State Building in Areas of Limited Statehood

Empirically, the number of international interventions has increased substantially since the 1990s. Some of these interventions are long-term statebuilding missions with the aim of creating modern statehood, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Their objective is to establish structures and processes of governance that allow for a comprehensive modernization of state and society. But are these feasible goals? Is the transfer of modern forms of governance to areas of limited statehood possible? The starting point for answering these questions is the issue of “transferability” (Risse and Lehmkuhl 2007) of modern forms of governance. If governance in the OECD world, as Borzel (2007) points out, depends on a modern “core of statehood,” including effective domestic sovereignty and institutionalized checks and balances, transferability would in many cases not be possible. After all, it is the ineffectiveness of domestic sovereignty resulting in the poor provision of governance services that defines areas of limited statehood. The crux of the governance problem in areas of limited statehood is the weakness of state institutions that are unwilling or unable to provide basic governance services and collective goods in the policy areas of security, political authority, and welfare (Fukuyama 2004; Risse 2007a; Zurcher 2007), as described here:

  • • Security is systematically becoming scarce and increasingly privatized. Thus, security becomes a product allowing private actors profitable trading. Security is provided more and more to the highest bidder and less and less to the general public (Chojnacki and Branovic 2007; see chapter by Chojnacki and Branovic in this volume). Even state actors serving in the security sector such as the police or the military sometimes participate in the (re)commodification of security (Braig and Stanley 2007).
  • • Political authority is not constrained reliably (Risse 2007a; Boomgaarden 2007). Institutionally unlimited political authority allows for political arbitrariness that in turn may provoke the establishment of parallel or shadow structures of political authority.
  • • Welfare benefits are not sufficiently provided (Beisheim et al. 2007; Borzel et al. 2007). Education, health, and social security are only selectively available for privileged groups of the population and in preferred regions. The distribution of scarce public goods on the ground of intransparent criteria very likely promotes corruption.

If the weakness of state institutions constitutes the core problem of governance in areas of limited statehood, the obvious counter-strategy would be to strengthen these institutions. Thus, Fukuyama (2004) argues that the empowerment of state institutions that are capable of providing basic governance services is the central task when it comes to state building. The international community has tried to achieve this through various attempts such as in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Afghanistan. However, external interference has resulted in very mixed and sometimes even paradoxical experiences (Schneckener and Zurcher 2007; see Schneckener’s chapter in this volume).

In the area of security there are mixed experiences with the so-called security sector reform. In general, a post-civil war situation is the starting point for these reforms. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants into civilian life are the major goals. But even under near-perfect conditions (undisputed territory with a comparatively small population, the consent of the population to external intervention, no relevant interests of third parties) as in the case of RAMSI—the international mission for state building in the Solomon Islands (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands; led by Australia)—the intervening powers may be confronted with serious and persistent problems (Fukuyama 2008; Hameiri 2007; Wainwright and Harris 2005).

Regarding political authority, elections are the international community’s favorite criterion for a successful political transformation process. Elections are expected to establish legitimate rulers and thus to increase the likelihood of effective domestic sovereignty. They may create problems, however, if voters express primordial ties rather than political choices. An indispensable prerequisite for the general recognition of the results of elections that may cause a genuine change in the domestic balance of political power seems to be a minimum of trust in the neutrality of state institutions. If this confidence or trust does not exist, elections are often no more than expressions of ethnic, religious, or cultural ties to certain collectives. In other words, elections produce the intended results most likely if a certain sense of political community exists beyond the most basic units of society like families or groups. The various recent elections in Iraq or Afghanistan drive this point home: basically, these were “censuses” tracking the ethnic, religious, and cultural composition of the country. Political preferences beyond these affiliations were not expressed (Diamond 2005, 18-20; Mansfield and Snyder 2005).

In the area of welfare, the international community’s strategies range from the radical privatization in Iraq after the U.S.-led intervention to “soft” privatization, as in Kosovo under the auspices of the European Union and to substitution programs for drug cultivation (Afghanistan). Again, specific problems abound starting with the problem of awarding contracts (to which extent should they be given to local or international companies, to which extent should public institutions remain responsible for the provision of basic governance services and collective goods, etc.), to having difficulties finding uncompromised investors (Fukuyama 2004).

