Quote of the day: Vietnam – An example of failed state building

This is a story of what can happen, when a foreign power engages in what is called “nation or state building” today. It deals with US commitment to Vietnam after the First Indochina War. Despite the spending of billions – amounting to more than 100 bn in today’s dollars – the process ended with catastrophic consequences.

James M. Carter, Inventing Vietnam: The United States and State Building, 1954-1968, 2008. The book can be bought here. A few sentences from the introduction (pp 6-7):

“During the period of direct American involvement beginning in 1954, the U.S. mission in Vietnam designed and implemented a range of farreaching economic, political, and eventually military development projects in one of the most thorough and ambitious state-building efforts in the postwar period. The projects consisted of installing a president; building a civil service and training bureaucrats around him; creating a domestic economy, currency, and an industrial base; building ports and airfields, hospitals, and schools (…).”

“Despite the enormity of these efforts, the project to build an independent state around Ngo Dinh Diem met with failure. By the early 1960s, the United States began responding to the project’s failings and to a growing chorus in Vietnam opposing the effort with greater levels of military and police force to protect its client regime in Saigon. Ultimately, and almost imperceptibly, U.S. officials glossed over the fact that the state-building project was deeply troubled and failing and instead began justifying greater military involvement and authorizing greater use of force by the regime in order to stamp out the Vietnamese resistance to that effort as well as to mask its deficiencies.”

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