The Perils of Top-down State-Building

Throughout history, governments have relied on strong militaries to combat attacks from internal and external forces. But what’s the most effective way for weak states that lack a monopoly of violence in their own society to build sufficient authority to stem violence and build state institutions? To answer this question, James Robinson and his coauthors examined the state-building efforts in Colombia in the decade following Álvaro Uribe’s election as president in 2002. President Uribe formulated a classic top-down state-building project, focusing on combating non-state armed actors—and particularly left-wing guerillas—by expanding the size of the military and increasing the incentives to military officers and soldiers to fight the guerrillas. According to Human Rights Watch (2015), the government “rewarded combat killings with vacation time, promotions, medals, training courses, and congratulations from superiors, among other prizes.”

Liberia | American Economic Review

Reducing Crime and Violence: Experimental Evidence from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Liberia

Can therapy influence criminals to stop violent careers?

Liberia | Journal of Peace Research

Predicting Local Violence in Liberia

Is it possible to predict where violence will occur?

Sierra Leone | Science

Reconciling After Civil Conflict Increases Social Capital but Decreases Individual Well-Being

Does reconciliation heal the wounds of war?


Are states led by women less prone to conflict than states led by men?

Northern Nigeria

Labor Market Opportunities and Violent Crime among Muslim Youth: Experimental Evidence from Northern Nigeria

Can providing labor market opportunities improve economic well-being and decrease violent criminal activity?

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.

Force and Restraint in Strategic Deterrence: A Game-Theorist's Perspective

In a dangerous world, we need to think very carefully about how military force is used. Game theory can serve us in such analyses by providing a framework for probing the inextricable connections between our adversaries’ decision problems and our own. To illustrate the power of game theory, the author focuses on a vital question that confronts American policymakers today: What determines why an application of military force, which was intended to deter potential adversaries, sometimes instead stimulates them to more militant reactions against us? When we feel that force is necessary, what can we do to minimize the risk of such adverse reactions?

Latin American Policy Forum 2018

Institute Director James Robinson moderates a discussion with Carlos Mesa, former President of Bolivia, as part of the University of Chicago Latin American Policy Forum 2018, cosponsored by The Pearson Institute.