Another important factor for the fundamental task of external state building refers to changing attitudes toward foreign powers: the interventionists are quickly confronted with the problem that they are not perceived as a helping force but rather as occupying powers. Even in the globalized world of the twenty-first century, the demand for self-determination and self-government bears considerable mobilizing power. The wars in former Yugoslavia and in some parts of the former Soviet Union clearly demonstrate the impressive power of concepts such as nation and ethnicity. Thus, even in the “age of globalization,” self-government seems to remain a central goal of political collectives. Occupying powers are not welcome and are only tolerated until basic governance services, namely security, are provided with a sufficient degree of reliability (Rotberg 2007, 61).

Interestingly, the requested self-government does not have to comply with OECD standards. Even if it appears likely that the provision of governance services by the political collective demanding self-government will be a good deal worse than their provision by the international community, the desire for self-government continuously expresses itself. In Kosovo, the Albanian political collective vigorously strived for self-government. The withdrawal of the international community, which had assumed governmental powers in 1999 and provided basic governance services since then, makes a decline in quantity and quality of these services very likely (Tansey 2007).

  • • Regarding security: Until independence, both international as well as local contingents formed the police forces of Kosovo. The handover of responsibility to domestic forces risks increased uncertainty for the population since—despite all the progress regarding police training—part of the Kosovo Police still seems vulnerable to political, ethnic, and criminal instrumentalization.
  • • Regarding political authority: The international presence also helped to create political institutions in Kosovo that guaranteed basic checks and balances. To what extent this will continue without the full-fledged “shadow of the international community” remains to be seen.

Despite these significant risks, the desire for self-government among the Albanians in Kosovo remained unbroken and despite serious doubts about the ability of Kosovo for effective self-government, Kosovo’s independence was finally granted in 2008—though not undisputed.7

In addition to “the occupier’s problem,” there exists a second pitfall: the provision of basic governance services by international actors may be counterproductive for the goal of establishing self-supporting governance. This contradicts any well-meant reconstruction efforts, as the international administration in Kosovo exemplifies: “The very presence of international administrators in Kosovo, as in other cases of international governance, has contributed to some of the capacity problems, with international staff assuming control to achieve essential outcomes, but thereby reducing the potential for domestic capacity building” (Tansey 2007, 143; see also Schlichte and Veit 2006; and Zurcher 2007). This in turn increases the likelihood of parallel nonstate structures to be perceived by parts of the political collective as a potentially useful counterweight to (central) state control in order to avert arbitrariness. Since the international community has to leave sooner or later, the governance services they provide are not sufficiently reliable. Planning for the period after the international presence and recruiting allies for the protection of one’s own interests becomes a rational strategy. As long as parallel nonstate structures can successfully claim legitimacy, and as long as these structures are able to deliver a minimum of basic governance services at the local or regional level, it will be difficult for (central) state actors to gain sufficient legitimacy to permanently eliminate these structures (Keohane 2007). Thus, international co-governance can be self-defeating.

Given the mixed experience with international state building missions it comes as no surprise that it is principally contested whether external interventions can successfully establish modern statehood.8 Trutz von Trotha (2005), for instance, argues that in many cases the “rise of the local” counters efforts to strengthen centralized political control, the model of political regulation common to most OECD countries. Menkhaus (2007), too, emphasizes the significance of local governance arrangements, labeling them “ad hoc governance.” This form of governance presents an often delicate balance between locally relevant political actors who would be threatened by the establishment of functioning institutions beyond their influence. Accordingly, they have no interest in contributing to more robust centralized government institutions and may undermine attempts to establish them (Zurcher 2007). Thus, in areas of limited statehood we often find a variety of governance configurations including multilevel governance, multiactor governance, and nonhierarchical modes of governance along with governance by, with, or without government (Czempiel and Rosenau 1992).

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