Chris Blattman recently asked if the West should have governed South Sudan in light of the ongoing civil war. While my simple response is ‘no’ the controversy has many angles as Fearson and Laitin stated:
“In sharp contrast to classical imperialists, neotrustess want to withdraw as fast as possible. References to “exit strategy” have led the policy discourse and debate surrounding international and U.S. operations in the Balkans, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and now Iraq.”
It is true that the foreign governing body does have an interest in leaving, however it still applies the same logic as old world colonialism just with a shorter time line. Whatever or whomever is put in charge of South Sudan will have a fixed timeline and an exit strategy in mind (hopefully). How long would this timeline be? How long would it take to build institutions that would reflect and balance structural inequality, if that is even possible?
More than likely the elites in South Sudan would play along and bid their time until the governing body left and then they could settle their grievances. Unlike learning a skill, state craft is not something you can simply master and be left to your own devices. It must happen organically and institutions must be able to counter the power inequality within a society, something neotrusteeship may not be able to provide.
The exit strategy would most likely center around elections. These would likely favor those that played the game well under neotrusteeship, and possibly those that could eventually pay back Western tax dollars. Failure to achieve fair and open elections could lead to armed conflict by groups who feel disenfranchised, leading us back to square one.
This system also assumes the Western-run neotrusteeship is benevolent. This again speaks to the logic of colonization where the where the Western states viewed themselves as the ” civilizer.” The idea that the Western states have no interest outside of altruism is a myth that needs to be put to rest.
Neotrusteeship can be used to prevent mass atrocities or to uproot safe havens for terror networks and to foster a less violent environment from which institutions may grow but it itself cannot grow the institutions.
I do however see the need for foreign assistance in building stronger institutions in younger states. In regards to long-term state building I agree with Jeremy Weinstein’s idea that we should focus on identity and understanding:
“Internal processes of change that give rise to successful state-building, the conditions under which these internal mechanisms are likely to work, and the lessons international actors can draw from autonomous recovery for efforts to bring conflict to an end. Although it may be difficult to accept, one of the key lessons is that sometimes it makes sense not to intervene, or to intervene actively on behalf of one side.”