Does military nation building work?

Yesterday the US Army held a press conference  regarding its new field manual, The Stability Operations Field Manual, which essentially amplifies the new philosophy of military occupation as successful nation building. It’s not simply the Army’s job to forcefully enter a country and beat the bad guys, it is its job to create a new country in the shell of the old and see that it becomes a democracy. Well, James L. Payne, a political scientist and research fellow at the Independent Institute, says it’s not that simple. 

“Pundits and presidents talk about nation building as if it were a settle technology, like building bridges or removing gall bladders. Huge amounts of government and foundation money have been poured into the topic of democracy building, and academics and bureaucrats have produced reams of verbose commentary. But still there is no concrete, usable body of knowledge.”
In his article for the American Conservative, “Deconstructing Nation Building,” he identifies 51 attempts at nation building by Britain and the USA and assesses whether they succeeded or failed. His research shines a light on what’s really involved every time nations send in a military to make peace follow corruption. Does coercion make stability? Not so fast. Payne points out that a military has to actually leave the country for democracy to be deemed successful. So how does the military build the nation and leave at the same time? Not very easily. The US is eager to prove its work in Iraq a success, but at the same time can’t quite say it’s so successful that troops can leave. Is this nation building or military occupation?
As I was looking around on this topic, I learned that South African theologian Charles Villa-Vincencio (author of Between Christ and Caesar: Classic and Contemporary Texts on Church and State) did a landmark study on theology and nation building in his 1992 book, A Theology of Reconstruction: Nation Building and Human Rights. Citizenship has deeply theological implications, and to think that any country can alter the lives of millions of other individuals with a military and then somehow not effect that country catastrophically on a spiritual level is myopic. Christians in America have got to look seriously at how our nation’s global military actions are effecting the work of the Church universally. 

1 Comment

Filed under books, Politics, theology

One response to “Does military nation building work?

  1. I recently picked up Villa-Vincencio’s book and am hoping to to read this soon so will post a review when done. I think you raise a very important point when military act as peacekeepers (and sometimes they need to) it is a difficult position, “here take this bomb, it’s a token of our love and contructive will”. It is why the willingness of the UN to stand back from Iraq is so tragic with its more International Humanitarian Law perspective.

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