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Nation Building
Author(s): Marina Ottaway
Source: Foreign Policy, No. 132 (Sep. - Oct., 2002), pp. 16-18+20+22+24
Published by: Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3183443
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THINK
ByMarinaOawayN

By Marina Ottaway

BUILD
ING
Once, nationswere forgedthrough"blood and iron." Today,the
world seeks to build them through conflict resolution,multilat-
eral aid, and free elections. But this more civilizedapproachhas
not yielded many successes.For nation buildingto work, some
harsh compromises are necessary-including military coercion
and the recognitionthat democracyis not always a realisticgoal.

"Nation Building Is a
Quagmire"
Not necessarily. Nation building is diffi- In East Timor, by contrast, the international
cult, but it need not become a quagmire as long as community followed a plan and was not dragged
the effort has clear goals and sufficient resources. into a situation it could not control. Right from the
Compare Somalia and East Timor: The United start, the United Nations sought consensus for
States and the United Nations stumbled into nation building by organizing an unprecedented
Somalia without a plan. As a result, what began as plebiscite on independence from Indonesia. Learn-
a humanitarianmissionto feed people starvedby rival ing from the mistakes of the Balkans and elsewhere,
warlords became a misguided attempt at ad hoc peacekeepers (led by Australia) were authorized to
nation building as U.S. troops sought to capture use deadly force against pro-Indonesia militias who
SomaliwarlordMohammedFarahAidid. The United sought to disrupt East Timor's bid for autonomy
States extricated itself from that quagmire by leav- through a campaign of violence, looting, and arson.
ing Somalia to its fate in 1994, and the United At the time of this writing, the East Timorese have
Nations later did the same. democratically elected a new government, which
has hired more than 11,000 civil servants and
Marina Ottaway is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endow- retrained former guerillas as soldiers for the coun-
ment for International Peace and codirector of its Democra- try's nascent defense force. East Timor is still a con-
cy and Rule of Law Project. struction site, but it is not a quagmire.

16 FOREIGN POLICY
"Nation Building Is About Building a Nation"

No. Nationhood, or a sense of common identity, shunnedoutrightassimilationby forminga mosaic of


by itself does not guaranteethe viability of a state. In hyphenatedAmericans.And contraryto the mytholo-
Haiti, for example, citizens alreadyshare a common gy inheritedfrom 19th-centuryEurope,historicalevi-
identity, but the state has collapsed nevertheless. dence reveals that the common identity,or sense of
Other states are so deeply divided along ethnic nationhood,that exists in many countriesdid not pre-
(Bosnia), religious (Northern Ireland), or clan cede the state but was forgedby it throughthe imposi-
(Somalia)lines that forginga common identityis cur- tion of a commonlanguageand culturein schools.The
rently out of the question. The internationalcommu- Gauls were not France'sancestorsuntil history text-
nity cannot hope to make Muslims, Croats, and books decidedso.
Serbs in Bosnia forget their differences, nor can it Thus, the goal of nation buildingshould not be to
compel Catholics and Protestants in Northern imposecommonidentitieson deeplydividedpeoplesbut
Irelandto bridgethe religiousgulf. to organizestatesthatcanadministertheirterritoriesand
Even successfulstates are less homogeneousthan allow peopleto live togetherdespitedifferences.And if
they claim. Many Europeancountries,such as France organizingsucha statewithinthe old internationally rec-
and Spain,grudginglyhave recognizedthe existenceof ognized bordersdoes not seem possible,the international
regionalcultures.In the UnitedStates,the notion of the community should admit that nation building may
meltingpot has been debunked,particularlyas a new requirethe disintegrationof old statesandthe formation
wave of immigrantsfrom the developing world has of new ones.

