Balken Qom
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Jochen Hippler

Nation-states for Export?

Nation-building between military intervention, crisis prevention and development policy



Nation-building in violent conflicts or post-conflict situations is often viewed in most EU countries as a means of countering chaos and fragmentation, as an instrument for conflict management and prevention. Former Minister of State at the German Foreign Office, Ludger Volmer (2002), gave a perfect example of this in June 2002:

“More is needed than the deployment of police and the military to meet the new challenges. What is needed is a long-term political and economic strategy that deals precisely with the forgotten conflicts, failed states, failing states and the black holes on our planet where there is no order whatsoever. Establishing a new state, i.e. nation-building, will become a strategic task for us. Europe has and Germany, too, has an important contribution to make to this end.”

The stabilising and ordering function of nation-building is intended to have the effect of preventing crises and reducing violence. This may quite possibly be true, but we should not overlook the fact that some violent conflicts result precisely from aggressive nation-building projects: ethnic expulsions and massacres are frequently intended precisely for the purpose of asserting a particular, ethnically “pure” version of a “nation” or breaking resistance against   a nation-state government. Other violent conflicts stem from the contradictory nature of two (or more) competing nation-building projects: e.g. from a policy to maintain the “nation-state” in a multi-ethnic context, also by compulsion, or from an attempt to create or homogenise a nation by force, with such an attempt called into question by one or more ethnic groups by way of endeavours to gain independence. While, for example, a Greater Serbia nation-building project would include not only Serbia (including the Hungarian minority), but also the parts of Bosnia settled by Serbs and Kosovo, and relinquishment or loss of any of these regions would mean the failure of the nation-building project, a Kosovo-Albanian nation-building undertaking implies, of course, the independence of Serbia and – depending on one’s political taste – state independence or union with Albania.

In political reality, the alternative to nation-building in many cases is not necessarily its absence but, rather, a competing model. Similarly, external attempts at nation-building often conflict with internal variants rather than with a situation of fragmentation, disintegration or lack of rule or government. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban and the extremist leader Hekmatyar also wanted to assert their own special forms of nation-building, albeit in a particularly brutal manner. And in many situations, the constructive aspect of nation building – i.e. the creation of a nation and nation-state – first requires the dissolution or destruction of previous political entities: the Turkish nation-state was founded on the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Croatian state on the destruction of Yugoslavia, while the Baltic and Central Asian states presupposed the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The development and peace policy discussion on nation-building must therefore proceed from the understanding of the process as the antithesis of the dissolution and disintegration of societies and states, though it should not be forgotten that, in many violent situations, it is precisely the conflict between several nation-building processes that constitutes the core of the problem and that nation-building often first presupposes the fragmentation of larger societies and states. It is thus not always a case of asking whether nation-building is taking place or should take place but, rather, which of the competing projects is desirable and how such a process is to be structured. The significant factors in the context of peace and development policy concern the concrete form of social construction and deconstruction processes, the specific dynamics of the production of ideology related to nation-building (e.g. joint nationality/citizenship concepts versus ethnic ideologies of confrontation) as well as the policy of the state apparatus vis-à-vis society and the different social and ethnic groups. Anyone wanting to conduct or support nation-building from outside cannot avoid carrying out a serious and precise analysis of the initial situation in order to limit errors and the possibility of failure.

All in all, nation-building does not promote peace a priori. On the contrary, nation-building can, in the initial phase, even have the effect of markedly intensifying conflicts since it is often preceded by a phase of disintegration. The latter may occur because the any attempt at integration are rejected by some sections of society, because the methods of nation-building give rise to resistance, or because the losers are able to fight against the unavoidable shifts in power. Even if the threshold of violence is not necessarily exceeded in this context, political and social conflicts will increase for some time and have to be kept under control using sticks and carrots as well as patience. Only when the specific nation-building project is evidently successful and has been consolidated to some degree can a conflict-reducing and peace-promoting effect be expected – this by virtue of the fact that the monopoly of force of a state can be accepted by society and the lessening or better management of lines of demarcation within society can lower the level of internal violence. This positive effect of the second stage of nation-building does not have to depend on whether it has been conducted in a cooperative or repressive manner – even though non-repressive methods are, of course, preferable. Even violent nation-building can bring about a reduction of force over the long term if it is lastingly successful. In this context, it must, however, be ensured that the internal potentials for violence are not simply diverted outwards.

