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IR210: International Politics: Building Democracies from Conflict


Course Content

How can we design, build and sustain 'democracies' in less than ideal circumstances? We will explore societies torn apart by political violence and ethnic conflict.  The main purpose is to diagnose the central problems, and examine what political responses are most appropriate.  Informed responses might include: intervention, mediation and peace agreements; power-sharing and constitutional design; territorial management of conflict; elections, party systems and institutions for governing divided societies.

The first week of the course mostly looks at the problems, in particular political violence. We begin with Case Study 1: Iraq.  We consider the benefits and risks of intervention to build democracies, and the multiple difficulties in doing so. We consider the likely futures for Iraq, Kurdistan and Islamic State.  What are the justifications for political violence?  How much political violence is there and  what are the main types and trends?  We shall examine insurgencies and counter-insurgency strategies, as well as suicide terrorism and ethnic cleansing.  Week 1 ends with the important topic of the politics of civil wars.  Since the end of the cold war, almost all wars are ‘civil wars’ and we will consider what causes civil wars, what sustains them (why do some last much longer than others?), and how do they end?  This will include Case Study 2: Multiple Civil Wars in Sudan.

Week 2 shifts the focus of attention to ‘solutions’ and policy responses to divided societies and failing states.   We begin by examining the political economy of conflict (greed versus grievances), and natural resources.  There will be a sustained focus on constitutional design and systems of power-sharing, illustrated with:  Case Study 3: Northern Ireland. We examine national self-determination, secession, partition and ethno-federalism as territorial attempts to manage conflict.  Week 2 ends with one important and controversial aspect of attempting to make the transition from war to democracy: how states deal with ‘past political crimes’. We examine this in our Case Study 4: Transitional justice in South Africa and East Timor.

Week 3 turns to elections and party systems. We look at which are the most appropriate electoral systems for divided places (and which should be avoided).  The timing of ‘first elections’ after civil war might also be important because they are risky: should they be held early to legitimize the peace, or delayed until state institutions have been rebuilt?

We also examine the growth in electoral and competitive authoritarianism: more and more regimes hold semi-competitive elections that are not truly democratic. Why do they do this?  This leads into Case Study 5: Elections in Kenya.  The course ends by returning to where we began: the politics of intervention.  We examine the failures and successes of United Nations peace-keeping missions, and analyze the negotiation and implementation of peace agreements.

World-class LSE teaching 

With a vibrant research culture, the LSE Department of International Relations is one of the oldest and largest in the world, and remains a leading world centre for the development of the subject. Its reputation for international excellence was recognised in the most recent National Research Assessment Exercise when the International Relations and Government Departments, received one of the highest rankings.               

On this three week intensive programme, you will engage with and learn from full-time lecturers from the LSE



There is no set text for this course. Course materials will be distributed in the first lecture.

*A more detailed reading list will be supplied prior to the start of the programme

**Course content, faculty and dates may be subject to change without prior notice



2017 course dates to be confirmed.

Lecturer: Dr Paul Mitchell

Level: 200 level

Fees: Click here for information

Prerequisites: At least one introductory course in either social science (e.g. political science, international relations, sociology, economics), history or law

Lectures: 36 hours 

Classes: 18 hours

Assessment*: One essay and one written examination

Typical credit**: 3 credits (US) 7.5 ECTS points (EU) 

How to apply?

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*assessment is optional – see FAQs

**You will need to check with your home institution. Read more about credit transfer here.