Deconstructing reconstruction: The overlooked challenges of military occupation

Christopher Coyne


In the post-cold war period, the main threat to the United States and other Western nations comes from weak, failed, and conflict-torn states. The viability of military occupation and reconstruction as strategies to deal with these threats is an open issue. The article explores two central, but often overlooked, issues that every occupation and reconstruction must face. First, it considers the "knowledge problem," which refers to the lack of understanding of how to establish the foundations of liberal democratic institutions where they do not already exist. Second, the article considers the "public choice problem," which focuses on the decisionmaking process within the United States. Oftentimes, the incentives created by political institutions generate policies that run counter to the end goals of reconstruction efforts abroad. Formulating effective policies toward weak, failed, and conflict-torn states requires the recognition and understanding of these challenges and the constraints they impose.

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