Is State-Building Doomed to Fail?

While no one really expects Afghanistan to be turned into a “Jeffersonian democracy” or a Weberian state anytime soon, it might still be worthwhile to study the classical literature on European state formation to understand what’s going on in Afghanistan. At least that’s what we did in class this week. We started by looking at Max Weber’s three types of authority: traditional (the “eternal yesterday”), charismatic (the personal “gift of grace”), and legal-rational. We also spent quite some time discussing Charles Tilly’s model of war making by state-making. For those who are not too familiar with Tilly’s work, the starting point is that-power holders need resources to go to war and expand their authority beyond their own fiefdoms. In the short term, they can conquer and loot, but in the long term, they have to tax the population (extraction) and promote capital accumulation by those they can eventually borrow from (protection). In the process, they end up building institutions. At least, said Tilly, that’s the story of European state formation.

While this simplified model is all clear and neat, it becomes a little more complicated when one starts looking at a state’s external relations, which, as Tilly himself acknowledged, shape every national state. It is even harder to ignore in a country like Afghanistan, the so-called “graveyard of empires,” where foreign powers have always been involved. In class, we thus paid particular attention to the role of external powers in the process of state formation in Afghanistan, from 1747 to the end of the 1970s. Today, we looked more specifically at the Soviet-Afghan war. If foreign intervention prevents state making and the development of state institutions (by disincentivizing extraction and protection by the central state) as seems to be the case in Afghanistan, one might wonder if external powers such as the Soviet Union and the U.S. actually have/had the ability to build states and implement modernizing agendas. Are regime change and externally-led state-building doomed to fail?

About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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27 Responses to Is State-Building Doomed to Fail?

  1. Laura says:

    What I found remarkable about the documentary we watched on the Soviet-Afghan war was the emphasize on the interests of external powers. Nobody seemed to really care about the Afghan people and their ideas and beliefs. Maybe I’m being a little naïve, but I just cannot understand how it is possible that this country, among many others, got used to fight out a much bigger conflict between superpowers. It made me ask myself the question: how fair is it to call this a ‘cold’ war while so many people were sacrificed? Also the state building efforts of the Soviet Union, of which the Afghan people benefit, can be understood in terms of obtaining, expanding and preserving power. Probably a realist would say “that is what politics is about”. However, I think this general assumption about the nature of politics proves that our world view is dominated by our own interests and that we’ve lost human dignity out of sight.

    • Simone says:

      Yes I think you’re right. it’s true that our world view is dominated by our own interests. But Instead of criticizing this, I think it’s better to work from this. Simply because it won’t get us any further discussing about how great it would be if world politics were run out of concern for each other without any self-interest, because this will never happen.
      although the motive is self-interest, the outcome can also be good for the other. For example, political actors have their people in their own country who they need to keep satisfied(because luckily, individuals do sometimes act and think out of human dignity instead of self-interest) and in doing so they need to do good in the particular country they are intervening in. Secondly, there are also treaties and documents that do keep us from losing human dignity out of sight ( like human rights watch etc). and although it is obviously America’s main concern is to protect itself from terrorism, they do seem to believe (how narrow minded this may be) that it will only be for the better for everyone if every country would turn democratic, so there is some kind of good intention parallel to their own interest.
      So I think that state-building is not by definition doomed to fail. The most fatal thing about the self-interest involved is in my opinion that they want to leave as soon as possible. And the way they are trying to pursue this by at the same time meeting their own interest ( keeping their people at home satisfied) is by setting up some kind of election and puppet-government. And this.. will definitely be doomed to fail.

  2. Ann says:

    I seriously believe that externally-led state-building missions are doomed to fail. A revolution and potential regime change should start from within, it should grow in the minds of people until it is large enough to flourish outside. As Laura says, I do not believe that the external actors intervene in such countries without any personal interests; why would you get involved if there is nothing to gain for you? There are very little true altruistic actors who venture out to help others without any form of selfinterest. However, the current situation in the Arab Spring countries, where the cry for change did come from within (even though it came about in an unknown, modern way, through social media and what not), the situation is not much better (yet). Which does pose the question; how much should external actores be involved in regime change? I think they can definitely serve an advisory role, but should not be the instigator, as the country might not be ready for such a change.

