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State Building

State building is the name given to a complex and multi-dimensional set of activities that try to promote the creation of functioning and functional States. The main objective of State building is to construct States that have been classified as failed or fragile, in order to insure their future viability and that they fulfill their sovereign role either towards their populations or towards the international society.

In the present, State building is conducted by a complex group of actors that involves both international organizations and States, and the national actors of the failed or fragile State, such as its sovereign governmental authorities and its civil society.

Although most international actors and observers agree on the necessity of some kind of measure to deal with these States, there is serious disagreement and controversy on what these measures should be. Even amongst those who agree that State building is a viable response to this phenomenon, there is a considerable degree of discussion about what the end goal of State-building should be and how it should be achieved. If through direct international engagement in the territory of these States, or if only by international support to the local actors.

Drawing on DAC’s Fragile States Group (FSG), State-building is as an endogenous process to enhance capacity, institutions and legitimacy of the State, driven by state-society relations (DAC, FSG August 2008). State building is about building resilient States that function more effectively. People expect their States to deliver certain political goods and to perform a set of core State competencies or functions, despite of their high context-specific nature. Also, the international community expects stable States to behave in a certain manner and abbey by certain standards (such as the rule of law, democratic governance and human rights). These set of principles are expressed in international declarations and statements and it is of interest to the humanitarian community as well as to the development practitioners and scholars to map them and flag them.

Distinct from institution building, from nation building and from peacebuilding, State building has to be founded on political processes, engendered and supported in a sound and virtuous cycle of legitimacy, based on minimum administrative capacity, through a continuous process that is non-linear and asymmetrical and that takes place at all levels of State-society relations.

State building, albeit its endogenous nature, is an endeavor that has mobilized several international actors, such as States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations, that have to be in line with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and with the Principles For Good International Engagement in Fragile States & Situations and the Accra Agenda for Aid (AAA).

The Díli Declaration (10 April 2010) sets a new vision for peacebuilding and State building and attempts to promote a worldvision from the lens of the developing and fragile states: “Our collective vision is to end and prevent conflict and to contribute to the development of capable, accountable states that respond to the expectations and needs of their population, in particular the needs of vulnerable and excluded groups, women, youth and children. We recognize the centrality of State-society relations in supporting the development of capable, accountable and responsive States. This will require sustained efforts by all stakeholders to improve governance, strengthen economic and social development, and promote peace and security.”

Many of the failed and fragile States of the world have highly fragmented societies along ethnic, religious and cultural lines. These different identities compete amongst themselves for greater economic benefits and influence in the conduction of the affairs of the State. Whenever there’s a situation in which one of these identities manages to overcome the others and become predominant, refusing the access of the others to political and economic goods, the potential for civil conflict greatly increases.

For this reason, it is necessary to clearly comprehend these different identities in their nature and objectives. Only in the possession of such knowledge can a State be constructed in a manner that is neutral enough to guarantee the equilibrium between the different identities, but also that is functional enough to guarantee the efficient and viable functioning of the State.

An accurately designed democratic system of governance that ensures the equitable representation of all identities is a major step towards promoting relations based on cooperation and not competition. Also, the decentralisation of government structures in order to empower local communities can contribute to reduce the cleavages amongst these different local and regional identities.

Gender mainstreaming tries to insure that any planned policy, legislation or programme takes into account, and in an equal manner, the different implications that it will have both to men and women. It tries to guarantee that the concerns, interests and particular vulnerabilities of both genders are an equal part in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies in all the realms of political, economic and societal life. This kind of approach is particularly important in the context of State building, since in most of these scenarios there is a great level of inequality between genders.

According to the UN, gender mainstreaming is a globally accepted strategy, not an end in itself, for promoting gender equality (OSAGI, DESA). This involves ensuring that gender perspectives (what women and men do and the resources and decision-making processes they have access to) and the ultimate goal of gender equality is dully taken into account in all activities – policy development, research, advocacy/ dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of norms and standards of programmes and projects.

In the context of State building processes this means more than often scoping the legislation and revising it, building monitoring bodies, reinforcing existing or facilitating the creation of civil society organizations, just to name some activities.

Security Sector Reform (SSR) tries to reform or rebuild a State’s security sector either after a situation of crisis or whenever the sector proves incapable or unwilling to provide security to the State and its citizens. At times, the security sector itself can be the main source of insecurity to the State and thus needs to be reformed.

The reform of the security sector is a complex and multi-dimensional process that involves not only the reconstruction and reform of the security forces, namely the police and the army, but also of the various institutions linked with the sector, like the tribunals, the jails or the national legislation that supports it. In an even broader approach, security sector reform also involves processes of reconciliation within societies affected by conflict, education towards citizenry, promotion of non-violent and democratic means of conflict resolution, and the development of democratic accountability of the security forces and institutions.

Security System Reform is a highly complex, multilevel effort ‘that seeks to increase partner countries’ ability to meet the range of security needs within their societies in a manner consistent with democratic norms and sound governance principles, including transparency and the rule of law. Democratically run, accountable and efficient security systems can help reduce the risk of violent conflict (DAC OECD, 2005).

The concept has emerged more soundly in the end of the cold-war replacing the zero-sum approach international financial institutions had when dealing with the reform of the military apparatus of some countries. The traditional military international cooperation neither fitted the novel category because it was too narrowly focused on international affairs and on defense. The end of the 1990 brought about a significant change with the end of the bipolar balance and the rapprochement of the Eastern European countries to NATO and the EU. Paramount to this was also the paradigm shift from state security to human security.

The focus on traditional security actors such as the military, the police, the judiciary and the penitentiary system, on border guards, and intelligence services was broadened to include a more comprehensive view on human security, bringing the basic needs and physical, social and economic security and safety of individuals and the population to the centre of attention.

In SSR the core security actors, together with all security management and oversight bodies, the justice and law enforcement institutions as well as non-statutory security forces, need to act on the principles of human rights, local ownership, accountability and sustainability in cooperation and co-ordination with other national and international state and non-state actors for creating/developing a stable environment.

And if in Europe the agenda has been reform, in some countries, where the security sector is perceived as a source of widespread insecurity by itself, the agenda is to rebuild, because (as DECAF clearly states) an unreformed or misconstructed security sector represents a decisive obstacle to the promotion of sustainable development, democracy and peace. In most fragile states there is a clear need for SSR both as an operational as well as a normative concept. SSR is vital for State building.

Suggested readings

Aid and State Building (Miles Kahler)

A Beginners Guide to Security Sector Reform (SSR)

Engendering Security Sector Reform (Margarete Jacob, Daniel Bendix & Ruth Stanley)

Gender and Fragility: Policy Responses (Wendy Harcourt)

International Peacekeeping – The Challenges of State Building and Regionalization (Paul Williams)

Justice Reform and Gender (Shelby Quast)

Local Ownership of Security Sector Reform: A Guide for Donors (Laurie Nathan)

Security Issues – Security Sector Reform (Sanam Anderlini & Camille Conaway)

Security Sector Reform and Gender (Kristin Valasek)

Security Sector Reform Assessment, Monitoring & Evaluation and Gender (Nicola Popovic)

Security Sector Reform in Timor Leste (IFP)


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