Multilevel Governance

All strategies have in common that they do not systematically reflect the challenges of multilevel and multiagency politics. They are by and large based on the assumption that external actors intervene and build up local capaci- ties—regarding market economy and democracy, security, rule of law, or civil society. When the mission is accomplished the tasks and responsibilities will simply be handed over to the “educated” and “trained” locals. This rather paternalistic and static model, however, underestimates the dynamics of interaction, not only between locals and externals, but also among locals and among externals. International state building implies de facto multilevel governance. Analytically, at least four different levels of interaction can be distinguished—all of which have an impact on the conduct and the result of statebuilding strategies and activities. First, we have the interaction among local actors, in particular between (former or actual) parties to a violent conflict; second, the relationship between local and external actors; third, the interaction among the different external actors in the field, comprising international donors, diplomats, military, and NGOs; and finally, the layer of national capitals or headquarters of international organizations where coordination, policy planning, and decision making has to take place between ministries, departments, or, in the case of international organizations or multilateral formats, between member states.

This multilevel architecture constitutes a complex system in which actual or suspected policy decisions and actions at one level will shape the expectations, the behavior and the actions of actors at other levels. Some of these effects may be intended or at least anticipated, most often, however, they are neither. For external state builders, therefore, the multiple coordination challenge would already be enormous-even if the major players, such as international organizations and bilateral donors, would apply by and large the same doctrine which, as we have seen, is usually not the case. In addition, the operative logic and constraints under which external actors have to work in the field differs greatly from those in their respective capital or headquarter. One most notable result are serious tensions and even mistrust between those, be it military or civilian personnel, who encounter directly the difficulties at the field level and those who have to muster the necessary resources and political commitments for state building in national or international bureaucracies.

Against this background, multilevel governance meets at least two sets of challenges: the first is related to the decision making and policy planning of the external state builders (headquarter level); the second points to the typical dilemmas and difficult choices external actors face vis-a-vis local actors (field level). First of all, external actors are often driven by a number of concerns that have nothing do with the situation on the ground, as the second set of challenges will show. This refers to the headquarter level and the interaction between various external state builders, since experience shows that misperception and mistakes made on this level can hardly be corrected in the field and will significantly increase the likelihood of unintended consequences. The success and failure of state-building activities therefore crucially depends on external actors’ response to the following issues.

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