The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way?
Untangling Ownership and Political Will in
Post-Conflict Stability and Reconstruction
by Derick W. Brinkerhoff
ow best to assist fragile and post-conflict states to improve conditions for their
citizens and to establish the policies, institutions, and governance procedures that
will lead to socio-economic development has constituted an enduring set of
questions for international assistance agencies. These questions have taken on
renewed urgency in today’s world where concerns about transnational terrorism,
intrastate conflict, and state failure have led to an intersection among the policy,
research, and programmatic agendas of
the international development,
humanitarian, security, and diplomatic communities. The World Bank’s list of fragile
states grew from seventeen to twenty-six during the years 2003 to 2006, confirming
that the problem of addressing the needs of low-income countries affected by poor
governance, persistent poverty, and weak economic growth is becoming ever more
difficult and complex.
While definitions of fragile states vary, all concur that state fragility is directly
related to capacity deficits. Fragile states have governments that are incapable of
assuring basic security for their citizens, fail to provide basic services and economic
opportunities, and are unable to garner sufficient legitimacy to maintain citizens’
confidence and trust. When these capacity deficits are large enough, states move
toward failure, collapse, crisis, and conflict. In post-conflict countries, the recovery
process—often supported by international donor assistance—involves rebuilding
capacity and filling deficits, though backsliding is an ever-present risk. As Collier et
al. note, countries that have experienced violent conflict face a 40 percent risk of
renewed violence within five years.
Post-conflict capacity building, however, does not take place solely as a function
of outside intervention and assistance. Capacity development is fundamentally an
endogenous process that engages not just the abilities and skills, but the motivation,
support, and aspirations of people within a country.
The labels assigned to the latter
Derick W. Brinkerhoff
is Senior Fellow in International Public Management with Research
Triangle Institute (RTI International), and he has a faculty associate appointment at George
Washington University’s School of Public Policy and Public Administration. His current fieldwork
and research interests focus on democracy and governance in fragile and post-conflict states,
decentralization, and capacity building.