Nation-building from outside?

External players now perform a decisive role in the state and administration of a range of countries experiencing post-conflict situations: e.g. in Kosovo, which is governed by a UN administration; in Bosnia, where a representative of the international community has authority over a complex internal government system decreed from outside; in Kabul, where the President, Karzai, who was installed after the US military intervention, is now supported by a NATO military contingent; and in Iraq, where a US military administration (with nominal British involvement) actually ruled the country and still controls it. External players have also played a decisive role in the shaping of the political situation in other countries, e.g. the USA after its intervention in Haiti (1994/95), the UN in the organisation of elections in Cambodia (1993) and the preparation of the independence of East Timor (1999-2002), to name just three examples. The term “nation-building” was and continues to be used for these and other operations. In most cases, it can be said that it was not the external players that began the nation-building process, rather they only enforced or organised a different kind of nation-building. The reasons for intervention by external players differ greatly: e.g. as a response to a humanitarian crisis, which leads to the assumption of particular administrative and security functions; interest in regional stability; internal political interests, such as the need not to appear “helpless” or idle in the face of a crisis arousing attention in the media; strategic and power interests.

In the most far-reaching cases – Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq – the external players first crushed an existing power or government system (and their specific nation-building concepts) by force in order to then begin a process of material and political reconstruction, though nation-building was never the actual objective of the respective involvements, rather a means. For example, NATO did not wage war against Serbia in order to carry out nation-building in Kosovo; it did so out of a complex set of foreign policy, humanitarian and internal political interests. After the war, however, there was no other option but to take over the administration itself or transfer it to the UN. The Clinton administration took the way out by reluctantly accepting nation-building but letting the United Nations and the EU countries go ahead with implementing it. In Afghanistan, the political and war objectives of the USA and its allies did not involve creating an Afghan nation-state but, rather, smashing the al Qaeda terrorist network, bringing down the Taliban, strengthening their own position in Central Asia and demonstrating their own determination and ability to act after the events of   September 11, 2001. After the quick victory, ways then had to be found of safeguarding influence and regional stability and displaying an internationally presentable power model. The poor post-war planning and incompetent implementation of the plans following the conquest of Iraq by the US and British troops were evidence of Washington having prepared extensively for the military action but only very superficially for post-war arrangements (Washington Post 2003a).

In Iraq, it was primarily a case of gaining a strategic position on the Persian-Arabian Gulf, bringing down a regional rival and politically reorganising the entire Middle East under US leadership, while looking after important economic interests at the same time. After the end of the rule of Saddam Hussein and the dissolution or smashing of the central areas of his state apparatus, the reconstruction of Iraq as a society and state became a necessity in order to avoid a political vacuum, safeguard stability and, at the same time, promote one’s own interests. The first US administrator of Iraq, Jay Garner, had spoken of his mandate being fulfilled within three months and of US troops then being able to be withdrawn shortly afterwards (Washington Post 2003b) – a clear sign that nation-building was not the objective of the war. Even after this, Washington still assumed for some time that the number of US occupying troops could be reduced to around 70,000 by the summer of 2003. Only then was it realised that even 160,000 soldiers would not be enough to control Iraq, rebuild it and establish a new political system.

External nation-building is thus often a consequence or instrument of other intervention purposes and rarely the goal in itself – which explains the improvisations, inconsistencies and lack of preparation in many cases. There is not only serious interference in the local balance of power, it also entails a clash of power politics between internal and external players. Anyone who causes inside nation-building projects to fail and replaces them with his own external one has, at the same time, asserted his own power against that of others. In this sense, nation-building also has imperial traits, as Ignatieff (2003) emphasises pointedly in the title of his book: “Empire Lite – Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan”.

Such imperial undertakings are closely linked to a shift in international discourses – e.g. to the discussions surrounding the admissibility of humanitarian interventions despite the restriction contained in the UN Charter (prohibition of force, rules of non-intervention, respecting the sovereignty of other states), to redefining (restriction or conditioning in practical terms) the state sovereignty of particular countries or to relativising international law and the role of the UN in general  (Hippler 2003a; 2003b).

