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State-building as a specific term in social sciences and humanities, refers to political and historical processes of creation, institutional consolidation, stabilization and sustainable development of states, from the earliest emergence of statehood up to the modern times. Within historical and political sciences, there are several theoretical approaches to complex questions related to role of various contributing factors (geopolitical, economic, social, cultural, ethnic, religious, internal, external) in state-building processes.

One of the earliest examples of state-building iconography: Two sides of the Narmer Palette (31st century BC) depicting pharaoh Narmer, wearing White Crown of Upper Egypt (recto), and Red Crown of Lower Egypt (verso), thus representing the unification of the land

Since the end of the 20th century, state-building has developed into becoming an integral part and even a specific approach to peacebuilding by the international community. Observers across the political and academic spectra have come to see the state-building approach as the preferred strategy to peacebuilding in a number of high-profile conflicts, including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and war-related conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, and Afghanistan. According to the political scientist Anders Persson, internationally led state-building is based on three dimensions: a security dimension, a political dimension and an economic dimension. Of these three, security is almost always considered the first priority.[1]

The general argument in the academic literature on state-building is that without security, other tasks of state-building are not possible. Consequently, when state-building as an approach to peacebuilding is employed in conflict and post-conflict societies, the first priority is to create a safe environment in order to make wider political and economic development possible. So far, the results of using the state-building approach to peacebuilding have been mixed, and in many places, such as in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, the initial high expectations set by the international community have not been met. The literature on state-building has always been very clear in that building states has historically been a violent process and the outcomes in the above-mentioned cases and many others confirm the destabilizing and often violent nature of state-building.


There are three main theoretical approaches to definitions of state-building.

First, historical approach, is focused on historical aspects of state-building processes, from the earliest emergence of statehood up to the modern times. Historical science views state-building as a complex phenomenon, influenced by various contributing factors (geopolitical, economic, social, cultural, ethnic, religious) and analyzes those factors and their mutual relations from the perspective of a particular historical situation, that is characteristic for every state-building process. Historical approach also takes into account relation between internal and external contributing factors, and analyzes relations between different state-building process that are coexisting during the same historical period.[2] In general, historical approach recognizes three distinctive periods, with particular state-building phenomenology: ancient, medieval and modern.

Within the second approach, state-building is seen by some theorists as an activity undertaken by external actors (foreign countries) attempting to build, or re-build, the institutions of a weaker, post-conflict or failing state. This 'exogenous' or International Relations school views state-building as the activity of one country in relation to another, usually following some form of intervention (such as a UN peacekeeping operation).

The third, developmental, theory follows a set of principles developed by the OECD in 2007 on support to conflict-affected states which identified 'statebuilding' as an area for development assistance. The result saw work commissioned by donor countries on definitions, knowledge and practice in state-building, this work has tended to draw heavily on political science. It has produced definitions that view state-building as an indigenous, national process driven by state-society relations. This view believes that countries cannot do state-building outside their own borders, they can only influence, support or hinder such processes. Illustrations of this approach include a think-piece commissioned for OECD[citation needed] and a research study produced by the Overseas Development Institute.[3]

The developmental view was expressed in a number of papers commissioned by development agencies.[citation needed] These papers tend to argue that state-building is primarily a 'political' process rather than just a question of technical capacity enhancements and sees state-building as involving a threefold dynamic of: political (usually elite) deals, the prioritization of core government functions and the willingness to respond to public expectations.[4] A further important influence on thinking on states affected by conflict was the World Bank's 2011 World Development Report, which avoided the language of state-building while addressing some related themes.

Across the two streams of theory and writing there is a broader consensus that lessons on how to support state-building processes have not yet been fully learned. Some believe that supporting state-building requires the fostering of legitimate and sustainable state institutions, but many accept that strategies to achieve this have not yet been fully developed. Little of the post-conflict support to state-building undertaken so far has been entirely successful. From an exogenous perspective, it can be argued that sustained focus on supporting state-building has tended to happen in states frequently characterized by brutalized civilian populations, destroyed economies, institutions, infrastructure, and environments, widely accessible small arms, large numbers of disgruntled soldiers to be demobilized and reintegrated, and ethnically or religiously divided peoples. These obstacles are compounded by the fundamental difficulty of grafting democratic and human rights values onto countries with different political, cultural, and religious heritages. Pluralizing societies is theoretical in its viability for immediate political and economic stability and expediency; ideological overtones can be met with opposition within host nations and issues of self-determination and external state trusteeship and stewarding of nascent institutional reform, or its creation, could damage a tenuous post-conflict national self-identity (for critical analyses of neotrusteeship, see e.g. Ford & Oppenheim, 2012[5]).

