Dr. Dominik Balthasar (né Helling)

Senior Researcher, swisspeace

About Me


I am a researcher, policy analyst and international development consultant, investigating and consulting on aspects pertaining to peace, conflict, and development, with a particular interest in their interrelation and connection to state fragility and social cohesion. In May 2015 I joined swisspeace as a senior researcher with the statehood and conflict program. Previously, I worked with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (Addis Ababa), the EU Institute for Security Studies (Paris), the US Institute of Peace (Washington, DC), and Chatham House (London). As a researcher I held fellowships with the Crisis States Research Centre (London), the Global Public Policy Institute (Berlin), the Centre d'études et de recherches internationals (Paris), the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (Geneva), the Academy for Peace and Development (Hargeysa), and the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (Mogadishu). Moreover, I taught at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and African Studies, and have consulted with the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international development organizations in Somalia, DR Congo, Nepal, and Timor-Leste. For additional information about myself, please feel free to contact me.

Work Experience


Think Tank & Policy

  • May ’15 - pres.: Senior Researcher with swisspeace and
  • Jan ’15 - Apr ’15.: Advisor on Policy Analysis and Research with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS, Ethiopia). Supporting action-oriented research and policy dialogue projects on Somalia; enhancing IPSS policy analysis capacity within the Africa Peace and Security Program; and assisting with the advancement of a strategy for the institute’s policy-oriented research.
  • Mar ’14 - Dec ’14.: Associate Analyst with the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EU-ISS, France). Conducting policy-oriented analysis of issues pertaining to state fragility and the role of international actors in state-building processes in support of the institute’s Africa Team.
  • Jul ’13 - Feb ’14: Research Fellow with the United States Institute of Peace
    (USIP, USA). Carrying through mediation, facilitation and negotiation skills training for AMISOM troops in Burundi, Uganda, and Djibouti in the framework of the ‘Africa Contingency Operation Training and Assitance.’
  • Nov ’12 - Jun ’13: Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House, UK). Undertaking research in the framework of a post-doctoral project entitled ‘Responding to Fragility: State-Making Interventions in Somalia and Beyond’.
  • Oct ’12 - May ’13.: Consultant (part-time) with The World Bank (Kenya/Somalia).
    Conducting a Political Economy Analysis and supporting the World Bank’s Public Expenditure Review of Somaliland. Three weeks of field research in Somaliland.
  • Jun ’11 - Aug ’11: Consultant with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP, Somalia). Advising on the conceptualization and implementation of UNDP’s ‘youth-at-risk’ program for north-western Somalia/ Somaliland in cooperation with the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey (SAS) and the Somali Observatory for Conflict and Violence Prevention (OCVP).
  • Jun ’07 - Sep ’07: Consultant with the Department for International
    Development (DfID, Nepal). Strengthening post-conflict support initiatives on democratization through monitoring and coordinating projects of the Rights, Democracy and Inclusion Fund (RDIF).
  • Apr ’07 - Jun ’07: Consultant with The World Bank (Timor-Leste). Supporting composition of the TFET (Trust Fund for East Timor) Report of the trustee and conducting research on socio-economic parameters in preparation of the Timor-Leste Development Partners Meeting background paper.
  • Feb ’07 - Apr ’07: Consultant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, DR Congo). Assisting UNDP in implementing the third wave of its DDR programme for Ituri, and composing an analysis of the role of DDR processes and programmes for war-to-peace transitions and post-conflict state reconstruction on the case study of Ituri.
  • Oct ’06 - Dec ’06: Consultant with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, Switzerland). Composition of an inventory of handbooks, tools and guidelines on early recovery; conducting diverse analyses for the Peace-Building, Livelihoods and Partnerships Section; and compiling UNHCR-learning units on early recovery, reintegration & self-reliance.