    • sergiu says:

      When European States were built there was little revolution that started from within. In many of our States there was one fraction that took over with the idea of unification. There was the language, habbits and some tradition. But not the State. Like in Afganistan.

      We had many revolutions and crisis. The Revolution that took place in Paris and in all Europe in 1848 started because the moral values were changed among the people. I think we have different types of revolution. The one that builds a state and the revolution that changes a regime or builds up new values for the society. For example, nothing changed after the Tianamen Square protest. We still have the China we had before.

      Maybe in Afganistan we are (or we were assisting) assiting at a State Building process. Taliban’s quite made it , with brutal and unconventional ways. How Afghanistan would had been if the Talibans were friendly with the Americans? Maybe as Saudi Arabia. Friendly with the Western countries but rude with their people.

      External actors can only stop (or they should stop) regimes like the Talibans . Doesn’t matter where. Important that it respescts human rights and liberal election. Building puppet governments should be stopped. In the same time , America took over the planet . They accepted their responsibility and now they act like a international referee. If this is right It may not. We saw it with Iraq.

      Maybe , when state-building in Afghanistan will be finished, we will assist at a revolution that may ask for liberal elections. New actors will take over and the international comunity will sneek to see what’s happening. With weapons or without.

      • lc3102 says:

        Interesting points that you’ve brought up, many thanks for that.

        Regarding the issue surrounding European states, I would caution against oversimplification here. First of all, most of the European states, especially if we are taking into account parts of the Austrian-Hungarian empire and Russia (as some historians have tended to do), have known extremely varied national trajectories. You wrote that there was little revolution that started from within, simply one faction that took power. I think there were many revolutions, especially in 1848, that started from within and were carried out by a variety of factions, such as peasants, workers and middle class. Some acted upon economic interests, others might have been more motivated by ideas. Regardless of their motives for participating, most of the revolutions failed to have a meaningful impact, ie. substantial constitutional state reform/creation at that time (1848), although one could argue that they provided the foundation for the creation of constitutional monarchies (even though the United Kingdom already established that in 1688, hence my point on variation).

        Secondly, as I stated elsewhere, I do not think that most of the people involved in the statemaking process, especially in the early days, had a clear blue print of how the State should be run. Or, even if they had, it was hard to implement holistically. In fact, I would argue, looking at European history, that the creation of one State can only be achieved through some form of totalitarian government. In that sense, I agree with you on the point that the Taleban have facilitated the creation of a centralized Afghan State.

        I think there should be no doubt that if the Taleban had been friendly with the West, they would have probably still been in power, even with the destruction of the Buddhas and appalling womens rights record. See also the readings of last week, especially Maley (2002, p. 227) in 1996 the State Department stated “the United States finds nothing objectionable in the policy statements of the new government, including its move to impose Islamic law.” As with the case of Saudi Arabia, they should have known that the implementation of Sharia law by a group like the Taleban was not likely to contribute to the positive development of womens rights.

        In that sense I wish to address your last point on the moral, ethical or realistic (in the IR sense) bases of intervention. In the Maley chapter, there is also some interesting talk on the UNOCAL deal (p. 244 and 245) that was cancelled in the end. The pipeline construction however is still an ongoing process and is definitely of strategic importance to Western energy interests (see also: In class there has been no talk of which Western companies are currently engaged in Afghanistan, but if we look at Iraq as an example, we can clearly see some international energy and construction companies profiting immensely from the ongoing war effort. We have already noted that the largest sources of income in Afghanistan nowadays are in construction and security (also for the construction projets obviously). Coincidentally, the same can obviously be said about the arms industry, which links to the movie we watched a clip from (Lord of War, 2005). There are people profiting from this conflict and if we want to address these issues, I think it would be wise to bear in mind what the guest speaker in the other course (Actuele Vraagstukken, Martine van Bijlert, 13 September 2013) said that we are better to be critical and realistic on what has been happening on the ground than paint a rosy picture of all of our accomplishments.

        As of yet, I cannot oversee how the current government of Afghanistan, let alone the upcoming elections, withdrawal of most of the military presence of outside forces will affect the development of Afghanistan.