Both schools of thinking have generated critiques and studies seeking to test the propositions made. A more developmental approach with an emphasis on composite state-building processes would have implications for donor programmes, diplomacy and peace-keeping. Some research has tried to test some of the ideas involved[6] and at least one donor agency issued a guidance note for its own programmes.[7] Important critiques were developed by NGOs such as Conciliation Resources[8] and The Asia Foundation,[9] focused primarily on Whaites proposition that a 'political settlement' drives state-building. There have also been attempts to test out the thesis by looking at individual areas of state provision, particularly the area of healthcare. Further research on state–society relations has also been undertaken by groups including the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium and the Crisis States Research Centre.[10]

While some development papers have tried to argue that state-building takes place in all countries and that much can be learnt from successful state-building there is a tendency to narrow the discussion to the most problematic contexts. As a result, much of the literature on state-building is preoccupied with post conflict issues. See e.g. (Dahrendorf, 2003), (The Commission on Post-Conflict Reconstruction, 2003), (Collier, 2003) (Fukuyama, 2004), (Paris, 2004), (Samuels 2005). Critiques common to both schools include inadequate strategy and a lack of coordination, staffing weaknesses, and that funding is insufficient or poorly timed. Moreover, it is increasingly recognized that many of the tasks sought to be achieved are extremely complex and there is little clarity on how to best proceed. For instance, it is extremely difficult to provide security in a conflictual environment, or to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate armies successfully. It remains practically impossible to address vast unemployment in states where the economy is destroyed and there is high illiteracy, or to strengthen the rule of law in a society where it has collapsed. Moreover, the unintended negative consequences of international aid are more and more evident. These range from distortion of the economy to skewing relationship of accountability by the political elite towards internationals rather than domestic population.

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) determined that basic state capacities are to

i. Assist in the acquisition of new technologies

ii. Mobilize and channel resources to productive sectors

iii. Enforce standards and regulations

iv. Establish social pacts

v. Fund deliver and regulate services and social programmes[11]

States must be able to create the

  1. Political Capacity to address the extent to which the necessary coalitions or political settlements can be built
  2. Resource Mobilization Capacity to generate resources for investment and social development
  3. Allocate Resources To Productive And Welfare-Enhancing Sectors[11]

When developing this infrastructure a state can meet several roadblocks including policy capture from powerful segments of the population, opposition from interest groups, and ethnic and religious division. Developing countries have tried to implement different forms of government established in advanced democracies. However, these initiatives have not been fully successful. Scholars have looked back at the development of Europe to determine the key factors that helped create bureaucracies that were sustainable throughout the centuries.

Application of state-building theories[edit]

The predatory theory[edit]

War making[edit]

When studying the development of European states, Charles Tilly identified that European countries engaged in four activities:[12]

  1. war making – eliminating or neutralizing their own rivals
  2. state making – eliminating or neutralizing their rivals inside their own territory
  3. protection – eliminating or neutralizing the enemies of their clients
  4. extraction – acquiring the means of carrying out the first three activities.

For Tilly, these activities are interdependent and rely in the state's ability to monopolize violence. Before the consolidation of European states, kings relied on their lords’ troops to emerge victorious from war, setting the final boundaries of their territories after years of campaigns. Still, these lords and their private armies could become potential threats to the king's power during peacetime. Originally, structures were created to facilitate extraction from the king's subordinates in exchange for protection (from their enemies and from the state), covering the expenses of war campaigns. However, extraction also economically strengthened the states, allowing them to expand their hold over the use violence.[13]

Out of these four activities, war making was the main stimulus to increasing the level of taxation, thus increasing the capacity of the state to extract resources otherwise known as fiscal capacity.[12] The increased capacity of the state to extract taxes from its citizens while facing external threats prompted Jeffrey Herbst to propose allowing failed states to dissolve or engage in war to re-create the process endured by European countries.[14] The process of extraction in exchange for protection was further argued by economic historian Frederic Lane. Lane argued that "governments are in the business of selling protection... whether people want it or not".[15] Furthermore, Lane argued that a monopoly was best equipped to produce and control violence. This, he argued, was due to the fact that competition within a monopoly raised costs, and that producing violence renders larger economies of scale.[15] Although the logic was consistent with the predatory theory of the state in early modern Europe,[16] Herbst's point of view was criticized by several scholars including Richard Joseph who were concerned that the application of predatory theory was an excessive approach of Darwinism.[17] Many have disregarded the limited view of this theory and have instead extended it to include strong external threats of any kind. External threats to the state produce stronger institutional capacities to extract resources from the state.[18]

In harnessing this increased capacity, Cameron Thies describes the state as a machine that requires a "driver" that is able to use the increased capacity to expand influence and power of government. The driver can be state personnel, a dominant class, or a charismatic individual. Without these drivers, the political and military machine of the state has no direction to follow and therefore, without this direction, war and the increased resources extracted from war can not be used for growth.[18] On the other hand, internal wars, i.e. civil wars, have a negative effect on extraction of a state. Internal rivals to the state decrease the state's capacity to unify and extract from its citizens. Rivals usually will bargain with the state to lower their tax burden, gain economic or political privileges.[18]

