Banking on Knowledge: The Genesis of the Global Development Network

By Diane Stone | Go to book overview

7

The challenges of intervention for Cambodian think tanks

Kao Kim Hourn1

The participation of intellectuals and experts in the reconstruction of conflict-ridden societies is assumed to be essential but is rarely investigated. This brief preface to the chapter addresses the general themes covered in two panels at the Global Development Network Conference in Bonn on the role of think tanks in transition and conflict. The main body of the chapter is written by Kao Kim Hourn, who discusses the part played by these organisations in Cambodia, and in particular, the role played by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace in the reconstruction of Cambodia.

Think tanks in conditions of conflict and rapid change

Two of the more innovative panel sessions at GDN99 in Bonn were those that sought to address the role of think tanks and researchers in societies undergoing significant upheaval. One panel addressed 'Policy research for economic reform and political change' while the other focused on 'Critical interventions in civil conflict'. Most studies of research institutes and think tanks have focused on political systems that are relatively stable and where relative economic prosperity has provided the public space, the philanthropic support and intellectual foundations in universities, the media and the professions for research institutes to emerge and participate in policy debates. Yet it is in more uncertain circumstances of social disruption, ethnic conflict or economic disintegration that these organisations can sometimes effect critical interventions.

The panel on economic reform and political change began with the proposition that think tanks can be agents for regime change and transformation. On the other hand, they can be closely connected to the state, providing the ideas, arguments and justifications that help to bolster and legitimise incumbent governments. These issues are covered in the following chapters by Ivan Krastev and Simon James. They detail how the break-up of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new nation-states produced new political spaces for think tank entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the transition economies created enormous demand for policy guidance in building new social, political and economic architecture. This demand came not only from the new governments in Eastern and Central Europe but also from many international organisations and Western foundations keen to export ideas about the operation of market economies.

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