Security progress in post-conflict contexts: between liberal peacebuilding and elite interests

Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

This report examines how security improvements have been achieved across a range of post-conflict contexts with a strong focus on the cases of Liberia and Timor-Leste. Much of the existing literature and donor practice supports (either explicitly or implicitly) a liberal peacebuilding approach, in which democracy, economic liberalisation and rule of law are promoted as the foundations for peace. Yet this overlooks the fact that elites may reject change and be incentivised to retain the capabilities for violence, and that historical processes of state formation have tended to be violent.

An examination of the drivers of post-conflict security progress in this reprot reveals a more nuanced picture, in which factors at the international, national and sub-national levels have contributed to varying degrees to improved security. Of these, domestic political factors emerge as the most important in creating an enabling environment for peace. Key factors include the credibility and legitimacy of leadership personalities, as well as their ability to use patrimonial networks to buy elites and potential spoilers into the peace. At the sub-national level, local security providers support conflict-resolution that can prevent minor disputes from escalating, thus contributing to stability. And finally at the international level, peacekeeping forces can provide a window of stability, on which national leaders can capitalise; and security sector reform (SSR) processes can facilitate early improvements in security providers.

Despite these important contributions to security progress, peacekeeping and SSR are unlikely to exert a strong influence on peace in the longer term, with national and local factors playing a much stronger role. These international factors have thus played a more limited role in building security in Liberia and Timor-Leste than is often assumed. Yet while these drivers have enabled improved security in the short-term, they have not fundamentally addressed the underlying causes of conflict and there are concerns about whether they can lead to more inclusive, and thus more sustainable, peace.

Building from these realities of how security progress has actually been achieved, the report subseqeuntly explores ways for overcoming the contrasting approaches outlined above and offers three strategies for future research and practice to this effect:

  • Working with, but not for elite interests.
  • Viewing support for security institutions as long-term processes of change.
  • Incrementally increasing the inclusivity of development processes from the outset.
Download PDF
Join our network

Login or register for free to get all access to our network publications. Members can also connect and discuss with other members. Participate in our network.

Thank you for downloading
Help us improve our network. Please fill in the questions.