Limited access orders[edit]

In their paper,[19] Douglass North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast offer an alternative framework - limited access orders - for understanding the predatory role of the state. In limited access orders, entry is restricted in both economic and political systems to produce rents which benefit the ruling elites. In open access orders, entry is open to all. The logic of the open access state is based in impersonality. Both systems are interdependent and are only stable when both have similar access frameworks, either limited or open. Transitioning from a limited access order to an open access order involves difficult, radical changes based on three "doorstep conditions": 1) rule of law for elites, 2) perpetual life for organizations, and 3) political control of the military. Once all three initial conditions are satisfied, more incremental changes can be made to move the state further in the direction of an open access order.

Social changes and social order[edit]

In his study on countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Joel Migdal presented the necessary and sufficient conditions for establishing a strong state.[20] He considered "massive societal dislocation" that weakens old social control and institutions as the necessary condition. Such cases include the Black Death and the Hundred Years' War in Europe,[21] the expansion of world economy into Asia, Africa and Latin America in the 19th century, the combination of war and revolution in China, Korea and Vietnam and mass migration in Taiwan and Israel in the 20th century. Furthermore, he listed the sufficient conditions as follows:

  • World historical timing when exogenous political forces were in favor of concentrated social control;
  • Existence of military threat from outside or other groups in the country;
  • A group of skillful and independent people to build an independent bureaucracy;
  • Skillful top leadership that would take advantage of the above conditions.

Differentiating "nation-building", military intervention, regime change[edit]

Some commentators have used the term "nation-building" interchangeably with "state-building" (e.g. Rand report on America's role in nation-building). However, in both major schools of theory the state is the focus of thinking rather than the "nation" (nation conventionally refers to the population itself, as united by identity history, culture and language). The issues debated related to the structures of the state (and its relationship to society) and as result state-building is the more broadly accepted term. In political science 'nation-building' usually has a quite distinct meaning, defined as the process of encouraging a sense of national identity within a given group of people, a definition that relates more to socialisation than state capacity (see the ODI, OECD, and DFID reports cited above).

Similarly, state-building (nation-building) has at times been conflated with military intervention or regime change. This derives in part from the military actions in Germany and Japan in World War II and resulting states, and became especially prevalent following the military interventions in Afghanistan (October 2001) and Iraq (March 2003). However, the conflation of these two concepts has been highly controversial, and has been used by opposing ideological and political forces to attempt to justify, or reject as an illegal military occupation, the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hence, regime change by outside intervention should be differentiated from state-building.

There have been some examples of military interventions by international or multilateral actors with a focus on building state capacity, with some of the more recent examples including Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), East Timor, and Sierra Leone. Such interventions are alternatively described as "neotrusteeship" or "neoimperialism". Under this framework, strong states take over part of all of the governance of territories with underdeveloped existing governing structures, often with the backing of international legal authority. Unlike the classic imperialism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, this type of intervention is aimed at (re)building local state structures and turning over governance to them as quickly as possible.[22] Such efforts vary in the scope of their objectives, however, with some believing that sweeping change can be accomplished through the sufficient and intelligent application of personnel, money, and time,[23] while others believe that any such plans will founder on the inherent unpredictability of interventions and that lengthy, sustained interventions often prevent local leaders from taking responsibility and strengthen insurgent forces.[24]

Neo-trusteeship, shared sovereignty, and other new models of intervention rest on the assumptions that intervention is the most effective strategy for state-building and that countries cannot recover from the failures of government without external interference. However, Jeremy M. Weinstein proposes autonomous recovery exists as a process that offers "lasting peace, a systematic reduction in violence, and post-war political and economic development in the absence of international intervention."[25] The argument suggests that external interference detracts from the state-building by-products produced from war or military victories, given that military intervention makes rebel victories less likely and that peace-building discourages violence. External support undermines the creation of a self-sustaining relationship between rulers or political leaders and its constituents. Foreign aid promotes governments that maintain the same leaders in power and discourages developing a revenue extraction plan that would bind local politicians and local populations. War or military victories create conditions for self-sustaining and representative institutional arrangements through the domestic legitimacy and capacity of state revenue extraction that are by-products of war.[25]

Versus peace-building[edit]

State-building does not automatically guarantee peace-building, a term denoting actions that identify and support structures that strengthen and solidify peace in order to prevent a relapse into conflict.[26] Whilst they have traditionally been considered two individual concepts with a complex relationship giving rise to dilemmas and necessitating trade-offs, as Grävingholt, Gänzle and Ziaja argue, the two actually representative two diverging perspectives on the same issue: a shaky social peace and a breakdown of political order.[27] Whilst the OECD emphasises that peace-building and state-building are not the same, it does recognise the nexus between them and the reinforcement of one component has on the other: 'peace-building is primarily associated with post-conflict environments, and state-building is likely to be a central element of it in order to institutionalise peace'.[28] Paris' model including the peace-building and state-building is one of the better known ones. He advocates an Internationalisation Before Liberalisation (IBL) approach, arguing that peace-building must be geared towards building liberal and effective states, thus 'avoiding the pathologies of liberalization, while placing war-shattered states on a long-term path to democracy and market-oriented economics'.[29]

