Why Nation-Building Matters


Why Nation-Building Matters

Political Consolidation, Building Security Forces, and Economic Development in Failed and Fragile States

Keith W. Mines

402 pages
23 photographs, index


August 2020


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2020


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2020


$40.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

No one likes nation-building. The public dismisses it. Politicians criticize it. The traditional military disdains it, and civilian agencies lack the blueprint necessary to make it work. Yet functioning states play a foundational role in international security and stability. Left unattended, ungoverned spaces can produce crises from migration to economic collapse to terrorism.

Keith W. Mines has taken part in nation-building efforts as a Special Forces officer, diplomat, occupation administrator, and United Nations official. In Why Nation-Building Matters he uses cases from his own career to argue that repairing failed states is a high-yield investment in our own nation’s global future. Eyewitness accounts of eight projects––in Colombia, Grenada, El Salvador, Somalia, Haiti, Darfur, Afghanistan, and Iraq—inform Mines’s in-depth analysis of how foreign interventions succeed and fail. Building on that analysis, he establishes a framework for nation-building in the core areas of building security forces, economic development, and political consolidation that blend soft and hard power into an effective package.

Grounded in real-world experience, Why Nation-Building Matters is an informed and essential guide to meeting one of the foremost challenges of our foreign policy present and future.

Author Bio

Keith W. Mines is an active-duty U.S. Foreign Service officer, most recently serving as the director of Andean affairs at the Department of State in Washington, DC. He has published numerous articles in the Foreign Service Journal, Parameters, Orbis, the Baltimore Sun, the Denver Post, and with the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the U.S. Institute of Peace.


"Why Nation-Building Matters is a special piece of research in which the author successfully combines independent thinking with a profound sense of mission to drive home a controversial argument: We need to make nation-building a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy."—Michael M. McCarthy, Foreign Service Journal

"Why Nation-Building Matters provides a vivid account of the United States nation-building successes and failures over the past 40 years. Keith Mines' breadth of firsthand experience covers all aspects of building partner capacity: from training counterinsurgency forces as a special operations detachment commander in Honduras to advising Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the governance and security of nine northern provinces in Afghanistan. The insights and hard lessons learned come from a career dedicated to challenges of institution building."—Brian Mathews, Strategy Bridge

"The recent fall of Kabul is a stark reminder that policymakers need to understand much more about the problems of nation-building. . . . To begin thinking more carefully about these vital problems, a good place to start is with Keith Mines's book Why Nation-Building Matters."—Roger B. Myerson, National Defense University Press

“This book is destined to be a classic, studied in our embassies around the world. At the same time, it’s a fast-moving, engrossing read in the style of Graham Greene, with a host of characters—the noble, the cunning, the naïve, and the corrupt—pursuing goals, some idealistic, some selfish, and all elusive.”—Bing West, best-selling author of The Village and coauthor with Jim Mattis of Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

“Keith Mines has been an omnipresent figure at nearly every nation-building enterprise the United States has attempted for the past forty years. . . . Mines has established a record of unparalleled service in the world’s most difficult places, recounted here with great insight and compassion.”—James Dobbins, former American special envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan

“If you want to understand how a true aficionado sees the need to shape our strategy and tactics for the coming decades to deal with failed states, insurgencies, and terrorism, read this very important and well-crafted book for a host of ideas and wisdom.”—Thomas R Pickering, former under secretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan

“Mines speaks from almost unparalleled experience. . . . The result is a book that nation-building aficionado and nation-building doubter will find equally rewarding, in the lessons it provides, the questions it leaves unanswered, the real-life stories he tells so well.”—Robert Malley, president and CEO of International Crisis Group

“For on-the-ground experience in activist diplomacy in what he terms the post-Westphalian world, few can outdo foreign service officer Keith Mines. In accounts ranging from El Salvador, Colombia, and Haiti during the late Cold War to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Darfur in the post-9/11 era, Mines presents a vivid narrative of personal involvement in the successes and failures of our helping fragile states defeat insurgencies and stabilize. . . . This is a riveting account by an exceptional, expeditionary American—an outstanding read understandable both to the public and to those who share similar experiences.”—Rufus Phillips, author of Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned

“Keith Mines’s major premise is that many of America’s security challenges abroad will not be manageable unless we address root causes—weak governance and institutions, political-criminal collaboration, organized violence and corruption, and abysmal educational efforts. Having viewed these problems as a soldier, foreign service officer, and expeditionary diplomat, Mines candidly assesses past successes and failures to distill how the United States can tackle similar problems we will face well into the future. Scholars and practitioners alike will find this book invaluable and very readable.”—Roy Godson, professor emeritus of government, Georgetown University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Introduction: Boots on the Ground, Wingtips in the Palace    

Part One. Cold War Low-Intensity Conflict
1. Colombia, 1978: A Battered State and a Dramatic Comeback    
2. Grenada, 1983: Rescuing a Hijacked Country    
3. El Salvador, 1984: Vaulting over Two Centuries of Development    

Part Two. Humanitarian Intervention and the Fragile State Circuit
4. Somalia, 1994: Resisting Nationhood    
5. Haiti, 1996: With a Lot of Help from My Friends    
6. Darfur, 2007: Beating Back a Genocide    

Part Three. 9/11 and the Challenge of Ungoverned Space
7. United States, 2001: Waking Up to New Threats on 9/11    
8. Afghanistan, 2002: Starting from Scratch    
9. Iraq, 2003: The Cornered Sunnis of Al Anbar    
10. Afghanistan, 2012: Progress and Challenge in the North    
Epilogue: Retooling the American Way of War    

Selected Bibliography    

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