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Nation Building Begins at Home

Sep 17, 2008
Having been born into a world with Europe in ruins; been witness to the debacles in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq II; and been horrified by the enormities of Cambodia, Serbia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and other lesser genocides, we are big fans of nation building. There are those on the left who might say we should mind our own business and stop throwing our muscle around in other countries. When they speak in the context of overthrowing legitimate leaders (Allende in Chile, Mossadegh in Iran, etc.), and invading nations primarily to bolster corporate interests (take your pick), they are right. However, under certain circumstances, nation building becomes a moral responsibility.

Eight of those circumstances are discussed in a report from the Rand Corporation's National Security Research Division.1 After the War: Nation-Building from FDR to George W. Bush concludes, “Successful nation-building requires unity of effort across multiple agencies and, often, multiple governments.”2

Two early successes discussed in the report, Germany and Japan, “remain the gold standard for postwar reconstruction. No subsequent nation-building effort has achieved comparable success.”3 It worked there, in part, because “[b]oth [countries] had been devastatingly defeated, and both had surrendered unconditionally.”4

Nation building went into abeyance during the Cold War and was revived in the 1990’s with successful programs in Bosnia and Kosovo and less successful attempts in Somalia and Haiti. The key to the successes were, as the report well argues, careful planning, widespread cooperation, and the political will to see it through.

The subsequent Bush II go-it-alone-on-a-shoestring strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan effectively threw out all the institutions and strategies for nation building developed during previous administrations back to FDR, and Afghanistan became “the least resourced US-led nation-building operations [sic] in modern history.”5

Nothing less than near-universal agreement that a nation requires nation building, followed by a massive and sustained effort by all interested parties to see the process through can bring about a desired result. We witness in the laboratories of Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq the consequences of a lesser commitment to this process, as well as the futility of unilateral implementation of a nation-building policy.

We will build a safe, peaceful, and democratic world together, or not at all.
1Rand National Security Research Division
2After the War (.pdf), p. xxiv
3Op cit. (.pdf), p. xiii
4Ibid. (.pdf)
5Op cit. (.pdf), p. xx
tags: History | Working Together

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