Despite the advantages of incorporating peace-building and state-building in the same model, applicational limitations should be recognised. In practice, foreign and security policy making still largely treat them as separate issues. Moreover, academics often approach the subjects from different angles. Heathershaw and Lambach caution that in practice, interventions that attempt the ambitious goals that Paris (amongst others) sets out may be coercive and driven by a 'the end justifies the means' outlook.[29] This concern is acute in United Nations peacekeeping missions for there have been instances where peace-builders aspire not only to go a step further and eradicate the causes of violence, which are oftentimes not agree upon by the parties to the conflict, but also to invest 'post-conflict societies with various qualities, including democracy in order to reduce the tendency toward arbitrary power and give voice to all segments of society; the rule of law in order to reduce human rights violations; a market economy free from corruption in order to discourage individuals from believing that the surest path to fortune is by capturing the state; conflict management tools; and a culture of tolerance and respect'.[30] Such ambitious goals are questionable when the United Nations has been seen to struggle in high-profile conflict-ridden situations such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Where it has accomplished a degree of stability such as in Haiti and Liberia, it endures pressure 'to transition from heavy and costly security-oriented peacekeeping operations to lighter, peace-building-oriented missions'. Introducing state-building to mandates is controversial not only because this would entail extra costs and commitments but also because 'the expansion of peacekeeping into these areas has de facto extended the authority of the Security Council, with political, financial, institutional, and bureaucratic implications that have yet to be fully addressed'.[31]

Due to the inherently political nature of state building, interventions to build the state can hinder peace, increasing group tensions and sparking off further conflict.[32] The strength of the consensus that has emerged stressing that 'a minimally functioning state is essential to maintain peace',[32] ignores the complications that poor legitimacy and inclusion can lead to in the future, undermining the whole process.[according to whom?] For instance, while the Guatemala Peace Accords were considered successful, 'the formal substance of these agreements has not altered power structures that have been in place for decades (if not centuries) in any substantial manner. The underlying (informal) understanding among elites – that their privileges and hold on power are not to be touched – appears to remain. Therefore, while the Accords may be deemed successful because they prevented the outbreak of war, this 'success' was tainted by the implications made by a subsequent report published by the Commission of Historical Clarification in February 1999. In it 'particular institutions were singled out as responsible for extensive human rights abuses. State institutions were attributed responsibility for 93% of these, and the guerrilla forces 3%. In unexpectedly strong language, the report described Guatemalan governmental policy at the height of the war as a policy of genocide'.[33] The reinforcement of these state institutions as part of the peace-building process taints it by association.

Efforts to "appease" or 'buy off' certain interest groups in the interest of peace may undermine state-building exercises, as may power-sharing exercises that could favor the establishment of a political settlement over effective state institutions. Such political settlements could also enshrine power and authority with certain factions within the military, allowing them to carve up state resources to the detriment of state-building exercises.[34] However, in weak states where the government has not sufficient power to control peripheries of the territory, alliances with the elites could strengthen the state's governing power. Yet, these alliances are successful if the agreement is mutually beneficial for the parties e.g. elites's power is threatened by competition and the entitlement of the government would help them to diminish it. In return, the government would acquire information and control over the peripheries' policies. Afghanistan since 2001, is an example of a beneficial pact between government and elites; entitling some select set of warlords as governors yielded a strongman brand of governance in two key provinces.[35]

Sometimes peace-building efforts bypass the state in an effort bring peace and development more quickly, for example, it was found that many NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo were building schools without involving the state. The state also may be part of the problem and over-reliance on the state by international actors can worsen security inside the country.

Conversely, state corruption can mean that state building efforts serve only one ethnic, religious or other minority group, exacerbating tensions that could escalate towards violence.[36] State building can also assist predatory states to strengthen their institutions, reinforcing abusive authority and further fueling grievances and popular resistance.[34]

In practice, however, there remains confusion over the differences between state-building and peace-building. The UN's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change stated that "along with establishing security, the core task of peace-building is to build effective public institutions that, through negotiations with civil society, can establish a consensual framework for governance with the rule of law".[37] Additionally, a 2004 UN study found that a number of UN officials felt that the establishment of effective and legitimate state institutions was a key indicator of a successful peace operation.[38]

Market-oriented aid[edit]

