External Actors, Agency and Legitimacy - Ethical Dimensions of Peacebuilding Processes

Project leader

Johanna Ohlsson, PhD candidate


Prof Elena Namli (UCRS)

Assistant supervisor

Prof. Kjell-Åke Nordquist (Stockholm School of Theology)

Project period


Project description

The notion of the ethics of peacebuilding is related to issues such as transitional justice and reconciliation, and it is also closely connected to global governance and the paradox that outside engagement often is used to foster self-governance, even though the power the external actors exercise is inevitably intrusive, no matter how well intentioned the engagements may be. This PhD-project critically studies the agency of external actors and their justification of their engagement in peacebuilding processes, as well as the moral underpinnings of peacebuilding activities from ethical perspectives. The project is scrutinising the role of legitimacy and justification of external actors in peacebuilding, focusing on how different actors’ views, prioritise, acts and handles peacebuilding efforts. This exploration will be done in several steps, and the theoretical discussion is anchored in parts of just war theory as well as theories of communicative action, justification and global justice. The external actors’ that are analysed within this project are Russia and South Africa.

The mainstream peacebuilding discourse is closely related to liberal values such as democracy, freedom of expression and market economy. Related to the scholarly criticism of liberal peacebuilding, could it be morally defensible for external actors to explicitly or implicitly impose norms and values into another society, which oftentimes is ripped apart due to the consequences of civil war? And which norms and values should be promoted? These are important questions which are connected to the discussion about interventions during war; however this project is focusing on the phase when the killing has stopped. The projects’ research questions relate to the moral dilemma of interventions but focuses on finding criteria for sustainable legitimacy and justification for engagement in peacebuilding efforts, in particular with a focus on agency.