This article considers the relationship between constitutions and political settlements and locates the special issue articles within this wider discussion. The article points to the apparently paradoxical connection between disillusionment with internationalised state-building techniques on one hand, and increased international faith in constitution-making as a state-building tool on the other. Using understandings of the relationship of the constitution to political settlement which draws on conventional constitutional theory, it argues that the current context of negotiated transitions requires constitution-making to be approached with an eye to the distinctive dilemmas of statecraft that pertain in contemporary transitions. The most central dilemma concerns how power-balances between political/military elites can be broadened to ensure the constitution’s capacity to fulfil its normative role in restraining power and delivering broader social inclusion. The pieces which make up this special issue draw together development and legal discourses. This article suggests how constitutional theory provides a resource for those seeking to promote constitutionalism as a tool for reaching political settlements capable of resolving conflict. It also argues that those who seek to rely on constitutions for conflict resolution need to understand this enterprise as just as political and fraught as all other institution-building efforts.
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