Aid is an important part to the development dialogue. In the 1980s and 1990s due to a series of economic crises and unsuccessful attempts in intervention programs in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, the international community shifted towards a market-oriented model of foreign aid.[39] Donor countries believed that a reduction in the size and the reach of the state could provide a more efficient outcome.[39] However, the success of East Asia, East Europe, Brazil, and India has suggested even market economies require a capable state to grow sustainably. Moreover, international donors became concerned over seriously malfunctioning states in the 1990s, i.e. Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.[39]

State capacity[edit]

Economic historians Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama define state capacity as "the ability of a state to collect taxes, enforce law and order, and provide public goods."[40] There are, however, various definitions of state capacity among scholars.[41] Berwick and Christia consolidate the literature of state capacity into 3 different domains:[41]

  • Extractive capacity is the process of collecting rents in order to provide resources for the governed. Taxing is the most common form of extraction. Tilly argues that state-building was not intended, but once it has begun, extraction capacity was necessary.[13] Furthermore, Herbst argues that war is a catalyst to start or increase extractive capacity.[42]
  • Governmental capacity is the ability of lower level governmental workers to implement the agenda of the higher level of government.
  • Regulatory–productive capacity is the capacity of the state to provide output for the citizens. This output can include the enforcement of laws and the setting of policy for the citizens.

State capacity is widely cited as an essential element to why some countries are rich and others are not: "It has been established that the richest countries in the world are characterized by long-lasting and centralized political institutions"; "that poverty is particularly widespread and intractable in countries that lack a history of centralized government... and are internally fragmented"; "and countries with weak state capacity are particularly vulnerable to civil war and internal conflict".[40]

Pritchett, Woolcock & Andrews (2013)[36] offer a criticism of why state building fails to work. They claim that many countries are in a capability trap – countries are, at most, converging at a very low pace to the same levels of state capacity. They estimate that on average, it would take 672 years for the bottom 15 countries to reach the state capability level of the best performer if their capabilities keep growing at the same average rate with which they have grown since their political independence.[a] Other indexes suggest that countries are not catching up: the bureaucratic quality and corruption index from the International Country Risk Guide (ICRG) have a negative pace of growth for the bottom 30 countries. The authors argue that the capability trap shows that external assistance to increase state capacity have not been successful in accelerating the development process. They identify that this implementation failure may occur through two techniques: i) systemic isomorphic mimicry, by which the structures of institutions are imitated (specific rules are followed) but they do not serve purposes functional to the society; and ii) premature load bearing, in which the pressure exerted by outsiders undermines the organic evolution of local institutions.

State structures within the concept of state-building[edit]

The term "state" can be used to mean both a geographic sovereign political entity with a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with the other states, as defined under international law (Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, December 26, 1933, Article 1), as well as a set of social institutions claiming a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory (Max Weber, 1919).

For the purposes of state-building in environments of instability, the sub-structures of states can be defined as a political regime (or system of government), a governance framework (or constitution), and a set of state institutions (or organizations) such as the armed forces, the parliament, and the justice system. State capacity refers to the strength and capability of the state institutions. Nation conventionally refers to the population itself, as united by identity, history, culture, and language.

Authoritarian regime[edit]

Governments that have implemented the top-down method present the idea that there is a great external threat that can diminish the capabilities of a state and its citizens. The perceived threat creates an incentive that focuses policy, make elites cooperate, and facilitates the adoption of a nationalistic ideology. In an authoritarian government, political, military, and ideological power is concentrated to be conducive to policy continuation. The bureaucracies implemented are well trained, well paid, and highly competitive in recruitment and promotion.[43] Economically successful states in East Asia have taken on programs to create infrastructure, subsidize the farming sector, provide credit, support spending on targeted research, and invest in health and education. However, most governments are non-developmental and unstable. Furthermore, even when countries have tried to pursue authoritarian strategies that have worked, specifically Brazil, a divided military, regional oligarchs in power, and vast disparities in inequality delegitimized the regime.[44]

Democratic regime[edit]

A democratic regime engages citizens more actively than a top-down government. It respects the right of citizen to contest policies. Successful democracies developed political capacities by nurturing active citizenship, maintaining electoral competitiveness that gave value to the votes of the poor, fostered political parties that were strongly oriented towards equality, and had strong party-social movement ties.


