Tag Archives: Good governance

Violence and the State: Protecting and Threatening

Iraq_Military_pic_1One of the fundamental questions in conflict today is simply, “How do we develop a state that is strong enough to deter rebels and attackers while assuring the citizens that its power will not be used for ill?” This problem has reared its head in Iraq, Ukraine and now…the U.S.

The fundamental problem in Iraq is not the government did not have enough coercive power but that the governors were using that power against the Sunnis. The Iraqi government could have assured the Sunni population that force would only be used against those that opposed the government. Instead, promises were broken and the focus was on exerting dominance, which the reduced both the capacity and legitimacy of the army. The Sunnis who had joined with the U.S. in 2007 have now opted with the Islamic State.

The balance of power has shifted in Ukraine conveniently after the Presidential election as the government has begun to do a better job of assuring the people of Ukraine that they will only harm those who are fighting the government. The use of violence is not as selective as it could be but to many people the government has begun to seem like a better option.

The Israel-Gaza is an extremely complicated conflict but one clear aspect is the difficulty of balancing deterrence and assurance. Hamas as shown little interest in promising Israel anything and Israel insists its only trying to deter attacks. Whether or not you believe this to be true one of the factors of deterrence is that status quo must seem attractive. There must be something to go back to. After all deterrence is both a threat and a promise…”If you do nothing bad, nothing bad will happen to you.” Or, “if you stop we can go back to the status quo”…but what if I don’t like that status quo?


Democracy is often touted as a solution to this problem however even democracies struggle with this balance. The situation in Ferguson illustrates this very well where protests and riots have broken out over the killing of a young African-American male. Police need to have the capability to use force but that force needs to be backed with legitimacy. Furthermore the pattern in the U.S. suggests that the wrong kind of discrimination was at work in Ferguson. Rather than being discriminate in their use of force the police seems to be targeting people on the base of race as in New York.

This is why due process is so vital to a legitimate state. Due process is not just about justice…but also about being careful that the targets of state power are deserving. Like Democracy, due process is not perfect…some innocents are convicted and some guilty go free. But it is much better than when the use of violence is applied wholesale and unfairly by the state.


Limits to Growth III: The Steady State

If there are limits to growth and therefore how far our economies can grow what can be done about it? Economist Herman Daly has a possible answer in the Steady State Model.

“An economy with constant stocks of people and artifacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance ‘throughput’, that is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy from the first stage of production to the last stage of consumption.”

Daly, Herman. 1991. Steady-State Economics, 2nd edition. Island Press, Washington, DC. p.17.

What Daly is describing is an economy that has reached a stable population level and a low-level of consumption. For most of human history our struggle has been about getting enough resources to survive but now we have surpassed that need. We have more than enough for everyone and are reaching the point where continuing to produce is a danger to us all.

The Steady State would be smaller in size, consumption and environmental impact as it would need less to sustain itself.  It’s as much a new form of economics as it is a new way of evaluating progress and value.  GDP would no longer be an adequate measurement  as production and consumption are not the pillars of progress in the Steady State.

The massive accumulation of wealth needn’t be the focus of a society and in face the Steady State requires that it not be.  Money could exist but massive accumulation tends to promote inequality which breeds an unstable society.

Achieving a steady state economy requires adherence to four basic rules or system principles:

  1. Maintain the health of ecosystems and the life-support services they provide.
  2. Extract renewable resources like fish and timber at a rate no faster than they can be regenerated.
  3. Consume non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and minerals at a rate no faster than they can be replaced by the discovery of renewable substitutes.
  4. Deposit wastes in the environment at a rate no faster than they can be safely assimilated.

The Steady State is a simple concept but politically is extremely difficult.  We’re not just discussing a policy change but instead a changing of principles and values.

