Strategies of State Building

State building aims at strengthening state structures and institutions as well as the capacities for the state apparatus to govern. International statebuilding activities, mainly undertaken by international organizations, transnational NGOs, or third-party states, may therefore aim at stabilizing and strengthening existing structures; reforming and transforming existing structures; as well as, if necessary, rebuilding and establishing structures that were either absent before or did not exist in this form. The latter variant is primarily related to postconflict societies in which most state institutions have broken down in the course of a violent conflict. However, also in many other cases of fragile statehood the establishment of new institutions (e.g., an independent judiciary) may be necessary. Against this background international state building is conducted in very different forms since external actors— implicitly or explicitly—pursue different practices, agendas, and overall strategic considerations. The assumptions underlying these approaches differ considerably when it comes to the role of the state, the behavior of local actors, the root causes of fragile statehood, the priorities for state building, the required resources, the time-frame allotted to state-building projects and programs as well as the ways of external involvement in local structures. In brief, these “strategies” that are often not clearly defined and articulated by external actors result from diverging philosophies about the “good” political order. They can roughly be attributed to international relations theories (see table 9.1).

Conceptually speaking, these strategies are not mutually exclusive but are rather complementary; to a certain extent they are even interdependent. In practice these approaches are usually pursued simultaneously, albeit with different emphases, depending on the case at hand. At the same time, however, proponents of these strategies compete for scarce resources of bilateral and multilateral donors and political attention. Therefore, these strategies cannot be neatly attributed to external actors or specific state-building operations. As a rule, most international organizations, multilateral donors, and

236 State Building and Good Governance table 9.1 State-Building Strategies


Priorities (examples)


Liberalization First

Democratization, economic reform, privatization, integration into the world economy

Liberal approaches, democratic peace theory

Security First

Strengthening the state’s monopoly on force, strengthening the security apparatus, security sector reform

Realist approaches

Institutionalization First

Strengthening political and administrative institutions, promoting the rule of law



Civil Society First

Strengthening social cohesion, enhancing political participation, supporting NGOs, associations, parties

Social-constructivist approaches, norm diffusion

governments often unconsciously draw on various approaches at the same time, because internally each strategy has its advocates in different administrative units such as ministries, departments, or—as in the case of the United Nations—specialized agencies. More often than not different actors within an international bureaucracy or a government with diverging strategic preferences and diverging policy backgrounds compete for limited resources. This functional differentiation gives rise to intrainstitutional competition over resources and policies, and explains the frequently lamented lack of coherence. It is, hence, decisive whether and to what extent external actors are capable of combining the respective advantages of the various strategies, and to what extent they are able to capitalize on the interdependencies that exist between the different measures. In general, four ideal-type strategic orientations or paradigms can be distinguished.

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