"Nation Building Is a Recent Idea"

Absolutely not. Take a look at how the for it. Yugoslavia,by contrast,failedin its efforts,andthe
political map of the world has changed in every cen- internationalcommunityis still sortingout the mess.
tury since the collapse of the Roman Empire-that Colonialpowersformeddozensof new statesas they
should be proof enough that nation building has conqueredvast swaths of territory,tinkeredwith old
been aroundfor quite a while. Castinga glance at the political and leadership structures, and eventually
19th and 20th centurieswill reveal that the types of replacedthem with new countriesand governments.
nation building with the most lasting impact on the Most of today's collapsed states, such as Somalia or
modern world are nationalism, colonialism, and Afghanistan,are a productof colonial nation building.
post-World War II reconstruction. The greaterthe differencebetweenthe precolonialpolit-
Nationalismgave rise to most Europeancountries icalentitiesandwhatthe colonialpowerstriedto impose,
that exist today. The theory was that each nation, the higherthe rate of failure.
embodyinga sharedcommunityof cultureand blood, Thetransformation of WestGermanyandJapaninto
was entitledto its own state. (In reality,though, few democraticstatesfollowingWorldWarIIis the mostsuc-
beyondthe intellectualand politicaleliteshareda com- cessfulnation-building exerciseeverundertakenfromthe
mon identity.)Thisbrandof nationalismledto the reuni- outside.Unfortunately, thisprocesstook placeundercir-
ficationof Italyin 1861 andGermanyin 1871 andto the cumstancesunlikelyto be repeatedelsewhere.Although
breakupof Austria-Hungaryin 1918. This processof defeatedand destroyed,thesecountrieshad strongstate
nationbuildingwas successfulwheregovernmentswere traditionsand competentgovernmentpersonnel.West
relativelycapable, where powerful states decided to Germanyand Japan were nation-statesin the literal
makeroom for new entrants,and wherethe population sense of the term-they were ethnicand culturalcom-
of new stateswas not deeplydivided.Germanyhad a munitiesas well as politicalstates.And they were occu-
capablegovernmentand succeededso well in forginga pied by the U.S. military,a situation that precluded
common identitythat the entireworld eventuallypaid choices otherthan the democraticstate.

SEPTEMBER IOCTOBER 2002 17


Think Again

"Only War Builds Nations"


Not quite. The most successfulnations,includ- practicebecausethey do not have governmentscapa-
ing the United States and the countries of Europe, ble of controlling their territory.Some quasi states
were built by war. These countries achieved state- succeedin retrofittinga functioningcountryinto the
hood because they developed the administrative legalisticshell. The state of Israel,for example, was
capacity to mobilize resources and to extract the formedbecauseof an internationaldecision,andIsrael
revenuethey needed to fight wars. immediatelydemonstratedits stayingpower by wag-
Some countries have been created not by their ing a successfulwar to defendits existence.Butmany
own effortsbut by decisionsmadeby the international quasi states fail and then becomecollapsedstates.
community.The Balkansoffer unfortunateexamples Today, war is not an acceptable means of state
of states cobbled together from pieces of defunct building.Instead,nation buildingmust be a consen-
empires.Many Africancountriesexist becausecolo- sual, democraticprocess. But such a process is not
nial powers chose to grant them independence.The effective against adversarieswho are not democrat-
British Empire created most modern states in the ic, who have weapons, and who are determinedto
MiddleEastby carvingup the territoryof the defeat- use them. The world shouldnot be fooled into think-
ed Ottoman Empire. The Palestinian state, if it ing that it is possibleto buildstateswithout coercion.
becomesa reality,will be anotherexampleof a state If the internationalcommunityis unwillingto allow
that owes its existence to an internationaldecision. states to be rebuilt by wars, it must provide the mil-
Such countries have been called quasi states- itary muscle in the form of a sufficiently strong
entitiesthat exist legallybecausethey are recognized peacekeepingforce. Like it or not, militarymight is
internationallybut that hardly function as states in a necessarycomponent of state building.

