International Statebuilding and the Domestic Politics of State Development

32 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2021

Date Written: April 13, 2021


Managing the threat of violence remains a central concern in international security and development. International actors seek to terminate civil wars and prevent conflict recurrence by building peace and strengthening state institutions. In this article, I review the scholarship on international statebuilding, defined broadly as external efforts to create, strengthen, reform, and transform the authority structures of the state. Much of this literature models international statebuilding as provision, in which external actors act as enforcers to mitigate the commitment problems that plague post-conflict bargains. However, in many cases the assumptions about domestic politics underpinning the provision model do not hold. When the central problem of domestic politics concerns the distributional arrangements of the peace rather than the parties' ability to credibly commit to the peace, international statebuilding is more fruitfully modeled as imposition. This model allows the preferences of external actors over the post-war order to diverge from the preferences of domestic actors. Divergence arises because statebuilding interventions have distributional consequences that threaten the interests of domestic elites. To unpack why this is the case, I turn to the literature on the domestic politics of statebuilding, which shows that "weak statehood"" can help manage violence by facilitating the distribution of sovereignty rents. Insights from these literatures suggest exciting new avenues for future scholarship.

Keywords: Statebuilding, intervention, peacekeeping, United Nations, civil war, external actors, state capacity

Suggested Citation

Lee, Melissa, International Statebuilding and the Domestic Politics of State Development (April 13, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Melissa Lee (Contact Author)

Princeton University

446 Robertson Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

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