International Statebuilding in Post-Conflict Societies

Publications | Working papers

My newest project examines the consequences and domestic politics of post-conflict international statebuilding in developing countries. As my first project showed, external actors sometimes deliberately undermine and weaken states. However, other external actors expend considerable resources to build, strengthen, and reform states after civil conflict.

I am currently developing a solo-authored book-length manuscript, tentatively titled Paved with Good Intentions, about the consequences of post-conflict international statebuilding in developing countries. I lay the conceptual and early theoretical groundwork for this manuscript in a forthcoming article in the Annual Review of Political Science.

International Statebuilding and the Domestic Politics of State Development” [forthcoming, Annual Review of Political Science]

Managing the threat of violence remains a central concern in international security and development. International actors seek to terminate civil wars and prevent conflict recurrence by building peace and strengthening state institutions. In this article, I review the scholarship on international statebuilding, defined broadly as external efforts to create, strengthen, reform, and transform the authority structures of the state. Much of this literature models international statebuilding as provision, in which external actors provide a solution to the enforcement problem that plagues post-conflict bargains. However, in many cases the assumptions about domestic politics underpinning the provision model do not hold. When the central problem of domestic politics concerns bargaining over the distributional consequences of the peace rather than the parties’ ability to credibly commit to the peace, international statebuilding is more fruitfully modeled as imposition, in which terms are imposed on recalcitrant domestic actors. The imposition model allows the preferences of external actors over the post-war order to diverge from the preferences of domestic actors. Divergence arises because statebuilding interventions have distributional consequences that threaten the interests of domestic elites. To unpack why this is the case, I turn to the literature on the domestic politics of statebuilding, which shows that “weak statehood” can help manage violence by facilitating the distribution of sovereignty rents. Insights from these literatures suggest exciting new avenues for future scholarship.

Paved with Good Intentions (solo-authored book-length project).

External actors such as the United States and the World Bank routinely champion a vision of the state that is both Weberian and liberal. This paradigm of “good governance” occupies a central role in international stabilization and development policy. Despite the influx of massive resources, however, external efforts to transform the state in line with the good governance model have a decidedly mixed record of success. This project explores the consequences of international efforts to promote good governance. In contrast with existing scholarship that emphasizes international factors, I focus on the elite politics of domestic state development. I argue that the principles of good governance are antithetical to the strategies of co-optation that rulers use to monopolize authority and maintain the cohesion of the state. Except under certain conditions, external efforts to promote good governance are unlikely to achieve reform, and in fact have insidious unintended consequences: they reinforce the practices external actors aim to change, and can even destabilize recipient states. This paper introduces an argument about good governance and the elite politics of state development and offers preliminary evidence in support of the theory.