"Nation Building Is Not a Task for the


82nd Airborne"

Maybe not, but it's certainly a task for a counts is what happens on the ground afterward.
strong military force with U.S. participation. Newly formed states need long-term plans that go
Current White House National Security Advisor beyondthe recentmission statementoutlinedby one
Condoleezza Rice had a point when she quipped U.S. diplomat:"Wego in, we hunt down terrorists,
during the 2000 presidential campaign that the and we go out as if we'd neverbeenthere."Evenif the
82nd Airborne has more important tasks than UnitedStatessucceedsin eliminatingthe last pockets
"escorting kids to kindergarten." But no one of the Talibanand al Qaeda in Afghanistan,Ameri-
ever said that the primary task of U.S. troops cans could face another threat in a few years. And
should be babysitting. If the international com- althoughwarringarmiesareno longeractivein Bosnia,
munity does not want to give war a chance by the countrywould splinterapartif internationaltroops
allowing adversaries to fight until someone pre- went home.
vails, then it has to establish control through a The United Statesdoes not have to take the cen-
military presence willing to use deadly force. tral role in peacekeepingoperations,but U.S. partic-
And if nation building is in the interests of the ipation is importantbecausethe countryis the most
United States (as the Bush administration has powerful member of the internationalcommunity.
reluctantly concluded), then the United States Otherwise,the UnitedStatessendsthe messagethat it
must participate in imposing that control. doesn'tcare what happensnext-and in doing so, it
It is not enough just to participatein the initial underminesfragilenew governmentsand encourages
effort (in the war fought from the sky), becausewhat the emergenceof feudingfactions and warlords.

18 FOREIGN POLICY
Think Again

"The International CommunityKnows How


to Build Nations but Lacks Political Will"

It has neither the will nor the way. arms and even wax nostalgic about the old days of
Many of the nation-building methods used in British rule. But they revolted against Britishcolo-
the past are inconceivable today, but the inter- nialismin the 1950s, and not so long ago, they con-
national community has yet to find effective demned it as the root cause of all their problems.
substitutes. For instance, the first step colonial Should we be surprised that the British are, at
powers took when engaging in nation building best, ambivalent about their role?
was "pacification," invariably a bloody under- And even when the international community
taking described by the British writer Rudyard demonstratesthe will to undertakenation building,
Kipling as "the savage wars of peace." In it's not always able to figure out who should shoul-
today's gentler world of nation building, such der the burden. The internationalcommunity is an
violent means are fortunately unacceptable. unwieldy entity with no single center and lots of
Instead, peacemakers usually try to mediate contradictions. It comprises the major world pow-
agreements among rival factions, demobilize ers, with the United States as the dominant agent
combatants, and then reintegrate them in civil- in some situations and as a reluctant participantin
ian life-a theoretically good idea that rarely others. In Afghanistan, for instance, the United
works in practice. States wants to have complete control over war
Political will for state reconstruction is also in operations but refuses to have anything to do with
short supply nowadays. That's hardly surprising, peacekeeping. Meanwhile, the multilateral organ-
given that countries expected to help rebuild ization that by its mandate should play the domi-
nations are the same ones that until recently were nant role in peacekeeping and state reconstruc-
accused of neoimperialism. SierraLeoneans today tion-the United Nations-is the weakest and most
welcome the British peacekeeping force with open divided of all.

"NGOs Play a Key Role in Nation Building"