        Regarding the question on whether external forces can ever engage in successful statebuilding, I now tentatively conclude the following: I think it can be done, but it has to fulfill a list of criteria. One of them should be that the statebuilding processes take place without armed forces. That may seem like a very silly idea, but I think that if we would really engage in non-violent grass roots contact with people, as several thousands of people are currently already doing, the statebuilding processes will be a) much more sustainable, b) leading to autonomous development of state creation, c) will likely cost less lives. This would imply investing in diplomatic relations also. What this would mean for regimes that commit the most horrendous human rights abuses (of which there are too many to name), I honestly do not know. Perhaps a way out of it would be that in those cases where serious human rights abuses occur, you are not there to build a state, but stop the most serious atrocities from taking place? Or you are engaged in war…which is obviously something we will be discussing the upcoming week when addressing the National Security Strategy of the US..

    • jhuisman2013 says:

      I disagree with you that externally-led state-building missions are doomed to fail, in my opinion you seem to forget how important culture can be. If an externally-led state-building mission is conducted by a state with similar cultural and ideological beliefs it can be successful. They will be able to understand the structure of the society. But when the United States or the Soviet-Union are trying to conduct a state-building mission in a state like Afghanistan the cultural differences will be so numerous that a state-building is indeed doomed to fail.

      • Oskar says:

        I entirely agree with you that externally-led state-building missions aren’t domed to fail, but I disagree with you about the U.S. and U.S.S.R.-led cases. Especially cases in recent history, where U.N.-coordinated forces with U.S. military engagement where sent away for peace-building missions and took responsibility in forcing peace agreements. As concluded in the Human Security Report 2012 this conflicts just reach ten percent of the violence which was occuring before the U.N. involvement. Peace-building in my opinion is the first stage of state-building. As where there’s no peace, there is no soevereignty, so you can’t build any state either.

  3. IvN says:

    What Afghanistan makes a complex case is that it consist of different groups. We talk about the Afghan people like it is a shared identity, but it is not. There are so many leaders with their own identity. Like Ann said, externally-led state-building missions are doomed to fail, has to do what that. As describe in Tilly, the first step of state- building is that power- holder go to war and expand their authority. Those power- holder exist in Afghanistan. But where the European countries took the next step and ended with institutions Afghanistan did not reach that in a proper way. The problem for Afghanistan is that these groups cannot come together or one can take over the power in a legitimate way. Without that, there is no way to start state- building. And that is what a externally led state building has to see. They immediately start with state- building without fulfill the first step. Knowledge about the situation is thus necessary. The fragmentation of the countries has to be taken in account in some way. I think that the first step has to be taken by the Afghans self, if that goes well I agree with the advisory role which Ann has introduced.

    • Laura says:

      Hi IvN, I agree with you that acknowledgement of the fragmentation of the Afghan society is crucial for the state buliding process, but don’t you think external powers could serve a role in bringing these factions to the negotiation table?

      • Collin says:

        Of course the United States was the country that intervened Afghanistan but that doesn’t make it the most appropriate actor to stimulate and organize negotiations. There has to be an independent actor to facilitate negotiations, like the United Nations. And not state building that is US-led.

      • lc3102 says:

        Hi Laura, IvN, and Collin, personally I think external powers can always facilitate a dialogue. I do not agree with Collin that it necessarily has to be “an independent actor”, such as the UN. Rather I’d say that any actor will do, as long as the parties trust the actor to follow through.

    • Simone says:

      before negotiating who would be the best actor to facitilite negotiations among the different powerholders in Afghanistan, I think it would be really fruitful to think about what would be an incentive for these particular powerholder to join the negotiations and if we want to reckognize every possible powerholder or create some kind of selection. (I’m not saying I have the answers to these question at all, but I think these are important first questions we need to answer before facilitating a negotiation table)

      secondly, I think IvN is absolutely correct stating that more knowledge about the situation is necessary and that the european countries forgot the first step. but, eventhough we recognize the Afghan situation to be different from ours, with trying to get them around the negotiation table and wanting to form some kind of state-coalition, we are maybe still thinking too much in the lines of our own democratic model.
      maybe we just have to acknowledge that that is, atleast for now, not really possible in the Afghan situation. Also the people need not to be forgotten, maybe the powerholders don’t want to share power and are too fragmentized and maybe the people are also fragmentized along ethnic, geographical and tribal lines. But people are not at all planning on taking this fragmentation to the next level and seperate itself from Afghanistan. They see the benefits of being a nation as a whole and I wonder to what extent they would forget about their differences and acknowledge their unity as a country if this would bring more profits.

