With all the recent critiques of nation-building as a result of the challenges faced in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I wanted to revisit one of the most salient voices on the subject, Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama makes a distinction between nation-building and state-building, describing state-building as the development of all the functions of a government - the rule of law, banking sector, medical care and education, etc..., while nation-building describes more the socio-cultural ties that bind peoples of a particular nation. In looking out over the international geo-political order, Fukuyama rightly contends that the biggest threats for the foreseeable future come from weak and failed states. He marks the example of Afghanistan in the 1990s and correctly points out that the failure to intervene and promote state-building activities in that weakened state directly led to the events of 9/11.
As we consider ways forward in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond it behooves us to take note of the hard-learned lessons provided by history, especially the most recent example of Iraq. Fukuyama and others have it right in my opinion in urging for more involvement in these states, not less. Whether we call it nation-building or state-building as Fukuyama describes, there is no question that it's an extremely difficult venture. There is no quick fix for failing states to be sure, but what's the alternative? We must not give up just because things continue to be difficult, instead we need to keep trying until we find a better way. We ignore threats posed from weakened states and non-state actors like ISIS that look to create chaos in exploiting the weaknesses of failing states at our peril. The US, along with its NATO allies, must be proactive in dealing with these threats and in finding workable ways forward, lest we be haunted by the ghosts of Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come.