A constructivist insight into the practice of UN peacebuilding

Tobias Tschappe

A. Introduction*

When general secretary Boutros-Ghali presented the Agenda for Peace in 1992, he introduced the concept of post-conflict peace-building (hereinafter peacebuilding), thereby extending the United Nation’s (UN) existing instruments for maintaining international peace and security by a remarkable novel tool.[1] Basically, peacebuilding defined as “action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict[2] addresses the complex of problems states emerging from conflict face in the aftermath of armed conflicts.[3]

The practical relevance of the concept can be witnessed in the increasingly complex, multidimensional peace operations mandates that developed from the late 80’s until today.[4] Encompassing a multitude of measures[5] the core idea of peacebuilding lies in the creation of structures and conditions that are regarded as guarantors for the peaceful and stable future of post-conflict societies. Therefore, it presents a far-reaching, transformative undertaking by the so-called international community in order to change and reshape the conflictual identity of states.[6] Thus, one of the most striking features of peacebuilding is the degree to which the international community today intervenes[7] into what is commonly called the ‘internal affairs’ of sovereign states and how this practice deviates from the former methods of UN peacekeeping.[8]

Accordingly, there seems to exist an ambiguous relationship between the concept of sovereignty[9]as the fundamental institution structuring the international organization of political authority[10] and the changed practice of maintaining peace and security.

B. Existing research

Concerning the literature dealing with the UN’s efforts in peacekeeping in general, one is faced with a rich stock of existing material. The bulk of work in this field, however, addresses mainly operational aspects of peace operations and thus fails to problematize the practice of peacebuilding itself.[11] Thus, it is possible to attest a lack of macro-theoretical examination in this field of research.[12]

C. Relevance

First, an explanation of the significant change in the practice of the UN since the Cold War is provided, thus addressing the research gap in the area of macro-approaches to peacebuilding and peacekeeping in general. Second, the explanation of this change via the inquiry of sovereignty offers a possibility to think about the relevance of international normative structures and how changes in sovereignty as fundamental institution of the international community affect the ways of international politics. With regards to the academic field of United Nations Studies, the thesis can be seen as an attempt to clarify the often obscure role that the organization plays for the international community.

D. Research design and methodology
I. Research design

With regard to what has been described above, this work is interested in:

(1) how can the significant change of practice be explained, especially with regard to its implications for the institution of sovereignty?

(2) what effects on the international order follow from peacebuilding as contemporary concept for the maintenance of peace?

The underlying hypothesis’ are:

(2) a remarkable normative shift concerning the institution of sovereignty is closely related to the change in practice.

(1) peacebuilding as a form of collective action serves to reach certain goals, defined by parts of the international community.

To answer these questions posed in both descriptive as well as explanatory terms, the thesis follows a theory testing approach. Starting with preliminary theoretical considerations, a constructivist framework able to account for the role of normative structures to explain the changed pattern of practice is developed.[13] This is followed by a thoroughly description of the concept of peacebuilding as the primary object of research. Its implications are described, serving as a starting point for a theory-based argument about a process of reconstruction regarding sovereignty.

II. Methodology

In order to answer the questions in a convincing manner, key documents related to the development of the peacekeeping practice of the UN are used and new ideas about international security[14] are examined with regard to their implications for sovereignty and intervention. Secondary literature is used to further underpin the conclusions. Due to theoretical considerations, the work follows a more qualitative and interpretative oriented research method.[15]

E. Conclusion

(1) the significant change in the UN peacekeeping practice represented by peacebuilding can be explained with a corresponding process of institutional re-construction concerning sovereignty

(2) peacebuilding functions as an instrument for stabilizing the present international order that is organized along states as central units as well as for a partial transformation of this order along liberal-democratic perceptions of its entities.


* This contribution summarizes the work of a diploma thesis presented during the first colloquium organized by the Junges UNO-Netzwerk Deutschland which was held from 17-19 June 2011 in Berlin. Due to restrictions with regard to the length of this overview, the references listed below encompass only a selection of the literature used for the thesis.

[1]See, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace. Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peace-Keeping. Report of the Secretary-General, UN-Doc. A/47/277-S/24111 (17.06.1992), paras 55-59.

[2]Id., para. 21. For further official clarifications see also, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Supplement to an Agenda for Peace. Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization, UN-Doc. A/50/60-S/1995/1 (03.01.1995), paras 47-56; Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Development. Report of the Secretary-General, UN-Doc. A/48/935 (06.05. 1994), paras 16-40.

[3]For example, Collier et al present empirical evidence that countries emerging from internal conflicts are faced with a considerable increased risk of relapsing into conflict in the immediate aftermath with nearly half of the states experiencing another internal conflict within 10 years. See, Paul Collier et al. ‘Breaking the Conflict Trap. Civil War and Development Policy’, World Bank (Hg.), World Bank Research Report (2003), pp. 79-88. See also, United Nations General Assembly, In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all. Report of the Secretary-General, Addendum Peacebuilding Commission, UN-Doc. A /59/2005/Add.2 (23.05.2005), p. 1.

[4]For a comprehensive overview about the increasingly multidimensional nature of peacekeeping see, Volker C. Franke & Andrea Warnecke, ’Building Peace: An Inventory of UN Peace Missions since the End of the Cold War’, 16 International Peacekeeping (2009) 3, pp. 407–436.