  4. Volkan says:

    I also think that externally led state building mission is doomed to fail. First of all, the country or countries that lead this mission(s) have their own interest. They won’t do something where they don’t gain any profit from it. Sovjet-Union for example a strong communist based ally country as their neighbour country. United States in contrary wanted a western liberal based Afghanistan, but didn’t want to fight actively because of the tensions with the Sovjets. Afghan militant groups want a state which is ruled by their own interest and vision. They only cooperate with the US for the aid they get. Communist state rulers maybe have a common interest with communist Sovjets. In the end people want their own state and don’t want foreigners rule directly or indirectly so externally led state building is doomed to fail.

    • Roy says:

      Maybe it’s better to introduce a system like the states in America to Afghanistan. Every ethnic group has their own government and their own standards and values. But together they form Afghanistan. I don’t see how just one government can keep every ethnic group happy because of the huge differences between them. I think that it’s not about the fact that Afghans don’t want to be ruled, but they don’t want to be ruled by someone who doesn’t represent their specific ethnic beliefs. If you look back in history the period of the warlords with their own territories wasn’t that bad for the people, if you take that idea and make it more legit, maybe that is was Afghans really want.

      For the situation now i think that random events that can’t be predicted also play a big role in the survival of a new state, and the mindset of the people that comes with it. So i think we can’t already tell that it’s going to fail because America intervened. As there was said, a lot of things improved, but corruption was one of the major things that became worse. But is corruption bad in a new state? Or is it just a way to protect a group that wants the best for the country but have to dig in because there is still a lot of uncertainty?

      • exhibit A says:

        I don’t really understand your opening line: “Maybe it’s better to introduce a system like the states in America to Afghanistan. Every ethnic group has their own government and their own standards and values. But together they form Afghanistan.”. In the US it isn’t the case that every ethnic group has it’s own government but rather every state has its own small scale government that consists of representatives of the state’s population. This is a key difference between the comment that you previously posted. For this reason the model of US government and its states isn’t transmissible to Afghanistan. However, in the early 20th century a similar situation existed in the US (New York) as existed in Afghanistan in the past years. Local groups were protected by a ‘mafia’ in exchange for a fee/rent/payment. This way the local groups were sure that their interests were being looked after and they were protected against other groups. This is similar with the warlords and clans that ensured the protecting of a region in Afghanistan. It is a way to give certainty and a level of predictability to people

        In that way I do agree with your statement whether or not corruption is bad in a new state. It is this corruption that made the mafia era such a prosperous time in which they used the corrupt system to infiltrate into the government and not only helped themselves but also the protectees.

        The combination of local interest groups and general government would likely be the best solution, but is this feasible in a country divided by war en ethnicity?

      • Roy says:

        I should have described it more clearly, i meant the system in the US with all that states that form a country. It’s of course not based on ethnicity there. But if you take the idea of different states forming a country together, and you use that idea but in Afghanistan but now on the regions where the different ethnic groups live. I think that might work the best.

        Whether or not this is feasible no-one knows. Based on history i tend to say it is.

        (I couldn’t reply on your reply so i did it like this)

  5. Dnl says:

    I would argue that state-building is not necessarily doomed to fail. It is however on its own not an adequate mean to ‘repair’ failed states. State-building has failed several times in the past (e.g. Somalia, Afghanistan). To repair a failed state, so to say, you need the support of a majority of the citizens of a ‘nation’, also you would need the integrity of the leaders that would form the government of a state and its bureaucratic institutions. Somalia and Afghanistan are both divided into multiple factions, which share different beliefs and have different identities. The internal strife within these fractions is very big as well. It is almost impossible for these states to form a true centralized nation-state. When I come to think of it, these remarks are very much in line with Clapham’s three degrees of statehood, in which he describes three ways to form a state. The support of the majority of a nation’s citizens in this however, is a necessity, for this would make the power a government has, legitimate. This contrasts the powers of the factions in today’s Afghanistan. So, do I oppose externally-led state building? No not at all, but it cannot work without the unambiguous help and support of the citizens of Afghanistan, as my fellow students mentioned in the comments above.

