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From War to Democracy: Dilemmas of Peace Building

From War to Democracy: Dilemmas of Peace Building edited by Anna K. Jarstad and Timothy D. Sisk. Cambridge University Press, 2008, 308 pp.

That democracy and peace go hand in hand is a long-cherished assumption. Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace,” introduced the idea that the spread of democratic government (that, according to Kant, all states should have a “republican constitution”) could secure a lasting international peace. Much more recently, the development of democratic peace theory beginning in the 1960s took this idea a step forward and posited that democratic states would never—or at least very rarely—go to war with one another. In the surge of peace-building activity made possible by the end of the Cold War, these assumptions took hold in the missions pursued by the United Nations, other international organizations, and individual Western democracies. Rather than just securing the peace by placating or subduing warring parties, Western policy makers generally make the tacit supposition that democratization not only should do so but must follow peace-building operations.

Editors Anna K. Jarstad and Timothy D. Sisk provide a useful corrective to the pervasive idea of an easy relationship between democratization and peace building. In particular, they describe four archetypal dilemmas that constrain war-to-democracy efforts at multiple levels. The first dilemma is the horizontal dilemma—the tension between inclusion and exclusion of the leadership of war-making groups and political parties. While inclusion can facilitate or may even be necessary for a peace agreement, it may also be taken as a validation of past violence or encouragement to violent tactics concurrent with the ongoing political process.

The second, the vertical dilemma, relates to the decision of how much of the mass population to include in the peace-making process. The more people and groups become involved at all levels of politics, the better for the legitimacy of the process. But a too-inclusive process can prove entirely unwieldy to be effectual.

The third is the systematic dilemma—whether the process should be controlled by third party nations or international organizations as opposed to local groups. While outside forces can subdue violence, promote moderation, and aid negotiations, they also extract power from local groups and may, in the long run, subtly subvert democratization.

The fourth, temporal dilemma, focuses on the conflict between long- and short-term effects of war-to-democracy efforts. Timing of elections and the length of international peace-building missions can affect levels of violence and the transition to a stable democratic government.

The editors apply these dilemmas throughout the book, despite different authors for each chapter, to create a tightly woven framework for analysis that nevertheless recognizes the complexity of the issues faced by policy makers.

From War to Democracy divides its analysis of the dilemmas of war-to-democracy transitions into three sections: the problems of security and peacekeeping in democratic transitions, the political processes leading to democratization, and the costs and benefits of international involvement. The tradeoffs between peacekeeping and democratization form the foundation of these dilemmas and are detailed in the book's first section. Virginia Page Fortuna concludes that peacekeeping, however beneficial for countries embroiled in war, by no means guarantees the development of democracy after fighting ceases.

Likewise, Kristine Höglund explains the sometimes contradictory nature of efforts to control violence and promote democracy. The competition of the democratic process can easily spill over into renewed violence, but violence control itself may require coercive measures that undermine budding democracy. As explicated in book’s second section, the political process itself contains contradictions that may quickly complicate efforts to secure peace and democracy. Jarstad illuminates, for example, the potential problems of power-sharing arrangements between warring parties who may continue to perpetrate violence as leverage to become part of an agreement and who may lack long-term viability in a democratic order. Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs examines the impact of rebel groups on democratic development even more closely and concludes that step-by-step approaches to pacification and democratization may be superior to omnibus agreements, though the right course will vary case by case.

Benjamin Reilly's chapter questions the “all good things go together” mind-set surrounding immediate post-war elections and long-term democratic development. He similarly concludes that election timing, administration, and organization must be appropriately crafted to the needs of the particular situation without undue urgency to hold elections—particularly national elections—in still-tense, post-war environments. Roberto Belloni shifts the focus from international actors and onto the development of local civil society with its own vision and ownership in the processes of democratization and peace building. In the final section, Peter Wallensteen identifies the difficulties surrounding external intervention in war-to-democracy transitions and analyzes potential engagement tools for the international community, prominent among them sanctions targeted to affect only the responsible leaders or particular parts of the government without harming the population at large.

From War to Democracy's greatest strength is its consistent resistance to prescriptions of one-size-fits-all solutions to international problems. The authors instead draw attention to the trade-offs inherent to policy making in varied and dynamic war-to-democracy transitions. In the concluding chapter, for example, Sisk proposes that research on dilemmas of democratization in relation to peace building can help those evaluating a particular context to identify the right variables, to ask the right questions, and to take findings from comparative research to new settings (p. 250). By drawing attention to these dilemmas, the authors enable a renewed focus on the policy decisions that must be made by the international community and local authorities during war-to-democracy transitions to, in the end, secure both a lasting peace and a strong democracy.

For those readers interested in air, space, and cyberspace strategy, From War to Democracy is a valuable resource in at least two respects. First, it provides a refreshing overview of the complications surrounding the sort of conflict and post-conflict scenarios that often call upon the engagement of American and allied military force or support. Second, it serves as a springboard for thought about how airpower's flexibility may support the complicated, situational requirements of engagement in war-to-democracy transitions. Readers interested in broadening their knowledge of the relationship between democratization and contemporary conflict have much to gain from Jarstad and Sisk's work.

Capt Frank E. Lilley Jr., USAF

St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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