Imperial variants of external nation-building should not be confused with positive efforts to support internal nation-building processes from outside in the political, economic or security policy domains. Nation-building can present the temptation for external players to create one’s counterpart in one’s own image. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (1979-1989) is an example of this. External players can, however, make extremely positive contributions to nation-building in third countries with different political embedding and greater emphasis on development and peace policy, thus also helping social and political stabilisation over the long term.

However, external support of nation-building also finds itself in an area of conflict between promoting  – often contradictory – internal processes and one’s own political objectives and interests, which only rarely concur entirely. Internal nation-building, too, is aimed only in exceptional cases primarily at promoting human rights, social equalisation, good governance and participative democracy. As a rule - and this is neither surprising nor reprehensible in itself – its goal is to safeguard or extend the power of particular social and political groups, the positive political objectives of which can, depending on the circumstances, be perceived as helpful or a hindrance. Non-imperial nation-building by external players will also only be able to support the internal project as an overall package in exceptional cases; the components must, rather, be carefully examined to verify whether they are compatible with one’s own political objectives insofar as one’s own development-policy goals should not be compromised.  External nation-building for the purpose of promoting strategic interests – including the interest in stability – may disregard this dilemma and, for example, attach greater value to stability than to democracy. This does not make any sense from the development policy point of view. Supporting the nation-building policy of a repressive government may appear attractive to some in foreign or security policy terms (e.g. the German support of Somalia under Siad Barre as a result of the plane hijacking by a German terrorist group to Mogadishu; the decades of US support for Saudi Arabia), but in development policy terms it is dubious. This strained relationship between imperial (or expressed more politely: security-policy-dominated) nation-building and its development-policy variant can also be observed within individual nation-building projects. In Afghanistan, for instance, there is an irresolvable contradiction between the attempts to install and consolidate a functioning nation-state government in Kabul and the US military’s close cooperation with and support of local warlords in the provinces so as to be able to use them as auxiliary troops to fight against the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda. This undermines the building of a nation-state (cf. article by Spanta in this publication). Such a contradiction also exists in Iraq in that, on the one hand, the intention is to establish a new political and social system, a new state apparatus and even democracy under Iraqi responsibility while, at the same time, the US authorities want to keep central Iraqi players (e.g. the Shiite parties and organisations) under control so as not to jeopardise their own interests.

A central fundamental question in external nation-building endeavours is who guides and controls the overall process. Are the key players the internal government in question or sectors of the internal society (two very different possibilities), is it international organisations (e.g. the UN) or individual external governments (e.g. the US administration)?

Imperial and development-policy nation-building differ both in degree and structure. They are contrasting projects which require different basic approaches, different instruments and different use of personnel and resources. Imperial nation-building must, in principle, recreate a nation-state and, in frequent cases, also the corresponding society, even where components may exist for both. The desire to bring this about via external players  (regardless of whether it is organised unilaterally or by way of UN policy) is not a sign of political modesty but, rather, an act of creation of enormous dimension which – depending on the size and complexity of the country and its initial situation – can require substantial financial resources (easily tens or hundreds of billions of euros) and one or two generations of patience. It is particularly personnel-intensive and holds a substantial risk: the undertaking is not impossible but can often be politically or legally uncertain and so complex, so demanding in terms of resources, political will and staying power that failure represents a realistic possibility in the long term (i.e. not necessarily in the first few years).

Fundamental problems of imperial nation-building

Although imperial nation-building is not impossible in principle, it will succeed only in rare exceptional cases in the 21st Century. The following reasons for this can be identified:

The security problem: in conflict situations in fragmented societies, the violence itself is often fragmented. External occupying troops therefore have great difficulty distinguishing between civilians and fighters and, because possible resistance does not occur in larger military formations (which could then be fought relatively easily) and is rarely controlled centrally, establishing security is problematic and something for which the military is often not suited. The targets against which the occupiers could act frequently remain in the dark or they are so closely linked to civilians or civilian targets that they can only be fought against if large numbers of civilian casualties are acceptable. This is not only problematic in terms of ethics and international law, but also politically because civilian casualties set the population against the occupying troops and legitimise the resistance. And in cases where some groups in a multi-ethnic society suffer more civilian casualties than others, the ethnic boundaries are intensified and ethnic identities strengthened and radicalised.

The political problem of local rulers and warlords: since the priority in imperial nation-building has to be placed on military security (including that of one’s own troops) and one is dependent upon functioning partners in the country, there is a great incentive to use local power structures, militias, warlords and even criminal gangs as auxiliary troops. In Kosovo, for example, the UN administration worked together with the UÇK militia for some time even though the latter was involved in numerous criminal activities, the expulsion of Serbian and Roma minorities, plus other activities, including intimidation of the population – partly because of fears of UÇK military resistance, such as attacks on KFOR units. In Afghanistan, deals made with local warlords (through the supply of weapons and money) result in strengthening these elements against the central government and thus undermining the nation-building process. This makes the key objective of a state’s monopoly of force even more remote. Alternatives to entering into pacts with local power structures are limited. Attempts to disarm or disband them are often highly risky and require a great deal of time and resources, which is generally unrealistic. In the final analysis, the dilemma of needing dependable, effective and politically acceptable partners with influence in the target country lies in the fact that such partners often do not exist. External nation-building is then left in a state of limbo or it requires even greater commitment and involvement, which can, in turn, easily provoke disapproval and resistance, especially if the internal power factors are circumvented.

The question of resources: in view of tight budgetary conditions and restricted military capacities, military operations have to be limited in time and carried out with the least possible outlay in terms of finance and personnel. This is not always easy: the costs of the US occupation in Iraq at around US$ 4 billion per month have proved to be twice as high as the amount initially calculated (Washington Post 2003c). However, it is precisely this requirement of the deployment of minimum resources in the shortest time-frame possible that block the chances of success for imperial nation-building. It may be possible to achieve specific military objectives and realise projects within the space of a few years, but it will hardly suffice for a state apparatus and functioning society to be reconstituted by “outsiders” in alien surroundings.

The internal political factor: societies in Europe and North America are limited in their patience and readiness for commitment in relation to faraway regional conflicts. Although it is possible to bring about a willingness for intervention in northern industrialised countries by using “moral” (e.g. humanitarian or human rights) arguments or fear of weapons of mass destruction and maintain this for a time, keeping it going at internal political level for a greater commitment over 10, 20 or more years with substantial outlay in terms of finance and personnel could be regarded as just about impossible in most cases. Furthermore, there is the obvious problem of internal political reaction to excessive demands at the foreign-policy level. The German Federal Armed Forces, for example, is almost at the limit of its capacity with its presence in the Balkans and Afghanistan, while the US occupation of Iraq is so personnel-intensive that even the US military has been experiencing bottlenecks since summer 2003. It is questionable whether parliaments and the public at large could or would approve a permanent extensive presence or even expanding such a presence to other countries.

Conflicts of objective and conflicts of objective and means: in imperial nation-building, there is frequently a conflict between the interest in actual nation-building and interest in control. However, the two require different approaches and instruments: control has to focus on the security aspect because it can otherwise easily erode, especially in the case of external players who are themselves in a precarious situation anyway in the target country. In this context, nation-building becomes principally a means for social and political control of the country and is therefore not an objective but – as already referred to - an instrument for other purposes. This variant of nation-building is shaped according to these purposes, which usually comes down to: (i) an emphasis on military, police and intelligence resources, e.g. relevant support or training of the local state apparatus; (ii) appropriate infrastructure measures, e.g. linking inaccessible areas to make it more difficult to use them as possibilities for retreat or withdrawal and (iii) strictly regulated democratisation and participation possibilities in order to include local political forces in the administration of the country and be better accepted among the public at large without, however, letting go of the reins. An example of this is the sudden cancellation of local elections in Iraq even after the ballot papers had printed in some cities – a political sign for the Iraqi population of how seriously the promises of democracy were meant by the military authorities (Washington Post 2003d). There is also the temptation to use the tactic of ‘divide and rule’, which impedes social integration. Conflicts of objective and means frequently entail the primary instrument of imperial nation-building – the military – not being particularly suitable for civil tasks of national integration and state-building, while other instruments (e.g. from the development-policy domain) offer less scope for action and have lesser means at their disposal.

