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New Research Handbook on Post-Conflict State Building

Professor Paul Williams co-authored The Research Handbook on Post-Conflict State Building, which is set for release on August 28, 2020. The book provides succinct, yet rigorous, treatment of the essential components of state building, complemented with insightful, detailed case studies from authors who worked on the ground as state building processes took place. ICLS interviewed Professor Williams to gain insight on his newest legal publication.

1. How did the idea arise of writing a “handbook” on post-conflict state building?

Milena Sterio and I were approached by the team at Edward Elgar Publishing about the opportunity to edit a new reference volume entitled Handbook on Post-Conflict State Building. The Handbook will become part of the Elgar Original Reference series, which includes a number of handbooks on key issues in international law and political science. As legal scholars who also wear the hats of practitioners and lawyers, our vision is to provide a concrete, practical guide to the challenges of state building in the post-conflict context that will resonate with practitioners and academics alike.

This volume is part of Edward Elgar’s series of Research Handbooks in International Law. Ranging in topics from terrorism to natural resources to cyberspace, each Handbook investigates an intriguing facet of international law or captivating global process shaped by international legal dynamics. This volume, the Research Handbook on Post-Conflict State Building, explores the themes and quandaries that arise during state-building processes that occur after armed conflict. As with the other Handbooks in the series, this volume aims not only to introduce and explain the most fundamental topics in state building, but also to add new insights into ongoing conversations among researchers, lawyers, and advocates engaged in this field.

2. In what ways do you think local leaders around the world could benefit from the book?

Our book offers a unique overview of the concept of state building, not only from the sheer breadth of topics covered in our 24 chapters, but from the perspectives of our contributor team. Our contributors include former Ambassadors, talented lawyers, former US Government officials from USAID and the State Department, renowned professors and legal scholars, and UN officials. They offer lessons learned drawing from rigorous academic research, but also their own lived experiences. This book provides succinct, yet rigorous, treatment of the essential components of state building, complemented with insightful, detailed case studies from authors who worked on the ground as state building processes took place. Whether readers are seeking practical guides and analysis for specific subjects, or looking to gain a holistic understanding of the myriad components of post-conflict state building, they can find it in our Handbook.

3. Do you think that it is possible to rebuild states that have been destroyed by previous regimes by incorporating prophylactic mechanisms that will prevent the repetition of those failed policies? Could you provide some examples?

State building is essential for durable peace, conflict prevention, and future global stability. By deliberate actions on behalf of post-conflict state builders to create strong, equitable, inclusive, and context-specific political social, and security infrastructure; address the legacies of conflict through reparations, transitional justice, property disputes, and refugee populations; build an equitable system of legal rules and procedures; and re-establish the foundations for self-sustaining development, states can be rebuilt with the aim of preventing the repetition of failed institutions or the consequences of policies that contributed to conflict. Our Research Handbook on Post-Conflict State Building contributors describe both successes and failures to achieve this lofty goal, from radio programs designed to create productive conversations on South Sudan’s political transition to an independent and democratic country to plans for state building that took place without a mutually agreed peace agreement in Kosovo.

4. You feature various chapters on rule of law (Part IV) and other law-related aspects of post-conflict reconstruction. This raises the question as to what role you attribute to the purely political processes and agreements in post-conflict societies. How would you phrase the relationship between the rule of law and the political processes to overcome the past and rebuild the post-conflict society?

In my experience, a well-drafted peace agreement that establishes mechanisms for the evolution of democratic political processes in a post-conflict environment and that crafts a framework for rule of law is absolutely essential for building a durable peace. Though the study of state building is ever-evolving, to institute purely political processes or rule of law reform without the other is not the most sustainable way to go about state building. Our book introduces and explains more than a dozen discrete processes in the field of state building and adds astute insights from our contributors about their interrelated nature, challenges in implementation, and necessity to the state building process.

5. How efficient do you think the tools for post-conflict reconstruction have been in the case studies provided in the book (Guatemala, Brcko, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya)? What do these cases show? Would other cases have provided better success-stories? 

The global effort of state building is a work in progress. It can always be done better and there is a plethora of lessons to be learned from case studies. Our case studies address the challenge of context by situating state building within its local, regional, and global context to provide a nuanced view of these processes. In selecting our case studies, we deliberately sought to showcase a diverse array—some successful, some less successful—from authors who are regional experts and have extensive experience on the ground as these state building processes took place. Our book’s six case studies—Guatemala, Br?ko, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya—show an immense complexity in the landscape of post-conflict state building.

6. How would you describe the role of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, in rebuilding post-conflict societies?

Multilateral institutions, including international governmental organizations like the United Nations and multilateral development banks, play an important role in providing the resources needed to enact post-conflict state building processes. Multilateral development agencies have established specialized units, such as the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery and the World Bank’s

Fragile and Conflict Affected Countries Program, to work on issues of post-conflict recovery, reconstruction, and transformation. As Sârra-Tilila Bounfour describes in her chapter “Re-establishing and reforming the economy,” given the financial constraints prevailing in post-conflict contexts, international development aid from these kinds of multilateral institutions can enable states to manage multiple state building priorities simultaneously.