State Fragility, the Peacebuilder’s Contract, and the Search for the Least Bad State

Background paper to the ERD2009


Michael BARNETT – University of Minnesota


Paper prepared for the Workshop on “Transforming Political Structures: Security, Institutions, and Regional Integration Mechanisms”, organised by the European Report of Development in Florence, Italy, 16-17 April 2009.


This paper develops two claims that follow from two general conclusions from recent research on peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. The first is that international peacebuilders are fairly good at ending violence and at producing stability, but are less talented at creating liberal states. In order to understand why, Section I develops the concept of the “peacebuilders’ contract”, which is intended to map the kinds of strategic interactions that are likely to unfold between peacebuilders and local élites and capture why these interactions are likely to favour the status quo preferred by local forces. Following on the general recognition that international peacebuilders are limited in what they can produce, the second conclusion concerns the need for peacebuilders to be more strategic in their thinking and to be satisfied with producing small victories that can support the emergence of decent governments which provide the foundations for future movements towards a positive peace. These observations and their implications are applicable not only to post-war interventions, but also to the broader international agenda of fixing states.

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