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Six approaches to fragile states

Written by Simon Maxwell

An explanatory note: using the blog to help develop ideas

In our blog on the WTO last week, we posted a text by me and then four sets of comments by ODI colleagues. This seemed like an interesting way to share our own thought processes and perhaps to stimulate further contributions. Here, then is another example, related to work on fragile states. In this area, I have been concerned to try and help policy-makers structure their decisions, by providing a relatively simple aid, like the matrix in Figure 2 below. The accompanying text is an informal note which introduces the matrix. For a reaction by Diana Cammack at ODI, see the comment which follows. Other contributions are welcome, of course.

Simon Maxwell

Put aside the controversy about the term 'fragile state', which many developing countries find offensive; and also the debate about which countries at which times fall into the category. The key questions policy-makers ask are about the instruments available to outsiders who might wish to take an interest, and about the principles that should govern their deployment. What lies between mild exhortation and full-scale military invasion? And who, when, in what combination and in what sequence, should do what?

The ultimate objective is relatively straightforward. As Ghani et al have proposed, it involves developmental states which are representative and accountable, and which are able to deliver the things people require of their governments: law and order, infrastructure, the supply of public goods, and the provision of social services (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The ten functions of the state

1. Legitimate monopoly on the means of violence
2. Administrative control
3. Management of public finances
4. Investment in human capital
5. Delineation of citizenship rights and duties
6. Provision of infrastructure services
7. Formation of the market
8. Management of the state's assets (including the environment, natural resources and cultural assets)
9. International relations (including entering into international contracts and public borrowing)
10. Rule of law

Source: Ghani, Lockhart and Carnahan (2005:6)

The gap between the ideal and the reality is also evident. At one extreme are countries which have no recognizable government or in which the chief occupation of the powerful is predation on the poor. At the other are countries which display most of the attributes of statehood, but in which politics is dominated by patronage, rent-seeking and what is often described as neo-patrimonialism. In between lie many countries which are deficient in one or more of the Ghani et al dimensions of sovereignty - or sometimes just have difficult relations, difficult partnerships, with the outside world.

Those with the greatest reason to worry about the deficit are the citizens of the countries affected. Outsiders do have reasons to be interested, however. They may be businesses, official aid agencies, other branches of government, regional or international institutions, or civil society organizations, including humanitarian relief agencies. Their interest may be altruistic or mercenary: driven by concern for human rights or the provision of basic needs, or alternatively by concerns about business risks, regional security or the spread of refugees or disease.

The instruments are diverse and there is more in the tool box than exhortation or invasion. There are six broad approaches, summarized in Figure 2, with some examples. There are some sub-categories and on the whole the approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Figure 2: Approaches to intervention in fragile states
Option Instruments Examples 1. Dialogue Bilateral Individual donor discussions Multilateral African Peer Review Mechanism 2. Bypass government Humanitarian aid NGO development programmes 3. Incentivise government Reward performance against the MDGs Proposed by Matthew Lockwood Reward progress against governance targets Millennium Challenge Corporation Longer-term economic and political benefits Promise of EU membership Conditionality Structural adjustment loans 4. Invest in state capacity Aid for government financial management Results-based management, audit Aid for government political institutions Justice, parliamentary scrutiny Invest in non-state capacity Aid for civil society organisations

Human rights commission

Citizen score-cards

Transparency International

Business partnerships

Deploy the military Peace-keeping forces AU in Sudan Military intervention Sierra Leone, Afghanistion, Iraq

A further set of options, which perhaps should be included in the table, covers what outsiders should do about their own policies, for example restrictions on trade in arms, or penalties for companies engaging in corruption (see e.g. the recommendations of the Africa Commission). Efforts to ensure greater donor coordination and harmonization would fall into this category.

In deciding which instruments to use, different actors have different options. For example, most businesses are unlikely to want to mange intervention by force, and most development agencies have little to offer in the way of high-level political incentive. In all cases, however, there need to be some principles in play. A selection might be:

1. Evidence-based - in the sense that intervention is based on an understanding of the causes of the deficit and the drivers of change.
2. Appropriateness - meaning that interventions are properly targeted.
3. Proportionality - leaving as much as possible to domestic processes.
4. Legality - for example, military intervention should be governed by international law and should be sanctioned by the UN.
5. Cost-effectiveness
6. Sustainability - short-term interventions should not prejudice long-term state capacity-building.
7. Adequacy - for example, the poorest have rights - entitlements - to basic social provision.

It is important to emphasise the role that research plays in preparing for intervention - and the role that theory plays in research. For example, the definition of the characteristics of the developmental state is founded in theory of political science. Similarly, analysis of neo-patrimonial states rests on theory about state formation. A certain degree of humility is called for, however. As Fukuyama observes in a recent book, only limited useful transferable knowledge exists on how to improve either the demand for or the supply of institutions.

Some general points can be made. For example, Fukuyama argues that administrative reform should start with areas where decisions are highly specific and relatively low volume (the exchange rate, say) rather than those which are less easy to measure and of high volume (e.g. the behaviour of individual primary school teachers). Nevertheless, every case is different and shaped by its own history: in the jargon, path dependent.

The approach to fragile states - or weak states, or poorly performing countries or LICUS countries - thus needs to be context and case specific. What the framework does offer is an aid to decision-making which should enable governments, businesses and civil society to improve their performance in this area.