January 20-21, 2004

With support from the German Marshall Fund, SWP and the Carnegie Endowment hosted the first of two working groups on "States at Risk-Stabilization and State-Building by External Intervention." Participants included government officials, academics, and representatives from international organizations, NGOs, and think tanks. The second meeting will take place in late spring in Berlin.

Session I: Approaches to and Causes of State Failure

Carleton University's Country Assessments for Foreign Policy and the US Government's Political Instability (State Failure) Task Force analyze the likelihood of state failure in various nations by monitoring a variety of quantitative indicators. Both projects have generated indicators with substantial predictive power. Participants agreed that it is important to refine the indicators further to give confidence to policy-makers to act early to prevent state failure. Participants agreed that taking preemptive action is better than waiting to intervene until a country collapses; they recognized, however, that being able anticipate state collapse and being able to or willing to stop it constitute two very different things. Many constraints limit policymakers' ability to act, with lack of time and insufficient resources being the most prominent obstacles.

Session II: How to Stabilize States at Risk, How to Rebuild Failed States

All participants recognized that it is extremely important to establish viable means to stabilize and rebuild failed states. Security is the major prerequisite to stabilizing, let alone rebuilding, a state. However, a viable state requires more than security as citizens expect their government to also provide basic goods and services. Reconstruction is extremely expensive and donors rarely have the resources to fully fund all necessary projects. The situation is further complicated by the fact that different countries and organizations, such as the United Nations or the World Bank, frequently have divergent priorities and rarely coordinate their activities sufficiently. This inevitably limits the effectiveness of assistance. As donors work to reestablish functioning governments, they must also recognize the normative assumptions underpinning their work. For example, should liberal democracy always be the political template, even if it is highly unlikely that the country will become a democracy? On the hand, is it appropriate for donors to endorse authoritarian regimes simply because it is more convenient?

The discussion brought into the open two conflicting views about state reconstruction. One view questioned the dominant idea that failing states should always be rebuilt. Most state reconstruction efforts have failed and bred new problems. While it is now a universal rule that failing states must be rebuilt consistent with the liberal democratic model, this is a relatively new idea. Until very recently, failing states were dismantled, not rebuilt. The current model for rebuilding states calls for extensive political and societal engineering projects, which are remarkably similar regardless of the size and characteristics of the country being rebuilt. In reality, there are simply not enough financial or military resources available to implement this model in large states, let alone in all failing or failed states. In light of the standard model's fundamental shortcomings, the international community should consider accepting "proto-state" formations we see emerging in some parts of the world. At the least, donors should reconsider what sorts of formulations are acceptable, provided that they do not abandon populations or foster instability.

The second view recognized the current model's imperfection, but maintained that it is nearly impossible to conceptualize the modern world organized in any other way than in states. World order requires the globe to be divided into countries with well-defined borders and capable of delivering the services required by citizens and the international community. The international community is not concerned with social engineering, but with improving the social and economic viability of failing or failed states and preventing conflicts from spilling over into neighboring areas. As state collapse stems from the government's failure to uphold its end of the social contract, rebuilding requires fair policies to strengthen the new state's legitimacy. Reconstruction is inevitably a difficult process. Still, reestablishing security allows for improvement in other areas, such as the legal process, economic activity, and communications

Session III: German and British Policies on States at Risk and State-Building

Germany recently announced plans to restructure its armed forces to include a "reaction" force, capable of rapid deployment throughout the world to quickly stabilize crisis situations. This specialized force reflects the German view that security-best obtained via overwhelming force-is a prerequisite to any reconstruction effort. Without security, a weak or failing state must compete for power with non-state actors, such as organized crime networks and warlords. In order to establish and maintain security as quickly as possible, there needs to be closer integration of police and military forces. From a civil society perspective, personal security is the primary post-conflict concern, especially in Africa. As the situation stabilizes, individuals and state actors need to participate actively in preserving security.

In Britain, the Prime Minister has convened a Strategy Unit to develop a policy for dealing with weak and failing states. The Strategy Unit will coordinate the efforts of the Foreign Office, Home Office, Department for International Development, and Defense Department. The goal is to develop a policy that addresses development, security, refugee flows from failing states, and energy security. The Strategy Unit has designed a methodology to: (1) analyze indicators of state weakness and failure (2) identify the states that should take priority for UK interests; (3) develop and execute plans to work with each of them; and (4) monitor the implementation of the plans and evaluate their effectiveness. One specific goal of the UK is to increase information sharing and aid coordination with similar agencies in other countries and with multilateral institutions.

Session IV: US Policy on States at Risk and State-Building

The US has identified areas of concern, including security, disease, overwhelming human misery and lost opportunities for trade and economic growth. US foreign aid is designed to: support transformational development, stabilize and promote recovery in fragile states, address humanitarian needs, promote US interests, and address transnational and global ills. To increase effectiveness and better prioritize projects, the US understands that it must adapt its institutions and coordinate strategies across departments. Currently, there seems to be little coordination among USAID, the State Department and the Defense Department, whereas in Britain and Germany these three components seem substantially more integrated.

Session V: Linking Development and Security

Intervening states face many challenges, including domestic opposition, which often questions why public resources- human and financial-are being directed to a dangerous place, often located far from home. In the US, this issue is particularly critical given that most people still view development aid as a form of charity rather than something that is also vital to US security and interests. One possible way to address this issue, presently being explored in Europe, is to create a European Union peace facility that will take money already earmarked for development and use it to strengthen the capacity of regional security forces to manage crises on their own. The risk associated with public dissatisfaction with such interventions is that international support will be withdrawn from a country too quickly. Countries that engage in states at risk need to make a long-term commitment because a sudden change in international engagement can trigger another crisis.

Session VI: Concluding Session

Participants agreed that although there is sufficient information available to give adequate warning about weak and failing states, there is a distinct lack of "early action" to prevent crises from developing or getting out of control. The main obstacle to early action seems to be the inability to make the case for why a government should be expending resources "now" on a problem that is not yet a critical. However, it is clear that the costs of reconstruction and state building are much higher than the costs of prevention. Governments also need to consider less costly types of intervention, such as diplomacy, that can be effective in preventing a state from failing. More efforts should be made to include the private sector because it contributes a lot to employment generation and economic growth - key drivers for a state's stability and paramount among the concerns of civil society.

Synopsis prepared by Geoffrey Swenson, Junior Fellow with the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment, with assistance from Eugene Whitlock at SWP.