[5] These contain inter alia the demobilization and disarmament of ex-combatants, reintegration efforts and undertakings to reform the security sector, humanitarian assistance, democracy and human promotion, economic reforms. See, UN Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, An Inventory of Post-Conflict Peace-Building Activities (1996), available online at http://www.un.org/esa/peacebuilding/Library/st_esa_246.pdf (last visited 06.06.2011); Astri Suhrke, Torunn Wimpelmann Chaudhary & Marcia Dawes, ‘Peace Processes and Statebuilding: Economic and Institutional Provisions of Peace Agreements’, Report of the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) Bergen, Norway (2005), p. 2.

[6] Oliver P. Richmond, ‘UN Peace Operations and the Dilemmas of the Peacebuilding Consensus’, 11 International Peacekeeping (2004) 1, p. 83–101.

[7] The underlying definition of the term ‘intervention’ follows Vincent and is understood as: “Activity undertaken by a state, a group within a state, a group of states, or an international organisation which interferes coercively in the domestic affairs of another state. It is a discrete event, having a beginning and an end, and is aimed at the authority structure of the target state. It is not necessarily lawful or unlawful, but it does break a conventional pattern of international relations.” R. J. Vincent, Nonintervention and International Order (1974), p. 13.

[8] Peacekeeping focused on the consensual surveillance of cease-fires and the detachment of the parties involved in a conflict.

[9] Sovereignty can be defined as: “Institutionalization of public authority within mutually exclusive jurisdictional domains.” John G. Ruggie, ‘Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward A Neorealist Synthesis’, in Robert O. Keohane (Ed.), Neorealism and its Critics (1986), p. 143. Although a lot of authors use varying definition of sovereignty, this definition seems to cover what can be viewed as the main aspect of the concept. For an overview of likewise definitions see, Daniel Philpott, Revolutions in sovereignty. How ideas shaped modern international relations (2001) Princton: Princton University Press, p. 16, note 8.

[10] See, Alan James, Sovereign Statehood. The Basis of International Society (1986), London: Allen & Unwin, pp. 267-269; Philpott (2001), pp. 15-21, 26; Christian Reus-Smit, ‘The Constitutional Structure of International Society and the Nature of Fundamental Institutions’, 51 International Organization (1997) 4, pp. 555-568.

[11] See for example, Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson & Pamela Aall (Eds.) Turbulent Peace. The Challenges of Managing International Conflict (2001), Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press. For examples of exeptional accounts of this subject see, Oliver P., Richmond, Maintaining Order, Making Peace (2002), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; Roland Paris, (2007): At War’s End. Building Peace After Civil Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Michael Barnett, ‘The New United Nations Politics of Peace: From Juridical Sovereignty to Empirical Sovereignty’, 1 Global Governance (1995) 1, pp. 79–97; Andrea Kathryn, Talentino, ‘One Step Forward, One Step Back?: The Development of Peace-building as Concept and Strategy’, 24 The Journal of Conflict Studies (4), pp. 33–60.

[12] In that way, Alex J. Bellamy, ‘The ‘Next Stage’ in Peace Operations Theory?’, 11 International Peacekeeping (2004) 1, pp. 17–19; Roland Paris, ‘Broadening the Study of Peacekeeping Literature’, 2 International Studies Review (2000) 3, pp. 28-34

[13]Among the rich portfolio of existing constructivist literatur in International Relations see, Emanuel Adler, ‘Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics’, 3 European Journal of International Relations (1997) 3, pp. 319–363; Alexander Wendt, ‘Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics. 46 International Organization 46 (1997) 2, pp. 391–425; Cornelia Ulbert, ‘Konstruktivistische Analysen der internationalen Politik. Theoretische Ansätze und methodische Herangehensweisen‘, in: Cornelia Ulbert & Christoph Weller (Eds.): Konstruktivistische Analysen der internationalen Politik (2005) 1. Aufl. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 9–34; Alexander Wendt, ‘Constructing International Politics‘, 20 International Security (1995) 1, pp. 71–81; Bernhard, Zangl & Michael Zürn, Frieden und Krieg. Sicherheit in der nationalen und postnationalen Konstellation (2003) Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, pp. 118-140; Martha Finnemore & Kathryn Sikkin, ’International Norm Dynamics and Political Change’, 52 International Organization (1998) 4, pp. 887–917.

[14] These contain the merging of the security and development discourses as well as the reinterpretation of sovereignty in line with the change from traditional connotations of security in terms of state security to human security and the responsibility to protect.

[15] For an overview over the specifics of norms as object of investigation see, Gregory A. Raymond, ‘Problems and Prospects in the Study of International Norms’, 41 Mershon International Studies Review (1997) 2, pp. 205–245; Gary Goertz & Paul F. Diehl,,’ Toward a Theory of International Norms: Some Conceptual and Measurement Issues’, 36 Journal of Conflict Resolution (1992) 4, pp. 634–664. Stressing the relevance of action for norms see, Friedrich V. Kratochwil, Rules, norms, and decisions. On the conditions of practical and legal reasoning in internationale relations and domestic affairs (1989) Cambridge: University Press, p. 61.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *