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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Nation building; A key concept for peaceful conflict transformation?
Jochen Hippler (Ed.) (translated by Barry Stone)

London: Pluto Press, 2005, 213pp, pb £17.99, ISBN 0-7453-2335-9

For opponents of American foreign policy, the concept of nation-building is used to obscure and legitimise a long list of diverse policies, allowing the United States to better control and reshape countries where they have intervened militarily or politically. Others will see nation-building in less conspiratorial terms as a difficult but periodically inevitable project in a post-colonial world. There may even still be a few observers who see nation-building as purely a technical process of institution-building based around a rational assessment of needs and resources. The contributors to this edited collection have attempted to provide an objective appreciation and systematic set of concepts for understanding the meaning of ‘nation-building’. The book is designed in three parts. Part I examines general and conceptual problems. Part II consists of cases in nation-building in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Part III focuses on the policy practices in nation-building. The emphasis in the book is on interpreting nation-building efforts in countries where American led or backed military intervention has taken place. One exception to this is the case study of Nigeria.

The contributors are mainly academics and are all part of the German peace and conflict policy community. Their country of affiliation is quite significant as the book is clearly written as a German counterweight to an American dominated discourse on nation-building. Oddly given their historical and cultural vantage point the authors draw no explicit connections between the current exercises in nation-building and the three projects in nation-building undertaken in Germany during the twentieth century. The most dramatically successful nation-building exercise was of course the American and British led effort launched after 1945. Post-World War I Germany with little support from the allied powers serves as a historical lesson in nation-building gone wrong, while nation-building in re-unified Germany is very much an ongoing project. It would be intriguing to have been provided with a sense of how these experiences shape the German discourse on nation-building. Instead, nation-building is conceived as a concept with its origins in the 1950s.

The discussion of terminology and concepts associated with nation-building contained in Part I is the most successful element in the book. In just over 50 pages, the chapters by Hippler, Tetzlaff, Pfaff-Czarnecka and Claudia Derichs provide a succinct European accented summary of contemporary thinking on violent conflicts and nation-building, globalisation and nation-building, democratisation of divided societies and the treatment of ideology in researching nation-building. The contributors acknowledge that although when distilled down to substantive actions nation-building involves pretty much the same development project wherever attempted - creating political, economic, judicial, educational, cultural and medical institutions - there are significant differences in interpreting context and purpose. The chapters are well written and have a currency in areas of study beyond the immediate domain of nation-building and conflict.

Less successful case studies in nation-building experiences are provided in Part II. These deal respectively with Somalia and Somaliland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo and Nigeria. Unfortunately the conceptual toolkit assembled in Part I appears to have little influenced the case study contributions. For the most part the chapters are written along journalistic lines with little sense of analytic depth achieved. As descriptive essays, they are quite successful and would be useful primers for students interested in the countries in question. The downside with journalistic contributions is that they date very quickly. The chapter on Iraq written in 2004 is already behind the times in the sense of capturing key events and summarizing the policy discourse.

The four chapters in Part III provide a sense of nation-building as a series of connected but separate actions led by NGOs and the military. There are also good chapters examining the efficacy of endogenous versus external led nation-building and the implications of nation-building for regional stabilization.

This is a worthwhile collection that should be purchased by university libraries, academics working in the field and students both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. While the book is likely to appeal to an academic readership rather than to operational personnel working in societies in conflict it will also be of interest to practitioners and decision-makers higher up in the policy chain.

Dr. Gordon Marnoch, School of Policy Studies, University of Ulster, INCORE Associate

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