Democratization and UN Peacebuilding

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: War Studies

Abstract

Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations (UN) has devoted immense human and financial resources to peacebuilding operations in war-torn states. These efforts have emphasized the role that inclusive democratic politics can play in fostering transitions to long-term peace. However, a majority of peacebuilding missions in the post-Cold War period have been followed by authoritarian rather than democratic regimes (Zürcher et al. 2013). Recently, scholars have begun to ask if international peacebuilders may be one of the causes of such authoritarian outcomes in post-conflict settings (Gowan 2015; von Billerbeck 2016), but there has been no systematic study of this relationship. In this project, we therefore seek to examine the relationship between peacebuilding and authoritarianism and the ways in which peacebuilding shapes authoritarianism at the local level. The project is particularly timely, as the credibility of the UN's largest mission, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is being put at risk by the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Joseph Kabila. At the same time, key UN member states like the UK are boosting their commitment to UN peacebuilding. These twin developments necessitate urgent analysis of UN actions to ensure that they do not inadvertently contribute to repression, patronage, and other authoritarian practices and instead help to lay the foundation for peaceful democratic societies.

We divide our research into two strands:
1) The first asks how international peacebuilding missions contribute to authoritarian behaviour at the national level. We assess if international peacebuilders act as 'enablers' of authoritarian rule by contributing to incumbent capacity and expanding the opportunity structures for authoritarianism. To do so, we carry out process tracing of the impact of peacebuilding activities on authoritarian behaviour in four cases that demonstrate a diverse range of post-conflict political trajectories: DRC, Haiti, Cambodia, and Liberia.

2) The second examines how the views of UN peacebuilding staff contribute to this enabling. Do they consciously seek to minimize it at all times or do they knowingly prioritise other goals when faced with competing objectives? By conducting interviews with UN staff at headquarters and in missions, we aim to understand how the peacebuilders rank various values and goals and how those decisions shape peacebuilding activities aimed at national political elites.

Both strands address distinct aspects of the relationship between peacebuilding and authoritarianism, while also complementing one another. Understanding how peacebuilders conceive of and approach their relationship with domestic elites (Strand 2) will help shed light on why and how international peacebuilders sometimes act as enablers of authoritarian rule (Strand 1).

The project builds on the expertise of the applicants, who all have research experience in post-conflict settings (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and the DRC). Project PI Tansey is an expert on authoritarian politics and has led a large European Research Council project on the international politics of authoritarian rule. Co-PI von Billerbeck is an expert on UN peacebuilding and is leading an ESRC Future Research Leader project on norms and values in international organizations.

The project has been discussed with officials in the UN and the UK government, who confirmed that the project meets a current need by addressing a knowledge gap. Practitioner input influenced our research design and will be a key ongoing feature of the project. Impact will be secured through a series of workshops, training, and engagements with UN and member state practitioners in three key areas:1) design of mission mandates, 2) mission implementation, and 3) mission evaluation and best practice development. Targeted impact strategies ensure value for money by translating project findings into policy reality

Planned Impact

Our project will have significant impact for two non-academic groups: UN staff and national policymakers involved in international peacebuilding. Within these two groups, we have identified three sets of actors according their different roles and we have devised tailored impact strategies.

BENEFICIARIES
1) UN Staff: This project is directly relevant to UN staff at multiple levels. It is these individuals whose knowledge, background, and approach shape missions on the ground. With a better understanding of how their actions may work directly against their stated goals, they will be able to take steps to protect against authoritarian backsliding and consolidation.

2) National Policymakers: This research also benefits policymakers of key peacebuilding states, like the UK, who work with and fund UN efforts. Governments that delegate peacebuilding to international organizations like the UN have a keen interest in ensuring that their activities do not unwittingly enable authoritarianism.

Furthermore, we have identified three particular categories of these stakeholders according to their different roles:
1) Mandate Designers - especially UN Security Council permanent members' representatives at the UN (including the UK) and UN staff within the UN Secretariat (especially in the Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations).

2) Mission Implementers - especially UN Secretariat staff in New York and in-theatre mission staff (particularly Heads of Mission and staff within mission Political Affairs Divisions).

3) Best Practice and Training Units - especially staff at the UK's Stabilisation Unit, the UN's Best Practices Unit in New York, and the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy's (FBA) training units for peacebuilders.

