Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Grand Strategy Podcast: James Fearon on Rethinking Failed States

 

What is a failed state? When do they pose legitimate threats to American national security? Has America overestimated its capacity to impose order on far-flung parts of the globe? Those are some of the questions animating a new series of podcasts we’re releasing at the Hoover Institution featuring interviews with scholars from Hoover’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy. In this first installment, I talk with James Fearon, who wears many hats at Stanford: Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, a professor of political science, and a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. James’ argument: that the U.S. needs to be much more circumspect in taking on nation-building projects overseas. Listen in below:

There are 3 comments.

  1. Aaron Miller Member

    Modern America is incapable of imposing a new order on a foreign society for a single reason: we lack the will to absolutely conquer. There can be no half-measures in conquest. And an occupied people isn’t likely to respond to polite requests and incentives.

    Soft changes can be coaxed. Hard changes must be forced. We can’t fundamentally restructure a society without breaking its erroneous customs and imposing Western values in practice and in education.

    Even if a particular President had the will to conquer, American voters and legislators generally do not. And 4-8 years is too short a time to break and remold a society.

    Establishing infrastructure is a key component of nation building. But it’s not enough. You have to establish a hierarchy powerful enough to protect that infrastructure, clever enough to make use of it, and persuasive enough convince their own people that it’s possible to regain cultural independence without abandoning the imposed order.

    • #1
    • March 20, 2015, at 11:02 AM PST
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  2. TKC1101 Inactive

    The blood of our military is a precious coin that can only be effectively redeemed in exchange for victory. Short of actual annexation and empire, can someone explain what value intervention in a ‘failed state’ provides?

    If we are protecting trade, transportation or assets, let us admit it and focus on those tasks. If the failed state becomes a threat, take out the capability. To take on repair and maintenance is a fools errand. I know our media would blanch at such an admission from our government, but I expect most of the voters are ok with it.

    Perhaps we should address the failed states of California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Illinois first. They are broke and seem to be a breeding ground of nefarious ideas and action inimical to the good of our country.

    • #2
    • March 20, 2015, at 11:59 AM PST
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  3. Titus Techera Contributor

    Aaron Miller: Modern America is incapable of imposing a new order on a foreign society for a single reason: we lack the will to absolutely conquer. There can be no half-measures in conquest. And an occupied people isn’t likely to respond to polite requests and incentives.

    Americans are not themselves big on conquest; a philosophical democracy where talk about individual rights replaces the old how’d’ye is not going to get behind martial virtue imposing the rule of the superior race. Somewhat connected, your political class is really serious about what is called international law, to the best of my understanding, because they are not serious about law.

    Soft changes can be coaxed. Hard changes must be forced. We can’t fundamentally restructure a society without breaking its erroneous customs and imposing Western values in practice and in education.

    Well, you need to think about three things. 1. Are you asking your army to kill people or do the imperial waltz? 2. Are you asking your politicians things that can be done within a presidential term or two or are your talking about Gen. Petraeus’s war of a hundred years? 3. Are you asking the locals to put on the world’s most elaborate theater or are you deciding to help these guys kill their own chose enemies & then deliver the country unto them? If you get the right answers, you do not need a demigod’s virtues nor do you need to play lego with whoever arouses America’s wrath.

    Establishing infrastructure is a key component of nation building. But it’s not enough. You have to establish a hierarchy powerful enough to protect that infrastructure, clever enough to make use of it, and persuasive enough convince their own people that it’s possible to regain cultural independence without abandoning the imposed order.

    If you mean, pick a winner with whom you can live, then offer specific services on specified conditions, sure. Despotism & tribal rule come in many variations, some of which are tolerable, not to say admitting of improvement. If you mean, try some elaborate long con that results in democracy, nothing doing.

    • #3
    • March 21, 2015, at 6:04 AM PST
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