Unpacking the liberal peace: the dividing and merging of peacebuilding discourses
University of Exeter
Millennium - Journal of International Studies
This paper assesses the discursive environment of post-conflict intervention as a prism through which to view the international politics of the post-Cold War era. I argue that the ‘liberal peace’ is not a single discourse but a tri-partite international discursive environment that dynamically reproduces technical solutions which fail to address the core issues of conflict in a given place. The paper starts from the assumption that over the last twenty years we have seen a shift from an understanding of peace as a state of affairs in a given territory (as explored by Michael Banks in a 1987 paper) to peace as a process of post-conflict intervention; a move from peace to peacebuilding. This ‘liberal peace’ sets a standard by which ‘failed states’ and ‘bad civil societies’ are judged according to ethical, spatial and temporal markers. However, the apparent homogeneity of the model obscures the divisions and mergers which characterise the scholarship and practice of international peacebuilding. The boundaries of the peace debate remain; the political differences latent in Banks’ three concepts are retained in the evolving discourses of democratic peacebuilding, civil society and statebuilding. The paper shows how these three basic discourses are reproduced in international policy analyses and major academic works. Moreover, the discursive mediation of their differences is the dynamic by which the liberal peace is sustained, despite its detachment from the lived experiences of post-conflict environments. It is in this sense that we can comprehend international peacebuilding as a virtual phenomenon, maintained in the verbal and visual representations of international organisations, diplomats and academic policy-practitioners. In light of this disaggregation of the discursive environment, a better, more nuanced understand of the liberal peace can be attained; one that is able to grasp how critics and criticisms become incorporated into that which they seek to critique. The paper concludes with three propositions regarding the nature of world order in the era of the tripartite ‘liberal peace’. During this time coercion, military force and even warfare have become standard and legitimate features of peacefare. The discursive dynamics of international peacebuilding illustrate how peace has become ever more elusive in contemporary international politics.
© 2008 SAGE Publications. Post-print version. 12 month embargo by the publisher. Article will be released May 2009.