IMPACT ACTIVITIES
To ensure that the key stakeholders benefit directly from our project, we propose 3 main sets of activities.

1) Iterative Project Design: We have involved key practitioners in our project design from the outset and will continue do so in order to maximize impact. We have created an Advisory Board (see Pathways to Impact) to provide input and policy direction at all stages of the project. Through this iterative design, our project ensures that non-academic beneficiaries have a voice in how this research can be made most useful to them.

2) Outreach and Knowledge Exchange: During the project we plan to hold a series of workshops to foster knowledge exchange and collaboration, particularly with mandate designers and practitioners involved in mission implementation. First, we will hold a symposium in Year 2 with mandate implementation staff from the UN, including mission heads if possible, as well as staff from the FCO, the FBA, relevant policy NGOs, and leading academics. This event benefits academic and non-academic stakeholders by sharing our intermediary findings on enabling authoritarianism.

In Year 3, we will organize two roundtables with UN staff and national policymakers in New York and London to share results and to collaboratively generate implementable policy recommendations. These recommendations will relate specifically to the processes of mandate design as well as the practical challenges of mandate implementation in the field.

3) Peacebuilder Training: The project will ensure impact to the third set of actors - best practice and training units - through engagement with two important training organizations within the UK and Sweden. Building on our existing relationships, we will work closely with staff in the FCO Diplomatic Academy and the FBA to incorporate our findings into their existing training modules for peacebuilding practitioners. Co-PI von Billerbeck is already involved in developing training modules on the UN and its peace operations for the FCO's Diplomatic Academy, targeted at staff who will be deployed to the UK's permanent mission to the UN in New York, and our findings will be incorporated into content updates to the curriculum.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Our project has identified a number of key findings.
1) Our provisional findings suggest that international peacekeeping can enable authoritarian behaviour by host governments through a number of causal mechanisms. We show how peacekeeping missions work closely with incumbent authoritarian elites and often provide them with forms of direct and indirect support. Peacekeeping missions sometimes enable authoritarian behaviour by responding in a lax or timid fashion to breaches of democratic norms, which can embolden autocratic elites. We also find that peacekeeping missions can enhance the coercive capacity of host governments in ways that help consolidate their positions of power.
2) We also examine the internal dynamics within peacekeeping missions, and identify the factors that shape how international UN staff within these missions respond to autocratic behaviour by incumbent elites. We argue that the factors that shape peacekeeping missions' response are located at three levels of analysis. These factors concern individual characteristics of UN officials, organizational cultures of different units within a mission, and the relationship between missions and UN headquarters.
We expect to be able to report further findings after concluding the project in the coming months.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of the project may influence the manner in which the United Nations trains its staff to deal with political challenges that are faced by peacekeeping missions in the field. We hope to engage extensively with UN staff members in the final months of the project to ensure our findings are disseminated within the United Nations.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description Evidence to the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Impact Oisín Tansey, Co-PI, gave oral evidence to the 'Autocracies and UK Foreign Policy' inquiry by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in June 2019. This inquiry examined the policies of the UK Government towards autocratic states. The Committee aimed to scrutinise both direct foreign-policy relationships with autocracies and the ways in which autocracies interact with the rules-based international system.
URL https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201919/cmselect/cmfaff/109/10910.htm
 
Description Participation in Wilton Park dialogue 'Improving UN Transitions'
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Impact Sarah von Billerbeck, co-PI, participated in the October 2019 Wilton Park dialogue in the framework of the UN Transitions Project. The project is a collaboration between the UN Development Programme, the UN Department of Peace Operations, and the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, with the support of the Swedish International Development Agency and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The project seeks to contribute to a more timely, forward-looking, and system-wide approach to UN transitions that positions the UN to consolidate peacebuilding gains and sustaining peace after mission withdrawal by providing: (1) rapid and integrated country support, (2) knowledge management and guidance enhancement, (3) capacity development to UN mission and UN Country Team staff, and (4) systematic engagement with member states, key UN stakeholders, and partners.
URL https://www.wiltonpark.org.uk/event/wp1719/
 
Description Advisory Board meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We have created an Advisory Board of academic experts and policymakers who serve three key functions: provide input into the project at different stages of development; facilitate contacts to relevant policymakers in the British, US, and Swedish governments (3 key players in peacebuilding) and in the UN; and ensure that impact activities reach the relevant individuals in national governments and the UN. At the July 2019 Advisory Board meeting, we engaged with a representative of the European External Action Service / Folke Bernadotte Academy, a senior official in the Multilateral Policy Directorate of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and an expert who collaborated with the New-York based International Peace Institute.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Co-I von Billerbeck joins international network on Democracy Promotion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Co-Investigator von Billerbeck was invited to join the External Democracy Promotion network, for a new scientific research network on 'Democracy Promotion in Time of Global De-Democratization,' funded by the German Research Foundation. The initiative began in Feb. 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.external-democracy-promotion.eu
 
Description Dissemination presentation at the United Nations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project team delivered a presentation entitled 'The Impact of Peacekeeping on Democracy and Authoritarianism' to the Policy, Evaluation and Training Division of the UN Department of Peace Operations. The presentation shared the key findings of our project and offered policy recommendations for the UN concerning peacekeeping activities. The event was attended by over 60 UN staff members (in-person and remote attendees). There was considerable enthusiasm for our findings and we have continued to have a dialogue with senior officials in the Policy, Evaluation and Training Division.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Hosted Expert Roundtable at King's College London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project team held a two-day event at King's College London to disseminate our project findings to an audience of academics and policy-makers. We invited practitioners and academics from Europe and the United States, and shared our book findings and held a series of panels on topics related to our project. Audience members included former senior officials from the United Nations as well as senior academics and think tank officials from the US and Europe. The event not only allowed us to share our findings but also to initiate a set of discussions among people who often do not come together to discuss issues related to their academic and policy-making work.
The participants were enthusiastic about project and the event led to several invitations to present our findings outside the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://democratizationandpeacebuilding.org/publications
 
Description Launch event for Policy Research report on Authoritarianism and Peacebuilding 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a launch event for a UK-supported UN University Centre for Policy Research publication on peacebuilding and authoritarianism. The project PI and Co-I von Billerbeck co-authored the report, and participated as speakers at the launch event. The event was coordinated by the UNU Centre for Policy Research in New York, and was aimed at UN staff members and received a high turnout (on Zoom due to the pandemic). The report and the event covered the key themes of the project, addressing the ways in which peacebuilding may unintentionally enable authoritarian tendencies despite its stated goal of more inclusive, transparent forms of governance. The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support was a key speaker at the event, so it was a high-profile engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Participation in Expert Round Table on Peacebuilding and Authoritarianism, hosted by United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, March 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact PI Tansey and Co-I von Billerbeck participated as co-hosts in an expert roundtable on the theme of Peacebuilding and Authoritarianism, convened by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) at the United Nations University, in March 2021. The purpose of the roundtable was to review a draft report co-authored by Drs Tansey and von Billerbeck, along with colleagues from the CPR. The report's findings are heavily informed by the project's original research, and the project's findings were thus shared during the roundtable. The roundtable included several practitioners from within the United Nations peacekeeping administration, including at senior levels.
The roundtable will be followed by a major launch event in April 2021, with a wider practitioner audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation at a Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA) workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was an invited talk by Sarah von Billerbeck, co-PI, to an audience of approximately 25-30 attendees comprised of practitioners and analysts working on peacekeeping and peacebuilding. The talk was delivered on 16 May 2019. The Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA) is the Swedish government agency for peace, security, and development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies (SIWPS) at the Columbia University. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Sarah von Billerbeck, Birte Gippert and Kseniya Oksamytna presented findings from the project to a largely academic audience at Colombia University. The event had a large audience and generated considerable discussion and feedback on the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtKsMWShdSQ&ab_channel=ColumbiaSIPA
 
Description Presentation to International Research Workshop , Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Birte Gippert was an invited participant and presented a paper at an International Research Workshop entitled "The Role of Coercion in Peacebuilding: Insights from Africa in an Interregional Perspective", 05-07 October 2022, in Accra, Ghana. The workshop was co-organised by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC), Accra, Ghana; Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Presentation to staff of UN peacekeeping mission in Mali 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oisín Tansey and Sarah von Billerbeck delivered an invited talk to UN officials working in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation to the Transitions Team at the United Nations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project team presented our findings and had a discussion with five members of the United Nations Transitions Project, a cross-agency UN team that works to ensure smooth and effective transitions when UN peace operations are closed. We discussed the implications of our findings for peacekeeping transitions and explored ways in which our work is relevant for the work of the Transitions Project team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022