Democratization and Failed States: The Challenge of Ungovernability


© 1996 Robert H. Dorff

From Parameters, Summer 1996, pp. 17-31.

In July 1994, in accordance with Section 603 of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986, the Clinton Administration published its first National Security Strategy. Entitled A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, the document formally articulated the US strategic objective of "protecting, consolidating and enlarging the community of free market democracies" through an active yet selective US engagement around the world.[1] Only through such a leadership role, it was argued, could the United States protect its vital interests and promote stable, peaceful international relations.

The US military strategy in support of the national security strategy appeared in 1995 with the subtitle "A Strategy of Flexible and Selective Engagement." This military strategy consists of three main components: "peacetime engagement, deterrence and conflict prevention, and fighting and winning our Nation's wars."[2] Peacetime engagement is described further as including "military-to-military contacts, nation assistance, security assistance, humanitarian operations, counterdrug and counterterrorism, and peacekeeping."[3] Peace enforcement as a military operation is included under the second component, deterring aggression and preventing conflict.

It is clear from these two documents that current US strategy, both national security and military, entails a substantial commitment to peace operations as a way in which to use our military resources in pursuit of our strategic objectives. At this general level, the relationship between ends, ways, and means is clear enough. But the relationship becomes considerably less clear as we press for more specificity, and as the range of possible military options under the heading of peace operations expands. The purpose of this article is to examine US strategy, as it pertains to the use of peace operations, with greater specificity.

The general argument presented here is that the development of an appropriate policy is based on a prior understanding of the nature of the problem. As obvious as this statement is, evidence suggests that US strategy has not wholly come to grips with it. The more specific argument of this article is that a general phenomenon (ungovernability), of increasingly global proportions, is at work in the nation-state system of the late-20th century, and it gives rise to a host of challenges for which it may at first appear that peace operations are an appropriate response. Yet a better understanding of that phenomenon reveals that such peace operations, as presently conceived, are likely to fail in terms of accomplishing strategic objectives. The search for a better understanding of the challenges and an appropriate strategy for dealing with them begins with a brief discussion of the democratization component of our national security strategy. It is followed by a section on "failed states." The article then turns to some of the reasons underlying these failures and to a more general discussion of the phenomenon of ungovernability. Finally, it concludes with a discussion of the implications of ungovernability and failed states for our national security strategy of engagement and enlargement and the peace operations component of the national military strategy that supports it.

The Strategy: Democratization

The US post-Cold War strategy of engagement and enlargement began with public pronouncements in the last year of the Bush Administration and then was formally articulated under President Clinton. Fundamentally based on the premise of the "democratic peace" (democracies do not go to war with other democracies), this strategy entails the active promotion and expansion of the community of democratic, free-market countries as a way of applying national resources toward the pursuit of strategic objectives.[4] In theory the strategy meshes very well with two basic US interests. First, it is consistent with the goal of promoting values, among which democracy and market economies are certainly key. Second, it implies the ability to reduce the risks of confrontation through the use of a variety of instruments, not just military, and with a number of approaches short of the United States' acting as "global policeman," which leads to crisis response through multilateral, multinational, and collective security arrangements. In practice the strategy has generated serious discussions and perplexing problems, not the least of which is deciding on the appropriate instruments with which to promote democracy, and the level of commitment which the United Nations, the United States, and other countries are willing to support in order to succeed.

The debate has centered somewhat on the appropriateness of the objectives--should the United States really be concerned about the internal affairs of other countries, and should it be actively engaged in promoting democratic forms of governance--but the primary focus has been on the instruments, especially the use of the military. Initially, there was considerable optimism about the use of the military to promote peaceful transitions to democracy. The ways in which the military means could be used fell under the umbrella heading of Peace Operations.[5] Somalia, however, brought an abrupt end to the prevailing optimism. Problems of "mission creep," command and control for UN operations, and the overall feasibility and desirability of using US military personnel for the purpose of promoting democracy through peace operations all came together in a debate that led to a complete rethinking of the ways and means to support the strategy. One of the main results of this rethinking was Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD 25), a kind of "Weinberger Doctrine" applied to peace operations. Much more cautious, this policy seemed to define a significantly narrower range of actions for the military in support of democratization. But with the relative success of the Haiti operation (with success defined as avoiding a military disaster, such as significant numbers of US casualties), some balance was restored to the underlying strategy.

The central question remains, however: To what extent, and in what ways, can the US military be used effectively in the promotion of the US strategy of democratization? The answer to this question lies less with the military and its capabilities than with the nature of the problem and the appropriate ways and means for dealing with it. The balance of this article will focus on analyzing the nature of the problem and assessing military peace operations as a tool for addressing it. To understand the problem more fully, one must consider the failed state.

The Problem: Failed States

Among the many significant developments in the post-Cold War international system, the failed state is a relatively new phenomenon. Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner describe the failed nation-state as "utterly incapable of sustaining itself as a member of the international community."[6] A list of such failed (or at least faltering) nation-states today would include Haiti, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, the Sudan, Liberia, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Zaire, and the former Soviet Union. William Olson suggests that the list could be easily expanded if one were to include states facing serious "internal problems that threaten their continued coherence" or "significant internal challenges to their political order."[7] No matter how one looks at the phenomenon, it is growing both in scope and in the potential detrimental consequences it entails for stability and security in the post-Cold War world.

The fundamental problem of failed states is that they do not simply go away, they linger; the longer they persist, the greater the potential challenges to neighboring states, regional stability, and international peace. In 1992 Boutros Boutros-Ghali addressed the issue in his discussion of the reduced significance of sovereignty in the post-Cold War world and the concomitant possibility that the UN would be compelled to intervene in the domestic affairs of member states. He suggested that such intervention would be appropriate in the face of a collapse of domestic governing authority, displaced populations or gross violations of human rights, or when developments within the failed state posed a threat to international peace and stability.[8] Helman and Ratner observe that failed states threaten neighboring countries because civil strife, economic collapse, and the breakdown of food and health systems "force refugees to flee to adjacent countries." These states may also "be burdened with illicit arms traffic, solidarity activities by related ethnic groups, and armed bands seeking to establish a safe haven." There is also a "tangible risk that such conflicts will spill over into other countries."[9] In other words, the problems frequently do not remain neatly contained within the boundaries of the failed state. Brian Atwood, head of the Agency for International Development, observed that "disintegrating societies and failed states . . . have emerged as the greatest menace to global stability," and he considers them a "strategic threat."[10]

In addition to these general threats to stability and security, a failed or failing state is itself a potential target for internal or external disruption and insurgencies. A transnational or sub-state actor, operating either within the troubled country or from points nearby, may seek to exploit conditions in order to promote its own agenda. Such activities could lead to the destabilization of an entire region, thereby quickly escalating into a security threat well beyond the relatively minor interests originating from the failed or failing state. These states also provide an environment in which such actors can thrive, exploiting the lack of effective governance to build their resources. So, for example, the inability of a state to control criminal activities such as drug or weapons smuggling, money laundering, and terrorism may eventually transform the country into a kind of "safe haven" from which the criminal can effectively consolidate and expand operations. To the extent that such actors gain strength in these safe havens, the failed state becomes a security concern for other countries, including the United States.

Failed states are also problematic because they frequently generate significant and highly visible violations of human rights.[11] The pain and suffering of large numbers of refugees, especially children, make for compelling photo-journalism, and the examples of Somalia and Bosnia come readily to mind. Similarly, people suffering under the chaos and near-anarchy of a collapsing government, or the brutal authoritarianism of an autocratic regime desperately trying to maintain its weakened ruling position, appear to most of the world's audience as innocent victims deserving of serious outside assistance (Haiti, Rwanda). There are at least two relevant dimensions to this aspect of the problem. First, humanitarian interests are one of the three categories of national interests considered central to US national security strategy.[12] As such, visible examples of human rights violations will quickly raise questions concerning the extent to which the United States is in fact being true to its own stated security strategy, or whether (as has been argued from time to time) the United States only selectively supports human rights (i.e., when it's convenient).

Closely related to this is the second dimension of the problem, namely the public outcry that generally accompanies such highly visible cases of human rights violations. The outcry, often fed by the extensive media coverage that such crises engender (as well as by the efforts of involved groups to generate sympathy, support, and revenue), increases domestic and international pressures to "do something."[13] Such pressures can all too easily lead to responses that are less than carefully thought out in advance. The point is simply that these human rights dimensions of failed states, by their very nature, raise critical issues for the United States in terms of our national security strategy and our ability to be selective and effective in responding to them.

Why are states failing? Much of the failed-state phenomenon has its origins in the collapse of the colonial order that followed World War II. That conflict unleashed a wave of independence movements, and the end of the Cold War has now allowed the process to continue.[14] The scope of this transformation is evident in the raw numbers: In 1945, 50 countries signed the United Nations Charter; today there are 185 members of that international organization. Yet while there can be little doubt that the explosion in the number of actors seeking to fulfill their destinies by achieving "statehood" is the precipitating event in the rise of failed states, this does not yet explain why they are failing.

