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Wednesday, May 10th, 2006


Very interesting discussion going on over at Dr. Barnett’s over a TCS Daily review of Blueprint For Action by Max Borders, the TCS managing editor and think tank scholar. In his review of BFA, Max wrote:

“And it is in Barnett’s recommended process of transforming Gap states into Core states that we see the age-old tension between theory and practice start to emerge. Before attempting to expose this tension, we should note that Barnett’s Blueprint for Action is a worthwhile effort. Still, it falls short — not due to the Wherefores carefully elaborated the first book, but due to some of the Hows elaborated in the sequel. The shortcomings of the second stage of Barnett’s grand strategy — implementation — are, in some respects, due to what Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit.” In other words, Barnett focuses too much on nation-building and not enough on institution-building

…The most important aspect of any SysAdmin effort should be institution-building, not just nation-building. This is where the UN and the quasi-governmental behemoths have failed so utterly in just about everything they’ve done. To build a nation without transfusing vital institutions is to build a house of cards ready to collapse. To wit: India and China are in no position to contribute to institution-building, as they’re still grappling with the internal transformation of their own institutions. The most successful Core states are the states that look the most like the US in their institutions. So while you might want Britain or Australia to contribute to institution-building, you’re not likely to want Russia or Brazil to do so.”

( Hat tip to Bruce Kesler )

Borders review deserves to be read in its entirety, but the point about institutions has become a focal point of discussion. Tom responded in his own post:

“His larger critique that I focus too much on nation-building vice institution-building is at worst a misrepresentation of my ideas (BFA is full of discussion on the latter, which, quite frankly, is logically indistinguishable from the former–to wit, what is a nation but a collection of institutions?) and at best an argumentative ploy (reminding me of the criticism that “Barnett should think less about shrink√≠ng the Gap and more about growing the Core,” to which I reply “Fine, call it whatever you want.”).

Borders’ points about the complexity of the challenge are all good and his emphasis on, and articulation of, the goals of institution-building are most welcome. But he needs to put his considerable brainpower to the “how’ answers, not just the “how not” summaries of past experience. “

As I commented at Tom’s, the issue here is primarily one of scale ( a point on which Max strenuously dissents) though nations and states are separate questions. I’m pretty sure we can build states which are nothing more than a large network enjoying the function of sovereignty and a monopoly over the legal use of force. Inevitably, any Sys Admin force will have to build both institutions and the state simultaneously to some degree in order to create a zone of security and order in which civil society and the market can evolve and thrive. I don’t see this issue as an either-or proposition but “both”.

Nations are another question. A functional, competent, state can certainly help the nation-formation process ( Prussia 17-19th century) and a dysfunctional, corrupt or illegitimate state can impede it ( Mobuto’s Congo, today’s Nigeria) but the sense of nationhood comes from the heritage of a shared experience that bridges tribal, sectarian or other associational primary loyalties. We can encourage that or discourage it but I’m not sure that such a thing as a ” nation” in the organic sense can be built.


I wanted to call your attention to a recent post by Eddie at Live From the FDNF who has given a lot of thought this past year to humanitarian intervention problems. In “Sys-Admin Academy & Exchange“, Eddie throws out a number of intriguing yet pragmatic ideas regarding Sys Admin possibilities.


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