Before I started researching for my essay for Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding and Statebuilding  class I was sure I will be able to prove how statebuilding does not resemble colonialism. I was all idealistic and thinking about how amazing work is being done when Western states go to fragile states and help with smart solutions… Some research later, couple books by Chandler and I was back on right track. So it is all colonialism after all? Well maybe not all of it is this simple, but I was quite drawn into my essay and enjoyed the reseach, probably the writing was a bit less enjoyable. Any thoughts, or comments? I dare you to criticise, I got 70 on this one, so you guys go ahead with compliments. And some “polandball” memes to relax you from heavy reading.

Executive Summary

The aim of this essay is to analyse the extent to which contemporary statebuilding resembles colonialism.  For the purpose of this essay two types of colonialism were chosen: the indirect rule of British in Africa (e.g. Kenya, North Nigeria) and the direct rule e.g. India (the British Raj after 1858) (Crowder 1964).  The first paragraph focuses on different approaches to statebuilding drawn from theories of Chandler, Chesterman, Fukuyama and Paris. It will describe language differences used in literature on the topic. The second part of this essay will provide a discussion on resemblances and divergences between colonialism and statebuilding. Firstly the arguments for high extent of resemblance will be presented and then followed with a passage about arguments for low extent. A case study of United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) both confirms and contradicts earlier arguments. This essay will end with conclusions to summarise arguments of the author.



This essay will discuss two forms of colonialism: the indirect rule of British in Africa and the direct rule of colonies in British Raj. Direct rule is a type of colonialism aimed at using the colonised state`s resources to increase Britain`s wealth. Conducting the country under the name of “protectorates”  Britain was able to distance themselves from legal responsibility over the governed lands (Chandler 2010). Indirect rule is colonialism characterised by imposition of institutions controlling economic, political and socio-cultural spheres in the colonised state with centralised decision-making process (Arevalo et al. 2011). This essay emphasises that the difference lies not between the scope of power applied by the British but in the responsibilities that the British accepted (Chandler 2010). The same pattern can be observed when estimating the extent to which contemporary statebuilding resembles colonialism: the higher level of accountability for governing certain territories, the bigger the resemblance to colonialism. Other forms of colonialism have also been recognised e.g. settlements in Australia, New Zealand and  South Africa (Crowder 1964).

Likewise colonialism, there are also many definitions for statebuilding, Richmond (2014) described it as new doctrine that aims to create prosperous and liberal states through intervention with “light footprint”. Chandler (2006) claims statebuilding is a form of international regulation over non-Western states that have failed. Statebuilding can be also perceived as a particular approach to peacebuilding where security and development should be achieved by the creation of autonomous institutions (Paris&Sisk 2009). While Fukuyama (2005: 11) claims that statebuilding is the most important issue for the international community, as it is the weak or failed states that cause many of the problems in the world. It can also be  narrowed to  a tool in the “war on terror” (Chesterman 2003) or expanded to political process for developing capacity, institutions and legitimacy while emphasising the importance of improving a state`s relationship with society (OECD 2005).

Clearly, statebuilding cannot be ignored by the international community, however is it really what it claims to be? Answering this essay question provokes to look into statebuilding through a colonial lens- maybe it is not just about humanitarian interventions but more about national interests. By comparing colonialism and statebuilding through relevant literature and case study of UNMIK this essay aims to estimate the extent of resemblance between the two practices.


Liberal Peace and Framing Statebuilding

When discussing resemblances between statebuilding and colonialism it is important to analyse approaches towards these processes. Therefore, as much as it is clear that certain types of colonialism aimed at controlling and exploiting, with statebuilding, however it is not so easy to assess the real reasons behind humanitarian interventions. Vague mandates and selectiveness of countries that undergo statebuilding undermine the legitimacy of missions. The liberal peace theory has been the most popular in recent decades- it is a combination of democracy, rule of law, free trade and governance delivered in a way that prevents war and domestic conflicts (Richmond 2014). When it comes to statebuilding and taking over other country`s sovereignty the theory of liberal peace plays the biggest justifiable role. Does that mean that there is only one good, Western way in governing a state? Critics of statebuilding and liberal peace claim that this is just a new form of colonialism, a “humanitarian empire” (Ignatieff 2003), a way to justify the pursuit of national interest in fragile states, with emphasis on those that are geopolitically important. The approach of liberal peace to statebuilding is used as justification for humanitarian interventions. If the reasons for statebuilding in other countries were purely humanitarian, internationals should have had already intervened in places like  Western Sahara, DRC or Tibet. However, the phenomenon of transitional administration has been mainly observed in Bosnia, Kosovo, Eastern Slavonia and East Timor; “coincidentally” – these countries are important to the West (Bellamy, Williams:2010). This indicates that rich countries pay and get to dictate policies in poorer countries by carrying out international surveillance over them without direct exploitation of their resources and by establishing areas of influences.