Part of the explanation lies in the international policies that greeted these emerging states more than 40 years ago and which continue to greet them well into this most recent wave. Stressing self-determination as the preeminent value, the UN (and indeed most Western nations) seemed quite content to ignore questions of the long-term economic and political viability of an emerging state. Whether such a country could govern itself effectively or even sustain itself economically mattered rather little. Former colonial powers frequently provided economic assistance with no clear strategy for developing mature governing capabilities in the former colonial states.[15] The Cold War competition only added to the problem as the two camps competed for influence and "victories" by providing military and economic aid, thereby propping up not only weak but often wholly corrupt regimes in the name of their ideological cause. Here, too, no strategy existed for promoting viable, let alone democratic political and market economic institutions and processes. The result, after 40 years of post-colonialism and a protracted Cold War, was an entire class of countries with only marginal capacities to function politically and economically.

In addition to adding a number of new members to this group of troubled and failing states, the end of the Cold War had another devastating effect on many of these countries. Deprived of economic assistance that flowed from the East-West confrontation, many were plunged headlong into a crisis that had been brewing for years but which few leaders (at home and abroad) anticipated. Beset by corruption, ineffective institutions, and weak political culture, often facing internal opposition and ethnic or religious fragmentation, many of these countries are now staggering into the next century. And as if the failed policies and programs of the past were not enough, some of these already faltering states were hit by natural disasters, ranging from floods and droughts to famine and pestilence.[16]

Another important factor in the failed state phenomenon is, somewhat ironically, the "democratic moment."[17] Occurring with, and in part a cause of, the emergence of many "neo-states," the end of the Cold War ushered in a period in which the global preference for democratic forms of governance was overwhelming. On virtually every continent neo-states were emerging as neo-democracies. In many respects this was not so much a matter of choice as a matter of necessity; after all, in this "democratic moment" what else was a country to be? While few would argue against the desirability of democracy generally, it is important to maintain some sense of perspective on the specific challenges that confront this type of political system. For example, by virtue of emphasizing individual rights and freedoms, democracies tend not to be very "strong." Even the most advanced democracies are continually seeking that proper balance between freedom and authority. And this challenge is even more acute in neo-democracies, where threats to survival may be severe and the norms and values of a democratic civil society often weak or nonexistent. In periods of transition such as we now have in the post-colonial, post-Cold War world, characterized by tremendous social, political, and economic upheaval, relatively weak democratic institutions and processes can easily fall prey to the forces of uncertainty and fear, especially when there are indigenous actors ready, willing, and able to exploit human emotions for the sake of redirecting or killing democratic reforms.

The recognition of these challenges leads to an all-too-often overlooked paradox in the democratic peace argument that undergirds contemporary economic and political liberalism, including the US strategy of engagement and enlargement.[18] While it may be true that mature democracies do not go to war with other democracies, it is highly questionable whether this statement applies equally to "immature" democracies.[19] Moreover, it seems that in the period of transition from autocratic, authoritarian regimes to democracy, the propensity of states to go to war may actually increase.[20] This paradox points out that the end state of mature democracy may be attainable only after a high-risk transition phase through neo- (and immature) democracy. More democracies may eventually lead to greater international peace and stability, but the process of enlarging the community of democracies may be very destabilizing and fraught with conflict. Although there are many interesting aspects of this issue to explore, for the purposes of this article it suffices to point out that the current situation in which the number of failed and faltering states is increasing may itself be partly a result of the "democratic moment." Attempts to expand democracies may have the unintended, deleterious consequence of expanding the community of failed or failing states.

To this point the argument has been that factors accounting for failing states grow out of the colonial and post-colonial heritage, systemic changes resulting from the end of the Cold War, and attempts by newly emerging countries to adopt democratic forms of governance. But an even broader phenomenon may be at work in the nation-state system today: increasing ungovernability. The process by which formal governmental authority is rendered increasingly ineffective is potentially more threatening than the isolated failure of specific states, for it suggests that the problems we see today are not simply the result of pre-existing historical conditions, but of ongoing developments associated with today's post-industrial, global society. A brief examination of ungovernability is therefore a necessary component of this analysis.

The Problem Expanded: Ungovernability

Ungovernability has been defined as "the declining ability of governments worldwide, but particularly in the Third World, to govern, to carry out the many and various responsibilities of managing a modern state in an increasingly complex environment."[21] The phenomenon manifests itself in a variety of ways. Battles rage to redefine borders and territory in the post-Cold War world. Some countries, such as the former Yugoslavia, have collapsed into civil war and ethnic strife. Others, such as Somalia, have fallen prey to criminal elements, with society characterized by "war-lordism" and a pervasive sense of chaos and anarchy.[22] Still others, such as Haiti, comprise a third category of troubled state: those that are simply exhausted. States in this category are characterized not so much by civil war or rampant criminality as by a sweeping sense of despair and hopelessness.

