Post Conflict Stabilisation: The Means to Political Reconciliation or to gain Political Control?

Conflict cycle practitioners will recognise the word ‘Stabilisation’ and inherently feel they know what it means, but defining the term conceptually is, perhaps, not quite so easy.  

The term ‘Stabilisation’ is one of many in a new lexicon that has grown alongside post-conflict (and here I mean post-armed conflict) intervention but it is only recently that there has been much thought given to what it means and what it actually comprises.

But isn’t it obvious what Stabilisation is for? To bring stability. If one looks a bit further into how this is done, however, it reveals some rather difficult choices. Fundamentally, I would suggest, these choices are informed by the nature of the intervention. Is the intervening state doing so as a means of power projection to gain political control or is it solely a means to create mechanisms for conflict management that are not violent? Even if the latter, are the choices made consistent with local context and circumstances or are they based on an imposition of values and systems that relate to the intervening state’s interests and therefore in reality reflect the former.

What compromises should be made to effect the achievement of ‘stability’ and what is it that ‘stability’ comprises. Is it a balance of co-optive and coercive practices or a mediation between existing power elites? Is the aim to introduce systems that replicate those of the intervening state to bring routes to ‘justice’, ‘rule of law’ and so on. If so, who are the chosen ones who will implement it? And if the aim is to stop violence and introduce systems where violence free conflict management can be achieved, can this be done without political prejudice (and is that the aim)?

I am probably one of the first to post a comment, so I don’t know quite what is expected in terms of length or depth, but I will use this excuse to keep this first note brief and to the point.  

Nothing in an intervention of this type is more than fuzzy grey when on the ground and directly before taking action. I am sure also that no-one expects absolute clarity of action within the intervention itself due to the frictions of implementation. But would it not be helpful to have clarity before the event to know what Stabilisation actually means in this context?

The debate has already begun in other fora, but would it be helpful to have a stream of thoughts here too?

Malcolm Russell

3 thoughts on “Post Conflict Stabilisation: The Means to Political Reconciliation or to gain Political Control?

  1. uolscid

    Dear Malcolm

    Thank you very much for posting such an insightful and thought-provoking blog post on the concept of stabilisation. You raise some very important questions about the need to critically reflect upon the concepts we frequently use (something David Chuter has also recently reminded me) and having a shared understanding of commonly used terms, at least if there is to be co-ordination and coherence between actors in the field (to use two more commonly-used and rarely-deconstructed terms).

    It is especially important to decipher what the aim of intervention (and other actions) is if, of course, the aim is to be fully realised: this probably seems tautological but often I found in the field (although a few years ago now) that the focus was on short-term objectives and, more usually, shorter-term tasks rather than the overarching aim (which of course is easier said than done and poses many problems in itself).

    Perhaps, the relatively short-term aims of stabilisation, while critical for longer-term peacebuilding and development to take hold, will inevitably jar with some of the aims and principles of longer-term efforts to build a sustainable peace? As the focus of stabilisation needs to be on quickly securing a political solution in order that more generic efforts to build peace can begin, does this inevitably mean that certain compromises have to be made (such as efforts to build an inclusive peace process and lay the groundwork for functioning key institutions and services that are responsive to the specificity of the context)? Of course, these compromises can result in post-conflict structures and processes being in place that do not reflect the interests of or respond to the needs of the vast majority of people in society (particularly vulnerable or minority groups). This, in turn, could potentially undermine long-term stability.

    In short, I entirely agree with your position that we need clarity on the concept of stabilisation. In so doing it might also help us avoid taking unnecessary compromises that undermine what is ostensibly the aim of the intervention.

    There is a debate hosted by the UK Government’s Stabilisation Unit today between Professor Roger Mac Ginty and Dr Christian Dennys on “The case against and for Stabilisation”. I understand Keith Sargent and possibly other members of the Panel of Experts may be attending and it would be wonderful to hear any feedback from that debate as well as other comments on Malcolm’s post.

    Best wishes



    1. reeveyews Post author

      Dear Eleanor

      Thank you very much for the comments on my post on Stabilisation. 

      I attended the debate to which you refer today. It was heavily subscribed, with a great deal of interest shown. Unfortunately, there was not sufficient time for my comments to be made but others did so and it led to a stimulating exchange, with a wide range of ideas.

      When I get a few moments I am looking at the possibility of writing a paper to join the MacGinty/Dennys debate. I know Christian Dennys and have chatted to him briefly about both papers.

      Both parties to the debate have very valid points, but I can’t help feeling a little uncomfortable with the way in which the word ‘Stabilisation’ is being used. My feeling is that the term ‘Stabilisation’ has become something of a totem and that the search for its meaning is futile because it is both essentially contested and generally interpreted – it is a catch-all term for a series of activities that theorists, practitioners, and policy makers extend for their own perception of what they believe they need to achieve in a conflict situation.  

      Whether or not you subscribe to the type of intervention described as Stabilisation being about control, it is irrefutable, I think that it is about power relations. 

      Only a state with greater power can intervene to engage in what is called ‘Stabilisation’ in another state. The situation is never reversed in these terms. A state acts to promote and protect its interests so even the most benign intervention carries with it the baggage of vested interest and expectation of certain outcomes, against which success (or not) is measured. Thus we are looking at ‘Stabilisation’, as described in the two papers, being predicated on an projection of power and an expectation of a certain type of outcome. Inherent, therefore, must be control, especially if this is facilitated through cessation of conflict against these expected outcomes.

      Too late at night to into this more, but I will fiddle with some text over the coming weeks and may burst into print again when my thoughts are in order.





  2. jfcurtis

    first of all i congratulate all of you for sharing your views on this subject about stabilisation in a post conflict context.
    Coming from a country (cote d’ivoire) that is going through a stabilisation process since 2011 (post conflict), i must say that there are prerequisites to any stabilisation process among which reconciliation itself resulting from a political will for sincere peace. Our country is unfortunatelly missing its reconciliation process due to a serious lack of political will. So stabilisation is possible but not entirely. to be a successful process it needs to be inclusive and based on justice for all.



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