Yes, but only when a functioning state exists. can play an essential role in administering health-
Large international nongovernmental organiza- care in countries where the government has little
tions (NGOs), such as Oxfam or CARE,are vital in outreach, but they can also create havoc if they
distributing humanitarian assistance in collapsed insist on operating independently of the central
states. They go into high-risk, lawless regions government and of each other. That's what hap-
where international agencies and bilateral donors pened in Mozambique during the 1980s, when
are unwilling to operate. But these organizations NGOs diverted funds from the public sector and
can also become part of the problem. In Somalia, fragmented the national health system.
for instance,protection money paid by internation- In Afghanistan right now there is considerable
al NGOsto gain safe passage for food and medical tension between the central government(which has
supplies financed the purchaseof weapons by war- little capacityto deliverhumanitarianreliefand serv-
lords and contributedto the escalation of violence. ices but feels that it should coordinatethe effort)and
To operate effectively,internationaland nation- internationalNGOs (whichhave greatercapacityand
al NGOs need the stability that only states can experience).For the time being, NGOs are the most
provide. These organizations must also coordi- effectivechannelfor deliveringaid, but if government
nate their activities with states so as not to under- institutionsare not allowed to take more long-term
mine reconstruction efforts. For example, NGOs responsibility,nation buildingwill fail.

20 FOREIGN POLICY
Think Again

"Nation Building Should Be Limited to

Important
Strategically States"

Only if anyone can determine importance can suddenly become crucial.


which ones they are. "No sane person opposes Afghanistanis not the only example.In the days
nation-buildingin placesthat count,"writescon- of the Cold War,countriesor regions suddenly
servativecolumnistCharlesKrauthammer. "The becameprominentwhen they were befriendedby
debate is about nation-buildingin places that the SovietUnion. "SALT," thenNational Security
don't." But this type of reasoning eventually Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinskideclaredin 1980,
forced the United States to fight a war in "wasburiedin the sandsof the Ogaden"-referring
Afghanistan,a country deemed so unimportant to the cooling of U.S.-Sovietrelationswhen the
after the Soviets departed that it was left to countries were dragged in to support opposite
become a battlegroundfor warlordsand a safe sides in a war betweenEthiopiaand Somalia.A
haven for al Qaeda. In 1994, the United States few years later, the Reagan administrationsent
abandoned strategically insignificant Somalia, peoplescramblingfor small-scalemapsof Lebanon
too, only to start worryingafter September11, by declaringthatSoukel-Gharb,an obscurecross-
2001, whetherthat countryhad also been infil- roads town, was vital to U.S. security.
tratedby terroristnetworks. Thelessonbynow shouldbe clear:No countryis
For most countries,strategicsignificanceis a thatit canneverbecomeimportant.
so insignificant So,
variable, not a constant. Certainly,some coun- by allmeans,let us focusoureffortsonlyon strategi-
tries, such as China, are always significant.But callyimportantcountries,as long as we can predict
even countries that appear of marginal or no whichonestheyare.(Goodluck.)

"The Goal of Nation Building Is a

Democratic State"
Let us not indulge in fantasy. It the civil service, and establishing a central bank-
is politicallycorrectto equatestatereconstruction thus creating all the institutions deemed necessary
with democracybuilding.Indeed,the internation- to run a modern state.
al communityhasa one-size-fits-all modelfor dem- This model is enormously expensive, requir-
ocratic reconstruction,so that plans devisedfor ing majorcommitmentsof money and personnelon
Afghanistanbeara disturbingresemblance to those the part of the international community. As a
designed for the DemocraticRepublic of the Congo result, this approach has only been implemented
(DRC). This model a
usuallyenvisages negotiated seriously in the case of Bosnia, the only country
settlement to the conflict and the holding of a where the international community has made an
nationalconferenceof majordomesticgroups(the open-ended commitment of money and power to
loya jirga in Afghanistan and the Inter-Congolese see the job through to the end. Six years into the
Dialogue in the DRC) to reach an agreementon the process, progress is excruciatingly slow and not
structureof the politicalsystem,followedby elec- even a glimmer of light is waiting at the end of the
tions.In additionto thesecoreactivities,the model tunnel. But elsewhere in the world, including
callsfor subsidiarybutcrucialundertakings, begin- Afghanistan, the international community pre-
ning with the demobilizationof former combatants scribes this model without providing the resources.
and the developmentof a new nationalarmy,then The most obvious missing resource in Afghanistan
extending to reforming the judiciary,restructuring is a robust international peacekeeping force.

