Sharing Sovereignty in State-Building: Explaining “Invited Interventions”

Posted: 27 Jun 2014

See all articles by Aila M. Matanock

Aila M. Matanock

Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: 2013


Foreign intervention sometimes enters by domestic invitation. Most recently, the Malian government asked France to send troops to help stabilize and strengthen its rule of law, specifically by combating what began as a Tuareg rebellion in the North but worsened after the coup as Islamist militants came to control towns including Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu, and, finally, Konna. In a statement on January 11, 2013, French President François Hollande confirmed French operations saying that they were occurring at “the request for assistance by Mali’s president,” or what was described by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice as a letter sent to the Security Council saying, “help France!” In this case, explanations for the intervention by invitation tend to revolve around the relative strength of the government: it was weak compared to the somewhat sophisticated militants that opposed it. Such an explanation, however, is unlikely shed much light on the situation since there are many weak governments with faltering or failing rule of law that do not request or receive such governance assistance, at least as far as reports on cases like Mali suggest. Indeed, the Malian case raises two related questions: when is intervention invited, and why?

As the United States and its allies withdraw from the major conflicts of the past decade, the focus of international intervention in conflict and post-conflict contexts is likely to occur in cooperation with host states—such as the recent French assistance in Mali—and it is likely to involve mostly intergovernmental organizations that allow states to share the burden of these diffuse threats. Weak states present a risk to international security through the spread of conflict and other transnational threats, but institutional reform—the solution proposed by the World Development Report in 2011—requires confidence-building signals and commitment mechanisms, especially when that weakness is due to corruption; external actors, removed from the corruption, may be best able to signal commitment (Walter 2002 developed the theory in the civil conflict context, and Collier 2003, 2007, 2009 has proposed that external actors also engage for these purposes after conflict). A small but influential body of work suggests that international actors may replace or bolster domestic institutions through shared sovereignty (Osiander 2001, Krasner 2004, Krasner 2009, Lake 2009, Risse 2011). Weak states may be willing to relinquish some Westphalian sovereignty—the government’s right to exclude external actors from its authority structures—to alleviate coercion, gain resources, or reestablish domestic control; additionally, if sovereignty is divisible, host states need not submit completely to gain resources or assistance (for examples, see Cooley and Spruyt 2009, Lake 2009). A weak or failing host state may not have the capability to fully govern, yet it may be able to constrain to some extent an external actor assisting it in governing. The literature on shared sovereignty is just developing, and, as such, it remains under-theorized and under-analyzed. In particular, cases in which states request governance assistance from international actors with a specific and limited scope, like the Malian case, have yet to be identified and explained.

This project examines an important set of arrangements for weak states: it identifies and explains when and why states invite other states to intervene for governance assistance, specifically with regard to the rule of law. These missions are established host states inviting international missions to assist in governance through agreement. These governance delegation agreements are a specific modality of sharing sovereignty, which “involve[s] the engagement of external actors in some of the domestic authority structures of the target state” (Krasner 2004). These invited interventions are implemented through international treaties that share authority between two sovereign actors for a fixed term. Outside of the Malian case, other governance delegation agreements include a Pacific Islands Forum mission sought to combat crime in the Solomon Islands and a United Nations mission sought to overcome impunity in Guatemala. They also encompass some peacekeeping operations.

The paper argues that host states and international actors agree to governance delegation deals, and select different levels of delegation, due to a loss of domestic sovereignty for the host state—specifically when it is not able to enforce the rule of law or control the state’s resources but faces electoral incentives to provide good governance—and a concern about transnational security threats for the international actors if the cost of dealing with them can be limited with a consented intervention (or, in other words, that they will not have to “fight their way in” if they gain consent). The arrangements are “contracted” rather than “coerced” in that both sides must agree, even if the bargaining is asymmetrical, so both sets of incentives must exist. The quantitative and qualitative analysis both support the implications of the theory.

This paper, then, addresses a gap in the literature: it explains why inviting intervention is relatively rare, but also when and why they occur, often in their weakest form. The scholarly contribution is not only to extend the work on international intervention and weak states, but also to develop this emerging theoretical literature on shared sovereignty. The policy contribution of this project is also clear: with less likelihood of major intervention after recent costly cases, weak states are likely to remain security threats but require new methods to treat them. Intervention by invitation, governance delegation agreements, offers an alternative that tends to be less costly, given the consent required, and is increasingly used by intergovernmental organizations, which pool resources to deal with transnational concerns. Examining existing cases provides insight into when and why they are feasible. A future extension of the project can also provide insight into how well they succeed in stabilization at different levels of delegation, especially by strengthening the rule of law.

Suggested Citation

Matanock, Aila M., Sharing Sovereignty in State-Building: Explaining “Invited Interventions” (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Aila M. Matanock (Contact Author)

Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley ( email )

210 Social Sciences Building #1950
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States


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