The Occupier’s Dilemma: Foreign-Imposed Nation-Building after Ethnic War
Participating Members: Nicholas Sambanis (Penn); with Kevin Russell (Yale University)
Can third parties nation-build after ethno-sectarian war? We highlight two interlocking policy dilemmas that limit the prospects of success even for impartial, well-resources interventions. A “sectarian” dilemma arises with the initial intervention. The best chance for peace in the short term must rely on local leaders, but in such conflicts these leaders have secured their constituencies based on ethno-sectarian identities and have no incentive to provide public goods. Empowering them through a peace agreement codifies the very divisions of the conflict. Interventions must often turn to occupations to rebuild national institutions and create opportunities for leaders to appeal to broader constituencies. Success in strengthening the population’s national identity can constrain leaders to act in the nation’s interest. But a “sovereignty dilemma” arises. This nation-building task carries an internal contradiction, as it can crowd out leaders and diminish state legitimacy, lengthening the time needed to succeed. At the same time nationalism itself is incompatible with foreign occupation so successful nation-building pushes the occupier to withdraw. With a limit on pace and duration, external assistance will likely end before institutions are developed, ethno-sectarian elites cannot be constrained, violence will recur, and state-building fail. We capture this dynamic in a new theory of peace-building intervention, categorizing the parameters that determine the severity of the two dilemmas and therefore prospects for success in managing them. Finally, we discuss how they have figured into U.S. intervention decisions over multiple conflicts since 9/11.