You, the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building

You, the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building

You, the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building

You, the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building


The governance of post-conflict territories embodies a central contradiction: how does one help a population prepare for democratic governance and the rule of law by imposing a form of benevolent autocracy?

Transitional administrations represent the most complex operations attempted by the United Nations. The operations in East Timor and Kosovo are commonly seen as unique in the history of the UN--perhaps never to be repeated. But they may also be seen as the latest in a series of operations that have involved the United Nations in 'state-building' activities, where it has attempted to develop the institutions of government by assuming some or all of those sovereign powers on a temporary basis. The circumstances that have demanded such interventions certainly will be repeated.

Seen in the context of earlier UN operations, such as those in Namibia, Cambodia, and Eastern Slavonia, the view that these exceptional circumstances may not recur is somewhat disingenuous. Moreover, the need for such policy research has been brought into sharp focus by the weighty but ambiguous role assigned to the UN in Afghanistan and the possibility of a comparable role in Iraq.

This book fills that gap. Aimed at policy-makers, diplomats, and a wide academic audience (including international relations, political science, international law, and war studies), the book provides a concise history of UN state-building operations and a treatment of the five key issues confronting such an operation on the ground: peace and security, the role of the UN as government, judicial reconstruction, economic reconstruction, and exit strategies.


It is a privilege to commend this volume to readers. Simon Chesterman, whose fine book Just War or Just Peace proved highly influential on the contentious issue of humanitarian intervention, returns to the fray with an account of—and a profusion of ideas on—contemporary international administration of distressed countries and regions. This book represents the culmination of a research and policy development project directed by Dr Chesterman at the International Peace Academy during the period 2000-3. The project focused on the role of the United Nations in the transition of societies from war to peace through a period of international supervision.

With the successful conclusion of the decolonization process in the 1960s and 1970s, most of us believed that the notion of trusteeship was consigned to history. We could not foresee that a number of these newly independent countries and others would fall apart as the stabilities of the cold war—toxic and murderous as they often were—ended. Faute de mieux, and very much compelled by circumstances, the 1990s saw the UN Security Council experiment with UN administration as a temporary measure until power could be transferred to legitimate local authorities. A rapid graduation to international legitimacy after UN-organized elections was possible for Cambodia in 1993, though its democracy remains imperfect at best. Both Bosnia and Kosovo, by contrast, continue to be administered by distinct forms of international authority with no clear exit strategy in sight. East Timor's independence in 2002 was a uniquely clear exit, preceded by a period of international administration overseen by the late Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Dr Chesterman's project initially aimed to tease out the principal policy lessons from the UN operations in Kosovo and East Timor, drawing on earlier cases such as Cambodia, Namibia, and Western Sahara by way of comparison. More recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq added very different complications, however, when the United Nations had to finesse a role for itself alongside a minimalist government in Kabul and a foreign military occupation in Baghdad.

It has been a pleasure working alongside Dr Chesterman and charting his intellectual path in these challenging policy waters. He is a fine colleague in every respect and made many new friends in the process of his research, not least Sergio Vieira de Mello and Rick Hooper, a senior UN staffer of exceptional quality, killed with Sergio in Baghdad on

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