At the same time, events in 1995 suggested that mature democratic states are also subject to threats emanating from increasing ungovernability. In Japan the activities of the Aum Shinrikyo shook domestic tranquillity. In Paris daily life was shattered by terrorist activities seemingly beyond the control of French authorities. In the United States, the Oklahoma City bombing called Americans' attention to the vulnerability we all share in the modern world, while the activities of unauthorized paramilitary organizations such as survivalists and private "militias" raise serious questions about individual and group rights versus the public rights of domestic security and tranquillity. A London trader operating out of Singapore single-handedly managed to ruin a major British financial institution, and call into question the security of the entire international financial system.[23] And a computer hacker on the FBI's most-wanted list was arrested in North Carolina, but not before he demonstrated to the world the relative ease with which a knowledgeable individual might be able to bring business and government to their knees with some well-designed computer sabotage.

A study being conducted by the National Strategy Information Center suggests there are three main components to the problem of increasing global ungovernability. First, there is the growth of transnational organized crime. Criminal elements have expanded their reach, upgraded and perfected their methods of operation, and increasingly established links that cut across borders and entire regions of the globe.[24] Second, the explosive resurgence and growth of ethnic and religious conflicts have fueled the pressures toward further fragmentation within countries. Moreover, the apparent intractability of ethnic and religious differences contributes to the "erosion of effective government and of public confidence in government."[25] Third, general trends and developments in economic and financial markets, and the pervasive influence of technology, have also eroded the effectiveness (both real and perceived) of formal governments to perform those tasks essential to the orderly functioning of society.[26] All three components help explain why ungovernability is increasing today.

Although an analysis of this explanation is beyond the scope of this article, a brief overview sheds some light on the problem addressed here. First, the changes in the international system discussed earlier provide part of the explanation. The end of colonialism and the end of the Cold War have provided a growing number of weak, failing, or failed states in which formal authorities compete with a variety of opposition forces (both organized and informal).

Second, incredible advances in technology have induced profound change in the ways in which people organize and conduct business, politics, and a host of human activities. Communications technology was in no small part responsible for the demise of many centralized political and economic regimes; it simply became impossible to control information and ideas, and to manage political and economic intercourse within highly centralized and hierarchical systems. Subnational, transnational, and decentralized groups (such as the organized crime, ethnic, and religious groups discussed above) can now compete with many formal governments for the loyalties of individuals.[27] Developments in weapon technologies have further empowered such groups, providing them with the improved means to wage war against formal government authority and to conduct devastating terrorist campaigns against innocent populations designed to erode their faith in and support of their governments. And some of the technologies, by their very design, are nearly impossible for governments to monitor and control.

Third, economic changes also have played a significant role in increasing ungovernability. The globalization of the world economy and financial markets, in part a result of the application of modern communications and information technologies, has opened up borders and limited the effectiveness of national economic policies in ameliorating domestic problems. The widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, both within and across countries, has provided fertile soil for sowing seeds of dissatisfaction and fostering a search for simple alternatives. The latter, unfortunately, often have even more devastating consequences than the problems they were intended to solve.

The combination of all three factors in various forms contributes to the ongoing problems confronting troubled or failed states. The already weak governmental mechanisms bump up against a world that is increasingly less amenable to domestic policy control. The economy that was not working very well to begin with suddenly finds itself in competition with other economies all over the world. Because of the overlapping and interweaving of economies, the negative performance of one or two large economies may have serious consequences for many smaller, otherwise healthy economies.[28] All of this combines to erode further citizens' confidence in government. So in a state already failing, ungovernability may magnify the problems that are causing it to fail in the first place, such as ethnic fragmentation. As one study notes, "Frustrated by the inability of governments to help, people may turn away from the sovereign state and embrace smaller, more effective groups. Thus, fragmentation pressures are often related to the decreasing ability of the state to respond to its citizens' needs."[29]

Groups that wish to oppose the government, or to mobilize people against it, have many more tools available to them to do so. They also have many more examples of governmental failure and shortcomings as a result of the increasing numbers of problems that are less susceptible to domestic governmental manipulation. Moreover, the "CNN Age" and its related technologies virtually guarantee that those failures and shortcomings will be easily and quickly seen throughout the failing state and its neighbors.

What does the foregoing discussion suggest about the nature of the problem confronting US security interests in this era of failed states and increasing global ungovernability? First, it suggests that the problem goes beyond the existence of post-colonial and post-Cold War weak states. Although many of the problems confronting these states stem directly from their historical lack of effective economic and political institutions and processes, they are magnified by much larger forces at work today on all countries in the international system. Even if short-term fixes could be found for the vestiges of the past, there would be no guarantees that these countries could perform at levels sufficient for building and sustaining public support and legitimacy. Second, it suggests that even the best US efforts will encounter limitations, both in the target country (where otherwise successful policies may not ameliorate enough of the problem) and in the United States (where policy options will also be limited by global constraints).[30] It is, in sum, a very difficult time for governments of all types, but especially troublesome for fledgling democracies. At a time when democratization is to be a cornerstone of US national security strategy, the forces of ungovernability, combined with the characteristics of failing states, provide a daunting challenge to that strategy.

