Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Finding Innovation in State-Building: Moving beyond the Orthodox Liberal Model

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Finding Innovation in State-Building: Moving beyond the Orthodox Liberal Model

Article excerpt

The collapse of a series of postcolonial states in the developing world following the end of the Cold War stimulated a shift in Western security thinking. Influenced by the emerging discourse on globalization, Western policymakers and analysts began to see these newly bankrupt states in the global periphery as posing a distinct threat to the wealthy Western core of the international system. Indeed, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which were partially planned from one of the world's chronic fragile states, Afghanistan, seemed to justify the notion that ungoverned spaces around the world posed a direct threat to global security.

The George W Bush administration seized on this notion in its 2002 National Security Strategy stating that "America is now threatened less by conquering states than ... by failing ones. . . . Weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states."1 This policy direction was reinforced by the Obama administration, which, in its 2010 National Security Strategy, called for a renewal of U.S. leadership in "secur[ing] fragile states like Afghanistan and Haiti."2 The United States was not alone in its concern over the potential that failed states could sow discord far beyond their borders. Numerous other Western states and international agencies developed tailored strategies, bureaucratic units, and policy approaches to address the problem at its source through the construction of effective democratic states.

State-building came to be seen as the principal mechanism to address the perceived threat of failed and fragile states. Bush's National Security Strategy stated that the best way to confront the danger of failed and fragile states was to encourage "free and open societies on every continent."3 Historian John Lewis Gaddis saw this commitment to liberal state- building as a valiant attempt to "finish the job Woodrow Wilson started" and believed that it represented "the most important reformulation of U.S. grand strategy in over half a century."4 It inaugurated what some have referred to as the "nation-building as the best defense" school.5

Even though the extent of the proliferation of threats emanating from fragile and failing states (the contagion effect, so to speak) is increasingly being challenged in academic literature, there remains a wide consensus in the Western policy community that assisting troubled states and integrating them into the international security framework will deliver direct security benefits. The problem, however, is that the capacity of today's Western state-builders to nurture healthy and sustainable states in ungoverned or weakly governed spaces has been surprisingly limited, despite several decades of experience, beginning with the formative cases of postwar Germany and Japan. While those early test cases were successful, most of their lessons are not applicable given that today's failed states lack the wealth, bureaucratic know-how, human capital, and democratic traditions (even if limited) that favored success in postwar Germany and Japan.6

The reasons behind the poor record of today's state-builders are hardly a mystery. Common trends can be identified in the post-mortems of several recent state-building experiments, from insufficient donor resource commitments to the internal contradictions of the liberal state-building paradigm itself. A part of the prevailing mythology of state-building is that it is largely an apolitical, nonideological, and technocratic enterprise. In reality, it is a deeply politicized and ideologically driven project, as much shaped by the interests of its donors as by the on- the-ground power dynamics of the recipient country. This lack of honesty, or perhaps this hubris, of today's liberal state-builders has marred the project's implementation.

To adequately critique current statebuilding policy and practice and suggest new approaches, this article analyzes the evolution of exogenous state-building and deconstructs the different forms it has taken. …

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