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Making States Work

State Failure and the Crisis of Governance

By Michael Ignatieff, Ramesh Thakur, and Simon Chesterman

In the wealth of literature on state failure, little attention has been paid to the questions of what constitutes state success and what enables a state to succeed. This book examines the strategies and tactics of international actors, local political elites, and civil society groups to build or rebuild public institutions before they reach the point of failure—to make the state work.

It is frequently assumed that the collapse of state structures leads to a vacuum of political power. This is rarely the case. Basic questions of how best to ensure physical and economic security don’t disappear when the institutions of the state break down. Non-state actors in such situations may exercise political power over local populations to provide basic social services from education to medical care. Even where non-state actors exist as parasites, political life goes on.

How to engage in such an environment is a problem for policymakers in intergovernmental organizations and donor governments. But it poses far greater difficulties for the embattled state institutions and the populations of such territories. Making States Work examines how these various actors have responded to crises in the legitimacy and viability of state institutions, emphasizing situations in which the state has been salvaged or at least kept afloat.

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