Roger Myerson

State-Building Lessons from the British Empire

After the frustration of recent state-building missions, we should ask why such interventions seemed less difficult in the era of colonial expansion. Before 1939, foreign statebuilding interventions were regularly managed by a decentralized team of plenipotentiary agents who specialized in fostering local political development. Since 1945, however, international assistance has generally worked with and through an officially recognized national government, implicitly supporting a centralization of power. This paper considers the corps of British colonial District Officers as a potential model for an international state-building agency, which could help to repair failed states that export violence and suffering.

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