Policing Post-War Transitions: Insecurity, Legitimacy and Reform in Northern Ireland


  • Powell, Brenna
Publish Date:
November 13, 2014
Publication Title:
Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict
Journal Article 7 Volume 165 Pages
  • Brenna Marea Powell, Policing Post-War Transitions: Insecurity, Legitimacy and Reform in Northern Ireland, 7 Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 165 (2014).
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This article explores the critical role of the police in addressing the fundamental challenges that a peace process presents: the demobilization of armed groups and the local security vacuums that emerge as a result. Policing is centrally important but deeply political in divided societies; it is often one of the most difficult aspects of a peace deal to reach agreement on. The article draws on a study of Northern Ireland, a relatively successful case of post-war police reform, to highlight the political challenges that emerge even in a best-case scenario where the basic resource and training needs of the police are met. Northern Ireland demonstrates that whether, and to what degree, people view the police as legitimate is linked to their perceptions about the legitimacy of the state. This has important implications for cases of asymmetric conflict, because improving the perceived legitimacy of the police presents distinct challenges in communities that are traditionally pro-state versus hostile to it. Persistent intercommunal enmity, or the context of a “hostile peace”, poses additional challenges, making it nearly impossible for the police to adjudicate intercommunal disputes in a manner regarded as fair or impartial by all sides.