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Can America Nation-Build?

  • Jason Brownlee (a1)

Post-9/11 security concerns and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have renewed scholarly interest in nation-building as a form of externally fostered democratization. The selected works assess Iraq and its precursors, seeking general lessons for establishing new democracies. They principally conclude that successful nation-building depends on sustained commitments of time, materiel, and manpower. Although this thesis improves upon earlier studies of democracy promotion, which often treated intentions as determinative, it does not fully reckon with the effect of antecedent conditions on external intervention. As this review addresses, American efforts at nation-building have historically been enabled or constrained by local political institutions. Rather than autonomously reengineering the target society, nation-builders have buttressed bureaucracies and parliaments where they were already available (Germany, Japan) and foundered in countries that lacked such institutions (Somalia, Haiti). In sum, nation-building has been most effective when pursued least ambitiously, amid functioning states with prior experience in constitutional government.

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Manfred Halpern , “Toward Further Modernization of the Study of New Nations,” World Politics 17 (October 1964

Walker Connor , “Nation-Building or Nation-Destroying?” World Politics 24 (April 1972), 322

Dankwart Rustow , “Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model,” Comparative Politics 2 (April 1970), 350

Krasner , “Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States,” International Security (Fall 2004), 85

G. John Ikenberry , “America's Liberal Grand Strategy: Democracy and National Security in the Postwar Era,” in Michael Cox , G. John Ikenberry , and Takashi Inoguchi , eds., American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2000

William I. Robinson , “Globalization, the World System, and 'Democracy Promotion' in U.S. Foreign Policy,” Theory and Society 25 (October 1996), 626

William Blair , “The Use of Military Force to Protect the Gains of Reconstruction,” Civil War History 51 (December 2005

Catherine Boone , Political Topographies of the African State: Territorial Authority and Institutional Choice (New York:Cambridge University Press, 2003

Kenneth T. Young , “United States Policy and Vietnamese Political Viability, 1954–1967,” Asian Survey 7 (August 1967), 508

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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