The UN's Role In Nation-Building

By James Dobbins Seth G. Jones Keith Crane Andrew Rathmell Brett Steele Richard Teltschik Anga Timilsina

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2005 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8330-3589-9

Chapter One


Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations has invested significant military, political, humanitarian, and economic resources into operations conducted in the aftermath of interstate wars and civil unrest. Numerous studies have been published on various aspects of these operations. But this is the first comprehensive effort of which we are aware to review the major UN experiences in nation-building, compare and contrast the quantitative and qualitative results of these operations, and outline best practices and lessons learned.

This is the second volume in RAND's nation-building series. The first volume, America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, looked at eight U.S.-led experiences in nation-building, therein described as the use of armed force in the aftermath of a conflict to promote a transformation to democracy. It began with the post-World War II occupations of Germany and Japan; continued through Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan; and ended with a chapter on the Iraqi operation, just beginning at the time of publication. This volume builds on the earlier effort, adding 8 UN cases and again including a chapter updating the U.S. and UN experiences in Iraq. It then uses data from all 16 cases to draw general conclusions about the efficacy of U.S. and UN efforts in this field. The distinction made herein between U.S. and UN-led nation-building operations is not meant to obscure the fact that the United States has supported, often in important ways, all the UN-led operations studied herein and that the UN has participated importantly in all but the two immediate post-World War II U.S.-led operations. Nevertheless, UN "blue helmet" peacekeeping missions, acting under the operational control of the UN Secretary-General and his local representative, are in many ways qualitatively different from multinational operations under American or NATO command. This volume explores those differences while making clear that UN and U.S. efforts in the field of nation-building have been and will remain highly interdependent.


This study focuses on eight UN cases: the Congo, Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Eastern Slavonia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. It also examines reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Excluding Iraq, these are the most important instances in which UN forces have been used to pursue nation-building objectives. We have chosen the term nation-building because it best captures the elements of the phenomenon we want to study: the use of armed force in the aftermath of a conflict to promote a transition to democracy. Other terms, such as peace-building or peacekeeping, capture only elements of this paradigm: The former often occurs without the use of armed force; the latter is often employed for less far-reaching objectives.

Some have objected that nation-building implies the construction of a common nationality, defined as a group of people who share the same culture, language, and history. Nation-building is the most common American term for the phenomenon we wish to study. Most Americans tend to use the terms state and nation more or less interchangeably, regarding the United States as both, despite its multicultural and increasingly multi-linguistic nature. As used herein, the term nation-building is not intended to suggest the suppression or homogenization of distinct cultures within a given society. State-building, the reform and strengthening of institutions for governance, is a central component of nation-building but does not normally or necessarily require the application of military force. Nation-building, by contrast, has become almost universally identified with state-building missions that require the use of such force.

Based on this definition, we did not include the UN missions in Western Sahara, Liberia, Angola, the Central African Republic, or a number of other cases. In those cases, either the UN did not deploy armed military forces or UN forces were used for more limited purposes. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) focused on monitoring the cease-fire and helping organize a referendum so that the population could choose between independence and integration with Morocco. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) concentrated on observing implementation of the cease-fire agreement and providing humanitarian assistance. The UN verification missions to Angola monitored ceasefires and observed elections. The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA) supervised the disposition of weapons retrieved in the disarmament process and provided advice and technical support for elections. Some of these are admittedly borderline cases, and others may well develop into full-scale nation-building efforts.


Chapters Two through Nine are case studies of the eight UN-led operations. Chapter Ten is an update of the U.S.-led operation in Iraq. They are designed to draw out "best practice" policies for democratizing states. To achieve this goal, we adopted a common approach.

In each case study, we first provide some historical context and briefly describe the nature of the settlement that ended the conflict. Second, we describe the major challenges facing the United Nations at the beginning of each operation. In particular, we examine the security, humanitarian, administrative, democratization, and economic reconstruction challenges facing the United Nations at the end of the conflict. Third, we describe the roles of the United Nations, relevant countries, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other nongovernmental organizations during each nation-building operation. What were their objectives? What military, financial, and other resources did they provide? Fourth, we examine how each operation developed over time. Did the security environment stabilize or deteriorate? Were humanitarian needs met? How was a civil administration constructed? How did the process of democratization develop? Did economic conditions improve or decline? Finally, we compile the most important lessons learned from each case study that are useful for current and future nation-building operations.

