ISBN: 978-1509554843

Kristian Berg Harpviken


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Adam Wunische, a university lecturer and former intelligence officer with two tours in Afghanistan, forcefully makes the argument that most attempts at external armed statebuilding are futile and introduces a framework to explain why that is so (and when it is not). The book consists of a brief introduction on the road to the 2021 Taliban take-over of Kabul, followed by six chapters. Chapter 1 lays out the ‘preexisting conditions’ – including geography, economic grievances, ethnic tension, public support and external spoilers – explaining failure in Afghanistan, or relative success in Germany and Japan. The following chapter discusses time, specifically how short- and long-term processes collide, as in the relationship between durable external commitment and eroding local support. Chapter 3, on dilemmas, focuses on how the military, in armed statebuilding, is used for tasks for which they are ill-suited. The fourth chapter, on paradoxes, shifts the gaze to how external assistance breeds moral hazards, sustains armed opposition groups, undermines local economies, corrupt government institutions, and creates dependencies. In Chapter 5, the author looks at alternatives to ‘armed statebuilding’, with more limited interventions to support local actors, such as the US support to the Colombian state’s military campaign in the early 2000s. In the final chapter, Wunische streamlines his conditions framework and applies it both to recent cases and to ‘hypothetical’ ones. The applications reveal some weaknesses both in conceptualization (why limit identity differences to ethnicity alone?) and in interpretation (is Ukraine really free of ethnic factionalism?). Ultimately, however, the applications also prove the framework’s utility for disciplining the analysis. In Wunische’s view, current debates are preoccupied with strategic alternatives, but bypass the fundamental questions.