The Norms and Politics of Exit: Ending Postconflict Transitional Administrations

While the impact of norms on post-conflict statebuilding operations has been well-explored in the literature, the ways in which the same normative frameworks affect the exit practices of such operations has so far remained unaddressed. To fill this gap, this paper examines the impact of the liberal-democratic norms governing statebuilding operations on the timing and process of exit of post-conflict international transitional administrations. To that end, it first examines the concept of exit, arguing that exit is best considered as a process rather than an event. The second section outlines the normative framework that has shaped postconflict statebuilding activities since the end of the cold war, and proposes three ways in which norms can affect exit: first, that norms act as blueprints for statebuilding and can thereby shape benchmarks for exit; second, that norms create “zones of permissibility” that explicitly commit statebuilders to a transitional presence and make exit central to the legitimacy of statebuilding operations; and third, that local actors strategically use norms, in particular those of self-determination and the taboo of permanent control of a territory, to push for an early exit of statebuilding operations. The third section explores both the scope and limitations of the three functions of norms with regard to exit in the context of a brief case study of UNMIK’s exit from Kosovo. The article concludes with some observations about the impact of the findings for exit strategies of international actors from statebuilding operations.

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