    • TheEqualist says:

      I am agree with Dnl. A statebuilding project is very postive. These people in Somalia and Afghanistan also have the right of security and of a legitimate group in power. But important is, the way the project is being implemented and what the situation/condition/environments are.
      A country as Afghanistan is divided in many factions, whereby ethnic divisions play a crucial role. So before we start building on a state in Afghanistan we must analyze all the factors. Ohterwise our rules, system and vision wont fit the environment in which these are being implemented. The local people on top play also a crucial role. Their vision must coincide whith what the foreigners also want to implement. If they have their own agendas the project wont be efficient. So taking into consideration all these factors a stabuilding project is not doomed to fail. What is doomed to fail is the thatebuilding in afghanistan because they have not analysed everything in advance.
      It’s like they went in there reckless.

  6. lc3102 says:

    There is one thing that I feel is important that has not yet been mentioned and is related to the theoretical debate and applying it to current/contemporary practicalities. First of all, most of the (theoretical) models that we use are derived from the state formations in western Europe of some centuries ago. Both the time period and the manner in which these states came into existence is something which can hardly be compared with the world as we know it nowadays. Even in medieval or more enlightened Europe there were different peoples, of different religions, people with different ethnical backgrounds and social standings. And we cannot clearly reconstruct who was responsible for what at which time, but history (or perhaps more adequately stated: historians) can create a simply picture of moving from Dark Ages, to Enlightened ones, ending up in liberal democracies. I still think we should question how much of a blueprint really was available beforehand. Looking for instance at the French Revolution and more specifically the period that followed it, there was much consternation and even a period that came to be known as Le Terreur (of which our word ‘terrorism’ is derived) before France became relatively peaceful (or at least internally stable) again. Secondly, keeping with the example of the French Revolution, some of these stateformation projects are seen from an ideological perspective (liberte, egalite et fraternite) but even at that time, there might have been different motives for different peoples. Perhaps some were ideologically driven whereas others were more into attaining political power or simply adventurers. The only thing we know is the end result, not the motivations of all that contributed to it.
    With statebuilding I believe these two points and especially the motivations of those involved matter in a crucial manner. First of all, there is no denying that the developed world has gained some knowledge on public administration, the functions of a state and the manners in which these can be implemented. Still however, even western governments struggle with legitimacy and commitment from people. Consequently, I believe we should recognize that even though we may know more, we still do not know everything (perhaps we are even missing out on the most fundamental aspects). As such, we could offer our knowledge in processes of state-formations. In order to do statebuilding however, I agree with a lot of my fellow students that a personal objective/selfish reason to engage in statebuilding will mostly backfire. If not in the short term, then in the long term.
    The question I am currently struggling with when thinking of Afghanistan is that if you feel you should almost be invited to engage in statebuilding: whose invitation is the most legitimate? There has been talk on this blog also that the majority of the population should support it, but what sort of majority? Could it be a simple case of dividing the population in supporters, resisters and ambivalents? And even if it could be that simple: will you have to go door to door in order to ask everybody and calculate the majority?
    In that sense, I think that external statebuilding efforts are most likely to fail, especially when looking at a grand perspective. I think it would be better to set smaller objectives which might contribute to a well-functioning state. Here, however, again, it is a question of which objectives would take precedence and what would they accomplish? Hard questions, but I think by discussing them openly, there is at least more background to an intervention than simply saying: here’s an example of a failed state, we will intervene and set the record straight….

    • Sophie says:

      Wise words, lc3102. I think you’re right stating that what are today Western nation-states, didn’t have a blueprint master plan when they were becoming states. In current literature on international relations and especially on interventions, we tend to see a strong focus on Building A State, with the state as a self-evident, universal model. A country that doesn’t fit the mold is not seen as a stateless country but a failed state. However, it might be useful to remind ourselves that the concept of a nation-state as we see it is relatively new – most (West-)-European countries became states as late as the 19th century – and that humanity has functioned without it throughout most of history.
      Of course a country nowadays can hardly, if at all, survive in the global system without being a state. And since this system isn’t very likely to change any time soon, it is perhaps inevitable that countries like Afghanistan should find a path towards being a stable state. But what that state should look like doesn’t have to be dictated by the Western ideal-type. Not all countries may be suitable for this, since circumstances and historic developments are different everywhere. We, as Western state-builders, despite all our good intentions, sometimes tend to forget this. A great challenge lies ahead to find a suitable form of government in Afghanistan, one that fits its culture and can gain support from its people. In the past, there have been Afghan rulers whose good intentions did not fit, and thereby caused their own demise: think of King Amanullah’s reforms in the 1920s. We might want to keep this in mind while focusing so much on things like our beloved Weberian bureaucratic institutions, liberal democracy and centralized government. What worked for us doesn’t automatically work for other countries as well. It might, but it also might not.

