Rebuilding War-Torn States: The Challenge of Post-Conflict Economic Reconstruction

March 5, 2009

War-ravaged nations have been a prominent feature of the post-Cold War era. Although many of the conflicts have dissipated into some form of peace, few of these places can be said to have established the stability, or even the beginnings of the prosperity, enjoyed by societies not blighted by war.

Recidivism is high in transitional states: roughly 50 per cent of them revert to conflict and, as this book makes clear, the post-conflict period is often one of great uncertainty, with a kaleidoscope of political, economic, social and security transitions occurring simultaneously - all of them essential to reconstruction.

In this book, Graciana del Castillo makes an important contribution to debates about peace-building and postwar reconstruction with a substantial, case study-based work. The author is an international economist with considerable experience as a top-level UN adviser, banker and International Monetary Fund staffer, but hers is a dissident voice, too. She brings all this experience to bear, together with extensive reading of academic sources and institutional reports.

States and societies making the transition from a condition of war to one of (relative) peace present multifaceted problems for the UN system and donor states. Rebuilding War-Torn States makes it clear that security must replace violent conflict, the rule of law must be re-established and inclusive government structures created. Reconciliation is essential yet often difficult, if not impossible, to achieve if, as is argued here, the protagonists do not have the will for it. And the economics of war, which promote crime and other illicit activities, must be replaced by those of peace. These are all vital aspects of reconstruction.

According to del Castillo, ineffective aid and technical assistance, which is also expensive and inflationary in these contexts, and a lack of proper international institutional architecture mean that war-torn states have not built the autonomous capacity to govern their societies themselves.

But dependency does not encourage the investment and sustainable employment needed to keep the peace. Indeed, many policies pursued by international actors, whether states or organisations such as the UN, in effect work against the stabilisation of peace. There has been a lack of recognition among these actors of the special needs of war-torn states.

A key theme in del Castillo's work is the need for national "ownership" of policies. She sees the lack of this kind of anchoring of policy in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq as a "major impediment to economic reconstruction" because of the effect on stability it implies. And unless people can reasonably expect some "peace dividend", there will be little incentive for "spoilers" to back reconstruction wholeheartedly.

Rebuilding War-Torn States does justice to the complexity of the problems that the four states examined in detail here - Afghanistan, El Salvador, Iraq and Kosovo - have faced, and it makes convincing arguments about how future transitions should be handled. The book is packed with critical information, statistics and perspectives, and it will be an important source for theorists and practitioners alike.

Its main argument, that war-torn states are a special case and need specific programmes and policies - "development plus" as distinct from just "development as usual" - is advanced effectively throughout with convincing evidential support. Del Castillo foregrounds the need for programmes essential for the maintenance of peace after ceasefires have been established and peace agreements reached.

The author anachronistically suggests of Afghanistan (in a way that is unrepresentative of the book) that "some analysts believe that the country has been sliding back into conflict". This has surely been apparent for some time. It is also possible to question some of the political assessments that underpin the book's economic arguments.

For example, the conflict in Kosovo is seen purely as an example of ethnic struggle and largely separate from the preceding and succeeding wars relating to the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation. Bosnia and Macedonia hardly figure here: the notion of an oppressed people struggling for liberation from quasi-colonial domination is not present in this account. But del Castillo is accurate in her assessment that Kosovo's unresolved status was a key factor in limiting the success of its economic restructuring.

Similarly, the Iraq chapter, in my view, lacks a full characterisation of the nature of the political and military struggles that have inevitably affected subsequent reconstruction efforts there.

Perhaps an even more important criticism is that despite the highly detailed discussion and documentation of economic issues and debates present in the case studies and elsewhere in the book, del Castillo fails to make a convincing cost-based case for what amounts to much greater financial support from other international actors to reconstruct war-torn states. Would the continued subsidisation of state-owned enterprises and greatly increased levels of budgetary support definitely work? And would democratically elected governments in the West that have eschewed such approaches until recently for their own countries be prepared to do so elsewhere?

Rebuilding War-Torn States: The Challenge of Post-Conflict Economic Reconstruction

By Graciana del Castillo

Oxford University Press, 304pp, £25.00

ISBN 9780199237739

Published 25 September 2008

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