There is some hubris in the idea that the international community (and in particular the major donors and international bodies) can assist the reconstruction of entire states and national societies after war and state collapse. Yet in recent years this is precisely what it has been attempting in country after country, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia and (even more problematically) in Iraq. The first section of this paper examines these policies and agendas, and their effects on the scale and nature of the major powers’ interventions in the developing world. The second section analyses some common causes of conflict and state failure, emphasizing that the particularity of causes, and legacies, means that there can be no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to peace building and reconstruction. The third section looks at how dialogue with a wider range of stakeholders can be fostered, to ensure that the reconstruction of states and societies is inclusive and legitimate. The fourth section concludes by identifying some generic policy dilemmas of post-conflict reconstruction.