The Ways: Peacekeeping Operations

As the number of failed or faltering states was increasing, the end of the Cold War brought a revived sense of optimism about the role of the United Nations in promoting and preserving global security. After all, it was the East-West confrontation that had rendered most of Chapter VII moot for 45 years, and peacekeeping itself had emerged as a kind of "Chapter 6 1/2" response to the requirements of protecting international security in the absence of great power cooperation in a system of collective security.[31] Because states all too often continued their attempts to resolve disputes in ways other than "pacific settlement" (Chapter VI), and because true "collective enforcement" of the peace (Chapter VII) proved impossible in the context of extreme East-West tensions, so-called "traditional" peacekeeping simply evolved to fill the gap in UN ability to respond to crises.

This Cold War peacekeeping had some very clear ground rules and distinctive characteristics. Among them were: consent of all local parties to the conflict, especially the host nation; impartiality of the peacekeeping forces; no "great power" (defined as permanent members of the Security Council) contribution to the forces; limited mission (to monitor an existing peace treaty); and use of force for self-defense only. The idea was that such forces could assist in promoting peace by serving essentially as referees to control the manner in which the game was played, but without interfering in ways that might cross over into the superpowers' zero-sum game.[32] It is fair to say that this kind of peacekeeping achieved a significant number of successes during its time.

Given this background, it is not surprising that the end of the Cold War initially spawned optimism that the UN could extend its peacekeeping functions to a much broader range of conflicts. The successful resolution of the Gulf Crisis, albeit with the use of overwhelming military force and the "law of war,"[33] only reinforced the optimism, as reflected in such public pronouncements as Boutros-Ghali's "An Agenda for Peace" and even then-President George Bush's "New World Order." At least two assumptions underlay those views. First, the UN would finally be able to realize its full potential as a collective security organization. Chapter VII of the UN Charter, heretofore dormant, could now be utilized in its fullest and truest sense. Second, Cold War peacekeeping could be adapted and applied to a much wider range of situations, and great power involvement in them would no longer be prohibited. With both broader consensus and great power (i.e., US) military force, peacekeeping could be expanded to include peace enforcement, peace building, and the like.[34] In other words, the full range of peace operations could be employed to forge international security and stability. The "New World Order" could be a reality.

But the optimism was rather short-lived. Subtly but importantly, peacekeeping began to take on a new set of characteristics and ground rules. Consent of the parties was viewed as desirable but no longer necessary. Impartiality was similarly softened; a just cause made up for the lack of complete impartiality. Great power involvement, especially US, was almost required, not prohibited. And in places where peace among adversaries, however fragile, did not exist, it could be made (by force, if necessary) and then enforced. Not surprising, the UN and the United States saw their hopes dashed. For different reasons, the defining moments occurred in Somalia, which came to symbolize the failure of peacekeeping in the post-Cold War world. The backlash is still being felt as the wave of "lessons learned" is translated into new national policy guidelines for multilateral peace operations. Carefully circumscribing not only conditions under which they would participate but also the processes for arriving at decisions to participate, countries like the United States began to pull back from the activist roles that had seemed so natural only two years earlier.[35] Other countries soon followed suit.[36] It is fair to say that the world has reached a serious crossroads in the evolution of peace operations, and it is time to rethink the issues and the approaches with an eye toward developing a strategy. To be effective, that strategy must first and foremost begin with a proper understanding of the nature of the challenges.

Peace Operations, Failed States, and Ungovernability

In a thoughtful and provocative article published in 1992, John Mackinlay and Jarat Chopra described the need for what they called a "second generation" of UN military operations to deal with the new challenges.[37] They outlined a continuum of operations ranging from "conventional observer missions" on the low end of the intensity spectrum to full-scale "enforcement" on the high end. In the new operational environment, shifts among and across the types of operations can occur on a continual basis, so operational flexibility is necessitated.[38] Moreover, unlike Cold War peacekeeping, where success was "largely dictated by the effectiveness of the preceding political agreement between the parties and not by the capabilities of the military force," effectiveness of military force is much more critical to second-generation operations, especially at the higher end of the intensity spectrum.[39] They go on to argue, quite reasonably, that there are some important lessons to be learned for such operations from the British Commonwealth armies' efforts at "keeping the peace" during decolonization. Such operations were focused on internal conflicts and violence, and the efforts were often directed at restoring and maintaining order. In other words, the conflicts then looked a lot like the conflicts of today, and contemporary peace operations need to be tailored to meet similar requirements.