      • lc3102 says:

        Hey Sophie, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me. I think that finding a suitable form of government for Afghanistan, rooted in Afghan solutions for Afghan people, taking into account the particular Afghan history. Another important thing to keep in mind, I feel, is to not set a certain time period in which this ‘project’ should be accomplished. It might take another couple of decades before there is a fully functioning state, if ever…but that should not be discouraging in the grand scheme of things.

  7. On the topic of the State-Building being doomed to fail, specifically in Afghanistan….

    It is my opinion that in the case of Afghanistan there was an initial centralized approach where there should have been a decentralized approach. In the reading for Session 10 by Jonathan Goodhand the following phrase is a key point I would like to present,

    “Clearly, states cannot be made to work from the outside and legitimate institutions are the product of long-term domestic political processes.”

    Combining this notion with the reading about public and private actors in the state-building process one can see how the centralized approach to establishing order in Afghanistan was the wrong path to take. In my opinion State-building in Afghanistan is not doomed to fail. However, if further action consists of a centralized approach to establish order the Afghan state might just relapse.

    In the previous comments I have read things relating to dividing Afghanistan up into separate states, and that sustainable changes to a state are impossible to implement through an externally led mission. I can understand where you’re coming from seeing what we have learned concerning Afghanistan’s segmented composition, and that our Western Coalition has been unable to fully complete its plan for building the Afghan state. These points do highlight that there are great differences between the groups in Afghanistan which need to be solved in order for state-building to succeed.

    However, an externally led mission is not doomed to fail as one can still interact with Afghanistan’s public and private actors in a much better way due to the lessons learned in the past decade. Indeed, a foreign power is not able to simply invade Afghanistan and through military and political action have the population subject to a state, that did not work out as planned. The variation of ethnic groups, communities, and militias requires a different approach. Frankly, you cannot tell Afghanistan to “get unified” but the nation is currently in a state in which it can now start the aforementioned “long-term domestic political processes” to finally build a stable state.

    Instead of large-scale centralized actions, it may finally be time for a grass-roots process that will take not years but even decades, but will eventually result in a stable state.

  8. Nigina says:

    In my opinion externally-led state-building is doomed to fail. However, I do think that a country like Afghanistan can’t build their state without the help of other countries, because Afghanistan doesn’t have the money and the right people to do it on their own. The external actors should not play a major role in the state-building, but they can help by supporting the afghan population by improving the economy, educating the people and training Afghan soldiers. They should try to understand the afghan population and work with them to build the state.The power of the state should be in the hands of Afghan people, so that they are able to rule the state after the external actors leave Afghanistan. Besides that, external actors should not try to make a state like their own state. The state must suit the people, religion and culture in the country; so that the population will support the state. The external actors, who participate in state-building, should also not act out of self-interest but in the interest of the state.