22 FOREIGN POLICY
Think Again

The issue here is not simply political will. The national community is not going to disarm
resourcesare just not available. Considerthe list of Afghanistan's warlords, it will have to deal with
current nation-building projects: Bosnia, Kosovo, them in other ways because they will not just dis-
Afghanistan, SierraLeone, the DRC,and Burundi. appear on their own. It has to make at least some
Plus, Somalia is again on the international radar of them less dangerous and disruptive by using
screen. If an agreementis reached, nation-building aid to co-opt them into the government. If nations
efforts will begin in Sudan. And should the Bush do not want to occupy Somalia and impose state
administrationsucceedin dislodgingIraqiPresident structures on warring clans, they should consider
Saddam Hussein, the reconstruction of Iraq might helpingthe regionalgovernmentsthat have emerged
be forthcoming. Meanwhile, the international to fill the void, beginningwith Somaliland.In some
community has yet to cough up the nearly $400 cases, such as in the DRC,the international com-
million it pledged to fund the budget of the nascent munity should eitheracceptthe disintegrationof the
Afghanistan government. countryor allow nondemocraticleadersto use force
Consequently,the internationalcommunity has to put the state back together.These are all unpalat-
to set more modest goals for nation building and able choices. But those who believe that the inter-
then tailor those goals to each country's reality. national community knows how to turn collapsed
Unpleasantcompromisesare inevitable.If the inter- states into democraciesshould think again. [ID

Want to Know More?

Robert D. Kaplan'sThe ComingAnarchy:Shatteringthe Dream of the Post Cold War (New York:
Vintage,2001) providesa somewhatapocalypticview of what a futurewithout nation buildingmay
hold and should convinceeven skepticsthat the internationalcommunitycannot avoid the task. For
dismal views of state disintegrationin Africa,see KarlMaier'sThis House Has Fallen: Midnight in
Nigeria (New York:PublicAffairs,2000) and Michela Wrong'sIn the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz:Liv-
ing on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo (New York:HarperCollinsPublishers,2001).

Max Boot puts modern-daypeacekeepingin historicalcontext by chroniclingthe United States'


200-year historyof undeclared,smallwars abroadin The Savage Warsof Peace:Small Warsand the
Rise ofAmerican Power (New York:BasicBooks, 2002). Imagesof nation buildingas a quagmireare
largelyinfluencedby accountsof Somalia,such as MichaelMaren'sTheRoad to Hell: TheRavaging
Effectsof ForeignAid and InternationalCharity(New York:FreePress,1997). For a detailedview
of the challengeof nation building,the reportsof the InternationalCrisisGroup's(ICG)Balkanspro-
gram,availableon its Website, are unparalleled.In "TrueBeliever"(FOREIGN POLICY,March/April
2001), GarethEvans,ICG'spresidentand formerAustralianforeignminister,offershis views on when
the internationalcommunityshould intervenein civil conflicts.Go to the United Nations Transition-
al Administrationin East Timor Web site for an accountof nation buildingin East Timor.

On the role of war in nation building,see The Formationof National States in WesternEurope
(Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress,1975), editedby CharlesTilly.RobertJackson'sQuasi-states:
Sovereignty,InternationalRelations and the ThirdWorld(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,
1990) is the best account of the problemsof states establishedby internationalfiat. On the role that
nongovernmentalorganizationsplay in nation building, see Joseph Hanlon's Mozambique: Who
Calls the Shots?(Bloomington:IndianaUniversityPress,1991). MarinaOttaway and Anatol Lieven
offer a skeptical perspective on the future of a democratic state in Afghanistan in "Rebuilding
Afghanistan:FantasyversusReality"(Washington: CarnegieEndowmentfor International Peace,2002).

& For links to relevant Web sites, access to the FP Archive, and a comprehensive index of relat-
ed FOREIGN POLICY articles, go to www.foreignpolicy.com.

24 FOREIGN POLICY