Friday, March 14, 2014

Nation-building and modernization as persistent themes in U.S. foreign policy

'Nation building,' as the phrase is used in U.S. foreign policy circles, has long been closely tied to the notion of modernization.  Michael E. Latham traces this connection from the Truman to the G.W. Bush administrations in The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Cornell Univ. Press, 2011; link).          

Aspects of modernization theory had antecedents in classical social theory, notably Weber and Marx, even if the debt to the latter, at least, was not one that U.S. modernization theorists of the 1950s and '60s were generally eager to acknowledge. 
As it took shape in the Cold War-era academy, modernization theory assumed, as Latham notes, that all societies passed through essentially the same gate from tradition to modernity and further assumed that the correct policies, properly implemented, could speed up the passage.  The premise was that the U.S. could simultaneously contain Communism and spark a transformation of the 'developing' world, rapidly improving living standards and propelling it into the twentieth century by means that would avoid the brutal coercion that marked, for instance, Mao's efforts to transform China. 

Modernization theorists saw the supposedly universal transition from tradition to modernity as stressful and, thus, unsettling to individual psyches.  The MIT political scientist Lucian Pye's 1956 book Guerrilla Communism in Malaya argued that Communism's appeal was not primarily ideological but psychological; Pye contended that Communism appealed in particular to young men from the countryside trying to escape from the anxiety and "personal uncertainty generated by the jarring social transition from tradition to modernity" (Latham, p.48).  The emphasis on psychology reflected the influence of Harold Lasswell, who had taught both Pye and Gabriel Almond (47).      

If the problem was the psychological strain of the transition to modernity, then the prescription, especially for poor societies in which revolutionaries mounted armed challenges to the government, was "a pattern of nation building that would replace the institutions of the insurgency with those of the state and give the peasant caught in the 'transition'...a renewed sense of the potential for personal advance" (138).  As applied in Vietnam in the early '60s, part of this prescription involved trying to expand the central government's reach into the countryside.  Somewhat like the king's agents in the medieval France of Philip Augustus, Ngo Dinh Diem's provincial and district chiefs would travel around their domains and supposedly "bridge the gap between the central government and the rural masses" (134). 

Another aspect of attempted nation-building in South Vietnam involved relocation of the rural population.  This was the strategic hamlet program, designed to move about 15 million people into fortified villages where the NLF (Viet Cong) would be unable, so the thinking went, to get at them.  As Robert Packenham writes, the program "reflected a curious mix of forced-labor and liberal-constitutionalist tactics," although "[t]he first element...seems to have been implemented more consistently than the second" (Liberal America and the Third World, pb. ed. 1976, p.83).

In America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (Hill & Wang, 2008; link), David Milne describes the strategic hamlet program as follows (p.105):

The director of the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research, Roger Hilsman, presented the program's blueprint -- "A Strategic Concept for South Vietnam" -- to [President] Kennedy on February 2, 1962.... Hilsman correctly identified that South Vietnam's villages provided sustenance, recruits, and a safe haven for the NLF. To prevent the insurgents from requisitioning these vital commodities -- often through coercion -- he...proposed that a series of fortified hamlets be established with bamboo-spiked ditches dug around the exterior and barbed wire attached to the hamlet itself. South Vietnam's villagers would then be removed from their traditional homes and relocated to these fortified oases of non-communist security.
The program was not a success; by "the spring of 1963, only 1,500 of the 8,500 strategic hamlets remained viable" (107).  Milne observes that the "implementation of the strategic hamlet program was like watching an infant attempt to hammer a square plastic block through a triangle-shaped hole" (109).  The U.S. escalation decisions of 1965 changed the character of the Vietnam war, and by "January 1968 the intensified war in the countryside created approximately four million refugees" (Latham, 142).  By 1970 rural 'pacification' programs had been dropped entirely.  

