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The Case for Nation-building: Why and How to Fix Failed States

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Journal Article

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National Defense University Fort Lesley J. McNair United States

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Nation-building has a bad reputation. The phrase conjures up images of well-meaning but hapless U.S. Soldiers or United Nations UN peacekeepers involved in an expensive, complicated, and ultimately futile effort to fix other peoples problems. Worse, nation-building is often seen as both dangerous and peripheral to anyones vital national security interests. Iraq, Somalia, and Haiti are routinely trotted out as proof that such missions are doomed to debacle. In the post-Iraq era of softer power and tightening budgets, it seems prudent to set aside notions that the United States or UN can or should deploy force to remake countries abroad in the liberal worlds image. Unfortunately, the need to engage in nation-building is inescapable. State failure incubates serious threats to regional and internationalorder, such as insurgent movements West and Central Africa, organized crime and drug-trafficking networks Southeast Europe, Central Asia, piracy East Africa, Southeast Asia, pandemic disease AIDS, and ecological disasterto say nothing of the occasional global terrorist organization. Time and time again, history demonstrates that state failure, when left unaddressed, causes demonstrable harm to neighbors, whole regions, and occasionally the international order itself. Happily, the popular image of nation-building is largely founded on a few famous examples of dramatic failure. A closer look at the history and practice of nation-building illustrates that the international community has learned key lessons and improved its ability to foster stability and democracy in states confrontedwith violence, illegitimacy, poverty, and institutional breakdown. The challenges that the international community faces in the 21st century provide an ideal opportunity for a timely reappraisal of nation-building, its goals, prospects, and uses.

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  • Government and Political Science

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