Introducing Daniel Lambach

Daniel LambachDaniel Lambach currently is an Interim Professor of International Relations at the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany).

He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cologne (2006) after obtaining a Diplom in Political Science and Economics from the University in Marburg.

His research interests are fragile and collapsed states, norms of territoriality and sovereignty and the stability of authoritarian regimes.

This is part 2 of the interview with Professor Lambach. Part 1 is Daniel Lambach: Failed States – Definitions, causes, concepts, local governance


Failed states: Research Agenda, Policy Advice, Political Debate

What has been the impact of academic research into failed states on the political debate in donor countries about economic development in unstable areas?

There has been an interesting interplay between politics and academia. Research was often motivated by concerns over policy relevance. At the same time, the policy community influenced the direction of research by providing funding as well as preferential access to decision-makers. So on the one hand, academic research has been able to influence political debates through supplying data and mental models for their interpretation.

On the other hand, it often took up political concerns and terminologies without critical scrutiny – in a way, academia lets politics write the research agenda. Therefore, the critique that the whole failed states discourse serves to legitimize Western intervention in crisis states has merit, even if it is one-sided.

What are the experiences so far in fragile states that have started a democratisation process?

Democratization is a difficult and uncertain process. This is doubly so when state institutions are weak.

Given the initial uncertainty about the ‘rules of the game’ after political liberalization, actors benefit from a clear set of institutions that assist in the implementation of policy and the provision of public goods. In post-conflict situations, most researchers now warn against too-rapid democratisation before a modicum of stateness has been established – the ‘Institutionalization Before Liberalization’ model by Roland Paris.

This isn’t to say that democratisation can never succeed under such circumstances, only that the success of such a project depends much more on the democratic commitment of key actors if the “guard rails” of functioning state institutions are missing.

Failed States: Neighbouring Countries, External Intervention and Global Prospects

Under what circumstances could state failure lead to destabilisation of neighbouring countries?

State failure always affects neighbouring countries. Failing states trigger refugee movements, alter regional patterns of alliance and enmity and become hubs of regional shadow economies. However, the degree to which these effects destabilise neighbouring countries differs.

Countries that are very weak to begin with have less capacity to adapt. Countries who do not control their borders have fewer opportunities to shield themselves from harmful effects. In some cases, neighbours even profit from a state’s failure when they successfully harness “refugee resources” by settling newcomers in underdeveloped areas and by using international aid money to improve state infrastructure.

A good illustration is the Liberian civil war. While actors in Liberia managed to “export” the war to already-fragile Sierra Leone in 1991, the same effort failed when they attempted to replicate it in Guinea in 1999, where the ruling regime was much more secure.

Under what circumstances could foreign intervention help to structurally reduce state failure?

External intervention is usually reserved for cases where the state has already failed. On paper, interveners are quite keen on building state capacity in these contexts as this is seen as a major contributor to peace and development.

However, the term state-building has been broadened beyond all recognition by merging it with the already-broad notion of peace-building. Another problem is that external actors cannot simply ‘build states’ – only local actors can do that. States are not like IKEA furniture, to be shipped and neatly assembled within the span of an afternoon. They are more like trees – rooted in society’s subsoil and adapted to the local ecology.

In a given environment, only certain specialized kinds of trees will flourish. And in a similar way, we should not expect modern statehood to do well after transplantation into a society that disagrees with some of the fundamental practices of stateness – its secular identity, its depersonalization of power, its terrioriality and its rational-legal mode of legitimation.

Instead, we should be more creative about local variations of statehood. For instance, in the as-yet unrecognized para-state of Somaliland, the second legislative chamber is a council of elders who have been traditional authority figures in the local clan system. Foreign interventions forces should therefore approach the issue with an open mind and leave the blueprints at home.

What are your expectations regarding the emergence of state failure in the remainder of the 21st century?

The incidence of state failure saw a sharp rise in the early 1990s when several aging autocracies collapsed after the end of the Cold War. This led some observers to conclude that we will witness ever more cases of failure in the future. However, since then very few states have (newly) failed.

So I am cautiously optimistic that we will not see similar surges of the complete breakdown of state authority in the near future. There are far fewer states with the necessary set of conditions to make such events likely.

However, the one thing that could change this assessment is climate change. In spite of the growing sophistication of climate models, we are in no position to make definite forecasts how this is going to affect human societies and political institutions. We also should not forget that there are still many states suffering from persistent weaknesses.

And while they may not be at immediate risk, they will still need time – decades! – to consolidate their institutions. So the issue will continue to be on the political and academic agenda for the foreseeable future.

Daniel Lambach: Failed States – Institutionalization, Democratisation, Intervention
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