While many specific techniques exist for creating a successful state-building strategy, three specific approaches have been identified by the recent 2010 UNRISD report.[11] These three approaches would all fall under the endogenous school of thinking, and are: Good Governance, New Public Management, and Decentralization.[11]

Education as a State-Building Tool[edit]

Education is used in both democratic and authoritarian contexts to promote state building. In both democratic and authoritarian contexts, education seeks to promote social order and political stability by teaching citizens to respect the state’s authority from a young age. Governments often turn to primary education to teach a common culture, political values and beliefs, and political behaviors. Education can also improve human capital and encourage economic growth; however, the correlation between access to education and level of skills of the population is weak. While some suggest that education has a destabilizing effect on authoritarian states, and therefore authoritarian states will refrain from providing it, the historical record shows that authoritarian governments frequently expanded education provision rather than reduced it.[45]

Good governance[edit]

Good governance is a very broadly used term for successful ways a government can create public institutions that protect people's rights. There has been a shift in good governance ideals, and as Kahn[46] states, "The dominant 'good governance' paradigm identifies a series of capabilities that, it argues are necessary governance capabilities for a market-friendly state. These include, in particular, the capabilities to protect stable property rights, enforce the rule of law, effectively implement anti-corruption policies and achieve government accountability." This good governance paradigm is a market-enhancing process which emerged in the 1990s. This approach involves enforcing the rule of law, creating stronger property rights, and reducing corruption. By focusing on improving these three traits, a country can improve its market efficiency. There is a theoretical cycle of market failure[46] which explains how a lack of property rights and strong corruption, among other problems, leads to market failure:

  • The cycle starts with economic stagnation, which can enhance and expose the inefficiencies of a weak government and rule of law that cannot effectively respond to the problem.
  • Because a government is unaccountable or weak, small interest groups can use the government for their specific interests, resulting in rent-seeking and corruption.
  • Corruption and rent seeking from interest groups will lead to weak property rights that prevent citizens and smaller businesses from the assurance that their property is safe under national law. Also the corruption will result in welfare-reducing interventions.
  • These weak property rights and welfare-reducing interventions lead to high transaction cost markets.
  • High transaction cost markets lead back to economic stagnation.

While it is understood that improving rule of law and reducing corruption are important methods to increasing the stability and legitimacy of a government, it is not certain whether this approach is a good basis for a state building approach. Researchers[46] have looked at this approach by measuring property rights, regulatory quality, corruption, and voice and accountability. There was little correlation found between increasing property rights and growth rates per capita GDP.[11] Similarly, there is disagreement among development researchers as to whether it is more beneficial to promote comprehensive set of reforms or to promote a minimal set of necessary reforms in contexts of poor institutionalization. Proponents of the former approach have put forward the concept of "good enough governance".[47]

New Public Management[edit]

In response to the unsuccessful attempts to strengthen government administrations, developing countries began to adopt market-oriented managerial reforms under the pressure of the IMF and the World Bank. New Public Management approach first emerged in New Zealand and the United Kingdom in the 1980s.[11] New Public management uses market like reforms within the public sector to provide the government with the necessary power to implement a development plan on the economy while also using competitive market-based techniques to enhance public sector production. It changed public sector employment practices from career tenure positions towards limited-term contracts for senior staff, locally determined pay, and performance-related pay.[11] Secondly, the provision of government services shifted towards contracts, franchising, vouchers, and user charges in an effort to promote efficiency in service provision to citizens.[11]

In this type of government, large bureaucracies within a ministry (the principal) no longer maintain their hierarchical structure but rather are composed of operational arms of ministries that perform the role of an individual agent. The strategy has been more prominent in liberal market-driven policy regimes like New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States. Continental Europe has been more resistant to implementing this type of policy. In developing countries, the implementation of these types of infrastructure has been difficult because the markets for the delivery of services are imperfect and increase the danger of regulatory capture by companies. For successful implementation, governments must have the infrastructure to measure reliable performance indicators and the capacity to regulate the behavior of private providers.[11]


In reference to state building approaches decentralization is beneficial because "It seeks to reduce rent-seeking behavior and inefficient resource allocation associated with centralized power by dispersing such power to lower levels of government, where the poor are likely to exercise influence and a variety of actors may participate in the provision of services".[48]

Limitations to decentralization are the reduction of the meritocratic basis can limit the state's capacity to serve citizens, limited control of the fiscal funds at the local level can prevent effectiveness, and substantial inequalities in fiscal capacity among different regions can create ineffective redistribution of resources. Therefore, for these policies to work, there must be coordination efforts to ensure that growth-oriented and redistributive strategies initiated at the central government are implemented regionally. Furthermore, government elites must be in favor of low-income groups and grass root groups should be able to engage with local authorities during policy making.[11]

Examples of state-building[edit]

European states replicated or bequeathed their institutions in the territories they colonized, but many new emerging states have evolved differently. European states consolidated after long years of internal and external struggles that greatly differ in context from the struggles of some recently emerged states.[13]


Kosovo has gone through extensive state building by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), that assumed all executive, legislative and judicial powers in 1999, aiming to restore order, stability and peace in the turbulent region. This is a unique example of state-building that is directly administered by external actors, the effectiveness of which is to this date contested. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj claimed Kosovo is the most successful state-building example in the region,[49] as its transition from war and genocide, to peace and progress has been remarkable. The developmental progress of Kosovo is apparent in its new institutional framework, that although initially centrally planned and administered by the UNMIK, has gradually transferred competencies to relevant national bodies and relevant institutions. The 2012 Report of the Secretary-General on the UNMIK claims of 'encouraging signals of commitment by the parties to engaging with one another through peaceful means and dialogue to resolve their differences'.[50] Yet Kosovo remains a "black hole"[51] in Europe, being a semi-consolidated authoritarian regime, noting high levels of corruption, crime and unemployment, casting doubts over the extent to which state-building was successful. Arguably, the state is still overly dependent on international aid and external assistance for its economy, part of which is still linked to networks of the old war economy.[52]

