Why do some states manage state-building better than others? How can development actors support positive state-building? This paper from the UK Department for International Development’s Governance and Social Development Group examines factors leading to positive or negative state development. International actors should consider underlying realities, and put social, economic and political analysis into a historical context. Sequencing within each of the three areas of state-building (political settlements, survival functions and expected functions) is important.
State-building is the process through which states enhance their ability to function. The structures of the state are determined by an underlying political settlement; the forging of a common understanding, usually among elites, that their interests or beliefs are served by a particular way of organising political power.
International architecture for economic, political and development cooperation is based on assumptions about state capability and structure that do not take account of complex realities. Two contrasting models of state-building highlight this complexity, with many states having some characteristics of both responsive and unresponsive state-building.
Responsive state-building involves three necessary areas of progress. First, a political settlement must be established. Then the state created must fulfil three core ‘survival’ functions: security (controlling the use of violence), revenue (raising funds, particularly through taxation), and ruling through law. Lastly, the state must achieve ‘expected’ functions, fulfilling expectations from its own citizens and external actors on issues such as social provision, policing, and roads. Efforts to build capacity bring the state into greater contact with society, fuelling pressure for it to respond to expectations.
Unresponsive states lack drive towards capacity and accountability and are often ineffective, repressive and corrupt. Causes of unresponsive state-building include difficulties in satisfying key elites, domestic pressures, and poorly designed political institutional structures. Other problematic issues are ideological constraints, globalised crime and international corruption.
Confidence in potential progress is crucial for responsive state-building: settlements must appear durable and capable, and the state must respect the rule of law. However, confidence can be undermined by spoilers, including unreconciled elites, globalised crime and access to arms. Other findings include the following:
- Growth and state-building have a mutually reinforcing relationship.
- Creating a revenue base through taxation can generate public confidence in the state’s permanence.
- An external threat can focus the minds of elites. Internal threats also provide focus: if stakeholders perceive threats from other parts of society, they may see the state as a protector.
- Political inclusion is important, particularly if political settlements are to keep pace with social change.
- External actors can help or hinder. Outsiders can confer a degree of legitimacy to new political settlements, for example.
- Some political settlements inherit a strong infrastructural legacy, others are hampered by weak institutions. Some leaders have a clear state-building agenda, while others take a patronage-based approach.
International actors can support responsive state-building by helping states to prioritise and sequence their activities within political settlements, survival functions and expected functions. They can also:
- Help to consolidate emerging political settlements, and support ‘survival’ functions, including revenue raising and security.
- Ensure that country planning processes include analysis to construct a state-building perspective.
- Encourage positive state-society relationships through working with and supporting civil society, and by responding to real rather than imposed or assumed public expectations.
- Take care in judging the ability of particular elites to gain legitimacy and confidence.
- Recognise the damaging effect of long-term dependence on aid, and support states in strengthening a viable and fair revenue-raising system.