Intervention and State-Building
Comparative Lessons from Japan, Iraq, and Afghanistan
Since 2001, international attention has focused on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and specifically on the question of whether external intervention can assist weak or fragile states in successfully making the transition to stable democracies. This article analyzes the U.S. occupations of Japan beginning in 1945, Afghanistan beginning in 2001, and Iraq beginning in 2003, and uses these cases to review and critique the literature on why some interventions have been more successful than others in building robust and effective state institutions. The comparative analysis suggests that external interveners face substantial barriers to state-building in circumstances that lack favorable domestic preconditions. The United States has been more successful when preserving existing state capacity than when attempting to build state strength where it did not previously exist.