Norm Tansmission in Peace- and Statebuilding: Lessons from Democracy Promotion in Sudan and Lebanon"

By Zahar, Marie-Joelle | Global Governance, January-March 2012 | Go to article overview

Norm Tansmission in Peace- and Statebuilding: Lessons from Democracy Promotion in Sudan and Lebanon"


Zahar, Marie-Joelle, Global Governance


This article examines the transmission and reception of democratic norms in the context of liberal peace interventions. It identifies two reasons for the failure to promote democracy: the strategies favored by liberal peace actors and the agency of local elites. Drawing on field research in Lebanon and Sudan, the article argues that liberal peace projects systematically provide opportunities for local elites to overcome the apparent asymmetry of power between them and liberal peace actors. It identifies two strategies of resistance to the promotion of democracy -- disengagement and recuperation -- and suggests that, of the two, disengagement is more likely to produce a relapse into violence. Keywords: democracy promotion, hybrid peace governance, norm transmission and recuperation, Sudan, Lebanon.

FROM A SECURITY DILEMMA PERSPECTIVE, CIVIL WAR IS THE VIOLENT INTERACTION of groups that feel threatened and, in the absence of the state, fight for their survival. (1) From a social contract perspective, civil war results from a breach in the social contract with a captured state fighting one or more insurgent groups in society.2 Regardless of one's favored account, democracy promotion is an important part of the toolkit of post-civil war peace- and statebuilding interventions. Democratization builds peace vertically; it strengthens the social contract and builds states that are bound by the rule of law and autonomous from sectional interests. Democratization also builds peace horizontally by providing mechanisms of power- and wealth-sharing allowing warring factions to manage their conflicts peacefully.

In this article, I examine the transmission and reception of democratic norms in the context of peace- and statebuilding interventions in Lebanon and Sudan. Located in highly geostrategic regions, these two fragile states have hosted US-designated foreign terrorist organizations. Sudan and Lebanon are postconflict environments in the limited sense that interventions followed the signing of a formal peace agreement. But they are not postwar environments.3 War broke out in Darfur following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). Since the July 2011 independence of South Sudan, violence has convulsed the border with the old Sudan. Although Lebanon's civil war ended with the signing of the Ta'if Agreement in 1990, in 2006 armed confrontations opposed the Hezbollah and Israel and, in May 2008, intra-Lebanese violence rekindled fears of civil war. In these contexts of hybrid peace governance. Western actors' incentives to bring about democracy should be high, given perceived linkages between domestic conditions and regional and international security challenges.

Why, in spite of strong incentives and relatively sustained efforts, have liberal peacebuilders met with only limited success in their efforts to promote democracy in Lebanon and Sudan? What, if any, impact do these outcomes have on the stability of peace? In this article, I identify two reasons for the failure to promote democracy: the approach to democracy promotion favored by outsiders and the agency of insiders as they fight against or adapt democracy promotion to their own ends. Drawing on empirical evidence I argue that, under a specific set of conditions, local actors can either sidestep the liberal peace project or divert symbolic and financial resources intended to buttress democracy promotion in ways that undermine the project.

Democracy Promotion and Transitions from War to Peace

Since the early 1990s, countries coming out of civil wars have been the theater of liberal peacebuilding and postconflict reconstruction missions where "the presence of foreign military troops [is] used by outsiders to control political outcomes." (4) Their ultimate objective is "to create stable, tolerant, more liberal and democratic regimes out of the wreckage of war-torn societies. …

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