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Nation Building:  What Does it Entail? - 2004-05-12

With reconstruction efforts continuing in Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition has turned to the United Nations for help in formulating the next phase of Iraq's political development. It is all part of what the international community refers to as nation building.

The term nation building, most international diplomats agree, may be misleading.

"We do not actually have the right rhetoric for what it is we are trying to do when we say nation building," says veteran U.S. diplomat Robert Pearson. "The best examples of nation building go all the way back to World War II. It is a leap of faith to think that one country or set of countries is actually going to build a nation somewhere else."

The Director of Stanford University's Center for Democracy and Development, Larry Diamond agrees. He talks about the need to help rebuild states that have failed or are failing because of bad governance, economic collapse or civil conflict.

"States need to be reconstructed," he said. "They need to find their legs, recover their legitimacy and capacity. And there is a period of time - the first six months are the most crucial - when they need crutches to do so."

Mr. Diamond argues the most essential crutch, as he describes it, is security. "In the immediate context of a post-conflict - before you can keep the peace, you have to make the peace," he said. "And before you can have a state, you have to meet the fundamental condition for a state and that is that it has a monopoly over the means of violence."

As an example, he points to the continuing violence in Iraq, which he says is delaying many key reconstruction projects and weakening Iraqi trust in U.S. and U.N. efforts there.

Mark Malloch Brown also stresses the need to quickly establish law and order, police and judiciary systems so civil society can focus on rebuilding the economy and basic institutions. Mr. Brown heads the U.N. Development Program that is directly involved in reconstruction projects around the world.

He says the private sector has an important role to play too.

"Private sector, hard to establish when there is still instability in the early stages of peace, but absolutely indispensable," he said. "It is the counterpart to democracy, as vital to harness the economic energy of people emerging from a conflict. There is no successful example of modern nation building around anything other than vibrant private sector economy."

Nation building projects mean helping a country to help itself. But Mr. Brown says sustainable democratic governance is a long-term process that relies on more from the international community than organizing elections.

"We have a tremendous difficulty in shifting from short-term humanitarian approaches to really longer term government institution building, really getting beyond holding an election to really building a real democratic system of culture, of accountability, respect for human rights, respect for minority rights," he said. "All of this is a long-term process. And the first elections are only one milestone and not the moment to declare victory and leave in terms of these efforts."

Mr. Brown cites experiences in Somalia and Haiti where he says the international community pulled out its support too soon, leading to a resurgence of violence and instability.