With All Due Respect Mr. President: On “Nation-Building” by Another Name

August 03, 2011

In his piece in the NYTimes earlier this week, David Sanger refers to the president: Mr. Obama has made clear that he has no enthusiasm for “nation building” projects in Afghanistan that go on for years or are unsustainable. They may be well intentioned, he has told aides, but they are too expensive.The president has in mind nation-building a la Iraq: military intervention and then build and hold (and hope).  Nation-building that way has gotten a bad reputation.  But there is nation-building as a preventive measure – helping Weak States through debt relief, trade preferences, new investments and traditional development assistance. That’s what we recommend here for Pakistan.  It’s far from foolproof and it requires patience and perseverance – a decade at least of stick-to-it.  But it’s cheap, at least relative to the military intervention it could forestall.  All the planned aid to Pakistan in 2011 (which matters less than better access to U.S. markets which my colleague Kim Elliott has shown would not harm U.S. production)  amounts to about one week of what the U.S. taxpayers are spending in Afghanistan.So with all due respect to presidents Bush and Obama, nation-building via development progress is cheap.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.