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  Head of State

Francis Fukuyama is one of the world's foremost thinkers on international relations. Here, he talks about state-building, the history of democracy, and the U.S. role in post-war Iraq.

Interview by Maria Blackburn
Opening photo by Sam Kittner

In the days between September 11, 2001, and the opening battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Francis Fukuyama predicted an Iraq torn apart by war and in need of a new government, new laws, and a new economy. He saw the United States in the role of helping the Iraqi people rebuild their nation. He saw the future.

Fukuyama, a world-renowned author and political economist, is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. Although his new book, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (Cornell University Press, 2004), wasn't written about Iraq, it offers insight into the post-war challenges facing that country. In the near future, Fukuyama writes, "the art of state-building will be a key component of national power, as important as the ability to deploy traditional military force to the maintenance of world order."

A member of the President's Council on Bioethics, Fukuyama is the author of four other books, including The End of History and The Last Man (Free Press, 1992), a bestseller in the United States, France, Japan, and Chile, with more than 20 foreign editions. Since the handover of power from the United States to the interim Iraqi government at the end of June, Fukuyama has been interviewed on NPR, and his extensive articles about what's next for Iraq have appeared in such publications as Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times.

Johns Hopkins Magazine senior writer Maria Blackburn sat down with Fukuyama to discuss his book and Iraq's future.

Q: Your new book is about state-building. How do you define state-building and what's been its historical significance?

A: State-building is constructing the formal institutions that make collective life in a society possible. Max Weber's definition of the state — a monopoly of legitimate violence — is the correct one. The state always begins with the police and with the ability to enforce the rules of the state, but then it builds outwards to constitutions and democratic procedures that are meant to constrain the power of the state — to preserve individual rights and so on and so forth.

State-Building begins with the observation that the big fights of the 20th century were all about the scope of the state. So you have the growth of communism, the growth of the Western welfare state in which the state expanded enormously in terms of its ambition and the scope of things it wanted to do. The emphasis in the last generation, however, has been the opposite — to reduce the scope of the state through privatization and deregulation and the like.

Part of the problem we've had in many countries is that, in our eagerness to reduce the scope of the state, we've weakened its capacity to do the core set of things that all states have to do. A state needs to be made not just smaller but also more effective in controlling corruption; in being able to cleanly and transparently enforce its own rules; in protecting a certain core set of state functions like law and order, national defense, property rights, individual rights — all of the things that we collectively know as the rule of law.

Q: You've said that in the future, state-building will be as key to maintaining world order as having a strong military force once was. Why?

A: The ability to create reasonably strong institutions is what keeps terrorism under control. It's what keeps floods of refugees from coming out [of countries]. It's what prevents human rights violations. Even something like the spread of infectious disease is easier to control if a government has a health service that can monitor and prevent this sort of thing. These capabilities are critical, and when a state doesn't have them, it becomes a real threat to the international system.

In Iraq, clearly the [coalition's] military powers were sufficient to change the regime, but you have to worry about what's going to happen later. It could, like Afghanistan, become a base for terrorism even more than it was under the old regime. It could come apart and become a source of instability for all the countries in the region. So the military part, the destructive part, of regime change is easy. The much more difficult part is the positive act of creating something more stable, hopefully more democratic, in the wake of that.

"Afghanistan was a perfect case of a country that was extremely chaotic. We had been involved in the Cold War there, and once that was over, we thought we could simply leave. That came back to bite us in a big way." Q: Your book seems to suggest that there is no cookbook recipe for state-building.

A: Yes. Every society is going to build institutions that will be unique to its own culture, history, traditions, ethnic makeup, etc. One of the problems we've had as attempted nation-builders is thinking that this is a technical exercise, and we don't sufficiently adapt to local traditions.

Q: You make a distinction between state-building and nation-building. Can you explain the difference between the two?

A: A state is the government, its agencies, and its capabilities. A nation is that plus shared memories, culture, values, language, and a common sense of identity. So obviously, nation-building is much more ambitious than state-building. Anyone can create an army or a police force, but to convince people of different ethnic groups that they live in the same society and have common interests is much more difficult to pull off.

