Academic journal article Global Governance

The State of the Art of the Art of State Building

Academic journal article Global Governance

The State of the Art of the Art of State Building

Article excerpt

From Sierra Leone to Solomon Islands, developed powers have undertaken a range of state-building interventions in the early years of this century. Two influences appear to shape the emerging state of the art on state building: conceptions about the nature of the state in the developed world; and the postcolonial sensitivities and practicalities that attend the project of intervention. After examining the imperatives driving interventions in fragile states, I explore the remarkable consistency among approaches to state building applied by different states and coalitions in different contexts. I then examine the imperatives driving this convergence of approaches and conclude with some observations tracing the difficulties of contemporary interventions to the current dominant approach to state building. KEY-WORDS: state building, intervention, fragile states, development, transnational security, sovereignty.

The past decade has seen the states and international agencies hesitantly assume an increasingly hands-on role in trying to stabilize states beset by or prone to internal conflict. The imperative of dealing with "weak," "failing," or "fragile" states, and the reluctance with which most interventions are undertaken, has led commentators to coin a range of terms, from "Empire-lite" (1) to "neotrusteeship" and "postmodern imperialism." (2) Yet these terms suggest a coherence of policy approach that belies the ad hoc pattern of interventions; despite several attempts to quantify state dysfunction and to rank fragile states, (3) there is little evidence that the project of state building is being approached in a systematic manner, that those states at most risk of collapse are being priortized. (4) But while there is no apparent logic to where interventions occur, there is an emerging pattern to how state building is being undertaken by Western states and Western-dominated development agencies. (5) I contend that there are two influences shaping the emerging state of the art on state building: conceptions about the nature of the state in the minds of policymakers in the developed world; and the postcolonial sensitivities and practicalities that attend the project of state-building interventions.

My argument proceeds in four parts. After examining the imperatives driving interventions in fragile states, I explore the remarkable consistency among approaches to state building applied by different states and coalitions in different contexts. I then examine the imperatives driving this convergence of approaches and conclude with some observations tracing the difficulties of contemporary interventions to the current dominant approach to state building.

The Rise of International Concern with Fragile States

The stampede to decolonization between 1945 and 1975 was underpinned by several dominant norms. One was that, as imperial administrations packed up and left, the state form would take their place, leaving imperial demarcations unchallenged. Another was what Robert Jackson called the doctrine of "negative sovereignty": that these new states were given international assurance of their status as sovereign states irrespective of their capacity to govern their people and territory as a viable state unit. (6) Granted sovereign status and at least in theory freed from the pressures of predatory power politics, it was expected that, in time, the internal attributes of state function and control--Jackson's "positive sovereignty"--would develop within new states. "Modernization theory" gave voice to this teleology: the widespread expectation that, given the requisite resources and advice, economic development and political maturity would come to postcolonial states along the same trajectories as had developed in Western Europe and North America. Negative sovereignty, postcolonial sensitivities, Cold War geopolitics, and modernization theory expectations combined to produce a disinclination in developed states to take too close an interest in the internal affairs of developing states--confining themselves to regime change when client states' foreign policy alignment started to waver. …

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