International Politics

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 451–471

From nation-states in conflict to conflict in nation-states: The United States of America and nation building from South Vietnam to Afghanistan

Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/ip.2010.21

Cite this article as:
Berger, M. & Reese, J. Int Polit (2010) 47: 451. doi:10.1057/ip.2010.21


This article engages with the latest (post-Cold War) debate about the theory and practice of nation building (state building). This is linked to a discussion of the shift in US foreign policy towards Afghanistan relative to Iraq between late 2008 and late 2009. Afghanistan is currently a major focus of nation building efforts and counter-insurgency programs led by the United States of America. Meanwhile, the discussion here ranges from South Vietnam to Colombia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and explores some of the ghosts that now haunt the US presence in Afghanistan 9 years on from the start Operation Enduring Freedom at the end of 2001. We argue that the possibility of successful nation building in Afghanistan is both far-fetched and far-off. In fact, what is required is the reorientation and reduction (even termination) of Washington and its allies’ direct commitment to Kabul. Washington and its allies should focus on a grand strategy for the Middle East and Asia that attaches far less importance to Afghanistan. This should occur in the context of understanding the history of the emergence, universalization and contemporary crisis of the nation-state system. Nowhere are the limits of the nation-state system and the failure of nation building more apparent today than in Afghanistan. In this context a whole new approach to questions of war, peace and progress is in order. The comprehensive elaboration of a new security-development framework is beyond the scope of this article, but we conclude by elaborating some of the main elements of a new framework: this will include a point of departure for research and policy to move beyond the current crisis of the nation-state system and nation building.


nation building nation-state security development geopolitics failed state 

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Naval Postgraduate SchoolMontereyUSA
  2. 2.University of British ColumbiaKelownaCanada
  3. 3.101st Airborne DivisionUS ArmyUSA

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