Latin America[edit]

Latin America experienced a period of rapid economic growth and political stability in the late-19th century, following independence and subsequent decades of decline caused by violence, reduced state-capacity, and fiscal fragmentation. This trajectory is markedly successful relative to other[which?] post-conflict societies at the time. Latin Americans also enacted a number of liberal public policies swiftly and effectively, such as abolition of slavery (Saint-Domingue in 1793, Haiti in 1804, New Spain in 1813, Peru in 1854, Brazil in 1888), socializing property rights over land, and eliminating public monopolies, which fostered long-term stability that facilitated economic growth and established a new political economy for these new nations. The growth and stability seen in Latin America, however, did come at a high social cost in the form of social inequality that continued into the 21st century.[53]

In the 21st century it became economically and politically difficult for Latin American countries to increase revenues, which led states to turn to debt for the necessary resources to pay for war.[citation needed] As a result, Latin American countries did not establish the same tax basis that their European counterparts did. This can be explained by the predatory theory. Studies on the extraction of tax revenues have demonstrated that both external and internal rivals affect the ability of a state to develop and extract resources from its citizens. Interstate rivals had a positive effect on the state's capacity to extract resources while intrastate rivals had a negative effect on state building.[18][need quotation to verify]


Tilly's theory that external threats strengthen the state's capacity to extract taxes from its citizens can apply to developing countries in Africa.[54] The presence of both external state rivals and internal ethnic rivals prompted states to increase their extraction of taxes from citizens while internal political rivals failed to affect the extraction of taxes.[citation needed] The leaders in power try to maintain their position by catering to the majority ethnic group and by increasing taxes to gain the resources to diminish threats from minority ethnic groups. Thus the presence of internal ethnic rivals creates the capacity to significantly increase the tax ratio.

Drawing on Charles Tilly's theory of European state formation, a number of scholars have suggested that in focusing on internal rivalries, rather than challenging colonial borders, rulers were "less likely to see their economies as a resource to be nurtured than as an object of periodic plunder—the analogy to Olson's (1993) roving bandits should be clear" (Thies, 2004: 58). In the absence of external threats, rulers thus had no impetus to replicate the patterns described by Tilly—war making, coercion, resource extraction—that had proven crucial to the process of centralization of power in the states of Europe.

For example, in States and Power in Africa (2000), Jeffrey Herbst explains that "domestic security threats, of the type African countries face so often, may force the state to increase revenue; however, civil conflicts result in fragmentation and considerable hostility among different segments of the population", undermining the state's ability to rally the population's support for the "national project" (2000: 126).[55] In a later article, Herbst argues that war in Europe lead to strong states and that without war African states will remain weak.[56] In Europe, external threats allowed states to tax, increase taxation, and forge a national identity. Additionally, the states that were invaded and taken over (such as Poland-Lithuania or Ireland) by stronger countries were militarily and politically weak. African states are poor, have weak governments, and are fragmented on ethnic or regional lines. According to theory, these weak African states should be susceptible to external threats, but this is not the case. In Africa, Herbst notes, there are rarely conflicts between states, and if there are, war does not threaten the existence of the state. For example, in the 1979 Uganda-Tanzania War, Tanzania invaded Uganda to overthrow Idi Amin, but after the Tanzanians had removed Amin, they left the country. Although African states do not experience widespread interstate war, Herbst argues they need it to reform the tax structure and to build a national identity. Herbst concludes that war in Africa is likely to occur when African leaders realize that their economic reforms and efforts to build a national identity do not work and in desperation will start wars to build the states that their countries need.[56] James Robinson disagrees with Herbst in the grade of influence of war on state-building, stating that European colonization and European influences in the continent impacted more deeply the creation of institutions, and therefore, states in Africa.[57]

As of 2017 the provision of public services, another dimension of state-building, which includes the management of human capital within the realm of service along with the delivery of public services, remains another major challenge for post-conflict African nations. Academics have built models of the political economy in post-conflict African societies to understand the trade-off between the capability, delivery, and stability of public-service administration, and policies which result in weak civil service rooted in the nations' legacies of conflict.[58]

Several researchers have emphasized that the internal violence seen in Africa was characteristic for early modern European politics and that this[which?] type of structure may resolve to produce an increased level of political order.[16][need quotation to verify] A number of scholars have criticized this claim for its "excessively Darwinian", overly deterministic and Euro-centric understanding of the process of state-formation (Thies, 2004: 69, see also Joseph, 1997).

