Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Building a State in Iraq: Is There a Good Precedent? an Interview with Simon Chesterman: President Bush Said That the American People Were Going to Bring Peace and Prosperity to the People of Iraq, Just as They Had to the People of Afghanistan. This Suggested That the Benchmark Was Going to Be Very Low

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Building a State in Iraq: Is There a Good Precedent? an Interview with Simon Chesterman: President Bush Said That the American People Were Going to Bring Peace and Prosperity to the People of Iraq, Just as They Had to the People of Afghanistan. This Suggested That the Benchmark Was Going to Be Very Low

Article excerpt

Journal: What actors are involved in the modern state-building process?

Chesterman: Well, it depends how you define state building, of course. If you mean actors providing support to institutions of the state for, during and after conflict then there is a whole range of activities in the political, economic and military spheres. The most prominent examples are those situations where the international community in some form or another has played a large role in reconstructing the institutions of the state. So in the Bosnias, the Kosovos, the East Timors, Afghanistans and Iraqs of this world, we have seen something of an evolution in thinking.

By the mid 1990s the United Nations (UN) had been involved in a series of operations starting in Namibia (1989) and Cambodia (1992-1993) where it played a role in reconstructing a state within a fairly limited time-frame. Around the same time, however, dissatisfaction with the UNs role in Bosnia during the war led to a rejection of a major UN role in the reconstruction under the Dayton Accords. So you had this new entity created, the High Representative. But the High Representative was soon seen as embodying many of the bureaucratic problems of the UN and adding few benefits. So in Eastern Slovenia (1996-1998), the UN played a major role, and then in Kosovo (1999-), the UN was introduced as a means of smoothing over some of the political tensions that the Kosovo intervention had given rise to. And in East Timor (1999-2002) the role of the UN was relatively uncontroversial.

Then September 11th happens, and suddenly the agenda of state building has changed radically. It is now summed up in the Bush administration's National Security Strategy, which says that failing states are more of a threat to the United States than conquering ones. The combination of this and the Bush administrations visceral rejection of the United Nations as such meant that the UN was only going to play a minor role in Afghanistan--a significant role but a minor role. Then given the extraordinary controversy caused by Iraq, the UN was never going to have a serious role to play there.

In fact we've seen a return to the domination of state building activities by national actors. The better comparison with Iraq, rather than looking back at more recent state-building activities, is actually to regard Iraq as a military occupation--as it is now regarded by the Security Council and indeed recognized by the United States and the United Kingdom. So, the model in Iraq is much less Kosovo and East Timor, and much more Germany and Japan after the second World War.

Journal: Did the events of September 11th have more of an impact on modern state building activities than experiences such as Namibia, Kosovo and East Timor?

Chesterman: Through the 1990s there were a series of lessons that were to some extent learned. But there is considerable evidence that they have not been internalized. Take some of the lessons we should have learned from Bosnia. For example, the idea that we should have war crimes tribunals today and elections tomorrow has, I think, been proven a little bit presumptuous in terms of the time frame within which these changes can take place. In Bosnia the commitment to having elections six to nine months after the Dayton Peace Accords was a disaster, because popular opinion was mobilized for political purposes along precisely the same line it had previously been mobilized for military purposes. If you want to get people to vote for you, it's easiest to do so on precisely the same issues on which you got them to fight for you. Nevertheless, pressure to withdraw troops and funds from Afghanistan is seeing a rush to elections there at a time--2004--when the political and organizational basis for elections will not.

A second thing that we thought had been learned was that state building required a sustained commitment. So when President Clinton sent troops to Bosnia, saying they would be home by the end of 1996, no one really believed that at the time, and American troops are still in Bosnia. …

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