The International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its ten-year anniversary last summer. During its first decade of life, both the shadow and the actuality of international justice in the form of investigation, trial, and judgment have become a central feature of many conflicts, ongoing and concluded. Nearly a decade before the ICC opened its doors, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission attracted enormous global attention, and the moral sanction against racial violence at its core resonated across the globe. And yet, the concept of reconciliation that defined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not occupied the same coveted (if also contested) international space that international justice—through trials—does today. If anything, advocates of justice and trials have subsumed reconciliation and truth seeking into a package of justice that has trials at its core. In his new book, Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott forces us to rethink this ordering. Political reconciliation is at the center of Philpott’s conception of justice. The ethic of reconciliation is, in Philpott’s words, “a concept of justice that aims to restore victims, perpetrators, citizens, and the governments of states that have been involved in political injustices to a condition of right relationship within a political order or between political orders—a condition characterized by human rights, democracy, the rule of law, respect for international law; by widespread recognition of the legitimacy of these values; and by the virtues that accompany these values.” The six practices that Philpott identifies as core to reconciliation (building socially just institutions, acknowledgments, reparations, punishment, apology, and forgiveness) encompass much that is central to liberal peacebuilding, including trials, but together these present a far more ambitious standard for just peacebuilding. These practices aim to restore relationships, a task that Philpott identifies as fundamental to securing a peaceful future.

Philpott suggests that the ethic of political reconciliation can succeed on two grounds where the liberal peace, and its alternatives, has failed. The first is in its ability to generate widespread consensus, and the second to deliver a more robust peace. Here Philpott is on to something. Undoubtedly, there has been significant domestic opposition in multiple cases to the incursions of the International Criminal Court, the international ad hoc tribunals, and other practices associated with liberal peacebuilding. Sometimes opposition has been grounded in the claim that international justice does not resonate with local understandings of justice or domestic traditions. But Philpott’s efforts at generating consensus may err in assuming that a prescribed ethic which is compatible with that “zone of agreement” between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and also restorative justice can surmount this critique. In one sense, this is a minimalist approach that recognizes the need for bringing on board followers of a small number of major traditions with considerable global influence. In another sense, though, the basis for consensus is quite thin. Local traditions and customs as well as many faith traditions remain excluded or at least not explicitly included in justice and reconciliation efforts. At the level of practice, an ethic that embraces human rights as central to reconciliation may also be more problematic than Philpott acknowledges. Much attention has been devoted to the crucial role of agents in negotiating norms and introducing practices that resonate locally. Brokers, norm entrepreneurs, vernacularizers, and the like, who are capable of adapting, translating, negotiating, and articulating norms and practices into local contexts, are not part of this account any more than, perhaps, a negotiated consensus among stakeholders.

Scholars and practitioners cast their gaze on transitional states in the Global South when they think of peacebuilding. But, in the current international environment, generating consensus on the value of Philpott’s six practices among leaders in the North may be difficult, even when these practices sit comfortably within the zone of agreement that Philpott identifies. The liberal peacebuilding that Philpott critiques includes practices that liberal democratic states in North America and Europe have frequently shunned. Only weeks ago Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe threatened to withdraw Japan’s apology, one of the ethic’s core practices, for its World War II sex crimes. Whether naming, shaming, persuasion, or some other tactic by proponents of reconciliation and justice will be enough remains to be seen. Tougher sanctions from the international community may also prove crucial to generating consensus, as they did when softer efforts by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and its NGO supporters to persuade the Serbs to deliver Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague failed.

More important than consensus, for Philpott, political reconciliation aims to generate a more robust peace, one that goes considerably beyond simply ending violence and delivers restorations for the injustices incurred. The restorations that reconciliation strives for are important on their own terms, and so Philpott rejects the sparse frame of a consequentialist ethic. Consequentialism is not problematic, he claims; it is just incomplete. But Philpott does not attempt to articulate a causal theory for how to bring these restorations about, which is problematic, since the political context and the sequence in which his six practices are deployed may affect the outcome. For example, the relationship between socially just institutions and the use of punishment is hotly debated by consequentialists and liberal peace advocates. Consequentialists have argued that in the absence of robust institutions that can contain spoilers, punishment may trigger adverse effects that are harmful to any form of peace, let alone reconciliation. As another example, human rights are central to the political ethic of reconciliation, but forcing human rights into the conversations about reconciliation too early in a transition may well backfire. In Burma, civil society advocates have been reluctant to embrace the language of human rights for fear it will undermine their efforts to engage constructively in fostering a democratic transition. They also fear that premature engagement with human rights initiatives led by the state will lead to co-optation.

In many cases, peace and democracy have flourished without the kind of restorations Philpott refers to. Philpott may claim that the ethical conditions for political reconciliation have not been satisfied in such cases, but the relationship between practices (apology, for example) and product (a restored relationship, for example) cannot be assumed, and many things intervene along the way—a fact that Philpott will be painfully aware of given his extensive fieldwork and engagement in the real world of peacebuilding. Still, restorations may sometimes be settled through the satisfaction of democratic participation, may require renewed violence, or may be best settled through the apologies and reparations that Philpott prescribes. There are also fundamental sequencing questions that force us to look beyond the six practices of political reconciliation and toward preconditions that may determine their effectiveness. For many, reconciliation has been prescribed by the powerful as a means of co-opting revolutionaries and putting out rebellions. A just peace may depend on rejecting reconciliation until those who reject repression have succeeded in the violent overthrow of a repressive regime. Even those with benign intentions may seek to negotiate a peace that mitigates violence in the short term only to generate protracted repression and subsequent outbreaks of violence. The robust peace that Philpott’s ethic of reconciliation aspires to achieve may well presuppose a just war fought to a decisive end.

Political reconciliation sets the bar for post-conflict peacebuilding high. It encompasses much of what the liberal peace does, but asks for far more. At the same time that its efforts to generate consensus may not be ambitious enough, it may also simply be too ambitious. Just and Unjust Peace gives us a highly sophisticated, careful, rich, and persuasive conception of justice by which to evaluate post-conflict peacebuilding. Few works have attempted such a daunting task, and those that have do not compare. If, however, one accepts its aspirational—even utopian—qualities, Just and Unjust Peace articulates a vision for post-conflict states that will undoubtedly generate important debate and raise our expectations.