The expert roundtable brought together academics and practitioners to examine the challenges that UN peacekeeping operations face when deployed to host states where elites engage in authoritarian practices. Relations with host states are a delicate matter in any context but dealing with illiberal or autocratic elites poses particular difficulties. Contemporary peacekeeping missions are often mandated to pursue a range of liberal goals, while national elites may have different preferences or priorities. Peacekeepers also face a dilemma when their mandate requires that they work closely with host governments to extend state authority and strengthen the capacity of the security services; in these contexts, fulfilling their peacekeeping mandate may entail bolstering authorities who engage in repressive practices and political violence. Peacekeepers also often operate in complex environments where multiple international actors pursue a variety of peacebuilding objectives. Peacekeepers must therefore calibrate their responses in light of their international partners’ actions.
Many UN peacebuilding interventions take place in settings governed by authoritarian regimes and are often overtly designed to overcome deeply entrenched patterns of autocratic rule. Yet many post-conflict settings experience a further concentration of power and even greater repression as regimes take advantage of new forms of economic development and international support. In some cases, there is evidence that peacebuilding support may have contributed to increasing levels of authoritarianism, even while advancing other important goals.
The principal argument of this brief is that peacebuilding support may enable authoritarian forms of governance in two ways: (1) by providing material and other resources to the central state, thereby allowing it to consolidate control over key institutions and levers of power, and (2) by signalling in ways that lower the perceived costs of autocratic, non-democratic forms of rule and may help to shield leaders from accountability for their actions. While these impacts may be difficult to isolate – especially given that the UN is often a small player in the broader peacebuilding landscape – an examination of international peacebuilding support more generally across a range of settings will facilitate a better understanding of these dynamics at play.
The analysis compares across in-depth country case studies on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, and Cambodia and draws on an assessment of peacebuilding funding flows in eight other countries.
Does peacebuilding shape the regime type of countries where international missions are deployed? Most peacebuilding missions take place in authoritarian contexts, and seek to overcome the legacies of conflict by overseeing transitions to democratic rule; however, most regimes that experience peacebuilding still retain some form of authoritarian rule.
In this article, we examine the extent to which international peacebuilding missions contribute to the consolidation of post-conflict authoritarian regimes even when their stated aims involve the promotion of democracy. We argue that international peacebuilders can act as enablers of authoritarianism in host countries. We distinguish this category of behaviour from explicit ‘autocracy promotion’, which implies intentional support to autocracy. Instead, enabling is often an unintended consequence, and we identify two mechanisms through which enabling occurs: by building the capacity of incumbent authoritarian leaders and by signalling a permissive environment for authoritarian behaviour for national actors. We illustrate our argument with the case of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Many international organizations (IOs) provide assistance to governments through country offices or peacekeeping operations. Sometimes, despite paying lip service to the principles that IOs promote, national counterparts violate international norms. IO officials must then choose between confrontational and conciliatory responses. These responses are located on a spectrum from robust norm enforcement to silence and downplaying. How do IO officials make those decisions? Based on more than 200 interviews with UN peacekeeping officials, we argue that the factors that shape IO officials’ decision-making are found across three categories: individual, unit-level, and positional. In terms of individual characteristics, previous experience, career security, and the length of service at the duty station matter. Regarding unit-level factors, politicization of the IO section’s work, its professional composition, and the type of national interlocutors predispose units to be supporters or critics of the host government. In terms of positional considerations, the place of a post or unit in the IO hierarchy, relations with other IO entities, and the distance from the field play a role. Understanding IO officials’ predispositions can help IO senior leaders and member states shape the composition of the international bureaucracy to increase the likelihood of outcomes they deem desirable.