Insights from Complexity for Stability and Fragility

Fragile States are usually described as ‘complex’. This has led me to look into what we know about how to influence self-organising complex systems. If a society is fragile, it means that the social institutions that govern its politics, security, justice and economy lack resilience. Resilience refers to the ability of these social institutions to absorb and adapt to the shocks and setbacks they are likely to face. The risk is gradually reduced as institutions develop the resilience necessary to cope with the challenges they are exposed too. Peacebuilding should be about stimulating and facilitating the capacity of societies to self-organise, and hence peacebuilding needs to be understood as essentially local.

The overall implication is that the internationals need to step back and give more space for local self-organisation. As Willemijn Verkoren argues, statebuilding need to be toned down. Almost all the contributions to this debate seem to accept this emphasis on the capacity and resilience of local institutions. Joel Hellman points out that we seem to have finally got the theory right, but that the outcomes are far from what we would have hoped. I think this is because, as Colonel Kees Matthijssen acknowledge, the Fragile State enterprise is not willing to accept giving up control of the outcome. This is because the primary reasons why States, and the international institutions they control, are engaged in statebuilding is the maintenance of the international system and the protection of national interests. Hence motivations like preventing illegal migration, combatting organized crime and countering terrorism override considerations to foster local ownership. Driven by these pressures – and despite the knowledge that is available in the system as reflected in this debate – statebuilding practitioners still, more often than not, embark on programmes that, as Chris van der Borgh puts it, aim to establish a democractic state overnight.

However, these two approaches do not have to be mutually exclusive. Investing in local self-organisation is an investment in self-sustainable stability. And trying to control a democratic outcome will contribute to further fragility and instability…

For more of this blog post, visit: Insights from Complexity for Stability and Fragility, Knowledge Platform on Security and Rule of Law, 24 February 2014, available at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.