Chapter Eleven weaves the experiences of the eight UN-led cases in this volume and eight U.S.-led cases studied in the first volume into an integrated narrative. Chapter Twelve examines and compares the inputs and the outputs of all these missions. Five input measures are compared across cases: military presence, police presence, duration of presence, timing of elections, and economic assistance. Five outcome measures are also compared across cases: military casualties; refugee returns; a qualitative measure of sustained peace; a qualitative assessment of whether or not a country's government became and has remained democratic; and growth in per capita GDP. Chapter Thirteen concludes with an examination of the differing ways in which the United Nations and the United States have gone about nation-building.

Chapter Two


Belgium granted independence to the Republic of the Congo in June 1960. The Belgian Congo, comprising an area already devastated by the Atlantic slave trade, was officially organized in 1885 as the Congo Free State under the absolute rule of Icing Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold II forged the Congo into a financially lucrative but politically underdeveloped colony that would come to epitomize the "heart of darkness" of European colonialism, characterized by the brutality of the Force Publique, the Belgian-led, Congolese-manned local constabulary. In response to an international outcry over the brutality with which the Congolese were treated, the Belgian Parliament annexed the colony in 1908, removing it from the control of the Belgian crown. Belgian colonial administration henceforth actively promoted the material well-being of the Congolese. Belgian officials continued to monopolize political power above the tribal level until the onset of independence. Church-run primary schools provided a substantial number of children with a basic education, but very few Congolese received secondary schooling-let alone a university education. After strongly opposing independence, the Belgians abruptly acceded to Congolese demands, hoping to avoid an Algerian-style insurrection. Belgian administrators and military officers were authorized to serve the new state as advisors until their new Congolese counterparts learned the government operations necessary to function independently. Within days of acquiring independence on June 30, 1960, however, enlisted Congolese members of the Force Publique mutinied. Soldiers attacked local white civilians, looting, raping, and inciting a mass exodus of Belgian officers, administrators, and settlers during the summer of 1960. The troops mutinied on the grounds that newly elected Congolese officials were making themselves rich from government coffers, in contrast to the low wages and poor working conditions provided to soldiers in the Force Publique. The newly independent state plunged into chaos. As former UN Undersecretary-General Brian Urquhart aptly described it: "Events in the first days of independence went at a dizzying pace. The army mutinied and threw out its Belgian officers, Europeans were roughed up, and there were reports of white women being raped. The Belgian population panicked and left.... Public administration, law, and order evaporated and were replaced by chaos and anarchy."

The mutiny challenged the democratically elected Congolese government under the leadership of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Joseph Kasavubu, By August 1960, the Congo's nascent political, social, and economic institutions had collapsed. Katanga, under the leadership of its elected provincial president, Moise Tshombe, declared independence on July 11, 1960, thereby depriving the central government in L��topoldville of export revenue from copper extracted from this rich mining area. The Brussels government, in violation of the Treaty of Friendship between Belgium and the Congo, sent Belgian paratroopers to protect its nationals against mutinous troops from the Arm��e Nationale Congolaise (ANC), as the Force Publique was now called.

In response, Prime Minister Lumumba requested that the United Nations dispatch troops to restore order and oust the Belgian "aggressors." Secretary-General Dag Hammarskj��ld supported the request and secured a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the dispatch of a UN force, the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), to restore law and order and promote economic and political stability. Belgium agreed to withdraw its troops but only if they could be replaced by UN troops.


The United Nations was called upon to restore order, secure the removal of Belgian forces, and help establish an indigenous government in a nascent country with a mutinous army, a breakaway province, and little experience in self-government.


