Research Highlights

Invited Interventions

New research on why state-building interventions succeed in some nations and not others.


In his 2014 Westpoint commencement address, President Obama called on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund “to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.” As UC Berkeley Political Scientist Aila Matanock wrote in a recent article in the Washington Post, such “invited interventions” are becoming increasingly common, with recent examples unfolding in places like Libya and Mali.

But despite the popularity of such interventions as state-building tools for weak states that pose a risk to international security, their effectiveness is far from proven, especially in achieving longer-term goals like restoring the rule of law. Matanock’s research attempts to close this gap. In her article, which is based on work recently published in the journal Governance, she lays out an argument for when and why such interventions might succeed or fail.

Matanock, who joined Berkeley in July 2013 after a year at the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) at the University of California, San Diego, spent time in Melanesia and Central America to try to understand why invited interventions (or “governance delegation agreements,” in the technical jargon) have led to significantly different governance outcomes in different contexts.

In the Solomon Islands, for instance, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) “succeeded in restoring the rule of law and strengthening governance,” according to Matanock, helping to reduce crime and infant and child mortality. In Guatemala, on the other hand, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has helped increase conviction rates and may have helped reduce crime slightly, but shows no signs of having significantly reformed the country’s failing justice institutions.

In both countries, the interventions consist of foreign experts who are given varying degrees of autonomy to carry out different institutional reforms. They are also supported by the host country, backed up by what political scientists call “input legitimacy”. The key difference in countries like the Solomon Islands and Guatemala, Matanock argues, is in the balance between autonomy and legitimacy, which ultimately depends on the strength of the state at the time of intervention.

Weaker states like the Solomon Islands will grant more autonomy to the intervening coalition, thus allowing them to make deeper, more complex reforms. Relatively stronger states like Guatemala will conversely tend to put more constraints on the autonomy delegated to foreign experts. This increases their domestic legitimacy but also limits them to simpler reforms, even where complex reforms like promoting rule of law are ultimately needed.

In her Governance article, Matanock writes that “host states… have incentive to retain as much authority as possible, so they will only relinquish as much… sovereignty as they are forced to by their loss of domestic sovereignty.”

Knowing the mix of legitimacy and autonomy a state is likely to provide could help diplomats and experts predict the outcomes of interventions.

In the Solomon Islands—the “canonical case of full governance delegation” according to Matanock—the RAMSI police force operates above the authority of the domestic police. Moreover, all RAMSI staff are immune while on the job (and while off the job are prosecuted outside the Solomon Islands).

In Guatemala, on the other hand, the government works with CICIG to select the cases it takes, and only if invited by the government can CICIG lawyers share authority as co-prosecutors. CICIG is thus significantly more constrained in carrying out the job it was designed to carry out for Guatemala.

Matanock’s analysis is not only qualitative. She also supports her argument with a quantitative analysis of the UN’s Chapter VI missions (which unlike Chapter VII missions are enacted with the consent of host countries). Comparing countries that received Chapter VI interventions to similar countries that did not, Matanock finds that 73% of Chapter VI countries (11 out of 15) remained peaceful after civil war versus 40% of matched cases (6 out of 15).

Such quantitative analysis provides broader support to Matanock’s argument, but the real significance of her theory is in its ability to help explain why such missions work—and why they don’t. Knowing the particular mix of legitimacy and autonomy that a state is likely to provide, and thus the kind of “delegation deal” to which is it likely to agree, could help diplomats and experts predict the outcomes of interventions and, theoretically, push for more autonomy where needed.

Image Credit: Sgt. Brad Willeford

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