All in all, imperial nation-building is a politically and ethically questionable concern which suffers most from the congenital defect of not being able to reconcile the tasks concerning the external control of society with its function of nation-building. The US government, for instance, spoke at length and with joy about its goal to “liberate” and democratise Iraq, while the US civil administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, stated plainly: “As long as we are here, we are the occupying power. It’s an ugly word, but it’s the truth.” (Washington Post 2003e). The evident tendency of wanting to achieve nation-building in the imperial context a bit at a time, inconsistently, with improvisation, and with the minimum of cost and personnel can easily push such a project to the brink of failure.

Difficulties and conditions for success in nation-building

Non-imperial Nation-building is nevertheless possible and there are many examples of this. Furthermore, successful nation-building can also – after a possible phase of increased instability – make very positive contributions towards stabilising and reducing the potential for violence in previously fragile and fragmented societies. It is not, however, a panacea in hopeless situations; rather it requires appropriate conditions and preconditions, political will, patience, concepts and resources.

The involvement of external players in development-policy nation-building in the sense of Hopp/Kloke-Lesch (referred to by them as “nation-forming” in contrast to “nation-building“; in this publication) represents what it still a complex, though more modest and realistic policy variant than the imperial approach: through its fundamental method of support rather than the external creation of nation-building, it limits the risk and one’s own commitment, raises fewer political problems or difficulties under international law and avoids the danger of placing excessive demands on oneself as well as hubris. Where imperial nation-building is, in principle, a dramatic act of the creation of nations by foreigners, development-policy nation-building resembles, so to speak, the selective drilling of thick timber boards. You can drill the wrong holes or the drill bit may break while you’re working, but there’s little danger to the workman that the entire house will collapse around him.

Nation-building is not likely to have good prospects of success if – regardless of whether from outside or inside – it is laid over a society like a blueprint. In particular, if an attempt is made to carry out nation-building in the form of merely re-applying Western models to fragmented societies of the Third World – e.g. a market economy, a democratic constitution and then elections – it will easily run into difficulties, as the example of Afghanistan illustrates. Conversely, attempts to accomplish successful nation-building by pragmatically feeling one’s way forward without a sound and workable concept are also problematic in most cases – e.g. first external security and control, then transferring power to locals little by little. The experience in Iraq points this way.

Like democracy, nation-building also has the best prospects when it fulfils certain functions for the society affected, something which has to be assessed on the basis of the needs of the population and its socio-economic and political groups. Successful nation-building in situations of acute crises, such as economic and social despair or after a situation of genocide founded on ethnic factors, has much poorer prospects of success than in cases where there is growing scope for distribution and before the complete disintegration of inter-ethnic relations caused by excesses of violence. This applies, unfortunately, regardless of the fact that the need for social and political integration is particularly pronounced in grave conflict or post-conflict situations. The more fragmented a society is and the greater its current experience of violence, the more important control and military and police security will be in order to re-integrate that society over the long term. In addition, the more desolate the socio-economic situation is and the more this is perceived by the population as being something lasting, the more difficult the internal conditions will be for nation-building.

The question frequently arises in this regard of whether the re-integration of a heterogeneous society is possible at all or meaningful or whether corresponding attempts will only serve to painfully drag out the process of disintegration. Some cases can therefore raise alarming questions in political and ethical terms, such as whether “ethnic cleansing” can be reversed at all without causing further serious suffering or whether the disintegration of a multi-ethnic society should be accepted from a certain point and made the starting point of separate nation-building processes, rather than trying to force the different sides into a new entity against their will, like two scorpions in a bottle. This ethical dilemma will often be irresolvable: not wanting to accept brutal excesses of violence and expulsions by taking their results as the starting point for political development and, yet not being able to undo them without perpetuating the violent conflict in a latent or acute manner.

For understandable reasons, the international community  has often dodged this question, e.g. in the Dayton Accord for Bosnia and through the in-between state in Kosovo, where a return of the Serbian and Roma population that fled or were expelled would set off a new round of violence. A Kosovo-Albanian nation-building process is inconsistent with international law (by virtue of Kosovo continuing to belong to Serbia under international law and on the basis of the Rambouillet agreement), while not taking such action or attempting to assert the affiliation to Serbia would escalate the conflict again beyond the threshold of violence.

