Transnational and Nodal Governance

In order to respond to these problems and dilemmas, new modes of governance usually emerge at the field level, which have so far attracted less attention in the state- and peace-building literature. These modes of governance are neither anticipated nor designed by capitals and headquarters since they are not reflected by the state-building strategies. The main reason for this deficit is that external state builders often underestimate the fact that they interfere in a specific local “order” from which particular segments of the populations—not just armed groups—benefit. Contrary to the underlying assumption of most state-building strategies, there is no “tabula rasa” situa?tion or “power vacuum,” not even in the immediate aftermath of a civil war. But the truth is, there is always somebody who “governs” or, at least, who pretends to do so, be it a president, national government, general, dominant party, ethnic group, local warlord, tribe, clan, and so on. Therefore, external actors have to find arrangements with these (potential) “rulers” who, as for example in Afghanistan or in Somalia, may vary from region to region, from province to province, and village to village. The alternative is that external actors try to build alliances with nonruling groups and so-called change agents in order to challenge established or reestablished local power structures. In both cases, external state builders need to engage with local actors by using a number of informal or formalized arrangements at a national, regional, or communal level. These arrangements—although initially set up as temporary measures—often last much longer than anticipated, sometimes over years and even decades. They usually emerge in an ad hoc fashion, for instance in the context of coordination or decision-making bodies, in which both international and local actors are represented. Partly, however, these arrangements are only by-products or unintended consequences of the interaction of various actors—a case in point is the ambivalent cooperation of the U.S. Army with former warlords in Afghanistan as well as the support for local Sunni militias in Iraq.

Prominent examples are formalized mixed international-domestic bodies in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, which have been set up deliberately in order to channel money and policies. To take three examples from Afghanistan. In the northeast of the country, the German government set up so-called provisional development funds, which are administered jointly by German and Afghan representatives at the provincial level. In mid-2005, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) established in the province Pak- tia, in collaboration with the provincial government and the Zadran tribes, the “Zadran Arc Stabilisation Initiative,” which was supported inter alia by USAID, the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), and international NGOs in order to allow for reconstruction work in an area rife with tribal insurgency. Since 2004 the NGO Tribal Liaison Office, originally initiated by SwissPeace, has opened a number of offices throughout southeast Afghan provinces, mainly supported by Western foundations and foreign ministries, which served as a consultation mechanism with shuras, elders, tribal leaders, and others in order to gain acceptance for development projects, to offer facilitation in cases of conflict, and to build local capacities (Karokhail and Schmeidl 2006).

Generally, these new forms of governance are labeled transnational governance since they involve a cross-border element due to the presence of foreign actors. They comprise both external and local as well as nonstate and state actors; and they are largely characterized by efforts of information exchange, mutual understanding, and horizontal coordination. Additionally, the concept of nodal governance, originally developed in studies on networked governance, can be applied since the term refers to a situation where no single source of power exists and where governance takes place within a “shifting networks of alliances rather than as a product of the realization of governing interests” (Johnston 2006, 34). Moreover, these arrangements function as “nodes” in the sense that they work as institutional settings with a set of methods, a particular way of thinking (mentality), and resources aiming at mobilizing “the knowledge and capacities of members to manage the course of events” (Burris, Drakos, and Shearing 2005, 33). This does not imply that all participants act on equal footing in such arrangements. Indeed, most often some actors are more dominant and powerful than others, because of the access of resources (including local knowledge), and will certainly shape the rules and the outcome of the interaction. However, the notion of command and control is much more contested than in hierarchical and formalized bureaucratic structures. For instance, the external actor, be the U.N., the U.S. government, an international NGO, or a private enterprise, may play either a superior role (at least temporarily), be one player among many, or act merely as an observer or mediator loosely attached to a network of locals who intervenes only in the event of a crisis. However, transnational and nodal governance also implies a sharing of costs and responsibilities that usually generates tensions and disappointments, in particular between international actors who invest resources for state building and local elites who want to secure their dominant position in state and society.

