Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Reconstructing Weak and Failed States

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Reconstructing Weak and Failed States

Article excerpt

It is argued that the process of reconstructing weak and failed states along liberal democratic lines is a cultural rather than a merely technical issue. The work of Alexis de Tocqueville provides key insights into the foundations of liberal democracy and the limitations on the ability of foreign countries to export liberal democratic institutions via military occupation and reconstruction. After considering these insights, the implications for reconstruction efforts are considered.

Key Words: De Tocqueville; Civil society; Social capital .

I. Introduction

Understanding the causes of weak and failed states is currently one of the most important topics in all the social sciences (see Rotberg 2004). Indeed, the fear of the potential chaos that these states can produce is the driving factor behind much of the West's foreign policy. As evidenced by the past occupations of Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, and the current efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, policymakers have often sought to address these potential threats by engaging in reconstruction efforts.

Reconstruction entails military occupation with the aim of creating or restoring physical infrastructure, facilities and minimal social services, as well as spearheading fundamental social change through reform in the political, economic, social and security sectors. The ultimate goal is the achievement of a self-sustaining liberal democratic, economic and social order that does not rely on external monetary or military support. However, these efforts have been met with mixed results. Many consider the U.S.-led reconstruction of Japan and West Germany following World War II to be clear cases of success. But one has a difficult time finding subsequent cases in the post-World War II period where liberal democratic institutions have been successfully established at gunpoint.

Much of the existing literature on the topic of reconstruction focuses on the technical aspects of the endeavor such as troop levels, monetary aid, planning and leadership structures (see for instance see Dobbins et al., 2003; Pei, 2003; Orr, 2004; Dobbins et al., 2005). For instance, one often hears criticisms of the current reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq for poor planning, too few troops, too little funding, lack of an exit strategy, etc. If only the leaders of these efforts would adjust their behavior either by shifting strategy or increasing monetary or physical resources, critics contend, the outcomes of reconstruction efforts would be drastically different. But focusing solely on the technical aspects of reconstruction overlooks the contextual constraints within the country being reconstructed.

It is my contention that reconstruction is not simply a technical issue. In other words, it is not simply a matter of obtaining the right levels of troops, monetary and humanitarian aid or holding elections at the right time. For instance, it does not appear that technical factors alone can explain the successes of the post-World War II reconstructions of West Germany and Japan. Over the first two years of occupation, there were fewer troops per thousand citizens in Japan than there were during the occupations of West Germany, Kosovo, Bosnia and Somalia - the first example experienced a like result but the rest experienced a worse outcome than Japan (Dobbins et at. 2003, 149-151). Similarly, per capita international aid over the first two years of occupation was higher in Bosnia and Kosovo than it was in West Germany and Japan (Dobbins et at. 2003, 157-158), yet most would not consider the former cases successes.

If successful reconstruction is not simply a matter of finding the right mix of technical variables, then what other factors are important? I wish to postulate that the transition from weak and failed states to a sustaining liberal democracy is a cultural issue rather than a merely technical issue. When I use the term culture in this paper, I will follow those scholars who define the term as the informal rules that constrain human interaction (see Gellner 1998 and North 1990). …

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