Ideas of Peace – Ottoline Online

David Mitchell | December 18, 2017

“The Limits of Hybridity and the Crisis of Liberal Peace”, a talk by Dr. David Rampton, Lecturer in World Politics, on the ideas of peace. It is based on a paper co-authored with Dr. Sutha Nadarajah and recently published in Review of International Studies.


Those present were: Dr. David Rampton, Dr. Callum Barrell (Faculty of Politics & International Relations), Susan Steed (Faculty of Economics), Stephen Dnes (Faculty of Law), Dr. Olly Ayers (Faculties of History and of Politics & International Relations), Phil Hunter (Faculty of Law), Dr. Diana Bozhilova (Faculty of Politics & International Relations), Dr. Mike Peacey (Faculty of Economics), Mark Fabian (Visiting Fellow), Dr. Catherine Brown (Faculty of English), Dr. Sebastian Ille (Faculty of Economics) and Dr. David Mitchell (Faculty of Philosophy).


How are violent conflicts overcome? What are the ways in which lasting peace can be established? How, in particular, can agents who are external to a conflict, whether governments or others, help with the establishing of peace? David provided us with an introduction to recent theorising on this theme in his discipline of politics and international relations. Set against the advocacy of ‘liberal peace’, as expressed in the policy discourse of western governments, in such documents as the Brahimi report of 2000, and in the work of scholars such as Francis Fukuyama and Roland Paris, a recent rival conception, or family of conceptions, was presented by David under the heading ‘hybrid peace’.


Proponents of liberal peace typically frame their approach in terms of the rule of law, constitutionality and human rights; they give particular roles to civil society and the encouragement of commerce, or ‘the market’; and they seek to combat ethnic identifications by fostering secular, civic and cosmopolitan alternatives. This is an approach which appears to many to be in crisis. David mentioned increasingly coercive modes of peacebuilding, as in Afghanistan; the tendency for peace efforts to be succeeded by authoritarianism, as in Cambodia; the ways in which these interventions suck out administrative capacity, and the often poor development records that follow upon the achieving of liberal peace.


These charges are often set within wider criticisms of the model as neo-colonial or neo-imperial. Hybrid peace theorists tend to object to liberal peace as western-centric and as liable to produce only virtual states, in which there is no sort of social contract between the elites and the rest of the population. They suggest a radical departure is called for, and offer their own alternative in this guise. But how far do they really depart from the liberal peace model? David went on to argue that not only are they just as inattentive to the crucial historical roots of conflicts, they in fact reproduce many of the functional categories of liberal peace, and so in fact play a ‘problem-solving’ rather than genuinely critical role, in effect operating on behalf of the hegemonic approach. Thus their characteristic interest in building bridges between international and local actors, so as to bypass corrupt and predatory elites, besides evincing an almost romanticised concern with authenticity that is reminiscent of orientalist modes of engagement, neglects the importance of the national level in what David called the co-constitution of different levels of conflict.


Prompted by various lines of response from colleagues, David gave indications of what he sees as a preferable model, that of ‘agonistic peace’. Thus Mark was keen to endorse, from an international development perspective, the avoidance of the kind of support to national governments that empowers patronage networks, but also to oppose the undesirable stoking of local cultural identities, which is a recipe for conflict. Yet peace should accommodate conflict, David suggested, as long as the worst sorts of ‘structural violence’ (Galtung’s term) are avoided. He saw as problematic two closely related tendencies, to exaggerate the part played by economic motives in conflict (‘greed’, as opposed to ‘grievances’), and to give excessive immediate priority to development goals.


Sebastian noted the general challenge to peacebuilders posed by feedback effects between different elements of an intervention: it could well be that a set of components each of which was helpful in isolation might in combination be damaging. So for example it might make a big difference what other transitions a democratisation is accompanied by. This was a thought with a clear bearing on recent cases, and other contributors too invited David to explore how the several models applied to current affairs: Catherine raised the topics of self-determination and of the arms trade, and Susan the roles of other British exporters in conflicts abroad. In relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland, finally, Stephen felt it might be reckoned a case of hybrid peace by David’s account, while David himself assessed it as fitting quite well the agonistic model.


David Mitchell

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy