UN Nation Building Record Compares Favorably with the U.S. in Some Respects
Feb 18, 2005
From the Congo to Iraq
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Reviews nearly 50 years of UN nation-building efforts to transform unstable countries into democratic, peaceful, and prosperous partners. The authors examine the UN's experience in the Congo, Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Eastern Slavonia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor, as well as the U.S. experience in Iraq. The book complements the authors' earlier study, America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq (MR-1753-RC), which focuses on U.S.-led nation-building efforts. UN missions are nearly always undermanned and underfunded, with uneven troop quality and late-arriving components. But despite these handicaps, the UN success rate among missions studied-seven out of eight societies left peaceful, six out of eight left democratic-substantiates the view that nation-building can be an effective means of terminating conflicts, insuring against their reoccurrence, and promoting democracy. The authors conclude that the UN provides the most suitable institutional framework for nation-building missions that require fewer than 20,000 men — one with a comparatively low cost structure, a comparatively high success rate, and the greatest degree of international legitimacy. American or other major power leadership is, by contrast, needed for operations which require forced-entry operations or force levels in excess of 20,000 soldiers. Unfortunately, the United States has been less successful than the UN in learning from its mistakes and improving its nation-building performance over time, and this is reflected in the lower success rate among US-led missions studied in this series.
Inputs and Outcomes
The U.S. and UN Ways of Nation-Building
"This is the second book in a series that looks to provide an understanding of the international community's attempts to save failed and failing states… Taking an objective look at the UN's ability to supervise the rebuilding of a nation, the RAND Corporation employs a case study approach looking at eight countries — the Congo, Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Iraq — as well as the situation in Eastern Slavonia with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia… Given the amount of information required for such an analysis, the study does a commendable job of presenting its findings in a clear and easy-to-follow manner. The authors' examples are well chosen, and we see the successes and failures — to varying degrees — of the assimilation of democracy in these nations. This subject will be of interest to anyone looking to study what is required for successful nation building and to those looking for a more balanced picture of the UN's role in today's world."
- Strategic Studies Quarterly, Summer 2008
"This book is an attempt to learn the lessons of more than 40 years of nation-building by the UN. Together with its companion volume exploring the relevant American experience sine the occupation of Germany and Japan after the Second World War (America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, James Dobbins et al.), it provides one of the most comprehensive reviews of nation-building missions since 1945… Ad hoc pre-mission planning, the problems of mobilizing financial and military resources, and slow deployment of personnel in the field emerge as perennial problems plaguing most of the missions discussed. Hopefully, the peacebuilding commission proposed last year by the High Level Panel established by the UN Secretary General might help to address some of these issues. Similarly, the case-studies highlight that in the absence of security, the successes of democratic institution-building and economic development have been very limited, as witnessed in both Cambodia and Sierra Leone, a lesson that the authors also highlight with respect to Iraq. Insights like these, and the historical perspective that the study offers, make it a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on nation-building."
- International Affairs July 2005; reviewed by Dominick Zaum, University of Oxford, UK
"There is much to learn from these books (companion volumes The UN's Role in Nation-Building and America's Role in Nation-Building). Their methodical structure, rigorous analysis, presentation of data and rational conclusions are compelling and highly readable."
- The UN Chronicle, January 2006
"Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has increasingly been called on to dispatch multinational forces to enforce the peace and rebuild political order. Building on an earlier RAND study of U.S.-led peacekeeping efforts, this book is one of the first to systematically examine these operations… The authors show that UN forces are chronically undermanned and underfunded (U.S. nation-building missions, in contract, tend to be launched with more ambitious mandates in more difficult circumstances) but encouragingly conclude that the UN's low-profile, small-footprint approach to nation building has succeeded more often than it has failed and is remarkably cost-effective--offering a promising framework for peacekeeping in the future."
- Foreign Affairs, May/June 2005
"On balance this is a straightforward summary of complex developments and situations … with many concise summaries of trends and comparisons. Highly recommended. All levels."
- CHOICE, January 2006
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