The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding

The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding

The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding

The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding


The post-cold war years have witnessed an unprecedented involvement by the United Nations in the domestic affairs of states, to end conflicts and rebuild political and administrative institutions. International administrations established by the UN or Western states have exercised extensive executive, legislative, and judicial authority over post-conflict territories to facilitate institution building and provide for interim governance.

This book is a study of the normative framework underlying the international community's statebuilding efforts. Through detailed case studies of policymaking by the international administrations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and East Timor, based on extensive interviews and work in the administrations, the book examines the nature of this normative framework, and highlights how norms shape the institutional choices of statebuilders, the relationship between international and local actors, and the exit strategies of international administrations. The book argues that a particular conception of sovereignty as responsibility has influenced the efforts of international administrations, and shows that their statebuilding activities are informed by the idea that post-conflict territories need to meet certain normative tests before they are considered legitimate internationally. The restructuring of political and administrative practices to help post-conflict territories to meet these tests creates a sovereignty paradox: international administrations compromise one element of sovereignty--the right to self-government--in order to implement domestic reforms to legitimize the authority of local political institutions, and thus strengthen their sovereignty.

In the light of the governance and development record of the three international administrations, the book assesses the promises and the pathologies of statebuilding, and develops recommendations to improve their performance.


The post-cold war years, compared to the cold war decades, have witnessed an increased willingness by the international community to intervene in the domestic affairs of states, especially with the aims of ending conflicts and rebuilding institutions in post-conflict societies. The international involvement in Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH), Kosovo, East Timor, or Afghanistan, to name just a few cases, has been far deeper than traditional peacekeeping missions, and international transitional administrations are exercising a degree of authority over the domestic arrangements in post-conflict societies that is unprecedented in the history of the United Nations (UN). In some cases, such as BiH, Kosovo, and East Timor, these administrations have become the highest legislative and executive authority in the respective territories.

The increasing number of international administrations involved in statebuilding, and the scope of the authority they exercise, has sparked a debate about policymaking by international administrations and possible ways to improve it, both among scholars and practitioners. However, as David Malone has pointed out, peace implementation, which entails the statebuilding work of international administrations, has, until now, been practised more than studied. Few comparative studies of statebuilding by international administrations exist. Instead, most of the analysis has focused on individual country studies, or on comparisons of different statebuilding experiences in different sectors, in particular the justice sector. There has been little comparative analysis of the statebuilding efforts by the international community, especially with regard to lawmaking in the territories it administers, and little discussion about the nature of this ‘international community’, represented by the international administrations in the respective territories.

More importantly, the literature has focused predominantly on the ‘mechanics’ and the effectiveness of statebuilding, and on the requirements for success. The underlying normative framework that informs and shapes international policy preferences with respect to statebuilding, and that underpins and justifies the authority of these administrations, has been largely ignored in International Relations. This book attempts to fill this theoretical gap. It . . .

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