Nation building is a concept that usually describes one or two objectives. One can also be called "state building," where there is an effort to build the appropriate institutions of government and establish or reestablish economic progress and ensure social stability. The second idea pertains to the creation of a national identity for a resident population who may otherwise not be inclined to see themselves as having a common ground on which to live together. It is also possible to say that the two need to be considered in tandem, whereas the stability of a state's political, economic and social institutions depend on a stable and cooperative society.
Examples of nation building are typically from the 20th century, with the major paradigms being the postwar states of West Germany and Japan. The two countries had been defeated, and their infrastructures had been heavily destroyed by relentless Allied bombing and land invasions. Aiming to shield portions of Europe from Soviet Russia, the United States led the Marshall Plan that injected unprecedented amounts of money into American, French and British occupation zones of Germany to ensure financial recovery and the firm founding of democracy. Institutions were facilitated that fostered democratic governance and ensured the stability of governments against scenarios like those exploited by the Nazi Party in the 1930s. Many point out that the Marshall Plan and the boom caused by the Korean War in Japan made the efforts successful. Additionally, the wars fought were long and destructive, making countrymen eager to move on. These elements differentiate from postwar Iraq, a subject of concern for modern analysis of nation building.
Iraq has provided the most recent source material for the ills and strategies of nation building. Whereas it has been occupied four times during the last 100 years, the country has never stabilized to the point to resolve conflicts among its three major ethnic, cultural divisions -- the Sunni Arabs, the Shiite Arabs and the Kurds. Iraq was a post-World War I conglomeration of three Ottoman provinces where no common identity existed. Also, the country had rarely in the past functioned as an independent polity from the empires around it in Anatolia, Persia and Arabia. More important, the three major ethnic groups, as well as smaller ones, had hardly seen themselves as common. No such fraternity, outside of a loose similarity in Islam, existed. The early years of the state saw a focus on the development of a central authority and a common Iraqi identity in the guise of an Arab nationalist ideology. The dominance of the state by secular Sunni Arabs hindered the effort to acculturate the country's citizens. Rivalries between Sunnis and Shiites, revolving around various religious and political ideologies, persisted during the 20th century due primarily to the reluctance of Sunni elite to share power.
The final overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq invited new debates about Iraqi identity. With conventional wisdom blocking a breakup of Iraq, American leaders supported promoting Iraqi identity to suppress calls for civil war. The current elite in Iraq is dominated by former opposition to Saddam Hussein as well as their descendants and former followers, most Shiite. Only in the 1980s, with the war against Iran, did Iraqi Shiites demonstrate outright a separate identity from their Shiite brethren in Iran, as they fought despite heavy opposition to the regime. Some have suggested the Iraqi Shiites have accepted a distinct Iraqi identity with their new found autonomy in Iraq, but at the same time they might aim to preclude Sunnis in a reversed scenario from that which dominated Iraq during the 20th century.
Issues revolving around identity building have persisted even in Europe, where the relatively similar geographic and demographic sizes of European countries owe more to consolidation efforts by the rulers of the unified states of Germany and Italy in the late 19th century or the massive forced migration of populations from one center to another, namely the Poles. As the 19th century unfolded, awareness of ethnic particularity became a desire for political autonomy and state recognition of identities differing from that of the ruling state. That trend provoked several small struggles of separatism, notably in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination of a member of the Austrian royal family by a Serbian nationalist triggered a complicated regime of alliances in Europe that developed into World War I. In response to World War I and World War II, many Europeans aimed to create a continental regime whereby a European identity would converge with increased integration. The European Economic Council, created in 1962, was reformatted as the European Union following the Cold War, which has been the basis of the eurozone, an currency union among numerous European states. Advocates of European identity say it will increase the power of multilateralism against the hegemony of the United States and check China. Some see this as a further example of using national identity to further political goals.