State Capacity and The Unintended Consequences of Military Intervention

State capacity determines the power of a state to raise revenues, to enforce contracts, to support markets through regulation, and to establish a ‘monopoly of violence’.  In fact, the extent of state capacity is perhaps the fundamental difference between developed and developing countries: developed countries have significantly more of it than developing countries do.  But, because state capacity is multidimensional, the challenge for developing countries is to determine which attributes of state capacity building to prioritize.  Samuel Huntington in his influential book, “Political Order in Changing Societies”, offers a guiding principle based on Max Weber’s notion that the most important attribute of a state is the monopoly of violence (also known as the monopoly of the legitimate use of force).  Huntington suggests that establishing a monopoly of violence is a necessary precondition for being able to build the other kinds of state capacity listed above, and to do this the state must build military capacity first.  A natural conclusion of this view is that the right approach for helping a developing country to build its state capacity encompasses a top-down approach, prioritizing military capacity ahead of other attributes of the state.  In recent years, this view has been embraced by a number of international institutions such as the World Bank.  In addition, this view formed the guiding principle that underpinned the US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, experience has shown that building military capacity first and leaving aside other attributes of the state can have unintended consequences.  For example, in Colombia, the reliance on a top-down approach to military capacity building in order to suppress guerrillas and paramilitaries is correlated with a deterioration in security and a weakening of the local state.  The reason is that the attributes of the state that would make powerful agents accountable were not put in place and a major consequence was a surge of the murder of civilians falsely portrayed by the army to be guerrilla combatants.   Mexico also adopted a top-down approach to military capacity building in order to combat the drug trade but this backfired and generated significant increases in violence. In Vietnam air-strikes were used in an attempt to prevent the spread of communism and to strengthen the ability of the state to monopolize violence but, as in Mexico, this backfired because it lead more Vietnamese to participate in Viet Cong (insurgent) military and political activities.

On the other hand, bottom-up approaches that help with the provision of public goods combined with military intervention have been found to deliver more positive results.   During the Vietnam War, in areas where American soldiers were embedded in communities and helped to implement development programs, local populations were reported to have more positive attitudes towards the US and all levels of the South Vietnamese government.  In Iraq the Commanders’ Emergency Reconstruction Program was found to have reduced the level of violence against US and Iraqi troops, conditional on community characteristics.  In Afghanistan, although the National Solidarity Program has not been found to have had an effect on the local security situation, it has had a positive effect on people’s perceptions of their economic well-being and their attitudes towards the Afghani government.

Even though control over the monopoly of violence is a legitimate and sometimes necessary goal, for example in the cases of  the collapse of the communist Najibullah regime in 1992 in Afghanistan, or the fall of Siad Barre in Somalia in 1991, the over-riding conclusion of recent research appears to be that it is advisable to build state capacity on a multidimensional basis from the outset.  However, research is ongoing to establish a more nuanced perspective on exactly which aspects of state capacity building are most effective at supporting economic development and how they can be encouraged to co-evolve most effectively.


Acemolgu, Daron, Leopold Fergusson, James Robinson, Dario Romero and Juan F. Vargas (2016) “The Perils of Top-down State Building: Evidence from Colombia’s False Positives“. Working Paper.

Beath, Andrew, Fotini Christia, and Ruben Enikolopov  (2012) “Winning Hearts and Minds through Development: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Afghanistan,” Working Paper

Berman, Eli, Jacob N. Shapiro and Joseph Felter (2011) “Can Hearts and Minds Be Bought? The Economics of Counterinsurgency in Iraq.” Journal of Political Economy, 119(4): 766-819. [working paper]

Dell, Melissa (2015) “Trafficking Networks and the Mexican Drug War.” The American Economic Review, 105 (6): 1738–1779. [working paper]

Dell, Melissa and Pablo Querubin (2016) “Nation Building Through Foreign Intervention: Evidence from Discontinuities in Military Strategies.” Working Paper.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1968) Political Order in Changing Societies, Yale University Press.

Welcome New Members – January 2017

We would like to welcome the following new members of the InsTED network:

Prof. Maia Linask (University of Richmond) Her fields of interest are international trade, industrial organization, and applied microeconomics.

Prof. Juan Moreno-Cruz (Georgia Institute of Technology) His research interests are energy, environmental and natural resources economics, technological change, economic growth and institutions, and climate change economics and climate engineering.

Call for Papers: The 15th INFINITI Conference on International Finance

A Trinity College Dublin, Monash University & Universitat de València event will be held at the Universitat de València, Valencia, Spain on 12-13 June 2017. Prof Hélène Rey (London Business School) will be a Keynote Speaker.

The submission deadline is on January 31st, 2017

Papers are solicited in all aspects of international financial integration.

More information on the Call for Papers (including guidelines) is available on the website.

