Breaking the State

One fact is certain: foreign interventions end badly. Think the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan. Libya will be no different.

Issue: May-June 2011

THE MIDDLE East roils and one fact is certain: interventions end badly. For intervention leads to postwar reconstruction and postwar reconstruction leads to failure.

In the wake of the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and Haiti—to take but some examples—“stabilization operations,” “state building” and their terminological kin have become watchwords. If these undertakings are not part of an American administration’s opening agenda, they seem to have a way of entering it. Do not be fooled into thinking Libya is any different. So it is useful to explore how it is that states get involved in these campaigns and what happens once they do. Invariably, though hardly inevitably, they do so in the aftermath of two types of military operations, each guided by rather different motives.

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