Academia & Research

  • Oct ’11 - Sep ’12: Teaching Fellow with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE, United Kingdom). Teaching MSc students in the Department of International Development on the compulsory post-graduate core course of ‘History, Theory and Policy of Development’.
  • Jun ’11 - Aug ’11: Researcher for the Small Arms Survey (SAS, Switzerland). Researching armed groups in Somalia/ Somaliland and supporting data analyses at the Somali Observatory for Conflict and Violence Prevention (OCVP).
  • Sep ’09 - Feb ’10: Teaching Fellow with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, United Kingdom). Teaching the MSc course ‘War-to-Peace Transitions’, Department for Development Studies.
  • Oct ’08 - Sep ’09: Research Coordinator at the Stanhope Centre for Communication Policy Research (LSE/Oxford, United Kingdom). Leading the Somaliland Information Flows Research and Support Project research team and surveying, researching and analysing media & communication ecology in Somaliland.
  • Oct ’08 - Sept '12: Research Associate with the Crisis States Research Centre (CSRC, United Kingdom).

Broadcasting experience includes BBC (radio broadcasting) and Al Jazeera (TV)

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PhD Project

State-Making in Somalia and Somaliland – Understanding War, Nationalism and State Trajectories as Processes of Institutional and Socio-Cognitive Standardization


Although the conundrums of why states falter, how they are reconstituted, and under what conditions war may be constitutive of state-making have received much scholarly attention, they are still hotly debated by academics and policy analysts. Advancing a novel conceptual frame­work and analysing diverse Somali state trajectories between 1960 and 2010, this thesis adds to those debates both theoretically and empirically. The core issues examined are why and how Somaliland managed to establish state-run structures of governance, in how far its development paralleled or diverged from past Somali state trajectories, and under what conditions violent conflict advanced or abridged the polities’ varied state-making projects.

Drawing on diverse strands of literature on state-building, nationalism and warfare, the thesis develops an original analytical frame to better understand processes of state-making and state-breaking. It argues not only for the need of ‘bringing the nation back in’, but proposes to conceptualize state trajectories in terms of changing levels of institutional and socio-cognitive standardization. Scrutinizing received wisdom, the empirical research presented finds, amongst others, that Somali state trajectories have been less unique than commonly claimed, and proposes that Somaliland’s alleged state-making success between 1991 and 2010 hinged at least as much on autocratic governance, top-down policies and coercive means than on frequently emphasized elements of grassroots peace-making, ‘traditional’ reconciliation and ‘home-grown’ democracy.

Conceptually, the project is located at the intersection of political-economy and historical and institutional approaches to state-making. Applying qualitative research framed in comparative case studies the thesis not only advances the theoretical debate surrounding issues of state fragility and state-making, but also offers novel insights into Somalia’s history and presents new empirical findings on the frequently romanticised case of Somaliland. Yet, the research results are significant beyond Somali boundaries as they provide relevant insights for our general understanding of state trajectories and the role of conflict in state-making and state-breaking.

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Research Interests


  • state formation, state fragility and resilience, and state failure
  • war and warfare, civil conflict and post-conflict reconstruction
  • state building, administrative reform, bureaucratisation and taxation
  • nation building & nationalism
  • the international aid regime and effectiveness, donor assistance in post-war societies
  • my regional insterest is on Sub-Saharan Africa, with changing sub-regional interests over the past years. Currently, my regional focus lies on Somaliland, Somalia, and Mali.

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Academic Articles

Book Chapters

  • Balthasar, D. (forthcoming): “State-building off the beaten track: Insights from Somaliland’s experience.” Brüne, S. and Justenhoven, H.-G. (eds.), African Conflicts: Root Causas, Way Out; Nomos: Baden-Baden.
  • Balthasar, D. with Druey, C. (2017): “Governance as Context: Are Conflicts Part of the System?” Bellak, B., Devdariani, J., Harzl, B. and Spieker, L. (eds.), Governance in Conflict: Selected Cases in Europe and Beyond; LIT Verlag: Wien und Zürich, pp. 13-36.
  • Balthasar, D. with Scherer, C. (2016): “Conflict Sensitivity and the New Deal: A Conflict of Interest?”; In Handschin, S., Abitbol, E. and Alluri, R. (eds.), Conflict Sensitivity: Taking it to the next Level; swisspeace working paper no. 2/2016; Bern: swisspeace, pp. 31-35.
  • Balthasar, D. with Grzybowski, J. (2012): “Between State and Non-State – Somaliland's Emerging Security Order.”; Small Arms Survey Yearbook 2012; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 146-173.

Policy Papers


Academic Posters

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