Making States Work


In the wealth of literature on state failure, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the question of what constitutes state success and what enables a state to succeed. This book – a joint project of the International Peace Academy and the United Nations University – examines the strategies and tactics of international actors, local political elites, and civil society groups, to build or rebuild public institutions before they reach the point of failure: to make the state work.

It is frequently assumed that the collapse of state structures, whether through defeat by an external power or as a result of internal chaos, leads to a vacuum of political power. This is rarely the case. The mechanisms through which political power are exercised may be less formalized or consistent, but basic questions of how best to ensure the physical and economic security of oneself and one’s dependants do not simply disappear when the institutions of the state break down. Non-state actors in such situations may exercise varying degrees of political power over local populations, at times providing basic social services from education to medical care. Even where non-state actors exist as parasites on local populations, political life goes on.

How to engage in such an environment is a particular problem for policymakers in intergovernmental organizations and donor governments. But it poses far greater difficulties for the embattled state institutions and the populations of such territories. Making States Work examines how these various actors have responded to crises in the legitimacy and viability of state institutions, with a particular emphasis on those situations in which the state has been salvaged or at least kept afloat.


Simon Chesterman is Executive Director of the Institute for International Law and Justice at New York University School of Law. Michael Ignatieff is Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the Director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy. Ramesh Thakur is the Senior Vice-Rector of the United Nations University, Tokyo, (Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations).

Details available at the United Nations University Press here.