The resilient state: new regulatory modes in international approaches to state building?

Authors: Jan Popisil and Florian P. Kühn

‘Resilience’ has quickly risen to prominence in international security and development circles. In recent years it has found its way into political discourse on state building and state fragility, triggering a vast but often conceptually indistinct examination of the subject. Given its meaning in policy publications and guidelines, ‘resilience’ tends to eschew a static conceptualisation of statehood, turning instead to a more dynamic, complex and process-oriented rendering of state–society relations. This illustrates a conceptual shift from ‘failed states’ to ‘fragile states and situations’. It also transforms the concept of ‘failed state’ as a mere threat perception – with ‘stability’ as its logical other – into ‘fragility’ as a particular form of social and political risk. This paper analyses the concepts in 43 policy papers, focusing on the nexus of ‘resilience’ and ‘fragility’ in international state building, and assesses potential consequences. What does ‘resilience’ – as the opposite vision to ‘fragility’ – in fact mean? What is the practice derived from this chimerical state of states?

Key points:
• Working with states directly and improving their institutional capacity from within and without proved to a large extent unsuccessful.
• This impasse was the entry-point for ‘resilience’. At the same time new abstract objectives appeared such as ‘inclusivity’. Terms such as ‘complexity’ and ‘hybridity’ replaced explanatory factors for political problems.
• There is a paradox. While, these new concepts assume a sensitivity to the local, contemporary interventions also largely assume that the local actors have already internalised international norms thus limiting cooperation.