As Latham observes, modernization theory and nation-building waned in the late '60s and '70s but made a comeback, albeit in altered form, in the late '80s and even more after the end of the Cold War. After the U.S. invaded Panama in Dec. 1989 and removed Noriega, whom it had previously supported, the first Bush administration embarked on nation-building via "Operation Blind Logic, the appropriately named plan for the reconstruction of Panama," which "was extremely ambitious and deeply flawed" (195). The Clinton administration's plans for Somalia were equally ambitious, with UN Ambassador (as she then was) Madeleine Albright stating that "we will embark on an unprecedented enterprise aimed at nothing less than the restoration of an entire country as a proud, functioning, and viable member of the community of nations" (quoted, 197).  After the Somalia mission led to 'Black Hawk Down,' the Clinton administration retreated from this sort of rhetoric.  (Also, as Martha Finnemore notes [in The Purpose of Intervention, p.83], the Somalia intervention was partly prompted by defensiveness over charges by then-UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali "that powerful states were attending to disasters in white, European Bosnia at the expense of non-white, African Somalia....")

George W. Bush opposed nation-building as a presidential candidate in 2000, but that changed with 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.  Bush declared in a Nov. 2003 speech that "[t]he establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution" (quoted in Latham, 204).  Of course the Pentagon basically ignored planning for the reconstruction of Iraq and cut the State Dept. and other agencies, which had conducted such planning, out of the loop. (Where nation-building or postwar reconstruction has proved more successful, it is likely to have been the result of UN or other multilateral peacekeeping missions with broad mandates.  Latham says that such peacekeeping missions have "rarely met expectations" [199], but I think that statement's too sweeping; some haven't but some have.)

What about the present?  Latham sees "the ghosts of  modernization" hovering around the activities of the U.S. and its allies in both Iraq (at least up until U.S. forces withdrew) and Afghanistan.  Clearly the U.S. and NATO/ISAF have defined their Afghanistan mission not just in military but also in socio-political ('development') terms.  The context (corruption, the effect of decades of war, etc.) ensured that Afghan development was going to be extremely hard and, as Latham observes, the effort has not been funded at the levels of post-war reconstruction in e.g. the ex-Yugoslavia or E. Timor (if one takes population sizes into account).  Moreover, too much emphasis was put on 'the market' as opposed to building a strong central government, in line with prevailing neoliberal doctrine.  While there have been some successes (e.g., in opening up more opportunities for women), the overall picture seems not very encouraging (e.g., a recent WaPo headline mentioned roads built in Afghanistan with U.S. funds that are now crumbling for lack of maintenance).  Today the U.S. and its allies probably would settle for an Afghanistan in which the level of violence is kept under control; the Taliban, if brought into the government, is kept to a subordinate role; and the government is able to control key cities and transport routes.  Whether even this outcome will be achieved is an open question.

On the broader issue of approaches to development, Latham is right to emphasize the wisdom contained in some of the late-1970s emphasis on 'basic needs' and distributional issues, which challenged the then "dominant narrative" (215) that the rising tide of growth would lift all boats.  Even in China, where millions in recent years have left rural poverty for  factory employment, a more egalitarian growth path would have reduced poverty more.  The 1970s critics of modernization were also right to raise questions about the environmental implications of growth, even if some of the specific predictive claims might have missed the mark.  It's hard to disagree with Latham's view that development should focus on "locally centered" (216) efforts directed at "the problems of poverty, inequality, and environment, and combining them with a renewed focus on an expanded conception of human rights and social justice" (215), tempered by the acknowledgment that it will not be easy.

Added later: Jennifer Clapp (Univ. of Waterloo) reviewed Latham's book, along with Nick Cullather's The Hungry World: America's Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia (2010), in Perspectives on Politics 11:2 (June 2013).

Added 8/24/17: For a roundtable on Latham's book co-sponsored by H-Diplo and the Int'l Security Studies Forum, see here


Bro said...

Great book review. What have the success stories of nation building or peacekeeping with broad mandates been in recent decades? Is Panama one?

Ronan said...

Really enjoying these posts, just to say, although i havent been commenting.
Also, I've been meaning to read the Latham book, do you reccomend it in general ?

