State-building as part of a post-conflict peace process and as a response to state failure has become one of the most important and distinctive undertakings of the United Nations. For countries to successfully put violent civil conflict behind them, successful transitional state-building is critical in the journey to stability. Tremendous international investment has been poured into peacebuilding through transitional governance over the past fifteen years. In each country in which it is applied, the approach has resulted in new administrative structures and constitutional arrangements tailored to local contexts and aspiring to the highest international standards of democratic governance. But in many cases, initial euphoria at the successful holding of elections and design of the formal institutions for democratic governance has eventually turned into dismay at the poor governance outcomes that result. My dissertation examines the processes and outcomes of the transitional governance peacebuilding efforts undertaken by the international community in Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan. Relying on over one hundred elite interviews carried out through fieldwork, the United Nations' own records, and country case studies, I examine the institutional solutions and governance outcomes of the state-building exercises implemented in each country by the United Nations' transitional authorities in collaboration with their domestic counterparts. I use a causal narrative research design that combines structured, focused comparison across cases and process-tracing within cases to explain the similarities and differences across the resulting democratic governance outcomes in the three countries.
I argue that international and national factors interact dynamically in producing the outcomes of peacebuilding through transitional governance. An international model of statehood delimits a process and a universe of possible institutional choices in state-building efforts, but does not determine the outcomes. It is domestic political actors who make specific choices about the constitutional arrangements and administrative structures within the parameters the model sets for possible forms of democratic governance. I explicitly emphasize the hyper-political and contested nature of the transitional governance process by focusing on the agency of political elites in making institutional choices. I argue that organizationally powerful domestic political elites maneuver within formal institutions to entrench themselves in power, affecting the consolidated democratic governance outcomes. Furthermore, I demonstrate how the democracy-building and state-strengthening dimensions of peacebuilding efforts act at cross-purposes to each other, creating tensions in implementation of the transitional governance process and contributing to the entrenchment of powerful elites. In short, my dissertation explores the application of the international model and technocratic processes of post-conflict reconstruction in the necessarily hyper-political domestic context of any state-building process.