Topic 10: State Formation and Fracture


See Moodle


Throughout this course, we have tended to reify states, treating them as unitary actors, even when we understand that they have complex internal decision-making processes and multiple interests.  We simplify these interests by referring to policy elites, and we sometimes discuss domestic influences on foreign policy behaviour (Beasley, 2013). You will have picked up from our discussion of evolving types of states (Bobbitt, 2002) however, that states are not fixed entities in the international system.  Many of the violent conflicts around the world result from efforts to achieve statehood, forcing changes to the territory of existing states. Changes to sovereignty and territory do not always involve violence. In this section, we will have an opportunity to explore both formation of new states and fragmentation and collapse of states within the international system.

The community of nations often doesn’t correspond to our image of it.  Our view of states and state systems is obscured by an image of the state that is shaped by authors writing from the US and Europe, and others who are concerned mainly with major powers.  This is like trying to understand society by studying a few millionaires in the Hamptons. The US, Russia, and China, or Brazil, Indonesia, and India, are very different from the rest of the world in many important respects. Size, wealth, intellectual capital (e.g. measured by a proxy indicator like citable documents), the size and competence of armed forces, and diplomatic presence, are often ignored in the generalizations we make about the behaviour of states.  Keep in mind that there are only 11 countries with populations over 100 million. Half of the UN’s 194 member states have populations between 2 and 25 million. Fifty states have fewer than two million people.  The 183 states below the top 11 by population include the majority of the world’s land, water, coastline, people, diplomats, soldiers, police, governments, resources, universities, and cumulative citable documents (1996-2012). Yet much of the world’s literature about politics and international relations written in English is by and for American university and policy audiences.  This includes most of the sources you have been exposed to in this course.  There’s some distortion involved in that, and it bears thinking about.

Under additional resources, I have provided some links to recent work that helps make sense of states and state behaviour in the international system. Changing technology and continued trade globalization may make many of our concepts of sovereignty untenable, as states are unable to exercise effective sovereignty over information flows and even phyisical flow of goods and services that affect their economies, security, and environments. National and regional strategies may have to be reconsidered to address commercial non-state actors whose resources dwarf states, even as states nominally preserve a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. When violence does occur within and between states, international peacekeeping and peace support operations remain an important suite of tools for collective action.

Learning objectives

  • Describe actors, events and issues in international relations
  • Demonstrate discrimination in the use and interpretation of sources
  • Understand political economy and world systems analysis as approaches to linking international politics, economics, and social change
  • Interpret the events, sequences, causes and effects related to alternative theories
  • Identify terms and concepts related to the study of international relations


Selection according to cases. We will also discuss the utility of some of the additional resources to help you with your papers.


Student coordinators will select two of the following cases to explore this week:

Activities before class

  • Review current events
  • Read the case summary or links
  • Check Moodle for case notes from the presenters
  • Apply your own aide memoire on theory: which ones seem most useful? What do they omit? What can be gained from other perspectives?
  • Are there alternative narratives for the cases under consideration?
  • What terminology or concepts are relevant in the discussion of this case?

Activities during class

  • Discuss current events
  • Relate current events to the events up for discussion
  • Present the cases
  • Discuss the cases from empirical and normative perspectives
  • Call-in speaker (if any) Q&A managed by coordinators
  • International perspectives from allied military academies (if available)
  • Frame an essay question addressing the issues raised in discussion
  • Offer suggestions for completion of the analytical papers following the presentation
  • List relevant terminology and concepts

Activities after class

  • Post comments on Moodle
  • Confirm understanding of terminology and concepts
  • Review notes and readings for essay question

Additional resources

Beasley, R. K. (2012). Foreign policy in comparative perspective: domestic and international influences on state behavior. Cq Press.

Technology and globalization undermining the state

Stiglitz, J. E. (2002). Globalization and its Discontents (Vol. 500). Norton: New York.Bratton (2015) The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty
Srinivasan, R. (2017). Whose Global Village?: Rethinking how Technology Shapes Our World. NYU Press.

Strategies and states

Rumelt, R. P. (2012). Good strategy/bad strategy: The difference and why it matters. Strategic Direction28(8). (reassuringly, this has been translated into Russian)

Mearsheimer, J. J. (2001). The tragedy of great power politics. WW Norton & Company.Colin Gray, Future of Strategy

Friedman, L. (2013) Strategy: A History. London: Oxford University Press.

Posen, B. R. (2014). Restraint: A new foundation for US grand strategy. Cornell University Press.

International peacekeeping and stabilization

Paris, R., & Sisk, T. D. (Eds.). (2009). The dilemmas of statebuilding: confronting the contradictions of postwar peace operations. Routledge.

Lilly, D. (2000). The privatization of security and peacebuildingInternational Alert. London.

Doyle, M. W., & Sambanis, N. (2006). Making war and building peace: United Nations peace operations. Princeton University Press.

Holbrooke, R. (2011). To End a War: The Conflict in Yugoslavia–America’s Inside Story–Negotiating with Milosevic. Modern Library.

Diehl, P. F., & Balas, A. (2014). Peace operations. John Wiley & Sons.

Mazurana, D. E., McKay, S. A., Carlson, K. C., & Kasper, J. C. (2002). Girls in fighting forces and groups: Their recruitment, participation, demobilization, and reintegrationPeace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology8(2), 97..

Sotomayor, A.C. (2014) The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper. Civil-Military Relations and the United Nations.  Johns Hopkins University Press

Marten, K. Z. (2004). Enforcing the peace: Learning from the imperial past. Columbia University Press.

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