The involvement of the United Nations (UN) in support of international statebuilding efforts after the Cold War – that is, in the establishment of state institutions designed to provide security, public goods and lasting foundations for sustainable economic recovery and development in countries emerging from war – raises a central and striking paradox. On the one hand, the UN remains a deeply state centric organisation in which the prerogatives of sovereign statehood are carefully guarded by its member states and continue to exercise a profound influence on their diplomatic and political reflexes within UN fora. This is true, above all, for those members that hail from the developing world, loosely organised under the empirically anachronistic, though within the context of UN intergovernmental politics still significant, groupings of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of 77 (G-77).3 To some of their members, the growth in stateand peacebuilding activities over the past two decades has been viewed with deep suspicion; as a potential threat to what they consider a fundamental

freedom from interference in their domestic affairs by richer and more powerful states.4 Put differently, the UN’s statebuilding activities have been seen as a challenge to the sanctity of the principle of non-intervention and the idea that “matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states” should remain just that.5 This instinctive and widely held attachment to the principle of sovereign equality continues to inform, in complex but powerful ways, the day-to-day workings of the organisation, at the headquarters level as well as in the field. On the other hand, none of this has prevented the UN and its agencies from becoming deeply engaged in a diverse range of statebuilding activities, many of which have veered into politically sensitive areas by addressing core competences of the state, be it the protection of human rights, the management of economic affairs or the radical restructuring of a country’s armed forces and security sector. While the UN’s involvement has varied greatly in scope and intensity – ranging from the provision of mediators and human rights monitors in Central America to the rebuilding of government ministries in Cambodia and the assumption of fully fledged governmental authority in East Timor and Kosovo – the growth and intrusive character of interventions are, by any historical standard, striking.6 Thus, while on a theoretical and discursive level sovereignty remains the fundamental organising principle, this has not prevented developing countries from supporting UN involvement on a country-by-country basis, particularly when it comes to questions of ensuring adequate resources for the mission in question and where national contingents are involved.7 Nor are there any signs – for the time being at any rate – suggesting that the demand for UN services is abating. As of late 2011, the number of uniformed staff and civilian personnel on UN missions remains at an all-time high of nearly 120,000, while the budget for UN peacekeeping in 2011-12 was just over $7 billion, up from $3 billion in 1993.8 Most of these missions include activities that fall within the definition of statebuilding adopted in this book. This chapter examines both sides of the paradox. It argues that any assessment of the UN’s role and performance in support of international state-and peacebuilding efforts after the Cold War requires an appreciation of the inevitable tensions that flow from it. Specifically, they help explain why the pattern of UN involvement has proved inconsistent, why it has taken the particular form that it has in individual cases, why it has prioritised some issues over others and, last but not least, why its record of effectiveness has been so mixed. To explore each of these issues in detail, the chapter and the arguments it advances proceed in three parts. The first part focuses on the ways in which the distinctive features of the organisation – especially those that flow from its intergovernmental, functionally fragmented and intensely political character – have affected, and will continue to do so, its role in international statebuilding. It argues that the UN “system” is not a system in the true sense of the word, composed as it is of a myriad of specialised agencies, programmes and funds that operate in a semiautonomous fashion. This reality carries important implications for the varied

roles played by the UN in support of statebuilding projects, as does, inescapably, the bureaucratic and intergovernmental politics of the organisation. The second part examines one of those roles in greater detail: its ability to confer international legitimacy both on the actions of statebuilders themselves and on the structures and institutions of government that are being built up. This, potentially, is one of the most significant roles played by the UN in support of exogenous statebuilding projects. The importance of the UN in this regard is closely linked to the near-universal character of the organisation and the custodial role it plays in relation to basic principles and norms of international society. In the context of this chapter, however, there is a further and obvious reason why it merits attention: it is the role in which the UN can, and sometimes has, most directly influenced the political economy of post-war settings, as the act of conferring or withholding legitimacy plays directly into the distribution of power and influence of among local elites and actors. The third part examines how – notwithstanding the limitations identified elsewhere in the chapter – the capacities, tools and resources available to the UN for statebuilding have evolved since the early 1990s. While these are impressive in many respects, their development and utilisation remain subject to intergovernmental politics and constraints. As a result, management reform initiatives aimed at improving the UN’s performance in key areas such as planning, finance, personnel and the creation of meaningful analytical capacity in the Secretariat, have all met with mixed results. The degree to which the political and intergovernmental character of the UN also influences seemingly prosaic or managerial questions related to, for example, budgeting, human resources and procurement is an important but often overlooked point. The fact that the UN’s peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts are paid for (or assessed) by all member states further contributes to the UN’s legitimacy, but also requires that member states of the General Assembly – rather than the Security Council – ultimately have the final say on administrative and budgetary questions. The outcome in terms of the operational efficiency and strategic direction of UN efforts in the field is often messy and frustrating. As such, however, it no more than reflects the political divisions within, and the historical and cultural heterogeneity of, the much-vaunted ‘international community’ in whose name the UN acts.