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Just and Unjust Postwar Reconstruction: How Much External Interference Can Be Justified?

  • Stefano Recchia

This article seeks to reconcile a fundamental normative tension that underlies most international reconstruction efforts in war-torn societies: on the one hand, substantial outside interference in the domestic affairs of such societies may seem desirable to secure political stability, set up inclusive governance structures, and protect basic human rights; on the other hand, such interference is inherently paternalistic—and thus problematic—since it limits the policy options and broader freedom of maneuver of domestic political actors. I argue that for paternalistic interference in foreign countries to be justified, it needs to be strictly proportional to domestic impediments to self-government and basic rights protection. Based on this claim, I model different degrees of interference that are admissible at particular stages of the postwar reconstruction process. Extrapolating from John Rawls's Law of Peoples, I suggest that full-scale international trusteeship can be justified only so long as conditions on the ground remain “outlaw”—that is, so long as security remains volatile and basic rights, including the right to life, are systematically threatened. Once basic security has been reestablished, a lower degree of interference continues to be justified, until new domestic governance structures become entirely self-sustaining. During this second phase of postwar reconstruction, external actors ideally ought to share responsibility for law-enforcement and administration with domestic authorities, which implies in practice that domestic and international officials should jointly approve all major decisions. I discuss various approximations of such shared responsibility in recent international peace operations and speculate about how best to ensure a timely transition toward full domestic ownership.

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1 See, e.g., Paris, Roland, At War's End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Caplan, Richard, International Governance of War-torn Territories: Rule and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Doyle, Michael W.andSambanis, Nicholas, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006).

2 See, e.g., Orend, Brian, “Justice after War”, Ethics & International Affairs 16no.1 (2002), pp. 43–57; Bass, Gary, “Jus Post Bellum”, Philosophy & Public Affairs 32no.3 (2004), pp. 384–412; Feldman, Noah, What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation-Building (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004); Iasiello, Louis V., “The Moral Responsibilities of Victors in War”, Naval War College Review 57, (Summer/Fall2004), pp. 33–52; Walzer, Michael, “Just and Unjust Occupations”, Dissent 51, (Winter2004), pp. 61–63; Elshtain, Jean Bethke, “The Ethics of Fleeing: What America Still Owes Iraq”, World Affairs(Spring2008), pp. 91–98; and Bellamy, Alex J., “The Responsibilities of Victory: Jus Post Bellum and the Just War”, Review of International Studies 34no.4 (2008), pp. 601–25.

3 See esp. Orend, Justice after War”, p. 45; and Williams, RobertandCaldwell, Dan, “Jus Post Bellum: Just War Theory and the Principles of Just Peace”, International Studies Perspectives 7no.4 (2006), p. 316.

4 Ferguson, Niall, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004), pp. 171–73, emphasis in original; see alsoHelman, Gerald B. and Ratner, Steven R., “Saving Failed States”, Foreign Policy 89, (Winter1992–93), pp. 3–20; Indyk, Martin, “A Trusteeship for Palestine”, Foreign Affairs 82 (May/June 2003), pp. 51–66; Fearon, James D.andLaitin, David, “Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States”, International Security 28no.4 (2004), pp. 5–43.

5 See esp. Kant, Immanuel, “The Metaphysics of Morals”, inReiss, Hans, ed., Kant: Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 132–34.

6 Rawls, John, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 85.

7 Locke, John, Second Treatise of Government (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Publishing, 1980[1690]), ch. 6; on Locke's argument in support of colonialism, see Tuck, Richard, The Rights of War and Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 166–81; Kant, “On the Common Saying: ‘This May Be True in Theory, but it Does not Apply in Practice”’, inReiss, , ed., Kant: Political Writings, p. 74, emphasis in original.

