IWP hosted a debate on May 10th, 2016 on whether nation-building is “good” or “bad.” The question was purposely left broad to incentivize disagreement about larger ideas in foreign policy. Dr. Paul D. Miller, Associate Director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that nation-building can be, on balance, a good thing. Dr. Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, argued the opposite. The debate was moderated by IWP research professor Dr. Paul Coyer.
Dr. Miller’s core argument and opening remarks aimed to challenge a presumed bias in the public against nation-building — one, he alleges, that is informed by America’s Iraq and Afghanistan debacles. Contrary to the contemporary skepticism about nation-building’s ability to enhance U.S. national security, the U.S. achieved its hegemony from extensive and intensive nation-building strategies used after World War II. While proponents usually cite the Marshall Plan as the most successful nation-building strategy in American history, Dr. Miller stressed that even this plan did not go far enough. The Marshall Plan was only one piece in a broader global redevelopment strategy after the war. The Marshall Plan operated, for example, alongside an equally massive reconstruction of future allies Japan and South Korea.
Dr. Preble’s challenge of Dr. Miller’s argument for nation-building could loosely be categorized into two objections. His first objection was that the case studies of Germany and Japan are false positives. Both countries had already been fused together for at least a half century, and their peoples respectively identified as being part of a single community. Furthermore, each nation had a deep legacy of rule by law, a focus on market enterprise, and a desire to return to business as usual. The second challenge Dr. Preble made was that nation-building is too complicated of a process to sustain into actual completion. Dr. Preble produced an ISAF/NATO chart to illustrate the complexities of nation-building. The chart was made famous by a quip from high command that they would win the war as soon as they figured out the chart’s meaning.
Both sides alleged intellectual hubris for thinking that the other’s position is viable in reality. For Dr. Miller, to say that the United States categorically has no business nation-building, is to rob America of an essential tool in special circumstances. For Dr. Preble, the hubris arises from one’s confidence that plans such as his chart show are both correct and could be integrated into each of the thousands of facets of nation-building.