Reconstructing Weak and Failed States: Foreign Intervention and the Nirvana Fallacy

Foreign Policy Analysis, 2006, 2: 343-361.

40 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2006 Last revised: 31 Mar 2009

Christopher J. Coyne

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Abstract

Attempts to reconstruct weak and failed countries suffer from a nirvana fallacy. Where central governments are absent or dysfunctional, it is assumed that reconstruction efforts by foreign governments generate a preferable outcome. This assumption overlooks (1) the possibility that foreign government interventions can fail, (2) the possibility that reconstruction efforts can do more harm than good, and (3) the possibility that indigenous governance mechanisms may evolve that are more effective than those imposed by military occupiers. It is argued that reconstruction efforts focus on resolving the meta-level game of creating self-sustaining liberal democratic institutions while neglecting the nested games embedded within the general meta-game. An analysis of Somalia, a prototypical failed state, is provided to illuminate these claims. While Somalia lacks a central government, the private sector has developed coping mechanisms to fill the void. These mechanisms have proven to be more effective in generating widespread order than attempts by foreign occupiers to impose a self-sustaining liberal state.

Keywords: failed states, private governance, reconstruction, Somalia, weak states

JEL Classification: O00

Suggested Citation

Coyne, Christopher J., Reconstructing Weak and Failed States: Foreign Intervention and the Nirvana Fallacy. Foreign Policy Analysis, 2006, 2: 343-361.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=887414

Christopher J. Coyne (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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