Academic journal article Global Governance

International Insulation from Politics and the Challenge of State Building: Learning from Kosovo

Academic journal article Global Governance

International Insulation from Politics and the Challenge of State Building: Learning from Kosovo

Article excerpt

Can international actors build effective state bureaucracies in postwar countries? While the literature on state institutions suggests they are best built under local ownership, this article shows how international actors in collaboration with local actors managed to build two effective state bureaucracies in postwar Kosovo: the police force and the customs service. Contrary to the article's Hypothesis 1 on local ownership, international actors insulated the effective bureaucracies from political and societal influences in order to prevent them from becoming sites of patronage. Thus, these institutions built on meritocratic recruitment and promotion. Employing a comparative research design, the article utilizes national survey data as well as data from 150 semistructured interviews conducted during ten months of fieldwork in Kosovo. By contrasting the state's constituent bureaucracies, which vary in effectiveness, and thus avoiding the reduction of the state to a unitary abstract actor, this research offers a fresh perspective on postwar state building. Furthermore, it contributes three innovative sets of indicators to measure effective bureaucracies: mission fulfillment, penalization of corruption, and responsiveness to the public.

KEYWORDS: international organizations, state building, Kosovo.


ONE OF THE MOST DAUNTING TASKS IN POSTWAR TRANSITIONS TO PEACE IS THE transformation of the police force from an institution that represses ordinary people to one that protects their human rights and dignity. Similarly, the customs service is usually one of the most corrupt institutions, where revenues destined for the state's coffers end up in politicians' pockets. In postwar Kosovo, there is surprising evidence for the transformation of both the police force and customs service within a decade, despite the trend that these organizations tend to be corrupt and repressive elsewhere. Police officers in postwar Kosovo did not ask for bribes from citizens and they made politicians pay their traffic fines. Customs officers also treated traders and citizens impartially, and were effectively penalized when they cheated.

In light of the international endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, (1) scholars must take account of the extent to which ambitious international assistance can contribute to building effective state bureaucracies. The proliferation of internal wars has led international actors to carry out one of the biggest and most challenging "experiments" in international politics following the end of the Cold War: participating actively in rebuilding states and societies. (2) However, the US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq among others have made the enterprise of external state building and democracy assistance controversial. Scholars and pundits who focus on the difficulties associated with building state bureaucracies and democracy in these two cases caution against carrying out such expensive, complex, and potentially ineffective interventions in the future. (3) Yet the mandates of international organizations and the proliferation of guidelines on how to build state capacity and democracy after war indicate the continuing interest that they have in this area. (4) This is because effective state bureaucracies and democratic institutions enable better life chances for individuals and societies; promote development; (5) and help prevent civil war, terrorism, (6) and failed states. (7)

Much of the literature assessing state capacity and the success of international interventions in building states treats the state as a single entity. (8) Such a unitary conception of "stateness" can be overly abstract and fails to distinguish between state bureaucracies that vary in their effectiveness. It is therefore necessary to unpack the state into its core bureaucracies; that is, the police force, customs service, central administration, (9) and court system. …

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