July 29, 2010, 12:34 p.m.
In the post-9/11 world, both the defense and development communities have focused heavily on the need to address "failed states." While the defense industry has focused on the threat of terrorism emerging from such areas, the development community has latched onto these efforts and intertwined its case for the importance of institution building to reduce poverty. Recently, some academics have begun to question the use of the term "failed state." The term, they argue, is misleading, as it typically refers to areas that are being governed, just not governed in the way the West believes is optimal. Louise Wiuff Moe at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs has published a report, which addresses this issue. She argues that policymakers should develop strategies, which do a better job of recognizing local forms of legitimacy.
External actors engaged in peace and state-building need to pay greater attention to contextual empirical conditions for sustainable political order and peace. Despite an increasing focus on state-society relations within the field of peace and state-building, there are many non-state actors and institutions that are currently left outside the dominating reconstruction discourse, even though they significantly influence, or have the potential to influence, state- and peace-building processes (positively as well as negatively). Greater awareness of ‘what is there’ can help prevent the situation where donors affiliate themselves with political elites and strongmen who are willing and able to mimic Western conceptions of ‘political order’, but who do not represent or promote the interests of the broader population. Additionally, a better understanding of the dynamics, politics and agency within so-called fragile settings can open the eyes of external actors to new alternative pathways for constructive change beyond the liberal institutional model.