Despite efforts by newly appointed Congolese officers, the Leopoldville regime could not contain the ANC mutiny. Nevertheless, both Lumumba and the international community regarded Belgium's intervention as the greater threat because it represented a challenge to the whole process of decolonization.

The Katangan secession further deepened the security crisis. Citing the "chaos" in the country, Tshombe declared Katanga independent from the Congo on July 11, 1960, the same day that Belgium intervened militarily. Tshombe hired Belgian military officers and Western mercenaries to prevent government troops from retaking Katanga. Lumumba responded by declaring Tshombe an agent of neocolonial Belgian interests collaborating with the powerful mining company, Union Mini��re du Haut Katanga, and vowed to suppress the rebellion. Katanga's secession was followed by that of Kasai province under the leadership of Albert Kolonji.


Health services collapsed with the Belgian exodus, leaving only Congolese assistants m��dicaux and Catholic nuns to care for the sick and injured. Public health services to inoculate against and suppress epidemic diseases broke down. Sleeping sickness, tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, typhus, typhoid, and even bubonic plague all emerged during the summer of 1960.

Prime Minister Lumumba launched an invasion of Kasai province to suppress the newly declared "Mining State" under the tribal leadership of Albert Kalonji. Kalonji, like Tshombe, sought a federal constitutional framework for the Congo that guaranteed provincial autonomy. The ANC invasion resulted in the slaughter of members of the Baluba tribe, who were also attacked by their traditional enemies, the Lulua tribe. More than 350,000 starving Balubas fled the province. Famine throughout South Kasai added to the humanitarian problems. With the intensification of conflict in Katanga, a second wave of refugees fled to Elizabethville, that province's capital.

Even the normal commercial distribution of food was disrupted by the Belgian exodus. After the Belgians, who ran the seaport of Matadi, fled, the port closed and the channel quickly silted up. The blockage of the channel and closure of the port prevented imported food from reaching the Congo, soon leading to serious shortages.

Civil Administration

The Lumumba government had originally authorized the former colonial administrators to remain in the Congo to assist the newly elected politicians and appointed civil servants. Because very few Congolese had sufficient qualifications to assume senior administrative responsibilities, the Belgian expatriates' experience and expertise were crucial. Tshombe kept up such an arrangement in Katanga through 1963 and succeeded in maintaining security and administrative efficiency. With the onset of the ANC mutiny, the Belgian administrative and technical advisers in L��opoldville quickly deserted their posts, leaving most new Congolese officials unable to cope.

The fiscal challenges facing the new nation would have challenged experienced Belgian officials; they rapidly overwhelmed the new Congolese bureaucrats, who had expected to dispose of the vast sums of money they assumed had previously been controlled by the Belgians. Many of these officials focused on political maneuvers to maximize their personal power and wealth, contributing to the collapse of basic services, including sanitation, the post office, the railroad, air-traffic control, radio communications, and education during the summer of 1960.


Democracy in the newly independent Congo meant different things to different people. To the Belgian colonial regime, it had meant organizing parliamentary elections, which resulted in Lumumba's selection as prime minister. To the Afro-Asian and Soviet-bloc states, it meant liberating the Congo from Belgian colonial control. To the United States, it meant ensuring that the country not "fall" to a communist dictatorship. Western, communist, and nonaligned powers all agreed that democracy in the Congo meant a powerful centralized government in L��opoldville that could resist external colonial designs and internal insurgents. Such a consensus, however, did not exist within the Congo. For the rich mining provinces of Kasai and Katanga, democracy meant maintaining strong local autonomy to protect their valuable economic assets from depredation by the military or the central government in L��opoldville. To the central authorities in L��opoldville, especially the supporters of Lumumba, democracy meant maintaining a strong centralized regime to counter the tribal pressures that could fracture the complex array of cultures within the Congo into a number of small, weak nations as subsequently occurred in French Equatorial Africa and French West Africa.


Excerpted from The UN's Role In Nation-Buildingby James Dobbins Seth G. Jones Keith Crane Andrew Rathmell Brett Steele Richard Teltschik Anga Timilsina Copyright © 2005 by RAND Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
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