8 Mill, John Stuart, “Considerations on Representative Government”, inGray, John, ed., On Liberty and Other Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 264.On de Tocqueville, see Pitts, Jennifer, ed., Alexis de Tocqueville: Writings on Empire and Slavery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).On Mazzini, see Recchia, StefanoandUrbinati, Nadia, eds., A Cosmopolitanism of Nations: Giuseppe Mazzini's Writings on Democracy, Nation Building, and International Relations (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009).

9 Finnemore, Martha, “Constructing Norms of Humanitarian Intervention”, inKatzenstein, Peter J., ed., The Culture of National Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 172, emphasis in original. For an excellent discussion see alsoHolmes, Stephen, “Making Sense of Liberal Imperialism”, inUrbinati, NadiaandZakaras, Alex, eds., J. S. Mill's Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 298–346.

10 For a thorough discussion based on empirical research see Paris, Roland, “International Peacebuilding and the ‘Mission Civilisatrice, ’” Review of International Studies 28no.4 (2002), pp. 637–56.

11 Thompson, Dennis F., “Paternalistic Power”, in Political Ethics and Public Office (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 148–49.

12 RawlsLaw of Peoples, p. 93; see alsoHoffmann, Stanley, “The Politics and Ethics of Military Intervention”, Survival 37no.4 (1995), pp. 29–51; and Doyle, Michael W., “The Ethics of Multilateral Intervention”, Theoria 53no.109 (2006), pp. 28–48.

13 Keohane, Robert O., “The Contingent Legitimacy of Multilateralism”, inNewman, Edward, Thakur, Ramesh, andTirman, John, eds., Multilateralism Under Challenge (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2006), p. 61.

14 Habermas, Jürgen, The Divided West (London: Polity, 2006), p. 184.

15 Keohane, Robert O., “Political Authority after Intervention: Gradations in Sovereignty”, inHolzgrefe, J. L.andKeohane, Robert O., eds., Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal and Political Dilemmas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 280–81.

16 See, e.g., Beitz, Charles, “Rawls's Law of Peoples”, Ethics 110no.4 (2000), pp. 669–96; Kuper, Andrew, “Rawlsian Global Justice: Beyond the Law of Peoples to a Cosmopolitan Law of Persons”, Political Theory 28no.5 (2000), pp. 640–74; Caney, Simon, Justice Beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), ch. 4; and Pogge, Thomas, “Do Rawls's Two Theories of Justice Fit Together” ?inMartin, RexandReidy, David, eds., Rawls's Law of Peoples: A Realistic Utopia? (London: Blackwell, 2006), ch. 12.

17 See, e.g., Simpson, Gerry, “Two Liberalisms”, European Journal of International Law 12no.3 (2001), pp. 537–71; and Jahn, Beate, “Kant, Mill, and Illiberal Legacies in International Affairs”, International Organization 59no.1 (2005), pp. 177–207.

18 Rawls, Law of Peoples, p.10; emphasis in original.

19 Ibid., p. 79; see also p. 65

20 Ibid., p. 93, footnote 6, emphasis added. For a more detailed discussion see Shue, Henry, “Rawls and the Outlaws”, Politics, Philosophy and Economics 1no.3 (2002), pp. 307–23.

21 Rawls, , Law of Peoples, p. 79.

21 Ibid., p. 93.

22 Ibid.

24 Ibid., p. 95.

25 Ibid., p. 94, footnote 6; see also pp. 93–96more generally.

26 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001), p. 17; see alsoUnited Nations General Assembly, World Summit Outcome, A/RES/60/1, October 24, 2005, § 138 and139.

27 Rawls, , Law of Peoples, p. 77.

28 See, e.g., Barnett, Michael, “Building a Republican Peace”, International Security 30no.4 (2006), pp. 97–101; and Chopra, JaratandHohe, Tanja, “Participatory Intervention”, Global Governance 10no.3 (2004), pp. 298–305.

29 Rawls, , Law of Peoples, p. 106.

30 see Jackson, Robert H., Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), ch. 3.

