Failing States

By Hippler, Jochen | Harvard International Review, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Failing States


Hippler, Jochen, Harvard International Review


William Rosenau ("Counterinsurgency: Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan," Spring 2009) raises several important points. It is difficult not to agree with most of them. But in regard to his "more fundamental" criticism, this is not the case. Rosenau contends that "since the 1960s, US counterinsurgency policy and strategy has been relentlessly state-centric, and in some respects counterinsurgency has been virtually synonymous with state-building." He believes this to be a major mistake and advocates "the decoupling of counterinsurgency and state-building." Rosenau suggests that in some cases it "makes sense to bypass state structures." One of Rosenau's arguments for deemphasizing state-building in counterinsurgency is that these strategies have failed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

While this is definitely true in Afghanistan and to a lesser and decreasing degree in Iraq, the reason for this failure has not been the emphasis on building states in these two countries, but the neglect of it. In Afghanistan, the core strategy of the United States has from the start been to bypass the state in favor of non-state actors. Local warlords have long been utilized to fight the insurgency, and some 80 percent of international financial assistance to Afghanistan has bypassed the Afghan state, thereby using exactly the approach Rosenau is suggesting. The result was the failure of both state-building and counterinsurgency. Creating statehood has largely been left to other actors, such as the UN and Europeans, in Afghanistan. In Iraq, US strategy, or the lack of it, has even produced state breakdown, needlessly creating a failed state and long ignoring the resulting political vacuum, which was filled by the insurgents until the rebuilding of a collapsed state began to shift the balance away from them.

When the United States finally did engage in state-building, it was heavily focused on the security services in both countries. The approach was pragmatically triggered by the desire to ease the burden for US forces by letting locals fight locals. …

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