Nation building is a term used in conflict resolution to explain the actions of the international community in postwar societies. In this context, the term refers either to a preventive measure to avoid the breakup and social fragmentation of the state or to an element of post-conflict peace-building strategies.
Sociologists view nation building as a distinct process but one closely linked to state building. Nation building in this sense is one of the most common processes of collective identity creation. Its intention is to legitimize a constructed state authority within a given territory. The nation is defined as a community of individuals who share common values, language, and/or customs and may become aware of the need for political sovereignty.
From this perspective, the two key elements of nation building include a unifying ideology and an integration of society. Unifying ideology refers to the existence of some variation of “nationalism,” the function of which is to legitimize policies of nation building as well as to mobilize socially for its end. Integration of society entails the incorporation of different groups into a common society. Close communication among the groups is essential for a successful outcome of nation building. The key pillars of the integration process involve development of national communication, media, and education in order to establish a national political and cultural dialogue.
In contrast to nation building, the term state building refers to the creation of viable political and administrative institutions that enable a political entity, the state, to function efficiently as an independent unit. The key elements of state building include the assertion of monopoly on violence through control of the police and military forces. This is essential for the state’s ability to rule over its territory. Finally, state building also entails the creation of an effective fiscal system as a basis for the establishment of a functioning legal and administrative system.
In cases where the society is integrated and a “nationalist” ideology is present, state building becomes a political expression of that society’s will to act independently in the pursuit of its interests. Recent experiences of international nation building in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq indicate, however, that the creation of state institutions is the least complex part of nation building, while ideological legitimacy and social integration present difficult challenges for outside actors.
- Deutsch, Karl Wolfgang and William J. Foltz, eds. 1966. Nation Building. New York: Atherton.
- Fukuyama, Francis, ed. 2006. Nation-Building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Hippler, Jochen, ed. 2005. Nation-Building: A Key Concept for Peaceful Conflict Transformation. London and Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto.
- Ignatieff, Michael. 2003. Empire Lite: Nation Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. London: Vintage Books.
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