When Governance Fails: Sovereignty Sharing in Fragile States with Professor John Ciorciari

John Ciorciari | Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

In this week’s episode, we speak with Dr. John Ciorciari about his new book, “Sovereignty Sharing in Fragile States.” Dr. Ciorciari discusses what sovereignty sharing is, defining it as “consent-based agreements between a national government and international actors to share domestic authority,” and he goes on to outline the governance challenges around the world that motivated him to write the book. Dr. Ciorciari explains the common denominators underlying state ‘fragility’, and why he chose to focus on the ‘rule of law’ in contextualizing his analysis in the book, and why ‘rule of law’ reform is very difficult in the international setting — especially in establishing governmental institutions. Dr. Ciorciari describes incentives and downsides of sovereignty sharing for both host and donor country, whether U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan were sovereignty sharing situations, and how corruption and foreign policy have shaped sovereignty sharing.

On his book:

“I wrote the book now, because as much as ever, governance challenges in many parts of the world are really tough to address and development professionals, international security professionals and others are looking for new and innovative ways to deal with these obstacles to the rule of law and to development.”

On sovereignty:

“There’s a second face of sovereignty, that is the Westphalian conception, that sovereignty is a defense against unwanted external interference. And this is the form of sovereignty that’s most often spoken about in international political discourse, when debates arise about what the appropriate role is of international actors.”

On sovereignty sharing:

“Sovereignty sharing arrangements are consent based agreements between a national government and various international actors to share some of the domestic authorities that the government has and it’s generally does for two reasons. One is in the short term to provide better governance services in a country that is torn by conflict or otherwise struggling to meet its responsibilities. And the second goal is to bring about institutional reform.”

On fragile states and rule of law:

“But the most common bundle of characteristics that fragile states possess are a lack of, of complete territorial control, or a lack of a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.”

“A very common denominator among fragile states is a weak rule of law, where rule of law refers to constraints on the arbitrary exercise of power. And in domestic systems, the ways we usually try to impose those constraints are through independent courts through legislative checks through norms and institutions, such as a free press.”

“One reason why I pick the rule of laws or domain to focus on in the book is that these are tough cases for shared sovereignty. It’s a lot easier for a government to share its authority to hand out syringes for COVID-19 vaccines than it is for a government to partner in an effort that would strengthen independent courts that would then hold that government more accountable. And so rule of law reform is particularly difficult in international affairs and therefore the sovereignty sharing arrangements tend to be some of the most challenging.”

On manifestation of sovereignty sharing:

“It can manifest itself in joint or International Criminal Investigative commissions, as it has in say, Lebanon and Guatemala and Timor Leste day. It can take the form of hybrid courts that mix domestic and international laws and procedures and personnel, as has been done in say, Sierra Leone or Cambodia and elsewhere. And it can take the form of economic governance interventions as it did in a in a particularly interesting and somewhat unique case in Liberia, in which international advisors had co-signing authority over certain key decisions that Liberian officials made as a way to impose a sort of external check on governance.”

On sovereignty trends:

“a sovereignty sharing arrangement that welcomed a single foreign state to carry out functions like policing or criminal adjudication would look an awful lot like practices, the past that are deeply disfavored in a post colonial space.”

“Sovereignty sharing, navigating a sovereignty sharing arrangement, requires considering the interests and possible impediments from each of these different stakeholder groups.”

“Civil society also plays a role, because public opinion is going to say a lot about whether these initiatives are regarded as legitimate. And the average member of the public is generally not as attentive to these things as will be thought leaders in the media and in civil society. And so they do play important roles in in evaluating and potentially legitimating or delegitimating.”

On unsuccessful and successful sovereignty sharing:

“The main factor for success is to have what I call a supportive political equilibrium. Another way of putting this is that you need a winning political coalition that is going to support and defend the venture.”

“If the internationals performed better than the state institutions, then the venture can gain public legitimacy, which helps to protect it politically and bolsters the winning political coalition. If the venture doesn’t perform well, then it will almost certainly be regarded as illegitimate on the grounds that outsiders are calling the shots without a direct line of accountability to the population that they’re purporting to serve.”