31 See alsoKokaz, Nancy, “Poverty and Global Justice”, Ethics & International Affairs 21no.3 (2007), p. 323.

32 Rawls, , Law of Peoples, footnote 16, p. 75.

33 Ibid., p. 111.

34 For a similar argument see Keohane, , “Political Authority after Intervention”, p. 279.

35 Rawls, , Law of Peoples, p. 106and p. 118, emphasis in original.

36 Ibid., p. 108.

37 Ibid., p. 93.

38 Krasner, Stephen D., “Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States”, International Security 29no.2 (2004), p. 108.

39 Ibid., p. 115.

40 See, e.g., Recchia, Stefano, “Beyond International Trusteeship: EU Peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Occasional Paper No. 66 (Paris: EU Institute for Security Studies, 2007);available at

41 Mill, , On Liberty and Other Essays, p. 394.

42 See Doyle, Michael W., UN Peacekeeping in Cambodia: UNTAC's Civil Mandate (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1995), p. 43.

43 Barbera, Julien, “Antipodean Statebuilding: The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands and Australian Intervention in the South Pacific”, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 2no.2 (2008), p. 134; see alsoPonzio, Richard, “The Solomon Islands: The UN and Intervention by Coalitions of the Willing”, International Peacekeeping 12no.2 (2005), p. 179.

44 Andersen, Louise, “Outsiders Inside the State: Post-Conflict Liberia Between Trusteeship and Partnership”, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, forthcoming.

46 Reno, William, “Anti-Corruption Efforts in Liberia: Are They Aimed at the Right Targets?International Peacekeeping 15no.3 (2008), pp. 387–404.

47 See Synder, JackandVinjamuri, Leslie, “Trials and Errors: Principle and Pragmatism in Strategies of International Justice”, International Security 28no.3 (2003), pp. 5–44.

48 For a good overview on the role of hybrid courts in postwar societies, see Dickinson, Laura A., “The Promise of Hybrid Courts”, American Journal of International Law 97no.2 (2003), pp. 295–310.For more specific discussions, see alsoKatzenstein, Suzanne, “Hybrid Tribunals: Searching for Justice in East Timor”, Harvard Human Rights Journal 16 (2003), pp. 245–78; and Serra, Gianluca, “Special Tribunal for Lebanon”, International Criminal Justice Review 18no.3 (2008), pp. 344–55.

49 Marko, Joseph, “Five Years of Constitutional Jurisprudence in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, European Diversity and Autonomy Paper N o. 7 (2004), p. 33; available at See alsoBelloni, Roberto, State Building and International Intervention in Bosnia (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 58–72.

50 Macedo, Stephen, “What Self-governing Peoples Owe to One Another: Universalism, Diversity, and the Law of Peoples”, Fordham Law Review 72no.5 (2004), p. 1723, emphasis in original. See alsoWenar, Leif, “Why Rawls is Not a Cosmopolitan Egalitarian”, inMartin, andReidy, , eds., Rawls's Law of Peoples.

51 Barry, Brian, “International Society from a Cosmopolitan Perspective”, inMapel, David R.andNardin, Terry, eds., International Society: Diverse Ethical Perspectives (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 160. For similar points of view, see Luban, David, “Just War and Human Rights”, Philosophy & Public Affairs 9no.2 (1980), pp. 160–81; and Téson, Fernando, “The Liberal Case for Humanitarian Intervention”, in, HolzgrefeandKeohane, , eds., Humanitarian Intervention, pp. 93–129.

* Earlier versions of this article were presented at the workshop on The Ethics of Postconflict Reconstruction and Statebuilding, held at the University of Oxford in June 2008, and at the International Studies Association Annual Convention in San Diego, California, in March 2006. For helpful comments on previous drafts I would like to thank Michael Barnett, Simon Caney, Jean Cohen, Michael Doyle, Alexandra Gheciu, Guy Grossman, Sebastiano Maffettone, Tonya Putnam, Henry Shue, Nadia Urbinati, Daniel Voelsen, and Jennifer Welsh, as well as two anonymous reviewers and the editors of Ethics & International Affairs. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.

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