There are, of course, some problems with their arguments and especially recommendations.[40] However, they have touched on an important issue, namely the nature of the conflicts with which the UN is confronted. The post-Somalia debate focused overwhelmingly on the "mission creep" issue and the way in which the operation shifted from humanitarian to peacekeeping to enforcement. The distinction between Chapter VI and Chapter VII was blurred, according to this argument, and therein lies the reason for the ultimate failure of the operation. While this assessment of the symptoms is correct, it fails to address the true cause of the failure. The operation failed first and foremost because it was based on a faulty understanding of the nature of the conflict. Somalia was a failed state, and it should have been addressed as such from the very beginning. The humanitarian crisis to which we were responding was a result of the failed state and ungovernability; the state was not failing because of the humanitarian crisis.

Understanding the nature of the problem would lead to the recognition of some obvious characteristics of failed and failing states beset by problems of ungovernability and the implications for peace support operations. First, because failed states typically lack effective governance, serious questions arise about consent of the parties to the conflict. Moreover, in such an environment it may be difficult to discern just who the parties to the conflict are. The cast of characters may ebb and flow as the conflict unfolds. Similarly, there are likely to be real problems with command and control for the parties to the conflict; one might obtain "consent" only to find that the leaders who offered it have no effective means of implementing and enforcing that consent down the line. Second, impartiality may be desirable in theory, but in this environment it may be impossible to maintain because some actors will be motivated to tear down whatever institutions and processes of governance exist. By being enemies of everything, they will make it extremely difficult for a peace support force to be impartial; if the force is there simply to restore order, those who favor disorder will not see it as impartial.[41] Third, great power military force (state-of-the-art, efficient, professional, and so on) may be completely irrelevant. This may be true through no fault of the military force; rather, the underlying problem may not be amenable to any military solution. Finally, the human rights and humanitarian problems evident in such crises are probably the result of the crisis of governability, and until that crisis is resolved or ameliorated, no amount of external intervention (military or otherwise) will do anything to ease the problems except at the margins.

What is really needed in such cases is not just improved operational capabilities, clearer rules of engagement, a known end state, and an exit strategy. What is needed is a much broader strategy for addressing ungovernability and the process of building democratic nation-states. A strategy for dealing with failed states must include a prescription for "curing what fails it," and this essentially requires a comprehensive strategy for building effective governance first, and effective democracy second. Research suggests that this can only be done over the long term, focusing on developing civil society, attitudes, and norms of behavior, not just institutions and elections. A sound military strategy in support of that broad strategy of democratization is certainly necessary, but it can be effective only if it is one component of a strategy that involves all of the relevant dimensions of power. The ways and means for preventing ungovernability and achieving democracy must at least include, and probably be most firmly anchored in, political, economic, and socio-psychological power.

The contemporary situation suggests that unlike Cold War UN peacekeeping, which occurred for the most part in conflicts that were inter-state and involved strong states, post-Cold War peace operations will most likely occur within weak, failed, or failing states, in a context of increasing ungovernability. If not embedded in a broader strategy of democratization, military operations in these contexts will fail; they will either fail in theater as a military operation, or they will fail as part of the broader strategy when the conflict resumes as soon as the military is withdrawn. A broader strategy of democratization will also help in the careful selection of those instances where a military response is warranted and where it has a reasonable chance of success. After all, if one cannot conclude that the objective of a functioning, democratic state is at least somewhat attainable, then it makes absolutely no sense to undertake a military peace support operation.[42]

Peace operations in the kind of environment discussed here, in which the basic elements of effective governance are absent or severely weakened, are no easy undertaking. Human rights violations will be plentiful, and humanitarian concerns heightened. Not only will these issues affect the choice of instrument used in addressing the crisis, they will also affect the environment in which the military operates.[43] By failing to address up front the precise nature of the underlying causes of the conflict, and thereby determining what, if anything, can be done to resolve it, decisions to undertake military peace support operations will almost certainly lead to failure of the policies and potentially tragic consequences. A strategy of democratization must reflect an understanding of the challenges of ungovernability lest the pursuit of the former lead only to the proliferation of the latter. Future military peace support operations must be guided by a broader national security strategy for confronting ungovernability and building stable, functioning democracies.


Some of the research contained in this article was supported by the National Strategy Information Center as part of its project on "Global Ungovernability." The author wishes to thank that organization and the individuals who contributed directly and indirectly to this work. Of course, the author alone remains responsible for any errors of omission or commission in this article.

1. A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement (Washington: GPO, 1994), p. 5. The most recent version of the NSS was published under the same title in February 1996, and the same statement is found on p. 12.

2. National Military Strategy of the United States of America: A Strategy of Flexible and Selective Engagement (Washington: GPO, 1995), p. i.