Starting points for nation-building

Nation-building is a painful, contradictory and complex process which tends to promise success more when the population affected perceives practical improvements in its actual living circumstances and implicitly or explicitly associates these with the nation-building process. If living conditions deteriorate further or stagnate at a low level, the legitimacy of every political project which the population regards as being responsible for this will suffer. A lack of legitimacy could, theoretically, be compensated for by compulsion for a time, though this is not desirable and cannot be sustained over the long term. Nation-building is accepted or at least tolerated when it arouses hope for a better future and there are at least some credible indications of this – otherwise it can easily be perceived as something alien, enforced, artificial or threatening. There is then a danger of the resulting dissatisfaction providing strength for alternative political models (of a secessionist, ethnic or religious nature) at the expense of the integration process.

The new “nation” must therefore – first – have the feeling that “its” new nation-state can solve the social problems in the interests of the population, otherwise it will be extremely difficult to convey. A needs-oriented approach of this kind will normally contain economic and socio-political components (safeguarding food supplies, living accommodation, jobs, healthcare, etc.) but should not be narrowed down to this. In many societies, matters of personal security (especially in post-conflict situations or after overcoming a repressive dictatorship), corruption, infrastructure (energy and water supplies) as well as cultural symbols and forms of expression are of almost equally great importance.

Secondly, in conjunction with the improvement in the living situation, the necessary politico-structural changes should be implemented, whereby the internal political and cultural conditions must be made the starting point. It is not a case here of a schematic introduction of democracy but, rather, of creating the prerequisites for it, e.g. a functioning, expeditious and economical legal system, a fair and effective fiscal system that does not favour (especially ethnic) elites, a responsible police force and military that stand above political and social groups, as well as the opening of society to pluralism. Equal access possibilities to an education system that opens up economic and living opportunities is an important aspect in many societies. The rule of law, personal security and equal treatment of all sectors and groups of society are the main focus of attention in this context. All this is, however, easier to postulate than it is to implement since some previously privileged groups will perceive such equal treatment as a loss of power and as discrimination.

The third level of successful nation-building relates to the nation-wide networking of the political sector. The reforms of the individual domains must be brought together through integration of the state apparatus (and society) – functioning political sectors are an important prerequisite, though not the core of nation-building. Only when the state apparatus grows into a totality, integrates its components both politically and ideologically and, at the same time, produces political mechanisms for the integration of the different sectors of society or cooperates with them – parliaments, governments, allegiances and their requirements, e.g. functioning political parties, an active civil society or political discourses relating to society as a whole – only then can we actually speak of nation-building. This aspect also includes the legal and actual enforcement of the state’s monopoly of force.

These three levels should not be misunderstood as a phase model in this context; they are, rather, dialectically related. If there is no state apparatus functioning to a reasonable degree, it will hardly be possible to manage the first two levels successfully; and without a certain amount of success at those levels, it will be difficult to make a fragile and ineffective state into an effective one. This is precisely where the core strategic difficulty lies, i.e. the complex nation-building process cannot just be executed systematically and in clear stages; rather it can, under some circumstances, quite simply signify the placing of excessive demands on the political and economic structures in weak and divided societies. There is rarely a central point from which all other problems could be easily resolved.

It is precisely at this juncture that external assistance can play an important supporting role, as long as it does not succumb to the imperial temptation, by intervening at one or more of the three levels with problem-solving capacities and resources – not in order to replace internal nation-building with the external variety but, rather, to provide the internal players with greater scope so that they do not have to tackle three complex sets of problems at the same time in a situation of weakness. Although the process itself can still only be mastered by the internal players, their chances of success can be increased or diminished from outside. This point can hardly be overemphasised: successful nation-building can only take place when the necessary prerequisites for it exist in the country itself and suitable internal players are available. Pei/Kasper (2003, 5) stress, among other things, the importance of a fundamentally effective state apparatus: “strong performance capability within the state is almost always a prerequisite for success.” Even though this sounds virtually tautological – the building of a functioning nation-state presupposes a strong state –, it is not wrong: without basic political and administrative functionality at the very least, nation-building processes lack the important prerequisites. Pei/Kasper (2003, 5) are sceptical about creating a state from outside:

“It is worth noting that whereas a strong, indigenous state capacity is almost always a requirement for success, building this capacity may be a challenge beyond the capacity of even the most well-intentioned and determined outsiders. Effective state institutions historically evolve organically out of a nation’s social structure, cultural norms, and distributions of political power. Therefore, political engineering by outsiders seldom succeeds in radically altering the underlying conditions responsible for the state’s ineffectiveness.”

