State Building and National Identity

In War and the State in Africa, Jeffrey Herbst states, “…it should be recognized that there is very little evidence that African countries, or many others in the Third World, will be able to find peaceful ways to strengthen the state and develop national identities.” Truly, building a strong state and developing state identity is very essential to third world countries that have either a weak or fail state, as it will help the government of developing countries to be better on solving both internal and external challenges for the society, such as AIDS, poverty, natural disasters, economic development, internal conflicts.

Besides, it will also help to increase the living standard for the people and to build up a fair democratic society. However, Jeffrey Herbst argues that the only way to establish a strong functioning state and develop national identity in the third world is through non-peaceful methods is not true. Non-peaceful method does not contribute to the state-building, and can also promote potential internal conflict. As a peaceful alternative, a country should create good development policy and establish solid government institution.

The next paragraph of this article outlines why a non-peaceful means is not contributing to strengthening state. The following paragraph explains how war will promote internal conflicts. Then proceeding paragraph describes why the development policy is the essential to strengthen the state capability and build up state identities. The final paragraph illustrates that establishing solid government institution will strengthen the state.

Non-peaceful method such as a war is not an essential independent variable for the state building since state building is not solely dependent on a war. Take the communist China After WWII as an example, the communist regime of the People’s Republic of China far behind on establishing a strong state compared to West. China experienced the failure of the state as the people suffered continuous poverty, constant revolt, and poor living standard.

As Robert describes in his article The new Nature of Nation-state Failure, “Failure for a nation-state looms when violence cascades into all-out internal war, when standards of living massively deteriorate, when the infrastructure or ordinary life decays, and when the greed of rulers overwhelm their responsibilities to better their people and their surrounding”, China experienced a fail state under it’s poor regime and government. Even the war was happened; the state did not get strengthened in China.

Jerry Herbst argues “war also had a major impact on the development of nationalism”(122). I do agree with his point that states identity increase when the nation encounters external threat. However, wars also create national self-determination as well at the same time.

Self-determination means that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereign and international political status, and it will also cause the rise of irredentism and secessionist. According Irredentist and Secessionist Challenges, James Mayall defines the word irredentism that “the term has come to mean any territorial claim made by one sovereign national state to lands within another”(270). Wars could raise an expression of a nation irredentism, when there are territorial losses.

For example, People’s Republic of China keep declaring that Taiwan is a part of its territory and not recognizing Taiwan as is an independent nation, since the end of civil war in China. Then, Mayall explains the term Secession “describe any attempt by a national minority to exercise it’s right to self-determination by breaking away either to join another state or more often to establish an independent state of its own, or at least an autonomous region within an existing state”(273). Secession does comprise a challenge to an international order as it might promote aggressive war in order to get the title by conquest.

The development policy is the essential element to strengthen the state capability, and in order to build up state identities. Each country should consider its economy situation to create its own development policy. One of the important aspects is how to reinforce and expand state owned assets and how to increase or decrease the ratio of state owned assets at its GDP. To certain extend I do not agree with the opinion “Many developing-country state sectors were in fact obstacles to growth, and in the long run only economic liberalization could fix them” (20) as quoted by Prof. Fukuyama from Washington Consensus.

Sometimes some country would adapt the policy for increasing the ratio after decreasing the ratio. For instance, in China, at the beginning of opening up its economy, about 30 years ago, almost everything owned by Government. However, the efficiency is very low and management is very backward. In The New Nature of Nation-State Failure, Robert I. Rotberg argues “Outside support should be conditional on monetary and fiscal streamlining, renewed attention to good governance, reforms of land tenure systems, and strict adherence to the rule of law.

External assistance to create in- country jobs by reducing external tariff barriers and by supporting vital foreign direct investment is critical”(95). After the Chinese Government adapted the policy of economic reform and opening up its country to outside world, many of state owned corporations or assets were restructured and privatized in order to increase the productivity. Entering 21 centuries, the growth of China’s economy is rapid and China has become the second largest economy in the world.

There are many competitive big cap state owned corporations equipped with modern management in China. Government began to buy back resources oriented private companies. However, China model of development policy may not suite for other countries.

Establishing solid government institution is another key point for state building and increase state identity. Fukuyama demonstrates, “State- building — the creation of new government institutions and strengthening of existing ones”(17). For those countries once lost their state capability, they need to recreate the reform policy and rebuild government institutions. The state capability has laid further background of building up state identity.

And those states having built up their state identity and they still needs to strengthen their existing state capability. For instance, Singapore has successfully built up their state identity as they have been making efforts to strengthen their government institutions by engaging more participation and partnership with more regional political and economic institutions.

The world becomes more interconnected nowadays. Best practice models in state building for developing countries should be sharing, especially peaceful alternatives of development should be an essential choice to be advocated and promoted by international establishments such as UN. Besides, establishing solid government institutions is also essential. As Rotberg states, “Fail states contain weak or flawed institutions — that is, only the executive institution function”, only effective institution can build up the core of a strong state.

——————————————–[ 1 ]. James Mayall, Nationalism and International Society (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 19900, 55-69. [ 2 ]. Francis Fukuyama, “The Imperative of State-building,” Journal of Democracy Volume 15, Number 2 (2004) [ 3 ]. Robert I. Rotberg, “State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror,” Washington Quarterly 15:3 pp85 -96