6th AIEAA Conference: “Economics and Politics of Migration: Implications for Agriculture and Food”

  • Conference Dates: 15-16 June 2017
  • Abstract submission by authors: February 15, 2017
  • Notification of acceptance to authors: March 17, 2017
  • Authors’ early registration: April 30, 2017
  • Full paper/poster submission: May 26, 2017
  • Authors’ registration deadline: May 31 2017

Two key factors have recently contributed to place migration issues at the centre of the economic and political agenda. Firstly, the weaker economic prospects and the cuts in public spending due to the recession have increasingly contributed to make immigrants be perceived as competitors in the labour market and in the welfare state, rather than as a resource. Secondly, the refugee crisis, with the number of migrants seeking for asylum in Europe reaching a level not experienced since the mid-1990s, creates alarming tensions and un-coordinated reactions by the EU countries, revealing the fragility of EU institutions. What are the implications of this massive flow of migrants for the agricultural and food sector and, more in general, for rural areas both in the origin and destination countries? In the last decades, agriculture and rural areas have represented the main source of job opportunities for international migrants. Evidence of the key role played by migrant workers in keeping the sector competitive and resilient to the changes is solid. In Italy, for example, more than 25% of the agricultural labour force and nearly 70% of the seasonal labour force are represented by migrants. Similar patterns can be detected in other EU countries, such as Spain, France and Greece, as well as in the US. Yet, although migrant labour force has become a structural element of the agricultural sector in several developed countries, it has also occurred at growing and unsustainable social costs. The fact that agriculture often represents the first occupational opportunity for migrants has brought about at the same time problems of immigrants’ exploitation, illegal hiring and other social costs in many rural areas. In Italy for example, more than 30% of the total non-EU migrant workers are irregular, with a salary significantly below the average, extremely limited worker rights and without any kind of social protection. The interaction between migration and poverty – both at origin and destination – is still among the least studied topics in agricultural economics. This is surprising if one considers that migrants are coming mainly from rural areas where poverty is highly concentrated. Moreover, how the migration process affects the socio-economic contexts in the countries of origin is important not only from a social welfare point of view. The increasing market integration and the role of remittance may create externalities and economic growth in the rural areas (for example, by affecting food production, consumption and the rural demand for manufactured goods); as a consequence, the derived economic welfare is expected to influence future migration processes. Similarly, in destination countries, immigrants are contributing to change consumption patterns as well as food habits, by opening shops, restaurants and trade activities.

Economic research on migration has gone well beyond the analysis of the impact of migrants on natives’ wages and employment. Economists have started to analyse the interaction between immigrants and natives, their degree of substitution and/or complementarities, and how native workers, firms and local economies react and adjust to labour supply shocks. Furthermore, there is a wide literature on the effects of migration on education, health and crime, as well as on the political effects of immigrants at origin and destination. The relevance of these topics motivates the need to provide high quality studies also incorporating current knowledge from the economic literature to analyse the economics and politics of migration in rural areas. In this perspective, the sixth AIEAA Conference aims at providing a scientific contribution to these issues by expanding the knowledge base on the fundamental effects of migration, and by promoting a critical debate on the underlying theoretical and methodological issues and policy implications. Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • The effect of migrations on the agricultural labour market;
  • The contribution of foreign workers to agriculture productivity growth;
  • The effect of migration in rural areas;
  • Farms’ adjustment to local labour supply shocks;
  • Migration and poverty condition in the countries of origin;
  • Migration and the changing patterns of food consumption;
  • Migration, climate change and natural disasters;
  • The trade effect of international migrations;
  • The political economy of migration policy;
  • The political outcomes of international migrations;
  • Migration and crime in rural areas.
  • Migration, education and health

AIEAA welcomes the submission of contributions on the topics above. However, the submission of contributions on other agricultural and applied economics topics is encouraged as well


Contribution proposals should be submitted in English through the conference website at There are three types of contributions: contributed papers, organized sessions, and posters. Contributed papers Participants intending to present a paper are requested to submit an extended abstract (minimum 1000 words; maximum 1500 words) before February 15, 2017.

More information

Call for Papers: 8th Annual Conference of the Trade, Integration, and Growth Network (TIGN) Montevideo, Uruguay, May 19-20, 2017

The 8th Annual Conference of the Trade, Integration, and Growth Network (TIGN) will be held in Montevideo, Uruguay, on May 19-20, 2017. This conference is sponsored by the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association (LACEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), and the Research Institute for Development, Growth, and Economics (RIDGE) and is hosted by RIDGE. The TIGN conference is a unique event that brings together top researchers and policymakers to discuss recent theoretical and empirical advances in trade and integration and growth broadly defined.

For additional information on this conference and to register and submit a paper please visit:,7302.html