  9. MerelR says:

    I always believed that external western powers had the ability to build states and could help other countries to get good governance. But my opinion changed when M. Pugh last week gave a lecture in my University. He talked about peace building and corruption. Societies that are or have been at war are so because they had bad governance or weren’t liberal enough. But also international actors that try to build good governance in another country are corrupt themselves. “Do as we say, not as we do”. According to Pugh these actors have the sense of moral superiority. When they come to an unstable country the internationals are in a higher status. The locals are seen as the problem, because they are the ones that had or are having war. The internationals think they have privileged knowledge, but the locals do not always accept this. Some people even state that NGO’s have an interest in the going on of corruption so they can battle it. They exist by the sake of corruption. Corruption is also seen as a disease it contributes to treating war societies as alien, in a lower position and immoral. Moreover it naturalizes the structures of global inequality and this is what creates structural violence in the first place. International actors label people in conflict as immoral or lacking knowledge and this does not contribute to their idea of self-reliance. And as we have seen in history, wars make states. You need to discipline people, kill people and coerce them to obey the rule, this is a difficult process to do. If you look at countries as at war like this, Africa can be in the process of state formation, and so can Afghanistan. Pugh criticizes neo-liberal policies that do nothing to get people an income. And if people don’t have incomes they continue to live in a black economy.
    Therefore I believe regime change and externally-led state-building are doomed to fail. Foreign intervention prevents the citizens from building their own state. They are seen as inferior by the omniscient external actors. I think states that are in a post-war situation are not able to meet the Western high aims of good governance. It would be better to let them try on their own, without judging them. International actors can try to build a tree of good governance in Afghanistan, but without strong Afghan roots it will be destroyed in the first storm. Foreign powers have failed over history to stabilize Afghanistan, now it is time to let the Afghans sow their own state, even if this means more war in the short-term.

  10. NRG says:

    I think externally-led statebuilding isn’t necessarily doomed to fail. While taking a look at the history of Afghanistan most of us only see the failure in the process of statebuilding of superpowers like the Soviet Union and the US. But in times of no foreign intervention like in 1926 under king Amanullah Khan statebuilding was also doomed to fail. Despite him ousting the British from Afghanistan the king was in exile 3 years later. In fact one of the only ‘successful’ attempts to form in a state in the past decade was of the Taliban. Which shows us that a very important factor in Afghanistan is it’s religion. The Soviets fought the mujahideen en the Americans the Taliban. Both enemies who find their cause in Islamic principles. That is why i agree with MerelR that it’s now the Afghan people’s turn to build their own state even if this means a return of the Taliban and radical Islam principles. Like someone else said, Saudi Arabia is also accepted by the international community.

    Then where does the externally-led statebuilding come into play? I think After the internal war in Afghanistan has been ‘finished’. Of course there will always be insurgencies and unrest after a war but with finished i mean when their clearly is one actor (or several who formed something of a peace treaty) who ‘runs’ the state. External actors should then start talking with these actors and give them advise on how statebuilding is done in western perspective. It’s up to the internal actors to then implement this in their own view of statebuilding. The difficult part is trying to convince them of the fact that they need the advice in order to keep the country from going to war again. In short regime change should be something of internal origin while statebuilding needs the internal as well as the external community to be successive.

  11. Lotte says:

    I too do not believe that externally-led state building is doomed to fail. What I do believe is that the Western powers should not impose their own system on other countries. They must be convinced that other systems than democracy could also work. I believe that hybrid systems have the greatest chance of survival, meaning a combination of liberal democracy and traditional systems. So I do believe that it is possible for Western powers to get involved with state building but only within a supportive role.

    In 2014 the US is planning to leave Afghanistan after years of statebuilding. What will be the end state? No one knows. The Afghan government is afraid that Pakistan will intervene and they want the US to help them. US want to continue with counter terrorism operation but they don’t want to continue with the counterinsurgency operations. The NATO stays only when the US stays. So overall, I think we can conclude that the externally-led statebuilding process in Afghanistan had not been a major success. It is clear that the ‘old way’ of state building is not working and that alternative methods have to be investigated or at least has to be considered.

  12. Hester says:

    “If foreign intervention prevents state making and the development of state institutions (by disincentivizing extraction and protection by the central state) as seems to be the case in Afghanistan..”

    Setting aside the issue of statebuilding by either foreign intervention or internal factors, I would like to address the issue of preconditions as well. jhuisman2013 already mentioned culture as an important facet for example. When looking at Lacher’s extract on South Sudan (“South Sudan; International State-Building and its Limits”, 2012), he notices that there are no preconditions for rapid progress, hindering statebuilding. In Afghanistan, certain preconditions are missing as well (there are little functioning institutions and it is considered to be a weak state, so there’s not much external factors can further build upon). This means that there will be a dilemma (once again, see Lacher) in which the focus on short-term stabilization might prevent the government from investing in long-term stability, simply because they cannot adress the roots of the problem. In that case, Lacher (p. 32) says that donors and international actors have to keep away from politicial accommodation (as they aren’t able to transform it into their favored Western model) but have to focus on specific problems instead.

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