Does Nation Building Work?

by on April 4, 2006 at 7:18 am in Political Science | Permalink

Japan and Germany after World War II are the stock examples of succesful nation building.  Iraq may become a stock example of unsuccesful nation building.  But we can't learn very much from these examples if we don't know the population from which the sample was drawn.  In other words, how many times has nation building been tried and how many times has it succeeded?

In an important paper in the Independent Review (not yet online but go ahead and subscribe - I am an assistant editor), James Payne starts the difficult job of assembing the population and examining the results.  Payne defines nation building as "the use of ground troops to support a deliberative effort to create a democracy."  Using this definition, he identifies 52 instances of nation building, all by the United States or Great Britain from the period 1850 to 2000.  (The list is in the extension).  Of these he identifies 14 or just 27 percent where the treatment could be considered a success, success defined as maintaining some semblance of democracy after ground troops were withdrawn.

Twenty-seven percent is not encouraging especially when we note that this is the raw percentage - some of these nations could have become democracies absent the intervention so the true success rate is probably lower.

Defining nation building and its success requires some judgment calls so there is plenty to quibble about in Payne's analysis.  Nevertheless, with so many people pontificating about nation building it's good to see the first steps being taken to define exactly what it is that we are talking about.

Nation-building Military Occupations by the
United States and Great Britain, 1850-2000

Payne, James. 2006.  Does Nation Building Work? The Independent Review. 10 (4).

U.S. Occupations

Austria 1945-1955 success
Cuba 1898-1902 failure
Cuba 1906-1909 failure
Cuba 1917-1922 failure
Dominican Republic 1911-1924 failure
Dominican Republic 1965-1967 success
Grenada 1983-1985 success
Haiti 1915-1934 failure
Haiti 1994-1996 failure
Honduras 1924 failure
Italy 1943-1945 success
Japan 1945-1952 success
Lebanon 1958 failure
Lebanon 1982-1984 failure
Mexico 1914-1917 failure
Nicaragua 1909-1910 failure
Nicaragua 1912-1925 failure
Nicaragua 1926-1933 failure
Panama 1903-1933 failure
Panama 1989-1995 success
Philippines 1898-1946 success
Somalia 1992-1994 failure
South Korea 1945-1961 failure
West Germany 1945-1952 success

British Occupations

Botswana 1886-1966 success
Brunei 1888-1984 failure
Burma (Myanmar) 1885-1948 failure
Cyprus 1914-1960 failure
Egypt 1882-1922 failure
Fiji 1874-1970 success
Ghana 1886-1957 failure
Iraq 1917-1932 failure
Iraq 1941-1947 failure
Jordan 1921-1956 failure
Kenya 1894-1963 failure
Lesotho 1884-1966 failure
Malawi (Nyasaland) 1891-1964 failure
Malaysia 1909-1957 success
Maldives 1887-1976 success
Nigeria 1861-1960 failure
Palestine 1917-1948 failure
Sierra Leone 1885-1961 failure
Solomon Islands 1893-1978 success
South Yemen (Aden) 1934-1967 failure
Sudan 1899-1956 failure
Swaziland 1903-1968 failure
Tanzania 1920-1963 failure
Tonga 1900-1970 success
Uganda 1894-1962 failure
Zambia (N. Rhodesia) 1891-1964 failure
Zimbabwe (S. Rhodesia) 1888-1980 failure

aram harrow April 4, 2006 at 7:57 am

Twenty-seven percent is not encouraging especially when we note that this is the raw percentage – some of these nations could have become democracies absent the intervention so the true success rate is probably lower.

In fact, by this argument, the success rate could be negative.

Noumenon April 4, 2006 at 8:31 am

Payne defines nation building as “the use of ground troops to support a deliberative effort to create a democracy.”

Let’s have a similar study on the kind of nation building Hilzoy is talking about over at Obsidian Wings:

When I ask myself which political unit has done the most to promote democracy since the fall of the Berlin wall, the answer seems clear: it’s the European Union. The EU has helped immeasurably in the transformation of Eastern European countries into (mostly) functional democracies. Moreover, it is responsible for the one clear success story about democracy promotion in the Muslim world: the enormous changes that have occurred in Turkey over the last fifteen years or so.

Grant Gould April 4, 2006 at 8:42 am

South Korea counts as a failure because when the US removed the bulk of its forces, it was still a dictatorship; it made its way to democracy only recently, and while US troops were present, they were not particularly involved.

Der Sucher Der Wahrheit April 4, 2006 at 8:46 am

Excuse me, I meant to credit Alex Tabarrok, not Tyler Cowen (sorry Alex).

Ted Craig April 4, 2006 at 9:21 am

Three things about this study.

First, as mentioned above, some of the successes and failures are debatable (Japan and South Korea, for example).

Second, while I realize this is politcally incorrect to say, some of the failures are really backward nations. To build a nation, it seems you would need some raw materials.

Third, it can be argued that some of the attempts failed because the U.S. pulled out too quickly (Lebanon and Somalia).

ivan April 4, 2006 at 10:40 am

There is one important question left unanswered by the study. That is, did the U.S. want to built democracies? The three occupations in Nicaragua for instance, or take Cuba, were they meant to built democracies; or only to install U.S. friendly regimes? Because if the latter thing was the goal, the success rate could well be much much higher.

jn April 4, 2006 at 10:44 am

Setting the bar at democracy is too high. That is the ideal, but a less than horrible and reasonably unaggressive dictatorship with some liberal tendencies may well be a practical and sensible goal especially if it advances interests in the region and forestalls much worse (e.g. communism). Taiwan and South Korea being excellent examples of where that path can lead.

Caliban April 4, 2006 at 12:05 pm

There’s definitely some debate about what “nation building” means. As some of the commenters above indicated, most of those “interventions” were not intended to build free, happy, or democratic governments. For better or worse, they were designed to mitigate threats to the government sponsoring the intervention.

It’s not really meaningful to complain that such occupations didn’t create democracies when that wasn’t their aim. From an amoral, Machiavellian perspective, we need to examine how successful these occupations were at their true goal — preventing further threats to the US (or the UK). In that light, more of these experiments seem to be “successful.”

The study is definitely very interesting though. More research would be fruitful. :)

Ssezi April 4, 2006 at 1:02 pm

I’m confused by the British examples. The vast majority of them are nothing more than the dates of British colonial administration of the territories in question, which territory’s boundaries were defined by the British themselves. Disregarding the idea of building of a nation where there never was one, it is a stretch to imagine that the entirety of the British colonial period was an attempt to spread democracy. Even the hurried attempts to install successor governments as they retreated from the colonies can only be regarded as half hearted at best. Oddly enough the one colony in which Britain managed to install a functioning democracy: India, or at least the parts that are not now Pakistan or Bangladesh, is not on the list.

And I have no idea how the installation of yet another Latin American dictator: Dominican Republic 1965-1967, is scored as a success on the US’ card.

MjrMjr April 4, 2006 at 1:23 pm

I vaguely remember GWB in the 2000 campaign saying that he was against the notion of nation building. At the time I thought there would be relatively little difference between he and Gore winning the election.

JM April 5, 2006 at 6:13 pm

The British did not intend nor implement any steps to install democracy. Indian democracy was built by Indians, not the British. Indians may have had inspiration from the democracy practiced in Britain, but that was the extent of the influence.

levan September 7, 2006 at 3:21 am
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