As the examples show, the degree of formalization and institutionalization varies—in some bodies, for instance, international and local representatives meet regularly and interact on the basis of an agreement (e.g., memorandum of understanding), which clearly determines the responsibilities and functions of each actor. Other arrangements only exist in the form of unwritten rules and occasional contacts among varying participants. Some of these forms of governance have proved to be extremely functional and long standing (as in Bosnia or Kosovo), and may even work as functional equivalents of statehood since they are able to deliver a number of services to the population (e.g., provision of security, development aid, preparation and organization of elections, rule of law). In contrast, a number of arrangements turn out to be rather transient phenomena that vanish as soon as the situation changes and various actors seek new opportunities. This seems to be the case in a number of Afghan provinces and districts, where local authorities, former warlords, tribal and village militias, the Afghan army, and international troops build fragile counter-insurgency coalitions against the Taliban.

As a rule, one can argue that the more local state actors are involved, the more formalized and structured these “nodes” become. Furthermore, state actors often try to win influence and control vis-a-vis societal groups by using these forms of governance. This indirect approach by a national government can be studied in cases of a rather weak administration, as in Afghanistan, but also in countries like Pakistan with an apparently strong state apparatus, which nevertheless lacks the knowledge and the capabilities to control and to govern effectively in peripheral regions (e.g., Tribal Areas, Khyber Pakh- tunkhwa, or Balochistan) or in urban environments such as Karachi (Wilke 2009). Under these circumstances, therefore, state actors have to rely on the collaboration with others and may engage in transnational arrangements, set up and shaped by external actors, in order to win back “lost territory” or, at least, to learn more about the activities of relevant nonstate actors.

In general, transnational and nodal forms of governance do not figure prominently in official statements issued by external state builders. At best, such formats are seen as less-than-ideal solutions and transitional bodies on the path to strengthening the state’s institutions and capacities. However, these modes have far-reaching effects that are too often underestimated by those who intervene in areas of limited statehood. By their engagement, external actors become inevitably embedded in local politics. They get dragged further and further into locally driven practices and power politics, rooted in tradition, culture, and history, which are both difficult to read and to change by outsiders. Such practices and mechanisms typically include forms of patronage and clientelism, power sharing and co-optation, as well as the mobilization of traditional structures and informal ways of self-organization (i.e., clan structures, ethnic networks, kinship). Most of these mechanisms fuel the vested interests of local elites, but do not necessarily lead to a market democracy or a civil society as initially envisaged by external state builders. Moreover, the modes of governance introduced by outsiders will often be in- strumentalized and eventually manipulated by dominant local elites for their own interests. From the point of view of elites, these arrangements offer new opportunities for strengthening their position and for acquiring “political rents" They gain access to resources and capacities that generally improves their position within their own networks and with regard to possible rivals or opponents. Via transnational and nodal governance they also have the opportunity to expand their networks, in particular across borders, and to connect themselves with political and economic centers outside the country. In other words, ruling elites—well experienced in dealing with “fragility”—try to use these modes in order to readjust or transform their traditional clien- tistic, neopatrimonial, or semiauthoritarian politics.

Thus, in the course of the intervention, external actors become part of the local landscape that may change their role and, probably, their identity. In practice, the transnational and nodal governance arrangements are subject to the inherent dynamic of a process, which can hardly be in control of external actors, let alone those who are based in distant capitals and headquarters. True, in cases of comprehensive state-building operations, international actors may be in the position to shape the rules of the game; however, it proved to be an illusion to assume that they are in command and control. As Bosnia, Kosovo, or Timor-Leste show, this applies even in cases of formalized interim administration where external actors, based on a U.N. mandate, enjoy executive functions. Thus, the often used language of “local ownership,” “transfer of responsibility,” or “exit” is misleading, since it is based on the false assumption that external actors are in the position of de facto rulers who have simply to hand over their tasks to the locals when the state-building “job” is done. This rather mechanistic logic still dominates the thinking and planning of most Western interveners, in particular when military or police personnel is deployed, and does not at all reflect the dynamic of the whole process.

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