Warlords, Intervention, and State Consolidation: A Typology of Political Orders in Weak and Failed States

Despite efforts to bolster failed states over the past two decades, many states in the international system still exhibit endemic weakness. External intervention often leads to political instability and in most cases fails to foster state consolidation, instead empowering and creating ties with the ones it aims to weaken. Using the case of Afghanistan, I develop a typology of political orders that explains variation in degrees of state consolidation and provides the basis for more systematic comparative analysis. I demonstrate the resilience of a political logic according to which non-state armed actors (warlords) “shape-shift” and constantly reinvent themselves to adapt to changing political environments. This article, based on extensive field research in Afghanistan, shows why failed states are unlikely to consolidate and exhibit Western-style state building, as a result of intervention or otherwise.

Failed states became a major foreign policy concern at the end of the Cold War when the collapse of central institutions paved the way for the rule of brutal and greedy warlords in Liberia and Somalia. Since 9/11, state failure has increasingly been regarded as a direct threat to international security and American national interests, of which the rise of the Islamic State is only the latest manifestation. While policymakers have developed ambitious statebuilding agendas in places as varied as Nicaragua, Angola, and Timor Leste, with the hope that the reestablishment of functioning statehood would foster sustainable and durable peace, recent attempts to build strong, legitimate, and democratic states have proven illusory. International actors seem incapable of stabilizing failed states and establishing political order in places like Iraq, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where alternative forms of governance persist.

To cite this article: Romain Malejacq (2016) Warlords, Intervention, and State Consolidation: A Typology of Political Orders in Weak and Failed States, Security Studies, 25:1, 85-110.


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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