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State Building and International Security
At the Global Strategic Review of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, I was asked to speak about nation building and security. After September 11, this is becoming one of the most difficult challenges we are facing - be that in the Balkans, Afghanistan or perhaps even Iraq.

Nation-Building and International Security
Remarks at the IISS Global Strategic Review, London, September 14, 2002-09-14

Suddenly, it has become obvious that efforts at what is referred to as nation building is an essential element of our efforts to achieve international stability.

Our international system is a system of states. They are supposed to be the solid building blocs of a functioning international system, the purpose of which is to prevent them from going to war with each other, and promote cooperation between them.

But the reality has often been a different one. There have always been areas where state structures have not been functioning for the one reason or the other. A failed state is not a new phenomenon. But more often than not, this was seen as something that was of limited relevance. A failed or fractured state had regional implications, but more seldom global.

There was, of course, a time when failed empires were a major issue in the European-centred international system. The gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire lead to concern over what would happen with its different territories. There was a scramble among other powers to get control over these, which trigger instability in the international system of those days, and there were sometimes elaborate international mechanisms set up to help with state building in its different fringe territories.

If you go back in history, you find elaborate international arrangements to help with state building in areas like Macedonia and Albania. History has, as we know, a tendency to repeat itself.

But after the dissolution of the empires, states were seen as the building blocs of the international system, and failed states seen as more of a regional than global problem. It didn’t really concern us.

The wars of Yugoslav succession during the 1990’s started to change perceptions. Suddenly, large refugee flows threatened the destabilisation of European societies, and we could not afford to ignore what was happening in these areas.

But it remained essentially a European problem. When UN Secretary-General Boutrous Gali went to Sarajevo and said that there were at the least ten other conflicts worse than the Bosnian one he got heavily critized in the European and US media. But he was essentially correct. There were other conflicts at least as bad in humanitarian terms – but they did not threaten to destabilize European or North American societies.

September 11 changed our perceptions in a fundamental way. In our age of globalisation, a marriage of ancient hatreds and modern technology could suddenly turn a failed state anywhere into a threat against even the strongest power. We could no longer be safe in ignoring chaos and conflict in far-away places of which we knew little. Afghanistan was certainly one of these.

Thus, it become even more imperative than in the past to develop mechanism to prevent states from failing, and to build them up anew in the cases where this had become necessary. Our success or failure in these efforts becomes an important part in our search for international security.

During the 1990’s the concept of nation building made a brief appearance on the international stage, only to fall into deep disrepute after the debacle in the dust of Mogadishu. It become an “n-word” that could not be mentioned. Not even in the Brahimi report that tried to draw the lessons of the more demanding UN peacekeeping operations during recent years was the concept to be found. Instead, one invented the concept of “peace building” in order to avoid the n-word and thus create opposition.

I belong to those that disliked the term nation building, since I consider it inappropriate and often even misleading.

The proper terms should be state building instead of nation building. If you look at the areas in which these efforts have been undertaken, there is often an abundance of self-defined nations, and a corresponding lack of state structures that can bridge their differences and create some sort of order in these fractured areas. Too much nation, and too little state is often the problem, and state building rather than nation building is the key task we are confronted with.

What we have learnt anew during recent years is that winning wars might be easy, but building peace is far more difficult. And while the former task can have an element of can be associated with it – “welcoming our heroes home” – this is rarely the case with the state- and peace-building efforts that have to follow. The state-builders seldom return home until so long after the war that it might even be forgotten why it was fought, and their efforts are seldom associated with much of glory. Underestimated, under financed and often simply forgotten, they are the ones that have to secure that winning the war results in securing a peace.

If wars are won, and the peace is lost, war will sooner or later resume. It’s the peace- and state building process that decides if winning the war was worth that effort.

After the Kosovo war, and again after the Afghan war, we have had extensive debates on different deficiencies in military capabilities, not the least on this side of the Atlantic. Important as these are, I would argue that we even more need a debate on our mutual deficiencies in state building and peace creating capabilities.

We have a Defence Capabilities Initiative in NATO, but even more we need a Peace Capabilities Initiative within the wider international community.

A few years ago, the National Intelligence Council of the US published an assessment of global trends for the period up to 2015. It wrote:

“Internal conflicts stemming from religious, ethnic, economic and political disputes will remain at current levels or even increase in number. The UN and regional organisations will be called upon to manage such conflicts because major states – stressed by domestic concerns, perceived risk of failure, lack of political will, or tight resources – will minimize their direct involvement”.

This explains in unusually honest words why the United Nations have often been the default mechanism of the international community for state building so far. A major power like the US can wage and win wars on its own, but often lacks the willpower, patience and resources to take sole responsibility for the ensuing task of state building in order to win not only the war but also the peace.

Thus, the pattern has been to hand over to the UN. There are exceptions, with Bosnia being the most prominent in recent times. But East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan are examples of the key responsibility for state building being handed over to the UN apparatus to manage. When the phase of glory is over, the difficult and demanding tasks are more often than not dumped on the UN.

We need to discuss – that should be part of a Peace Capabilities Initiative – if we can develop also alternative mechanisms to the UN. Can the European Union gradually take over responsibility for state- and peace building operations in Europe and its immediate surrounding areas? Can we further strength the capabilities of the African nations to take responsibility for the numerous problems on its continent?

But still, we should expect the UN to remain the default mechanism, and concentrate efforts on improving its abilities to take on these tasks.

In doing so, it is imperative that we try to learn from some of the mistakes we have done in the different operations of he past decade. Let me just mention a few.

It is essential that one establishes a monopoly on the use of force in the very beginning of an operation of this sort. Mistakes then will be costly to repair later on, as momentum in the entire operation is often lost, and to some extent could be beyond repair. Without a secure environment, nothing else can be achieved, and the entire effort will sooner or later fail.

Here, our record is less than stellar. The large IFOR force that entered Bosnia after the peace agreement was limited to narrowly defined military tasks as well as to protecting itself. Only two years into the peace operation did this start to change.

In Kosovo, some of the lessons of Bosnia had been learnt. The KFOR force was tasked also to secure law and order during an initial phase. A more robust international police force was deployed. But still we saw local power as well as property being taken over in the very first days and weeks by the former fighters, with serious consequences for the subsequent operations.

In Afghanistan, we seem to have forgotten some of these lessons. The ISAF force is limited to Kabul, and this means that the effective power of the government, as well as the more extensive efforts of the international community, don’t reach out to major parts of the country.

With a secure environment being established, the revival of the economy is a key task. Here, the attention is often on the immediate aid issues, while we much too often neglect the measures essential to secure a self-sustaining revival of growth in the economy.

A proper macroeconomic framework needs to be put in place, there must be a reliable currency as well as a functioning financial system to support all those wanting to restart farms or set up firms. There has to be a customs system to assist in the combating of organized crime, create an orderly trading system and secure some revenues for the administration of the region. Ownership issues and property rights must be sorted out for investments to be possible.

Here, Bosnia was a mess, Kosovo was marginally better, although the unresolved status issues vastly complicate the property rights issues, and the jury is still out on our efforts in Afghanistan. Coordination of reconstruction efforts are far from perfect, but a bigger question mark is over the possibility of implementing a proper framework for self-sustaining economic growth in the absence of a secure environment.

For all the talk about reconstruction, the phrase is often misleading. In the Balkans, it was not a question of rebuilding the old, but of trying to build something new. The phrase reconstruction sometimes opens up for subsidizing structures that instead should be dismantled and replaced. Much too often we fail in setting up structures that facilitates economic growth, and the regions instead end up in a culture of dependency that is good for no one.

We should devote more energy towards building the human capacity in these respective areas. It’s a question of education and training in order to create the basis for an uncorrupted and efficient civil service as well as an entrepreneurial economy. It’s not something that brings short-term results, but which is absolutely essential in the longer perspective.

And fundamental is to know where we are heading. What kind of state structures are we trying to set up?

In East Timor, it was a fairly straightforward task of preparing the territory for full independence. In Bosnia, it remains a question of making a particularly complicated constitutional framework to function more or less effectively, although this framework has yet to be truly accepted by each of the three constituent groups of the country. In Kosovo, we are in the strange situation of having ended a war without concluding a peace, claiming that all options for the future status of the province, and accordingly the entire region, are open. Needless to say, this vastly complicates the task of state building in the area, and freezes the core conflict without attempting to solve it. In Afghanistan, the Bonn process foresees elections and constitution making further down the road.

But the list of other areas where we are confronted with the same issue is of course much longer.

Somalia is an increasingly fractured country. Congo stumbles between peace agreements signed and broken down. In Sudan, there is now a promising peace process, but the implementation of a peace agreement will require a substantial international involvement. The issue of Western Sahara hasn’t been solved. Sierra Leone is gradually moving forward with a heavy UN presence. Colombia is coming closer and closer to a failed state. In parts of Indonesia, conflicts over autonomy and independence are brewing.

And perhaps we will be faced with the task of state building in the ancient lands of Mesopotamia as well. If this follows and war and a regime collapse, it might well turn into “the mother of all state building”.

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