LFC said...

Bro: thanks. Panama -- I don't think so, but not sure. Rest of question I'll address later.

Ronan: I read most but not every word of the Latham bk, partly b.c I was already sort of familiar w some of the material, hence did not explicitly label this post a bk review. I wd say it's a bk one cd read selectively b/c the chapters are like self-contained essays; but it's pretty short and well written and partly b.c he's a historian not a political scientist the language is mostly jargon-free and straightforward. (I think he's about 10 yrs younger than I am and it's sometimes a little weird to read someone for whom certain events and developments are more 'historical' than they are for oneself, but that's a side pt. Plus in this context doesn't really apply to anyone born, say, 1967 or later ;)).

LFC said...

@Bro: examples of relatively successful peacekeeping-plus-reconstruction include Sierra Leone (mission ended '05) and before that, Namibia. With more qualifications one cd add Cambodia; E. Timor might also qualify. There are prob. at least a couple of others.

On a somewhat separate pt, the ex-Yugoslav countries since the Dayton agreement ('95) and the Kosovo war ('99) have not, afaik, experienced a return to large-scale violence (though I'd want to check facts on that), but that prob. more reflects internal developments than any external presence, though there has been some -- in e.g. Kosovo after the '99 bombing campaign.

LFC said...

p.s. The only research I did for this question was to look back at my
Jan '12 review of J. Goldstein's bk, and also, b.c I wanted to refresh my memory re recent-ish devs. in Dem Rep Congo, I briefly checked, which is a good aggregator-type source for Africa news and recent history.

DRC would def. not be a case of successful peacekeeping, except poss. until quite recently, following a beefed-up UN force and mandate. But still not 'reconstruction' since there continue to be active rebel groups in the east of the country. See linked Economist piece below (the first thing to come up on punching DRC into Google News just now).


LFC said...

@Ronan: fyi/fwiw: free online access to all Palgrave Macmillan journal content through end of this month (e.g. Int'l Politics etc.).

LFC said...

Btw and not to get off-topic (perish the thought), but wasn't CT perhaps a little livelier before the trolls MCJ and H.St.Clare were banned? (I mean, that Schmitt thread -- yikes.)

Ronan said...

Thanks for the journal tip LFC, I'll check it out !

Yeah I agree on Mao et al. I kind of liked him tbh, until he concocted that idiotic argument that there was no racism under Jim Crow, and I just couldnt cope anymore ; ) He could be pretty funny though and its certainly quieter without him.
Im trying to cut back on commenting online on the bigger sites at this stage though.

re the Schmitt thread, I found bits of it interesting, but really cant make heads or tails of a lot of it. I think thats largely my own fault as I dont know the lit, but they (in part) seem to be arguing over some ideal type of the concepts in question (liberalism etc) rather than how these theories function in the real world ? (afaict anyway, though I havent paid close attention) which strikes me as missing the point a little. Or perhaps not, Im probably misreading it.

re the peackeeping question above, i remember reading a paper recently (half quant but readable) that showed on the whole that peacekeeping (as opposed to nation building) has been successful. Ill try and dig out the paper. In the meantime this gave quite a good rundown on recent research

Which leads me to something else. LFC, in your latest response to geo re humanitarian aspects of US foreign policy, I see you left out the post CW military interventions (balkans, libya etc) Do you think they should be primarily viewed through a humanitarian lens ? I cant really see any other way of thinking about them (although I know that some on the left, mainly Chomsky et al, still see them as 'a continuation' of a US foreign policy aimed at reinforcing US hegemony and opening up foreign markets, or what have you)

Ronan said...

Heres that other peacekeeping paper for anyone interested 24fwiw

LFC said...

thks for the cites,esp. the 2nd one, wh/ i will check out.

There's not always a strict line, istm, between peacekeeping and nation-bldg, altho the latter's definition is fuzzy. That's b.c a lot of the more recent peackeeping missions are 'multidimensional' (as e.g. Goldstein discusses). But i will look at the paper.