There can be special languages in which statebuilding is framed that are less obvious than colonial “Orientals” (Chesterman 2003), the visible division between Western transfer or fixed ideas for a perfect government packed as statebuilding  implies that some states should be guided by developed Westerners. The “internationals” arrive to rescue the “lesser breeds” from clumsy governments and saves the international community from “barbarian threat” (Ignatieff 2003). This particular phrasing streamlines the process and facilitates justification for military intervention. State-builders are like colonisers who were civilising the backward nations, and it is still the “Christian West” that dictates the policies (Ignatieff 2003). This kind of language divides the world into developed and undeveloped and justifies overriding sovereignty by imposing external ideology that is assumed to be better. Thus, is statebuilding another civilising mission or humanitarian help? Therefore, the big international concern of democracy, human rights and security across undeveloped states seems to be a cover up for concern of self-interest (Chandler 2006).


During British indirect rule in Africa colonies were privatised and officially recognised as protectorates. This represented Britain`s defensive approach to claim responsibility over the territories (Chandler 2010). The lack of accountability for statebuilding processes` has similar colonial patterns: open direct rule might cause resistance and demand accountability (Chandler 2010). Consequently, the indirect rule was perfect – it avoided answers about national interests. The international community denies pursuing national agendas in weaker, post-colonial states. They also deny responsibility for statebuilding processes`, and use false justifications. This practices resemble the indirect rule of the British in their colonised areas. Colonial-like practices can also be observed when statebuilders create new state structures along ethnic lines and they rely on local elites in order to avoid costs of establishing new order of governance (Paris&Sisk 2009). Chandler (2006:190) claims that statebuilding is the practice of denying an empire. While the practice can be similar, the reasons for it may differ; colonisers did it mainly to create conflicts between indigenous groups and to destroy relations. Statebuilders do it usually because they lack knowledge about the state. Also, it simplifies the process of creating capable indigenous structures of governance. Ignatieff (2003) claims that humanitarianism is used by rich nations to continue pursuing their national interests underneath the belief that all small nations have the right to self-governance. One of the core assumptions of this essay is that statebuilding resembles neo-colonialism rather than colonialism due to the economic dependencies and international structure of aid. In the simple mind of a student, the main purpose of aid is to give incentives for development in poor, fragile states. Nowadays, many countries are aid-targeted, aid-dependant and this creates risk for artificial need of external intrusiveness (Paris&Sisk 2009). Development was used as a reason to prolong withdrawal of colonial powers and to delegitimise anti-colonial protests (Chandler 2010). This can be observed in the case of UNMIK, where transfer of power was constantly delayed.


To contradict above arguments for high extent of resemblance between statebuilding and colonialism I have chosen to use as an example of British direct rule (Arevalo et al.2011). This colonial rule bares no patterns that could be observed in statebuilding. Clear connection between the colonised territory and the colonisers contradicts the vague mandates of humanitarian interventions. Direct rule dictated all the laws and there was no intention of reassigning the rule to locals, while statebuilding operates in a timely manner and the main purpose is to accomplish the process of transferring power (Paris&Sisk 2009). The difference between statebuilding and creating a quasi-colonial state is hard to observe in the very beginnings of processes when intervening powers must take over the authority of government (UNMIK) or create all institutions needed for successful governance (UNTAET) (Bellamy, Williams:2010). The fact that in 1931 Churchill condemned the Indian National Congress (Chandler 2010) shows that British had no intention of encouraging the creation of local government. Colonialism by direct rule ignores the potential of a local ownership,- simply classifying the indigenous populations as incapable of taking care over their own welfare (Chandler 2010), while statebuilding was designed to empower local capacity and eventually transfer the power (Paris&Sisk 2009). This essay argues that the higher level of intrusiveness and the longer period of transfer together with the extent local ownership is considered, then the bigger resemblance to colonialism. In some cases statebuidling is accompanied by nation-building, like in Kosovo (Ignatieff 2003). In times of colonialism nobody cared about building a nation, instead they cared more about expanding their national territory, or using other nations` resources to improve national wealth. On the contrary, statebuilding is focused on creating new states with regard to the needs of the nation, which contradicts the idea of colonialism and imperialism, where every small sign of self-determination could be destroyed. Another divergence between statebuilding and colonialism is the difference in perceiving nations` desire for self-determination. During colonialism self-determination was unwelcomed as it caused anti-colonial revolts, while in contemporary statebuilding self-determination is welcomed.


Case study: UNMIK

The case study of international statebuilding in Kosovo both confirms the resemblance to colonialism and contradicts it. UNMIK might be one of the humanitarian problems to which there are only imperial solutions (Ignatieff 2003). This transitional mission was imposed on Kosovo by UN Security Council that started in June 1999 and enforced by NATO (Bellamy, Williams 2010). Resolution 1244 aimed at creating “substantial autonomy” and ensuring conditions for a “peaceful and normal life” for Kosovars (UN:1999).

