OECD Report Embraces Paris and Sisk's "Dilemma Analysis" Approach to Statebuilding


A major report, Do No Harm: International Support for Statebuilding, prepared for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has adopted a recommendation proposed by Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk in their research on the postwar statebuilding.

In their writings, Paris and Sisk have argued that although constructing of legitimate, effective governmental institutions is a crucial element creating conditions for durable peace and development in war-torn countries, international agencies and donors have paid too little attention to the intrinsic tensions and contradictions of externally-assisted statebuilding:  "These tensions and contradictions have manifested themselves as vexing policy dilemmas -- that is, difficult choices the involve trade-offs between multiple imperatives where there are no obvious solutions."

Paris and Sisk recommend that international statebuilders adopt a different approach to mission planning, an approach they label "dilemma analysis."  In contrast to typical planning methods,  which involve identifying a sequence of steps to be completed at particular moments by particular actors, "dilemma analysis" starts from the assumption that many of the elements of statebuilding will not readily fit together; indeed, some elements will likely interact in ways that work against the larger goal of establishing legitimate, effective institutions in war-torn countries.

The Do No Harm report embraces this recommendation (pp. 34-45):

In their research on post-war statebuilding, Paris and Sisk (2007) suggest that donors face fully-blown dilemmas, which they cannot resolve. The best donors can do is to manage such dilemmas, which means having an analysis that can recognise dilemmas, as a starting point for deciding what can and cannot be done...

By undertaking the type of “dilemma analysis” proposed by Paris and Sisk, donors can distinguish between what are truly dilemmas – that is, irresolvable contradictions that cannot be solved and therefore require management over time – and trade-offs that donors have to make between short-term and long-term objectives, which can provide a key to how they might sequence interventions...

Dilemma analysis in statebuilding involves, in a first step, an examination of the whole range of goals a donor country or international agency has in relation to the challenges of statebuilding in a given country and identifying where they are compatible, incompatible or achievable only in some sequential progression over time. Too often, both in developing countries in general and in fragile states in particular, there is a rush by external actors to try do everything at once, without pause for consideration of where their goals in one domain (geopolitics or foreign policy) may be at odds with goals in another domain (the promotion of development); or how the goals of a set of external actors may clash; or, importantly, how the goals of an external actor may differ from the goals of those who are trying to build their state. In a second step, dilemma analysis involves an examination of how one statebuilding goal may be at odds with another, or when achieving one goal requires the prior achievement of another. What makes involvement in statebuilding so difficult is that these contradictions differ between countries and across time, making it difficult to apply standard approaches in every situation. However, by specifically undertaking analysis with the objective of considering both contradictions and sequences, donors can draw out general lessons as well as arrive at particular strategies in statebuilding contexts.

The first area of research covered by this study explores, at the macro level, how donors, state officials and civil society actors view the challenges of statebuilding and the impact of donors on these processes. The major strategic issues and trade-offs confronting donors in their interventions in fragile states are examined, as well as the direct impact of donor interventions on the political processes, state-society relations, social expectations of the state and state legitimacy that are at the heart of statebuilding. A key theme in this research is that donor countries’ intervention in fragile states is often confronted with trade-offs between goals that do not sit easily together, both wider diplomatic or geopolitical goals and the goals of statebuilding, and between particular statebuilding goals themselves.

Works by Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk on the dilemmas of statebuilding: