Building Legitimate States After Civil Wars: Order, Authority, and International Trusteeship

95 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2007

Date Written: April 2007


The current model of state-building implicitly rests on a formal-legal conception of legitimacy in which law or institutions confer authority on officials, who then employ that authority to create a social order. But a formal-legal approach, however well suited to established states governed by a rule of law, is inappropriate in the anarchy of a failed state. Key to successful state-building, I argue, is restoring the legitimacy of the state's monopoly of violence. I develop an alternative, relational conception of legitimacy drawn from social contract theories of the state in which authority derives from a mutually-beneficial contract in which the ruler provides a social order of benefit to the ruled, and the ruled in turn comply with the extractions (e.g., taxes) and constraints on their behavior (e.g., law) that are necessary to the production of that order. The contract becomes self-enforcing - or legitimate - when individuals and groups become "vested" in that social order by undertaking investments specific to the particular contract. This implies that providing security, protecting property rights, and adjudicating disputes within society should be the first step in any state-building process. International trustees can facilitate indigenous state-building efforts by helping establish a social order and creating expectations that the order will endure into the future. By creating expectations of stability, the trustee can encourage specific investments and the vesting of interests in the social order. This paper proceeds in five principal sections. The first examines the concepts of state failure and state-building, arguing for a new focus on rebuilding state legitimacy. Section II probes and criticizes the intellectual foundations of the current model and practice of state-building. I then develop an alternative analytic foundation and model that rests of a relational conception of authority in Section III. I develop the role of international trustees in the state-building process and examine further the tensions identified above in Section IV. The final section examines the case of Somalia.

Keywords: legitimacy, authority, civil war, Somalia, trusteeship, failed states

Suggested Citation

Lake, David A., Building Legitimate States After Civil Wars: Order, Authority, and International Trusteeship (April 2007). Available at SSRN: or

David A. Lake (Contact Author)

UC San Diego ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States
(858) 534-0347 (Phone)
(858) 534-7130 (Fax)


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