There is research that claims that the mission in Kosovo was caused mainly by humanitarian concerns (Bellamy,Williams:2010), but there is another side to this story. Kosovo was strategically important for both the West and the EU. Also it was Russia and China that were blocking the mandate for UNMIK (Bellamy,Williams:2010). This proves how the international community use statebuidling as a cover up for their national interests. Also with the  process of creating a state they widen the geographic area of their influence, just as was done through colonialism. The case study of Kosovo also shows how reconstruction programs build unhealthy culture that is fed by foreign aid (Bellamy, Williams:2010). There seems to be a lot of political will put into transitional administration of Kosovo, while in case of states in less politically important areas such will is hard to find. In case of Kosovo I feel that European powers and NATO were “grooming” Kosovo for future membership in the EU. At the same time competition between UNMIK and Kosovars was observed, caused by the statebuilders unwillingness to cooperate with locals and the local demands for self-determination (Zaum 2007). Such observations can be diagnosed as “colonial”, as well as the practice of peacebuilders choosing their local partners in Kosovo based on superficial characteristics like language fluency or siding with UNMIK`s goals (Paris&Sisk 2009).

One of the biggest issues in statebuilding through UNMIK was the problem of privatisation, as it defined a key policy in building free market economy in Kosovo (Zaum 2007). International administrators would have to take responsibility for changing property rights in Kosovo in order to meet the goals of a mission. This created confusion and fear of litigation and the international reluctance to transfer sovereignty powers to locals has caused a step back in achieving the missions` goals. Zaum (2007:166) argues that this proves how UNMIK was trying to complete statebuilding without statehood. Whole statebuilding effort and transfer of power was delayed because the internationals did not want to admit that UNMIK had the legal sovereignty in Kosovo. This could be used as an example of Chandlers Empire in Denial (2006) and results in claiming high resemblance between colonial indirect rule and statebuiling. Instead I prefer to side with Chesterman (2003) and argue that even though transitional administrations might seem to have colonial characteristics it might actually not be colonial enough. If statebuilding bore more resemblance to colonial direct rule maybe the whole process would work smoother as there would be less confusion about accountability.

Because of Kosovo`s geopolitical importance, UNMIK continuously emphasised the significance of implementing the “European standards” (Zaum 2007). This implies that the intervening powers were more progressive and superior than Kosovars. Colonials called it an ideology of race; nowadays it is referred to as culture of equality and civic society (Chandler 2010).


This essay argues that the extent of resemblance between colonialism and statebuilding  depends on the type of colonialism, bearing in mind that indirect rule was the favoured practice (Easterly 2006).   If considering the British indirect rule the extent of resemblance is quite high, as it follows similar patterns: assumption of colonial power over protectorates was defensive and contradictory, just like in statebuilding- lack of accountability and distancing of responsibility from Western powers. Conversely, during direct rule over colonies in India all of the decisions regarding the territory were taking place in London (Arevalo et al. 2011). This form of colonialism does not resemble contemporary statebuilding because the British have openly claimed rule over the colonised territories. The process of statebuilding must be legitimate in order to be recognised by the international community, because of its interventionist aspect. The problems lay within the justifications and legitimisation of such missions.  Colonial states usually were using the idea of civilising and saving from backwardness. Statebuilding is supposed to be a humanitarian intervention without involving national interests, but that does not make sense when considering the geopolitical placement of recent statebuilding missions. Yet, Easterly (2006:244) claims that “humanitarian instincts” were also used in colonial rule.  This indicates that statebuilding resembles colonialism when it comes to artificial justifications and self-legitimisation.polandball meme

There might exist a modern international Empire, but if so, it is in denial as claimed by Chandler (2006). High extent of colonialism is also observed in economic dependencies and the way aid works. Contemporary statebuiling is a blend of both intervention and avoidance (Cooper and Pugh 2008), while colonialism was more about exploitation and avoidance. This indicates that statebuilding bears less of a resemblance towards colonialism and more to neo-colonialism when looking at the financial culture. In this essay I compared special language and approaches used as justifications for statebuilding, with the ones used for colonialism in the past. This was done to prove what Chandler (2006) already observed, that if the ideological justifications and language framing distinctions may vary the interests of power stay the same.  Before starting my research for this essay I was actually hoping to find more arguments against resemablance but unfortunately I did not. The similarities are also seen in the top-down approach in statebuilding, high level of intrusiveness, ignoring local feedback and little knowledge about the culture and society.

Therefore the main conclusion is that statebuilding does resemble colonialism to a high extent, when compared to indirect rule of colonialism, but to a low extent when compared to direct rule. It almost seems like statebuilding was already practised during colonial times.


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Chandler, D. (2006) Empire in Denial: the politics of state-building. London: Pluto.

Chandler, D. (2010) International Statebuilding: The Rise Of Post-Liberal Governance. New York: Routledge.

Chesterman, S. (2003) You the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building. Project on Transitional Administrations Final Report. International Peace Academy 2003.

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Crowder, M. (1964) Indirect Rule- French and British Style. Journal of the International African Institute.34(3),pp. 197-205

Easterly, W. (2006) `From Colonialism to Postmodern Imperialism`, in Easterly, W. The White Man`s Burden. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 237- 272.

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  1. (United Nations). (1999) Security Council Resolution 1244.

Zaum, D. (2007) The sovereignty paradox: the norms and politics of international statebuilding. Oxford: Oxford University Press