Q: You make the point that the British were effective at nation-building in India, taking a collection of princely states, ethnic groups, and religions and creating not just a military and a civil service but a sense of shared political community as well as a national identity. Are there any other countries that are good at nation-building?

A: There are lots of examples of countries that have done nation-building [for themselves]. If the elites in a country decide — like they did in Japan in 1868 or as they're doing in China today — that they are going to build a modern society, they have a reasonable chance of bringing it off.

The problematic thing is when foreigners try to do it, which is what we usually think of as nation-building. It's an extraordinarily difficult project that requires lots of time and patience. It's been controversial in the United States because a lot of people simply feel it's not worth it to fix other people's problems.

What we discovered in the post–September 11 world — and we should have recognized it a lot earlier — is that in a lot of cases, it's not safe for us to ignore these problems. Afghanistan was a perfect case of a country that was extremely chaotic. We had been involved there during the Cold War, and once that was over, we thought we could simply leave. That came back to bite us in a big way.

Q: How does the fact that the United States is a democracy make nation-building more difficult?

A: There's been a big discussion — especially since Iraq — about whether America is an empire or not. Certainly we're involved in a lot of countries, and we have a kind of imperial reach, and people see us that way. But Americans are really not comfortable with this. They don't like the idea of ruling other people, and they're not in it for the long haul. They have no desire, like the British did in India, to rule in perpetuity. One of the big problems is that we are subject, as a democracy, to momentary enthusiasms for undertaking projects of various sorts. But a lot of times we don't have the staying power to see them through to the end.

An Army sergeant offers writing materials to school children in Mosul in October 2003. The challenge in Iraq, says Fukuyama, "is the positive act of creating something more stable, hopefully more democratic."
Photo courtesy AP Photo / Van Sekretarev
Q: In The End of History and the Last Man, you wrote that all countries would eventually embrace liberal democracy, spelling "the end of history" — that is, the end of conflict between countries over how they should be ruled. Does your current book on state-building contradict that earlier theory?

A: I don't think my new book contradicts The End of History and the Last Man. It's kind of a prelude to The End of History because what I was saying in that book was that the end of history is really a story about modernization. There is a coherent modernization process that a lot of countries from different cultural settings and backgrounds have gone through. We used to think that at the terminal point of that process was some form of socialism. And my simple point was that it doesn't look like we're ever going to arrive at socialism: It's going to be liberal democracy and capitalism at the end point of that process.

What I had argued in my older book is that economic development is universally sought by just about everybody in the world, and when it happens, it encourages the expansion of democratic institutions. The question in this book is, How do you get economic development started? It's not something that you can take for granted. There's a kind of circular character to it because it turns out that what you need for economic development is institutions, and institutions tend to come out of politics.

Q: Some people say that the emergence of Islamic fundamentalists and the conflict that they have caused since September 11 serves as proof that your "end of history" theory is no longer valid. Do you see Islamic fundamentalists as a real threat to democracy?

A: As for the Islamic fundamentalists, my view is that it's not a permanent condition. You do see beneath the surface of the current regimes and politics in the region common aspirations. People do want democracy. It is regarded as a fundamental source of legitimacy. You also have this very undemocratic, radical Islamic movement that is definitely hostile to the West. There's a struggle going on right now between the more liberal and the very intolerant versions of political Islam. It's going to lead us through a lot of trouble in the next few years, but it's very hard for me to see how the intolerant version of Islam is going to triumph in the long run. Among other things, they've come to power already in three countries — Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia — and made a total mess of all of them. If you take this very long-term perspective, in the end we're not all going to be living under Ayatollah Khomeini; it's much more likely the Iranians will be living under some form of much more open democracy.

Q: We'd all like to see democracy established in Iraq, but if that doesn't happen, what should we hope for?

A: What we want at least is stability. It may have been smarter for us to go in initially saying that was our goal, rather than this very ambitious goal of making Iraq a democracy. We would settle for [stability] if that's all we can get. If things go really badly, it would get pretty nasty. We could have civil war and the emergence of another failed state, and Iraq could become a breeding ground for more terrorism.

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