If nation-building lacks important prerequisites or these are questionable – and these also include economic, social and cultural preconditions –, attempts at external nation-building will frequently and more likely have the effect of adding to the destruction and fragmentation. If both exist, however, a well-founded analysis of the internal conditions and players, a realistic concept that integrates the economic, social, political, cultural, security policy and other aspects, as well as money, personnel and a great deal of patience will still be required in order to be able to take advantage of such an opportunity.

The three starting points proposed here coincide with the three central areas of nation-building presented at the beginning of this book (cf. Hippler in Part I of this publication): integration of society (“nation”), state-building and ideological integration; they are, however, evidently not identical. This becomes clear in relation to the role of ideology, for example. While it is in fact the case that successful nation-state-building will remain fragile over the long term without ideological legitimation, the forming of ideology would only be a suitable starting point in exceptional cases since, in the absence of tackling the more strongly material tasks, it would quickly be discredited. Such forming of ideology can rarely be promoted from outside and, if so, only to a minor extent. If the forming of ideology were to be at the beginning of the process, there would even be the danger that it might easily develop an ethnic or other exclusiveness in order to achieve mobilisation for an unsound nation-building project through the exclusion of others. This is, in most cases, not a good idea politically if the objective of conflict prevention is not to be abandoned.


“Nation-building” historically was and still is a complex political concept. The discussion surrounding it moves back and forth between a rather arbitrary use of the term to describe eclecticist political elements (in the domains of peacekeeping, state-building, reconstruction, occupation politics and the political structuring of outside societies), an imperial variant of interest politics for controlling outside societies and a development and peace-policy approach for the purpose of stabilisation and conflict prevention in current and potential crisis countries. The latter offers opportunities to deal with difficult and conflict-intensifying situations constructively insofar as the objective and subjective conditions permit in the individual case concerned. Nation-building in this context is not a miracle cure or any basically new or original development, foreign, security or peace policy approach; rather it represents a possibility of integrating different political instruments and methods in a conceptional manner. Old and new instruments and policies are re-evaluated from the standpoint of strengthening political and social integration and combined in order to thus enhance internal development possibilities and the potential for reducing violence.

Such a policy of providing external support for internal, authentic nation-building processes can, in this way, have the effect of promoting development and peace. It does not attempt to re-invent the wheel or simply transfer its own models to fragmented Third World countries – a fault of the corresponding discussions conducted in the 1950s and 60s; the purpose is, rather, to precisely adapt the set of existing policies and instruments to a politically central domain   and integrate them. Bringing these together at a time of numerous and, in themselves, logical “sectoral policies” and developing criteria and conceptions to define their relation, weighting and final overall objective is a task that needs to be carried out urgently. The integration of fragmented societies and the functionality of a state apparatus corresponding to and serving the society are, indeed, two key strategic starting points that can systematise and facilitate the pursuance of a large number of general and often somewhat more obscure political objectives  (development, peace, good governance, etc.).

There are so far only initial signs of an active, supportive policy of nation-building, though hardly perceptible beneath a mountain of rhetoric and incomplete work. It is, however, worthwhile to continue working on this starting point and formulate manageable, unified political concepts – as long as it proves possible beforehand to reject the instrumentalisation of nation-building to a technique for imperial power.




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Washington Post, 2003b: Reconstruction Planners Worry, Wait and Evaluate, in: Washington Post, 2 April, p. A01.

Washington Post, 2003c: Military Operations in Iraq Cost Nearly $4 Billion a Month, in: Washington Post, 10 July, p. A24.

Washington Post, 2003d: Occupation Forces halt Elections throughout Iraq, in: Washington Post, 28 June, p. A20.

Washington Post, 2003e: The Final Word on Iraq’s Future – Bremer Consults and Cajoles, but in the End, He’s the Boss, in: Washington Post, 18 June, p. A01.




Jochen Hippler,
Nation-states for Export? - Nation-building between military intervention, crisis prevention and development policy,
in: Jochen Hippler (Ed.), Nation-Building – A Key Concept for Peaceful Conflict Transformation?, London 2005, pp. 173-190



additional texts on violent conflicts and security policy


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