3. Ibid., p. ii.

4. The three basic objectives of our National Security Strategy are enhancing our security, promoting prosperity at home, and promoting democracy. NSS, pp. 11-12.

5. At first the very general concept of "Operations Other Than War" was used to cover this and a host of other "non-traditional" US military functions. Recently the US Army Training and Doctrine Command indicated that the term OOTW is to be "phased out." Instead, they feel that new, more precise terms have been developed, including peace operations (peacekeeping, peacemaking), humanitarian assistance, and operations in aid of civil authorities. We can expect the next edition of FM 100-5 to reflect this change.

6. Gerald B. Helman and Steven R. Ratner, "Saving Failed States," Foreign Policy, 89 (Winter 1992-93), 3.

7. William J. Olson, "The New World Disorder: Governability and Development," in Max G. Manwaring, ed., Gray Area Phenomena: Confronting the New World Disorder (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993), p. 5. The former includes Cuba, Iraq, Angola, Peru, and Sri Lanka; the latter, India, the Philippines, Jamaica, South Africa, Libya, and even Canada.

8. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, 2d ed. (New York: United Nations, 1995). See especially Section VI, Post-Conflict Peace-Building, pp. 61-62.

9. Helman and Ratner, p. 8.

10. Quoted in Jeremy D. Rosner, "Is Chaos America's Real Enemy?" The Washington Post, 14 August 1994, p. C-1.

11. Rosner observes: "For it is almost always the absence of responsible governance that causes humanitarian disasters (witness Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti), not the other way around." Ibid.

12. They are listed along with vital and important interests in the NSS. See NSS, p. 18.

13. This so-called "do something" strategy is of course not a strategy at all. It is also dangerous for precisely the same reason it is not a strategy: It fails to consider what objectives are to be accomplished, what appropriate resources are to be used and how, and whether the application of those resources will in any way contribute to the successful resolution of the problem.

14. For example, Huntington and others suggest that this most recent wave is simply a continuation of the last wave, interrupted for several decades by the artificial structure imposed on these countries by the Cold War generally and Soviet totalitarianism specifically. See Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

15. Of course, there are also notable success stories in the post-colonial transition phase. The purpose here is not to analyze post-colonial development processes and their consequences. Rather, this analysis simply acknowledges that some states are failing today because they never really established the institutions, processes, and public legitimacy essential for effective political and economic performance.

16. The weak state is not just a new phenomenon, however. It represents a classic problem in international affairs, as evidenced in the following observation: "In 1915 Walter Lippmann wrote that `the chief overwhelming problem of [international] diplomacy seems to be weak state[s], . . . weak, because they are industrially backward and at present politically incompetent' to prevent outbreaks of internal violence. Serious breakdowns of internal order endangered the nationals and trade of the great powers, disposing one or another to intervene." Quoted in David C. Rapoport, "The Role of External Forces in Supporting Ethno-Religious Conflict," p. 59, in Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr., and Richard H. Shultz, Jr., eds. Ethnic Conflict and Regional Instability: Implications for U.S. Policy and Army Roles and Missions (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1994), pp. 59-75.

17. The term has appeared frequently in analyses of the post-Cold War world, most often referring to what is viewed as the historical conquest by liberal democracy over its authoritarian challengers. An earlier use of the term by Plattner seems to suggest that it is unclear whether the moment can in fact be extended; it may prove to be a moment lost, if not properly nurtured. See Marc F. Plattner, "The Democratic Moment," Journal of Democracy, 2 (Fall 1991), 34-46.

18. As noted previously, the basic premise of the theory of the Democratic Peace is that democracies do not go to war with other democracies. There is considerable debate as to why this generally observable relationship holds true, with some arguing that internal democratic norms and processes promote external democratic behavior (people become good democrats) and others positing that it is the institutional checks and balances of democracies that place constraints on the aggressive external behavior of leaders. For a wide-ranging discussion of the issues and the evidence in this debate, see the articles by Layne, Spiro, and Owen in International Security, 19 (Fall 1994).

19. See, for example, the discussion in Ralph Peters, "The Culture of Future Conflict," Parameters, 25 (Winter 1995-96), 18-27.

20. See for example, the arguments by Edward D. Mansfield and Jack Snyder in "Democratization and the Danger of War," International Security, 20 (Summer 1995), 5-38.

21. Olson, "The New World Disorder," p. 10.

22. Kaplan paints a particularly gloomy but not inaccurate picture of this class of failed state. See Robert D. Kaplan, "The Coming Anarchy," The Atlantic Monthly, February 1994, pp. 44-76.

23. The Daiwa bank case is another interesting example. In this case individual activity, illegal and unauthorized, led to massive losses. However, the bank attempted to cover up the damage, thereby compounding the rogue behavior with illegal corporate activities. The United States subsequently responded by pulling the bank's license to do business in this country.

