Victory in the Cold War not only assured the West of the superiority of its democratic worldview, but also of its intrinsic duty to intervene in international conflicts and reorient the governance structures of Global South states. These post–Cold War interventions were grounded in the tenets of liberal democratic peace. As the miscarriages of liberal peace piled up into the early 2000s, so did the critiques by scholars who accused the West of neo–colonialism and condemned its disregard for indigenous peacebuilding paradigms.
This essay puts forward a critical analysis of the liberal peace debate, assessing the pros and cons of two alternative approaches to liberalism. Section I provides a definition of liberal peace and a brief overview of the main contentions in the debate. Section II highlights the core arguments in the ‘local–turn critique’ of liberal peace. Section III offers a brief critique of the local–turn. Section IV outlines a more recent critique of liberal peace known as hybridity. Section V discusses these alternative approaches and concludes by arguing that they are mostly conjectural and conceptual and have largely failed to point the way to more effective peacebuilding.
Overview: Liberal Peace Debate
Liberal peacebuilding [also known as liberal democratic peace or Western peace] is the imposition of Kantian irenicism on illiberal states by Western governments, IFIs and INGOs (Mac Ginty 2008:143). In the early 1990s, liberal peace advocates began to promulgate the merits of global democratisation and marketisation with considerable fervour (Paris 2010:388). These early proponents “attempted to unite the world under a hegemonic system that replicated liberal institutions, norms, political, social and economic systems” (Richmond 2011:1). They were convinced of their duty to rescue the Global South from itself, even if this, ironically, resulted in the propping up of tyrannical strongmen and states (Mac Ginty 2008:149, Mac Ginty 2014:394).
Neoliberalism’s Post–Cold War peacebuilding agenda tilted strongly toward interventionism and reformation. This agenda engendered “ethnocentrism, cultural biases, and a narrow set of interests, bounded by Hobbes and Locke” (Richmond 2011:2). In the early 1990s,—under Secretary–General Boutros–Ghali—the UN was considered the bastion of liberal ideology. Its 1992 Agenda for Peace was firmly grounded in the tenets of internationalism (Shelby 2013:62). All of the UN’s post–1989 intrastate peace agreements are laden with liberal creeds (Peace Accord Matrix 2017, Richmond and Mac Ginty 2014:178).
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