Introduction: Democracy, Governance & Peacebuilding

Democracy as seminal to peacebuilding

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the broad acceptance of democratic governance as the central political framework for post-conflict peacebuilding. One central presumption underlying this approach is that democracies are more peaceful both domestically and internationally. In his 1996 Agenda for Democratization, then United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali embodied this thinking, observing, "Because democratic Governments are freely chosen by their citizens and held accountable through periodic and genuine elections and other mechanisms, they are more likely to promote and respect the rule of law, respect individual and minority rights, cope effectively with social conflict, absorb migrant populations and respond to the needs of marginalized groups. They are therefore less likely to abuse their power against the peoples of their own State territories. Democracy within States thus fosters the evolution of the social contract upon which lasting peace can be built. In this way, a culture of democracy is fundamentally a culture of peace."1

On this basis, regional organizations underwent a similar evolution, emphasizing their commitment to the principles of democracy and being more actively engaged in activities supporting these principles. All of this "would have been virtually unthinkable during the Cold War years of ideological polarization."2
Go to Electoral Processes and Political Parties and Peacebuilding Processes

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Establishing a democracy template

On the basis of this evolving acceptance of democratic principles, a number of international institutions adopted a template for democracy assistance in peacebuilding contexts. Roland Paris notes, "The standard package of reforms included free and fair elections; constitutional limitations on the exercise of power; guarantees of civil liberties including freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience; and movement toward a market-oriented economy."3 For instance, United States Agency for International Developments (USAID) democracy assistance programs focus on "establishing democratic institutions, free and open markets, an informed and educated populace, a vibrant civil society, and a relationship between state and society that encourages pluralism, participation, and peaceful conflict resolution," which the agency believes "contribute to the goal of establishing sustainable democracies."4

More narrowly, three pillars were emphasized as the structural underpinnings of democracy able to bolster peace: capacity building to institutions, the hosting of "free and fair elections," and the bolstering of civil society.5

On the first point, institutional strength has broadly been considered a key factor in any successful peacebuilding process. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), "State- or nation-building is the central objective of every peace building operation and is dependent upon the reconstitution of sustainable governance structures."6 The development of such institutions allows channels through which policy can be actuated.

On the second point, in countries emerging from conflict, elections serve to install a legitimate and democratic government. In the early 1990s, the holding of elections was often a formal element of peace accords, providing a peaceful means of determining who would hold power in a post-conflict government.7 Elections also encourage the consolidation of peace structured by a durable democratic system. From that perspective, international electoral assistance aims not only to help organize one election or a series of elections but also to build or rebuild a sustainable democratic state that can function without direct international involvement.8 Go to Electoral Processes and Political Parties and Peacebuilding Processes

Finally, civil society is seen as the third pillar of democracy assistance. The ideal is to attain "a diverse, active, and independent civil society that articulates the interests of citizens and holds governments accountable to citizens."9 Almost all international donors mention civil society as an important factor to "influence decisions of the state," and highlight civil society's responsibility for a democratic state and its "dynamic role . . . in pushing for social, economic and political change," stressing its role in encouraging open debates on public policy.10

1. Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Democratization, 7.
2. Roland Paris, "International Peacebuilding and the Mission Civilisatrice," Review of International Studies 28 (2002): 641.
3. Roland Paris, "Bringing the Leviathan Back in: Classical Versus Contemporary Studies of the Liberal Peace," International Studies Review 8 (2006): 443.
4. United States Agency for International Development (USAID), "Promoting Democracy and Governance."
5. Beatrice Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies: Giving Diversity a Chance," International Peacekeeping 7, no. 3 (2000): 17.
6. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Governance Strategies for Post Conflict Reconstruction, Sustainable Peace and Development (New York: United Nations, 2007), 9.
7. United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), "Support by the United Nations System of the Efforts of Governments to Promote and Consolidate New or Restored Democracies," UN Doc. A/55/489 (2000), sec. 22.
8. Krishna Kumar, ed. Postconflict Elections, Democratization and International Assistance (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998), 5; Benjamin Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding - What Lessons Have Been Learned?" (paper presented at the WIDER Conference on Making Peace Work, Helsinki, Norway, June 4-5, 2004), 6.
9. Thomas Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999), 87.
10. Thania Paffenholz and Christoph Spurk, Civil Society, Civil Engagement, and Peacebuilding (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2006).

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