New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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Future of Statebuilding: Ethics, Power and Responsibility in International Relations Conference, October 2009


In the past decade, “state-building” has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Bold experiments in East Timor and Kosovo have led to the creation of the independent state of Timor-Leste and the embryonic Republic of Kosovo. Less successful experiments continue in Afghanistan and Iraq. In each instance, many people assumed - wrongly - that it was the first time anything like this had ever happened, and the last time it ever would happen. Now a cottage industry of grants and conferences offers endless opportunities to revisit a senior official’s epithet on UN policy planning: “No wheel shall go un-reinvented.” This essay considers the past and the future of efforts to build or rebuild institutions of the state in fragile and conflict affected countries, focusing on the difficulty of balancing the need for local ownership against the imperatives that led to foreign intervention in the first place.

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