USIP Latin America program director dispels nation-building myths in BYU address

Keith Mines speaks to students at the Kennedy Center about nation-building and its importance. Nation-building has become negatively viewed despite its importance over the years. (Dallin Wilks)

The director of the Latin America program from the U.S. Institute of Peace, Keith Mines, spoke to BYU students on Oct. 6 about the myths surrounding nation-building.

Mines has worked in nation-building in countries such as Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Somali, Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the main objective of nation-building is to make a turbulent or violent society stable and peaceful. Mines spoke on the topic of his book, “Why Nation-Building Matters: Political Consolidation, Building Security Forces, and Economic Development in Failed and Fragile States” in his address at the BYU Kennedy Center.

“Essentially, the art of nation-building is binding the nation and the state into a coherent functioning whole,” Mines said.

However, Mines says not everyone sees it in such a positive light. High profile individuals, such as former president Donald Trump, have pushed back against nation-building publicly. This has led to very visceral anti-U.N. and anti-nation-building reactions.

“The nation-building brand is a bit damaged right now,” Mines said. “Some of the negative reaction to nation-building comes from a misunderstanding of the concept or even a mis-definition.”

To address the hesitancies and concerns the public have, Mines spoke on six common nation-building myths and misconceptions.

The myths in question include: nation-building doesn’t matter, nation-building never works, nation-building always involves armed intervention, one should not impose their system on others, nation-building can be done quickly and it is not the nation builders fault if anything goes wrong.

“The easiest way to dismiss nation-building is to affirm that it just doesn’t matter. That it has no place in our foreign policy priorities,” Mines said.

Mines talked about the importance of a stable and cohesive nation-state and how these institutions are vital in maintaining order and a higher quality of life for citizens. He said the ability for a state to control what happens in its territory is often what prevents conflict.

“The quality of the nation-state remains the first pillar in American prosperity and global security,” Mines said.

Mines also voiced the importance of cooperation and self-reliance that countries in crisis need in order to return to stability and order. He described that while nation-building can help countries stabilize, it is not a permanent solution.

“Citizens must build their own nations, we cannot do it for them,” he said.

Mines clarified “nation-building” is not synonymous with invading and governing foreign countries and there are times when military intervention is the only way to provide peaceful resolution to local conflict.

The struggle that comes along with blending a wide range of religions, cultures, and ways of life was also emphasized throughout Mines’ address. Finding the balance between the country’s nationalism and original culture and the proposed institutions of the nation-builders can prove to be difficult to navigate.

However, this difficulty has not stopped them in the past. “I propose that we’ve had more successes in this field than we let on,” Mines said. “In nation-building, there is no failure, only incomplete success.”

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