Jus Post Bellum

There is, as we know, a huge literature on what is commonly called the international peacebuilding regime. Most of this work is produced by political scientists, and much of it is in the criticism-of- the- liberal-peace genre. But now legal scholars have entered this field in a serious way to examine and develop the concept of jus post bellum. To what extent is the international peacebuilding regime resting on a coherent body of norms or law, the post-war equivalent to jus ad bellum and jus in bello? What is the nature and function of law in the transition from war to peace? What should be the role of law in the war-to-peace transitions – ‘black letter’ law, a set of moral norms that provide standards for policy or, more modestly, a ‘site of discourse’ that could increase coherence in peacebuilding initiatives?

These are the initial questions discussed in a new (and huge – 600 pages) volume. Entitled simply Jus Post Bellum, the book is the result of an ongoing project at Leiden University led by Carsten Stahn, who heads the University’s Grotius Center.

As a hard-core political scientist who was invited to participate in a conference organized by the jus post bellum project and contribute to the book of same name, and I need a little time to refocus. Once refocused, I found the project an exciting endeavour to systematically explore an aspect of peacebuilding that until now has been little studied.

The point of departure is the recent work by Larry May, whose After War Ends (2012), examines the principles for a just post-conflict peace in the tradition of just war theory. May proposes six moral norms as the basis for a body law to frame the transition from war to peace: rebuilding, retribution, reconciliation, restitution, reparation and proportionality.

The book Jus Post Bellum critically investigates to what extent these and related principles could give rise to a body of law for post-conflict situations, and whether such efforts are indeed justified. Could efforts to develop law in this field be counter-productive, given the variety of post-war situations, the political hegemony of Western powers in the bodies that  define law, the difficulties of defining both the beginning and the end of  the ‘post-conflict’ period, and the uncertain boundaries between ‘war’ and ‘peace’? As political anthropologist David Keen entitled an article he wrote for International Peacekeeping several years ago (vol.7, no.4), ‘War and Peace, What is the Difference?’

As an edited volume with contributions from political scientists as well as legal scholars, Jus Post Bellum speaks with many voices. It provides no equivocal answers to the questions above. The diversity of approaches and conclusions is indeed a major strength of the book. Legal scholars have the last word as they  seek in the concluding section of the volume to ‘distil a set of principles that inform the creation and sustainability of resilient and peaceful post-conflict societies,’ as Jennifer Easterday, Jens Iverson and Carsten Stahn write. To the (legal) untrained eye, these principles seem not so different from the norms identified by Larry May, and which appear to have framed the historical development of the international peacebuilding regime during the past almost two decades.

The book Jus Post Bellum, edited by Carsten Stahn, Jennifer Easterday and Jens Iverson will be published by Oxford University Press in February 2014 in hardback and as an e-book.