The Shortcomings of the UN Peacebuilding Process in Timor-Leste, by Ramon Blanco

Nowadays, there is little doubt that peace operations constitute the very essence in regards to international processes directed to peace, security and development. Not by coincidence, they are a fundamental pillar of current international relations. Consequently, a rigorous analysis of the development of this process in a country that is one of the most representative examples of this practice is essential for a refined and deep understanding of it.

This is precisely the framework of this paper. It brings a comprehensive analysis of the United Nations’ (UN) peacebuilding process in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste was subject of five peace operations and two multilateral international interventions. Moreover, nearly all conflict resolution instruments were deployed to the country, ranging from peacemaking to peacebuilding. Closely observing, there is no other country with such level of UN engagement and that is the reason why the country is often called as an emblematic case regarding the UN post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

Collectively, these tools sought to operationalize the liberal peace in the country. Although the UN seeks to present it as a successful case, the process has several shortcomings and this paper brings them to light. Drawing on fieldwork, interviews, and secondary sources, the paper delineates to the main fragilities of this process by analysing two fundamental axes: (1) the structural limitations of such engagement; and (2) the negligence, by the UN, of fundamental elements of the Timorese reality. In regards to the first axis, the paper discusses some structural limitations of the very peacebuilding process, such as some internal contractions and the absence of structures aiming to incorporate the Timorese voice into the UN reconstruction process.

Regarding the second axis, the paper analyses the fact that the UN during its peacebuilding process neglected, or at least underestimated, several strands of the Timorese reality. Remarkably, these strands are intrinsically related to fundamental dimensions of a reconstruction process – Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), Security Sector Reform (SSR), and the political environment. They are: (1) the poor reintegration process of the combatants of the former guerrilla who were not incorporated in the army; (2) the structural dissatisfactions/divisions present within the armed forces; (3) the tense relationship between the police and the army; and (4) the grievances/differences among the Timorese political elite.

By highlighting the main flaws of this peacebuilding process, the paper sheds light to the fragility of the peace built in Timor-Leste and the apparent contradiction that, in the country, the UN state-building process ended up being, in fact, a state failure process. Consequently, and most importantly, the paper by its critique opens the space for (re)thinking alternative ways of building peace in post-conflict scenarios.


Ramon Blanco, Departamento de Relações Internacionais e Integração, Universidade Federal da Integração Latino-Americana (Unila), Curitiba, PR, Brazil (

Read this article:

BLANCO, Ramon. The UN peacebuilding process: an analysis of its shortcomings in Timor-Leste.Rev. bras. polít. int. [online]. 2015, vol.58, n.1 [cited  2015-10-02], pp. 42-62 . Available from: <>. ISSN 1983-3121.

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