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October 23, 2009 / Tom Hill

Building Peace After War: New Adelphi Book

Building PeaceMats Berdal’s Building Peace After War is the latest edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies‘ Adelphi Book Series. I must declare that Mats Berdal is my PhD supervisor; but even withstanding that (and given that it has already been well received by certain key individuals in the academic/policy world), it is by any standard an excellent read that had me riveted over the weekend. Personally, I judge it to be a remarkable synthesis of the literature on the vast and sprawling topic of ‘peacebuilding’ which is itself both comprehensive and succinct, and cuts to the heart of the key debates in this troubled area.

Quite unusually for the civil war literature that emphasises political dynamics, a significant proportion of the book is devoted to issues associated with crime. I’ll let you read the book to get into the detail of his full argument, but here are some interesting extracts to give you an idea:

The relationship between organised crime and violence in post-conflict settings – especially in the immediate and early post-war phase that is the focus of this book – is more complicated than the public pronouncements of policymakers on the subject typically suggest. Such statements, unsurprisingly and not without good reason, emphasise the costs of organised crime, presenting the need to combat and eradicate it as a moral imperative. And yet, as an issue confronting peacebuilders on the ground it has repeatedly presented morally complex dilemmas and policy trade-offs … an exclusive focus on combatting or eradicating organised crime, drawing upon traditional law-enforcement models and categories, has not only met with mixed success but has sometimes threatened to undermine the fragile stability that characterises post-conflict societies in the early phase of external involvement. [p.69]

… At the very least, this discussion suggests that efforts to meet the challenge posed by organised crime in post-conflict societies must proceed from a nuanced understanding of the roots and functions of this kind of crime in the local community, including the degree of local legitimacy that it may enjoy. All-important in this regard is the need to unravel the relationship of organised crime with ‘existing authority structures’ within a peacebuilding environment, establishing whether that relationship is ‘predatory’, ‘parastic’ or ‘symbiotic’. Such understanding must then feed into the strategy adopted for meeting the challenges posed by crime and criminal enterprises in post-conflict settings. Policy initiatives must also take account of and reflect the actual resources available for addressing the challenges identified, while seeking to minimise the unintended consequences of tackling only a limited aspect of what is necessarily a larger and more multifaceted challenge. [p.71]


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