Re Balkans/Libya: yes, i see them mostly through a humanitarian lens. They inevitably raise however the problem of selectivity (why those part. interventions and not others), wh in turn leads to the charge of hypocrisy etc. In the case of Libya, France took the lead, iirc, US came in behind as it were. An air campaign was feasible b.c. of the terrain etc.

LFC said...

And no, I don't think you're esp. misreading the Schmitt thread. (I've made the mistake of reading it, or trying to, at the very end of the day, which just makes it worse.)

LFC said...

I've downloaded the paper and read the abstract; it may be two or three days before I read the paper itself.

LFC said...

I've now looked at the Gilligan & Sergenti (hereafter G&S) 2008 paper. I understand the conclusions (if not all the details of the methodological stuff).

Correcting for the fact that the assignment of UN peacekeeping missions to conflicts and to post-conflict situations is "nonrandom," G&S conclude that UN peacekeeping missions have "an independent causal effect" in prolonging periods of post-conflict peace, but "no causal effect" in ongoing conflicts. In other words, UN peacekeeping is effective in post-conflict situations (i.e., after a cease-fire and/or further agreement has been negotiated, a peacekeeping mission typically will help the agreement hold), but UN missions are typically not effective while fighting is still going on and the parties are or may be in the midst of simultaneous fighting and negotiating. G&S suggest a couple of possible reasons for this finding and call for further inquiry into the reasons (and I don't know whether that's been done).

Goldstein 2011 (Winning the War on War) does not cite G&S, but my sense is that at most G&S tweak (for lack of a better word) rather than fundamentally challenging the research that Goldstein summarized. G&S may tweak the picture by reducing the degree to which UN missions are judged effective while a conflict is ongoing, but G&S confirm that peacekeeping is effective in post-conflict situations.

LFC said...

p.s. Technically, of course, UN 'peacekeeping' missions assigned to ongoing conflicts are not peacekeeping at all, since in those cases there is no peace to keep. (Rather, in those cases they should be called peaceestablishing missions or something like that.)

LFC said...

Indeed G&S if anything show a stronger effect in post-conflict situations, if you look at what they say in their conclusion about how their approach corrects previous work.

Ronan said...

Interesting comments LFC. I was meaning to read the Goldstein book, have you read it ? Would you reccomend if so ?

LFC said...

I have read the Goldstein book and reviewed it here in Jan. 2012 (link in next box). [Disclosure: I know Goldstein, but I tried to be reasonably objective in writing about the book.]


Btw, in a previous thread we were discussing books on Soviet foreign policy. In that connection I might mention T. Hopf, Reconstructing the Cold War. (Haven't read it, however.)

LFC said...

Link to review:

Ronan said...

I only had a quick glance at that review last night but going to have a proper look now, thanks. That book also looks really good.

Ive been waiting for a few months for this

(sorry for messy link) might be of interest to you. Looks really good.

"the Braudel of the nineteenth century" Ive never read Braudel but that must be worth something ; )

LFC said...

Thanks, I just looked at the Osterhammel on Amazon.

LFC said...

A p.s. on certain post-CW interventions and whether they shd be viewed through a humanitarian lens. I certainly don't want to give the impression that I see no problems whatsoever w 'humanitarian intervention' as in e.g. Kosovo or Libya. I do see problematic issues, eg the whole issue of means -- in Kosovo, e.g., I believe Hum Rts Watch issued a report critical of the US/NATO bombing campaign on grounds that it did not discriminate sufficiently re civilians/non-civilians b.c the planes were flying too high. So I do see troublesome issues and wd not want to give the impression of uncritical or unreflective or automatic support for whatever the US and allies do in these situations. Prefer to approach on a case-by-case, context-specific basis.

Ronan Fitzgerald said...

I see I had read the post !

LFC said...

yup :)

There's some other research on peacekeeping I've run across since this thread, one article in particular, may have referenced it sometime at CT. Anyway, don't have time to get the exact cite now, unfortunately. Some other time, maybe.