South Sudan[edit]

The international intervention which culminated in renewed conflict in South Sudan is cited[by whom?] as an example of a flawed application of international state-building.[59] On July 9, 2011, with unilateral[clarification needed] support from the United Nations Security Council and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the nation of South Sudan was officially recognized[by whom?] as an independent Sovereign, forged by an alliance of rebel groups.[60] The process of building this state, however, had begun in 2005 with the proclamation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a militarist[citation needed] agreement forged among warlords to establish a military dictatorship in South Sudan.[citation needed] The United States, Britain, Norway, and the IGAD conceptualized and facilitated the process as the solution to the ongoing Second Sudanese Civil War of 1983 to 2005.[61] This agreement rested on an assumption that the terms of a peace agreement should be determined solely by military leaders.[citation needed] Later, in 2010, an attempt was made[by whom?] to include political leaders in the state-building process through the All South Sudanese Political Parties convention, which ultimately resolved to create a transitional government with representation from all major political factions, with a goal of hosting free and fair elections within two years of independence.[62] However, the transitional government never kept these terms, and South Sudan subsequently devolved into fierce ethnic conflict and civil war. Mahmood Mamdani asserts that this renewed violence was caused by the blatant disregard that South Sudan's rulers have shown for the peace treaties, due to a perception of reassurance through unconditional international support. The treaties have in effect become, as Jeffrey Herbst describes, unenforceable contracts.[63]

Mamdani and other scholars have called for the establishment of a new transitional process, through a neotrusteeship facilitated by the African Union (AU).[citation needed] They cite the successful resolution of the Gambian post-election crisis[64] to assert that the AU is the only international institution with the credibility and regional representation required to effectively manage the crisis. They assert that this new transition should exclude all participants from the first failed government, should be jointly mandated by the AU and the UN, and should be funded by the United States, Norway, and Britain as an admission of their past failures.[61]



The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) claims sovereignty over the Palestinian Territories whose legal statehood is widely recognized (though not by some major global powers), as well as representative status over the Palestinian people, a claim that is universally recognized. However, it does not have sole jurisdiction over the areas it claims. In addition, many of those it aims to represent currently reside elsewhere, most notably in Arab countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Nonetheless, the PLO and other Palestinian organisations have historically made great efforts to install institutions of a type commonly associated with states in the Palestinian territories - as well as in countries with large numbers of Palestinian residents. Examples include:

  • Jordan after the Six-Day War (June 1967), where the installation of parallel structures of power and mechanisms for taxation and education led to largely independent Palestinian enclaves which formed a threat to the power and legitimacy of the Hashemite monarchy[65]
  • Lebanon, where a similar process exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions[65]

Despite the break-down of the Oslo process of 1993-2000 and the ongoing construction of Israeli settlements (1967 to present), the Palestinian National Authority continues to engage in state-building activities in its territories and has referred to the "State of Palestine" in official documents since 2013. In 2003 the United Nations Security Council passed UN Resolution 1515, calling for the "establishment of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state". Despite this official acknowledgement of the legitimacy of PNA state-building by the international community, a 2011 report prepared by the London-based Overseas Development Institute found international assistance to have been "sporadic and fragmented".[66] Besides the lack of consistent outside support, the report identified key challenges to Palestinian state-building at the international level, including the lack of horizon on "final status" negotiations, failed peace negotiations, the tightening of the occupation, and the weak economic base, in addition to profound challenges at the domestic level, including:

  • a lack of an internal political settlement
  • weak linkages between ruling authorities and society at large
  • weakened social cohesion
  • gender inequality
  • weak civil-society
  • lack of capacity of formal PNA institutions
  • (perceived) securitization of authority across the occupied Palestinian territory[66]

A number of scholars have questioned whether the Palestinian Authority was ever in a position to build a viable state. Edward Said, Neve Gordon and Sara Roy – among others – have argued that the PNA was designed[by whom?] as an "occupation subcontractor", only strengthening the power asymmetries between occupier and occupied.[67] Another strand of analysis, associated with Jamil Hilal and Mushtaq Khan (2004), portrays the PNA as a "transitional client quasi-state", stuck in a situation where core functions of the state remain in the hands of the Israeli state. They identify structural issues within the Oslo process and disunity and corruption prevalent among the Palestinian elite as key reasons for the failure of Palestinian state-building efforts.

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Based on kernels of tribalism, fundamentalist religious ideology (Wahhabist Islam) and monarchical dynastic control,[68] Saudi Arabia formed as a 20th-century state with the support of tax revenues and military development.[69]

See also[edit]


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  1. ^ They use three index to estimate state capability: i) ‘government effectiveness’ from the World Bank World Governance Indicators, ii) resource efficiency, from the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, and iii) ‘progressive deterioration in public services’ from the Failed State Index.


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