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Research Questions

  1. What impediments do local conditions pose to successful outcomes in nation-building interventions?
  2. What local circumstances gave rise to conflicts or threatened to perpetuate them?
  3. How did external actors and local leaders modify or work around those circumstances to promote enduring peace?

This volume analyzes the impediments that local conditions pose to successful outcomes of nation-building interventions in conflict-affected areas. Previous RAND studies of nation-building focused on external interveners' activities. This volume shifts the focus to internal circumstances, first identifying the conditions that gave rise to conflicts or threatened to perpetuate them, and then determining how external and local actors were able to modify or work around them to promote enduring peace. It examines in depth six varied societies: Cambodia, El Salvador, Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It then analyzes a larger set of 20 major post–Cold War nation-building interventions. The authors assess the risk of renewed conflict at the onset of the interventions and subsequent progress along five dimensions: security, democratization, government effectiveness, economic growth, and human development. They find that transformation of many of the specific conditions that gave rise to or fueled conflict often is not feasible in the time frame of nation-building operations but that such transformation has not proven essential to achieving the primary goal of nation-building — establishing peace. Most interventions in the past 25 years have led to enduring peace, as well as some degree of improvement in the other dimensions assessed. The findings suggest the importance of setting realistic expectations — neither expecting nation-building operations to quickly lift countries out of poverty and create liberal democracies, nor being swayed by a negative stereotype of nation-building that does not recognize its signal achievements in the great majority of cases.

Key Findings

Nation-Building Interventions Do Not Need to be Transformative to Achieve Their Main Objectives

  • Transformation of many of the specific conditions that gave rise to or fueled a conflict often is not feasible in the time frame of nation-building operations. But such broad transformation has not proven essential to achieving the primary goal of nation-building — establishing peace.
  • The countries that were better off to begin with institutionally and economically were better off at the conclusion of nation-building interventions than those that started out with greater limitations. Nevertheless, they were almost all meaningfully better off than when these operations began.
  • Nation-building operations that have enjoyed local consent and regional support almost always have achieved peace.

The Benefits of Nation-Building Interventions Have Exceeded the Costs

  • Most interventions in the past 25 years have been followed by improved security, some degree of democratization, significant economic growth, and modest improvements in human development and government effectiveness.
  • These outcomes have been achieved in most cases with only a modest commitment of international military and civilian manpower and economic assistance.

Modifying Geopolitical Circumstances and Co-Opting Patronage Networks Are Crucial Steps Toward Establishing Enduring Peace

  • In the six case studies, the regional or global situation had a profound effect in fomenting or sustaining the conflicts, and changing those situations was crucial to the enduring termination of conflicts.
  • The international community had considerable success in altering the geopolitical sources of conflict in each of the six cases, but it had much less success in weakening the hold of patronage networks that were competing for wealth and power.
  • Patronage networks often were co-opted into power-sharing arrangements that produced peace and even some modicum of democracy, but they could almost never be persuaded to support institutional and policy reforms that would curb their own rent-seeking capacity.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York and was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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