Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding Modern State-Building (and Counterinsurgency)

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Stanford University
Since the end of the Cold War, the international community has become intimately involved in trying to strengthen weak and failed states. External actors, both multilaterally and unilaterally, have intervened in Europe, Asia, and Africa to bring internally conflicted parties together and to change the domestic authority structures of these countries. This dissertation explains how external actors can successfully contribute to the development of domestic authority structures in conflict-torn or post-conflict countries. Conventional state-building theories follow the Weberian conception of the modern state as an entity that maintains a monopoly over the legitimate use of violent coercion. Further, standard approaches to ending civil conflict recommend the use of population-centric strategies to achieve stability. These prevailing assumptions are problematic as they ignore a credible commitment problem that exists in conflict-torn societies: elites within the government and opposition have no incentive to disarm due to the rational fear that once they do so they will be taken advantage of by the opposing elites. This dissertation proposes a theory of self-enforcing stability to explain, from a rational-choice perspective, how it is possible to overcome this credible commitment problem. The theory contains four testable hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that an elite-centric, rather than population-centric, strategy will lead to greater success in establishing stability in conflict-torn states. Second, external actors contribute to the establishment of stability more successfully when they help nations establish limited access orders created by elite pacts rather than encouraging the creation of liberal democracies, or open access orders. Third, external actors must help internal actors overcome their underlying credible commitment problems by guaranteeing elite pacts. The final hypothesis is that the decentralization, or oligopolization, of violent means and rent-seeking opportunities balances power amongst elites, ensuring that competing elite groups can protect themselves from one another without threatening each other with overwhelming force. This dissertation finds support for the proposed theory’s hypotheses in its examination of two cases: the Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960, and the stabilization effort in Iraq between 2006-2008, which includes the “Awakening Movement” and the “Surge. Both cases demonstrate how an external actor can contribute to developing enduring stability in conflict-torn societies by breaking from the standard Weberian conception of the state and population-centric focus. This dissertation concludes with a discussion of policy implications, based on the dissertation’s findings, for current state-building efforts in Afghanistan.
Modern State-Building
Handler, Scott Paul, "Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding Modern State-Building (and Counterinsurgency)" (2010).