24. See Roy Godson and William J. Olson, "International Organized Crime: Emerging Threat to US Security" (Washington: National Strategy Information Center, 1993).

25. Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and William J. Olson, "Ethnic and Religious Conflict: Emerging Threat to US Security" (Washington: National Strategy Information Center, 1994), p. 1.

26. See Robert H. Dorff, "Economic, Financial, and Technological Dimensions of Global Ungovernability," paper presented at the NSIC Workshop on Ungovernability, 14 September 1995, Washington.

27. The proliferation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private voluntary organizations (PVOs) presents a similar problem. For example, US citizens who oppose official US policy find international fora especially useful for publicly trashing that policy. Moreover, they are able to form alliances with other individuals and organizations in the international network to undermine formal governmental policy initiatives.

28. This is the problem of the "external shock." See for example, "External Shocks and Policy Making in Central America," UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 1994. ECLAC defines an external shock as "economic disturbances that originate in events outside the country and make the economy deviate from the pattern of previous years." (p. 1)

29. Strategic Assessment 1995: U.S. Security Challenges in Transition (Washington: Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1995), p. 8.

30. An example of the former might be where substantial progress toward economic liberalization in one country is more than offset by regional instability that imposes external shocks on that economy. An example of the latter would be where US support in the form of, say, development assistance is precluded by the fact that there exists no clear governing authority to serve as the recipient and proponent of development policy.

31. See the discussions in Thomas G. Weiss and Jarat Chopra, United Nations Peacekeeping (Providence, R.I.: Watson Institute of Brown University, 1983), esp. Part I, "Abstract Peacekeeping: An Introduction," pp. 1-17; and John Mackinlay and Jarat Chopra, "Second Generation Multinational Operations," The Washington Quarterly, 15 (Summer 1992), 113-31.

32. See Mackinlay and Chopra, p. 114.

33. This point relates to what Hoffman has called the "peace enforcer's paradox." His discussion of the "law of war" and the "law of peace" illustrates how difficult it is to find the proper authority for peace enforcement operations. What we accomplished in the Gulf War was largely a result of being able to apply unambiguously the "law of war" in the pursuit of our objectives. See Michael H. Hoffman, "War, Peace, and International Armed Conflict: Solving the Peace Enforcer's Paradox," Parameters, 25 (Winter 1995-96), 41-52.

34. For an attempt to lay out the various types of peace operations on a continuum depicting the intensity and risk of the operations, see Mackinlay and Chopra, p. 117.

35. This is most evident in Presidential Decision Directive 25.

36. For example, see the discussion of emerging German policy toward peace support operations in Robert H. Dorff, "German Policy Toward Peace Support Operations," in Thomas-Durell Young, ed., Force, Statecraft and German Unity: The Struggle to Adapt Institutions and Practices (Carlisle, Pa.: USAWC, Strategic Studies Institute, forthcoming).

37. Mackinlay and Chopra, "Second Generation Multinational Operations."

38. This is, of course, a highly contentious assertion. For example, see the discussion in Hoffman, "War, Peace, and International Armed Conflict."

39. Mackinlay and Chopra, "Second Generation Multinational Operations," p. 118.

40. Most critically, they see a need for a revamped and revitalized UN Military Staff Committee and significantly increased centralized control of military operations within the UN. With the events that have occurred subsequent to 1992, it is safe to say that there is virtually no support for such centralization of operations under UN control among the countries that really matter (the United States, other NATO countries).

41. This latter point is often difficult for many of us, particularly in the West, to grasp. But some actors do benefit from the absence of effective governance, so even what we think are very neutral objectives--restoring order and eliminating gross human suffering--are anything but neutral to them.

42. This does not imply that there would be no military operation in support of, say, humanitarian objectives. It says only that one could decide early on whether an operation would go beyond providing food, water, clothing, and the like, and expectations for the operation could be shaped accordingly. This would provide some help in staving off the "do something strategists" alluded to earlier.

43. A discussion of this point alone is the topic for another article. But it is clear that such conflicts bring with them large numbers of human rights and humanitarian assistance groups who come as observers, providers of aid, monitors, and so on. Military forces operating in such an environment will have a whole set of challenges with which to cope in addition to those associated with operations in a hostile and volatile environment. For a discussion of private voluntary organizations and some of the implications for military operations, see Andrew S. Natsios, "The International Humanitarian Response System," Parameters, 25 (Spring 1995), 68-81.

Dr. Robert H. Dorff is Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy at the US Army War College and Associate Professor of Political Science at North Carolina State University. He holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Dorff specializes in US and European national and international security policy. For the past two years he has been conducting research for the National Strategy Information Center project on "Global Ungovernability."

Reviewed 28 May 1996. Please send comments or corrections to