State failure is often seen as due to endogenous factors, rather than systemic ones; correspondingly, the idea that states can be built by supporting internal processes and institutions alone is prevalent in policy documents and in some of the literature on state-building. This paper calls both assumptions into question. I demonstrate that three factors were important external preconditions of historical state formation: (1) effective states and sustainable regional security, which is expressed on an inter-state as well as a sub-state level, requires a region-wide creation of effective structures of state; (2) effective states and effective inter-state security require well-functioning states systems; (3) effective states require regional acceptance of the process of state-building. Analysing three contemporary countries and regions, Somalia/the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan/Central Asia and Namibia/ south-western Africa, the article concludes that state-building is substantially facilitated where these three contextual factors are in place. The absence of these external factors in the regions where Afghanistan and Somalia are located illuminate the depth of the problems facing these countries. In these cases regional structures are preconditions of state-building.
Security sector reform (SSR) is a concept that is highly visible within policy and practice circles and that increasingly shapes international programmes for development assistance, security co-operation and democracy promotion. This paper examines the concept and practice of SSR using theories of the state and state formation within a historical-philosophical perspective. The paper recognises that the processes of SSR are highly laudable and present great steps forward towards more holistic conceptions of security and international development. However, the main argument of the paper is that we should be careful of having too high expectations of the possibility of SSR fulfilling its ambitious goals of creating states that are both stable and democratic and accountable. Instead, we should carefully determine what level of ambition is realistic for each specific project depending on local circumstances. A further argument of this paper is that legitimate order and functioning state structures are prerequisites and preconditions for successful democratisation and accountability reforms within the security sector.