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Exit strategies

Richard Caplan (ed.) Exit Strategies and State-Building, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-19-976012-1

Richard Caplan’s new book, Exit Strategies and State Building, fills a noticeable void in the otherwise rapidly expanding literature on international state-building. Despite the volume of scholarly attention dedicated to issues of peace- and state-building of recent decades, relatively little consideration has hitherto been given to questions regarding the “end game” of post-conflict state-building operations. This book seeks to address that gap and, therein, examine one of the most contentious issues for any state-building operation; the decision of when and how to leave.

Exit Strategies and State Building comprises a collection of chapters written by expert academics in the field and high-level practitioners with extensive experience on the ground during these missions. It is therefore both a well-informed and rounded contribution to the literature and essential reading both for scholars of post-conflict state-building and policymakers alike.

The book examines four categories of international operations of a state-building nature – colonial administrations, peace support operations, international administrations and military occupations – and the various exit strategies employed in key cases falling within these categories. After addressing the empirics of the question, the final section of the book is meanwhile devoted to an examination of more thematic issues, such as the competing normative visions (Ralph Wilde, chapter 14) and the political economies (Michael Pugh, chapter 15) of exit strategies. The final chapter, written by Caplan himself, details the policy implications of the collection and provides an overview of the key findings.

Of particular interest are the earlier chapters on exit strategies of colonial administrations by John Darwin, Tony Chafer and Hendrik Spruyt. While it is true that colonial exercises in state-building vary both in a practical and in a moral sense from those of contemporary international actors, these chapters provide useful historical background to the debate as well as an opportunity to look at how various exit strategies influenced the long-term trajectories for the countries concerned.

What emerges from the book is a sense of the intense difficulty of negotiating successful exit strategies and the extent to which the choices available to international actors are frequently suboptimal. International actors – from colonial administrators to modern-day peace-builders – are forced to contend with competing pressures. Their own populations and many of the residents of the occupied territories frequently push for early exits. However, many policymakers rightly fear the consequences of leaving behind weak institutions and unresolved conflicts. Indeed, Johanna Mendelson Forman’s chapter on Haiti (chapter 8) and Joel Peter’s chapter on Israel’s unilateral exit from Gaza (chapter 12) provide particularly useful insights into the precise dangers of enacting premature or ill-planned exits.

Caplan and his contributors convincingly demonstrate that the planning of an exit strategy necessary reflects an attempt to negotiate these competing pressures. One of the central dilemmas encountered, therefore, is whether to employ a time-specified or a results-dependent strategy. It is argued that in many cases, such as the UNTAES deployment in Croatia (chapter 1), time-specified exit strategies can be extremely helpful in reassuring both the population of the state under-going an international operation and the domestic audiences of the international actors that the occupation will not be indefinite. However, it is also observed that mandating a specific timeframe for exit can leave little room for flexibility to respond to crises.

It is also clear from the book that results-dependent strategies are similarly fraught with difficulty. The holding of elections, whilst essential for the consolidation of democracy, can be divisive events that threaten to reignite conflict, such as in the case of Angola. Alternatively, ‘benchmarking,’ whereby an international actor pre-establishes a standard of achievement which would allow it to exit, has been adopted in many recent state-building operations – such as Sierra Leone. However, according to Caplan, the focus is too often on achieving easily quantifiable goals, such as the number of police, judges and soldiers that have been trained, rather than more meaningful but less tangible indicators of progress such as the establishment of robust democratic institutions (p. 11).

Another question addressed in the book is the extent to which international actors can, or should, substitute for locally-owned state-building. One of the key issues arising in the chapters on Kosovo (chapter 9) and East Timor (chapter 10) is the importance of resolving political decisions in order for a sustainable peace to be achieved. International actors who attempt to make such decisions, however, often run the risk of accusations of illegitimacy and colonial meddling.

In addressing the subject of exit strategies, this book necessarily delves into and contributes to one of the most important unresolved scholarly debates of modern times: namely the characteristics and requirements of a sustainable peace. It is made evident that the international community faces enormous hurdles in creating the conditions for a sustainable peace which so often depend not merely on the temporary restoration of order, but also the fostering of better socio-economic conditions and greater consensus on the political future of the state. As the chapters on Haiti (chapter 7) and East Timor (chapter 10) demonstrate, the failure to address these issues has often been the determining factor behind the resumption of conflict after international actors have left.

In the concluding chapter, Caplan stresses that exit must be seen by policymakers as a process rather than a discrete event (p. 313), an observation that is borne out both by examples of successful exit strategies within the book and explanations for the failure of others. A successful exit strategy, he maintains, is one that leaves behind a consolidated peace – a peace maintained rather than a peace merely arrived at (p. 314). As internationally-led state-building becomes an increasingly ubiquitous aspect of international affairs, the observations of Caplan and his contributors will form an essential part of the debate on how such operations may best be conducted. They also provide timely lessons in caution and pragmatism for international actors considering such interventions who may underestimate the complexity of their mission.




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