No End In Sight: Syria

SyriaThe one consistent thing about the Syrian civil war is that there never seems to be an attractive way to end it.  If Assad “wins” his rule will be weakened and he will likely be a proxy of Iran and will rule over a large Sunni population that hates him and is better armed than before.  That’s an untenable position to be in at best.  If the opposition forces win then the Sunni majority will likely exact revenge on the Alawites and any supporters they had in the country.  Furthermore, these factions will most likely turn on each other once the single threat of Assad is removed.

Recently Secretary of State Kerry stated that he hopes that a diplomatic solution based on power sharing can be reached. Power sharing between the Alawite minority and the Sunni majority is not likely to succeed for two reasons. First, the power sharing agreement would be overtime and that would be very difficult to enforce.  Could Assad be trusted to not jail to attack the opposition once they demobilized? Could the Sunni leaders commit not to consolidate power once Assad opens the government to reform? Second, the battlefield as it stands now will not allow either side to come to an agreement. They both still think they can win and to make matters worse they have funders that are willing to support them.  Until the power relations outside Syria can come to an agreement and cease funneling money and guns across the border this war will continue. But as that seems unlikely, perhaps a some tactics of governance can point towards a solution.

Decentralization may point to a path around this however–some studies have shown that civil war combatants are more likely to sign a treaty if they are given some level of territorial autonomy.  This would allow combatants to maintain political control over their own territory as well as control the security aspects.  This path to decentralization and regional autonomy may result in a defensible peace.

However there exist problems in this strategy as well as Rothchild and Roeder point out.  While decentralization may help to end ethnic conflict, it can also hinder the democratic process over time.  There’s no guarantee that the Sunni camps would remain at peace while keeping Assad in power.

There are no good options in Syria just bad, worse and impossible. That said a plan that could incentivize actors to move towards peace at least in the short-term might be the best I’ve heard so far.

State Building and Neotrusteeship: South Sudan

imagesChris 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.

colonialism, German colony, Africa, caricature about the colonization of Africa "Sunday Dispatch", London, circa 1900, historic,

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.”

Fragile States & Good Governance: What Urbanization Can Teach Us

images-1Cities are where state building projects fall apart rather than come together as Tom Goodfellow, Dennis Rodgers and Jo Beall point out in a new study.  Typically this is because of violent conflict is related to the states failure to provide growth, welfare and security in urban areas.  Furthermore, civil conflicts tend to drive urbanization and then greater civic conflict is a common response to that rapid urbanization.

Groups competing for control of natural resources and political power marks the landscape of most fragile states taking the form of gangs in Central America, criminal activity in West Africa and riots in the Arab World.  Often these clashes are the result of the state failing to manifest institutions that build political inclusion.


Half of the developing world’s population now lives in cities and this is projected to grow to two-thirds within a few decades.  As the population of cities in fragile states continues to rise, the best way to improve these people’s lives is to improve the metropolises in which they live.

CIR907* The Economist

Despite having many obstacles cities are much easier to fix than states for a number of reasons:

1. Elections work differently and more effectively.  National elections can pit ethnic/religious groups against each other in competition for natural resources or political power.  However these identities can be blurred in the more compact city.  Also there are more ways to hold official accountable in a city than in a large and non-cohesive city.

2. Powerful and wealthy individuals who may influence government are more likely to live in urban areas.  Since they have a vested interest in the outcome of good governance and development projects where they live a focus on cities also means a pragmatic approach concerned with the interest of  elites.

3. Taxes are necessary for development and increasing the accountability of officials.  National governments may rely heavily on natural resources and foreign aid municipalities get the majority of their income from local taxes.  The more they depend on taxes from their citizens the more than can be accountable for the delivery of goods and services.  Too illustrate, oil rich Nigeria earns one-fifth of its revenue from taxes, however if this were to increase the accountability of its government officials would increase as well.

4. Lastly, improving public services in a city is easier than it is in a large country. Building  development  projects in rural areas where there are no roads can siphon funds away from projects that could vastly improve the lives of citizens in easy to reach areas.

This is not to say that development should only focus on cities. Only that by following trends of urbanization and looking at ways to best help the most people moving forward development and good governance should shift its focus towards the metropolis.