fund. This would be kept replenished in advance of operations and contain unearmarked contributions. A Peacebuilding Support Office within the UN secretariat would support the commission.

State formation consists of the interdependent mobilisation of three types of resources:

  • Coercion: The sovereign wields coercion, hopefully in the form of security institutions, to exercise force over a territory. Key tasks in rebuilding a state include dismantling irregular militias and building new security forces to enable the state to exercise that coercion.
  • Capital: The acumulation of capital is needed to produce income to fund state functions and services. Economic development, capital accumulation, revenue collection and the suppression of untaxable, parallel economies all require effective security forces. Strengthening fiscal capacity and protecting property rights are also important.
  • Legitimacy: Symbolic and cultural resources legitimise the use of force and induce people to comply voluntarily as citizens. State building operations aim to make states more effective agents of control over their own territories. The problem of ‘dual legitimacy’ refers to whether this control is exercised by states as sovereigns, or whether it is the result of external interests.

Implications relate to the politics of state-building:

  • Studies of state-building operations often try to identify ‘best practices’ without asking for whom they are best. Nonetheless, where goals are interdependent, negotiation may lead to convergence among actors with different motivations.
  • The concepts of ‘exit strategy’ and ‘sustainability’ may converge in a mission to build a legitimate and capable state. This requires transitional governance institutions to establish an institutional framework for political contestation and rule.
  • The Peacebuilding Commission, Peacebuilding Support Office and Peacebuilding Fund proposed by the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change would provide such a framework.
  • The commission and Peace Building Support Office will also have to develop appropriate strategic and operational doctrines for post-conflict state-building.
  • If donors and troop contributors treat the Peacebuilding Commission as just another avenue for aid, it will not serve its purpose. Donor countries will better serve their own needs by giving aid in ways that are more accountable to the global community and the reconstructed country’s citizens.

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