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Arta Ante

Learning the Art of State-Building

On Francis Fukuyama: State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century

Francis Fukuyama:
Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press,
160 pages
ISBN 0-8014-4292-3
book cover
Cornell University Press:
external linkWebsite
1 Since September 11th much ink has been spilled discussing the issue of »failed or weak states«. The case of Afghanistan showed what kind of danger these states could be in within the current world order. Fukuyama's book contributes to several issues concerning weak states and their institutional reconstruction: Why are the states of most developing countries too weak? Why can there not be a science of public administration? How is instability driven by state weakness and how has this weakness eroded the principle of sovereignty in the international system? The book generally advocates the importance of strong – whether native or imported – institutions for all aspects of an applied political economy.

Exploring Multiple Dimensions of »Stateness«

2 In the first part of the book, the author recalls »new conventional wisdom« (21) by stressing the decisive role of institutions in development strategies. He draws a sharp line between the scope and strength of government power. The stronger a state is, Fukuyama argues, the more effective it will be in fulfilling its role to provide safety and prosperity for the people it is serving and the greater its contribution to international stability. For institutional development, supply is just as essential as demand. However, when the domestic demand for institutions is insufficient, then institutional development has to be generated externally in the form of interventions.
3 Fukuyama is aware of the few positive results that US and international interventions have had so far. He suggests to not make things worse by »sucking out capacity« (103) and by being complicit with the »destruction of institutional capacity in many developing countries« (39), despite the good intentions that donors might have. His recommendation to donors is to choose »building institutional capacity« as the primary objective to be achieved and not »providing end-users with the services that the capacity is meant to produce« (41), in order to create »self-sustaining indigenous institutions« (42) that do not revert to the former situation after the withdrawal of the outside intervention.

Is There a Science of Public Administration?

»The international community is not simply limited in the amount of capacity it can build, it is actually complicit in the destruction of institutional capacity in many developing countries.«

Francis Fukuyama
4 The second part of the book is devoted to a higher academic analysis of the problems of institutions and their design. Fukuyama argues that there is no »optimal forms of organization« (43) and that thus there are no »globally valid rules« (43) for institutional design. The »black hole« (45) of public administration is discussed here, with reference to the political impossibility of reaching optimizing solutions while generating economically inspired »theories« for public administration. Fukuyama's advice is to keep a country's culture and history in mind when designing its new institutions.
5 Fukuyama favors »idiosyncratic« programs (82) since such programs are able to make use of local knowledge in order to generate local solutions. As a result, the institutional development will be heavily impacted by social structure, culture and other variables not under the direct control of public policy. Hence, »alternative administrative models« (83) and a modification of imported institutions in order to make them work in the relevant societies are optimal solutions for Fukuyama.
6 We, says Fukuyama, must not arrive in a country »with girders, bricks, cranes, and construction blueprints ready to hire natives to help build the factory we have designed« (88). Instead, we must bring in »resources to motivate the natives to design their own factory and help them figure out how to build and motivate themselves« (88). It is also important to avoid the temptation of speeding up any of these processes by running the factory ourselves. Fukuyama's conclusion – institutions play an important role, but cannot simply be imposed on people – is correct and important.

International Legitimacy, Sovereignty and State Weakness

»The art of state building will be a key component of national power, as important as the ability to deploy traditional military force to the maintenance of world order.«

Francis Fukuyama
7 Weak governance and its international security dimension are discussed in the third part of the book. Within the framework of the aggressive US foreign policy that we have seen since September 11th, Fukuyama perceives the US as the »New Empire« (94), governing the potentially hostile populations of those countries that threaten it with terrorism. For Fukuyama, there is a dilemma between the right to intervene in the case of human rights violations or in the case of security threats to other countries. So far, the former is deemed the only legitimate reason to violate sovereignty. Fukuyama then asks if self-defense is less legitimate than defending other countries or people. He considers Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the hands of non-state actors, such as the terrorist organization Al-Qaida, as a real security problem, considering the fact that this organization takes advantage of »opportunities provided by poorly governed states« (95). Thus, a weak or failed state that allows for non-state actors to obtain access to WMD could justify an intervention on the part of the country exposed to this threat.
8 Fukuyama justifies the erosion of sovereignty in such a scenario with the so-called humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, which took place long before the 2003 war in Iraq. At that time, the international community no longer considered the Westphalian system as an adequate framework for international relations and was unable to ignore the violations of human rights in the name of state sovereignty (as had happened previously with Somalia and Milošević's Serbia) any longer, thus feeling obliged to intervene in order to protect these human rights. These kinds of humanitarian interventions led to the extension of a de facto international imperial power over the part of the world home to the failed state.
9 The Euro-American dichotomy in terms of international legitimacy covers most of the third part of the book. Europeans believe that nation-building – »the creation of a community bound by a shared culture and history« (99) – cannot be achieved by an outside power, whereas Americans consider the opposite to be true. This dichotomy arises when considering democratic legitimacy at an international level. For Fukuyama the international community is fiction, insofar as »any enforcement capability depends entirely on the action of individual nation states« (115). Europeans, Fukuyama argues, justify their kinds of international and national laws as manifestations of social objectives, whereas Americans perceive such unenforceable aspirations to undermine the rule of law itself.
10 By supporting the latter view, Fukuyama corroborates a serious mismatch between the demand for security in a world of weak states and the ability of international institutions to supply it. He describes the different views of Americans and Europeans regarding the source of legitimacy at the international level as logical, taking into account these countries' diverse national histories. Americans generally believe that this source of legitimacy is rooted in the will of democratic majorities in constitutional nation-states, while Europeans tend to believe that it is based on the principles of justice, i.e. justice higher than the laws or wills of particular nation states.
11 Finally, Fukuyama believes that there are two main sources of global instability in the current world order: 1) potential terrorists in possession of WMD with the impossibility of threatened states to rely on the protection by the military power of international institutions and 2) the fatally exaggerated attitude of the preventive US response. It is not without irony that Fukuyama suggests occasional nation building efforts in Washington. He also categorically advises against the decline of states and supports their ability to deploy traditional military forces as a necessary mean to enforce law domestically and to preserve the world order internationally.


Francis Fukuyama – Biography, publications, courses:
external linkWebsite
12 Fukuyma's book generally accentuates the need to learn how to build strong and effective states. The book is rich with examples of state-building interventions that confirm the author's pessimistic view and is thus critical of the state-building efforts of the international community so far. Furthermore, the author sees the US preventive response as a main »source of global instability« (118).
13 Although considered literally unachievable by an outside power, the term »nation building« continues to be used throughout the book to describe the process of state building, this ambiguous usage generating confusion for the reader with regard to these terms. The discourse of the whole book – particularly the debate about international democratic legitimacy – seems oversimplified as at it deals mainly with the contrasting positions of the European Union and of the United States on the issue. A more varied approach, referring to the positions of specific European countries as well as to the positions of countries from the developing world, would have enriched the discussion considerably.
14 The bibliography consists mainly of books by English-speaking authors and fails to consider alternative sources by authors outside the Anglo-American circles. The material under discussion is generally presented in a straightforward fashion, but becomes too technical in the second part of the book as Fukuyama takes the reader into the labyrinth of institutional economics and organizational theories.
15 The book is relevant to the present discourse of state building and although Fukuyama's motivation does not derive from a social responsibility for a better world, but from an approach oriented at security, his message – to start taking the challenge of state building in the 21st century seriously – remains compelling.
polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 5 (2004).
Online: http://lit.polylog.org/5/raa-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
Author: Arta Ante, Vienna (Austria)
© 2004 Author & polylog e.V.
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