State-building goes wrong when local politics is ignored. State-building begins not from anarchy, but from decentralized social order. In democratic state-building, transfers of power to a new national government require popular consent. A democratic state-building mission needs a stabilization-assistance team that can engage with national and local leaders as they negotiate a balanced distribution of power. When the goal is to promote political development, international assistance should be directed by local stabilization officers who can encourage trusted leaders to cooperate in a broad coalition for local governance. An instructive example is USAID’s Office of Rural Affairs in Vietnam in 1962–64.
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