On public approval:

“Most of these ventures start with broad objectives about governance and rule of law for the benefit of the people. That’s why we have rule of law institutions. It’s because we want the people to be protected from arbitrary power. And so if the population thinks it’s a failure, by most reasonable definition to failure.”

“Public support can be a very important part of the support, but it is not alone sufficient. There almost always has to be some support from within the government elites, and also from the international community to keep these ventures alive.”

On downsides of sovereignty sharing:

“There’s a tendency when people hear about this concept to think that to have an image that the internationals are standing by the door eager to exercise this authority and control and that they’re having to overcome domestic resistance. In many cases, international organizations and foreign states are very reluctant to take on domestic authority, because they’re afraid of the quicksand.”

“There’s also another way that internationals can get stuck. And that is that as conditions change, many of these ventures come about during periods when the governments are particularly needy or vulnerable and where their leverage is low. And that’s why they either agree to or even request, the internationals come share their authority.”

 On the incentive structure:

“A good example might be the case of US involvement in Haiti. The US government has had a special interest in what happens in Haiti because of the geographic proximity to Florida and to the United States more generally. And that has been a driving force in why the US government has been a leader of some of the sovereignty sharing elements of the International interventions in Haiti.”

“This gets back to the normative question about why sovereignty sharing is so sensitive. If it’s perceived by the host government, or by the population, that the internationals are here, because they want to take our resources, as opposed to they’re here because they want to assist in a in a humanitarian process or development then obviously, that would have effects on the missions legitimacy.”

On compromise consent for sovereignty sharing:

“It might be compromised because new states are being formed with the international community acting as a midwife, as it did in Kosovo and Bosnia and Timor Leste. It might be that a government consent is compromised, because the government is utterly desperate for support and therefore can’t bargain almost to duress like situation.”

On Iraq and Afghanistan:

“One could say in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that the status of forces arrangements that the US has signed with those two governments are also sovereignty sharing arrangements. They’re in a different domain than I look at in this book, but they certainly fit the general description.”

On political corruption:

“It’s a dicey proposition to have unelected foreigners carrying out governance functions. And that’s why I think performance is so important to legitimate these ventures. The population wouldn’t even consider conferring legitimacy on foreigners unless circumstances were quite unsatisfactory in their domestic arena.”

“If the two sides are working across purposes and, and engaging in mutual recrimination, then it’s hard to imagine that anyone would see the venture as a whole as being as being very effective.”

On sovereignty sharing and foreign policies:

“I would say it is quite common in fragile states to seal many elements or faces of shared sovereignty, the rule of law area has been one of the toughest. I would say also that it has been an important part of the foreign policies of the United States of Britain of France of Australia, in particular, since the sort of 9/11 Europe, and remains an item on the menu that is considered in dealing with fragile states. But it has had something of a recession in the last few years. The Trump administration brought a sort of reversion to realism, more respect for Westphalian sovereignty, less interest in intervening on some of these humanitarian grounds, then did the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it. We’ll see if that changes with the new Biden administration, but in other words, it’s not a fixed prong of US foreign policy.”

On sovereignty sharing in Russia and China:

“while Russia and China don’t have a lot of formal sovereignty, sharing arrangements, they absolutely have arrangements with some of their neighbors that have this informal sovereignty sharing quality.”

On sovereignty sharing and capitalism:

“There is a lot of further research that could be done, about the implications of having so many actors other than the host state government responsible for providing governance functions in fragile states, and even making governance decisions.”

On the future of sovereignty sharing:

“While the rivalry between the US and China clearly will affect the way that shared sovereignty plays out, it doesn’t obviously, to me, make it more likely or unlikely in the near term. And in particular, I think it depends on how the United States government interprets that competition and how it approaches that competition. If the US government approaches the competition by thinking that the best thing to do is to find a friendly dictator, and not to be concerned about governance, then there’s really no reason to engage in this type of venture. If the US government thinks that there may be instances in which this can help strengthen rule of law and democratic systems and that that’s in the US interest, then perhaps we would see instances in which this would be more likely.”

On likeliness of sovereignty sharing:

“A lot will depend not just on the sort of the need side of the equation, as you’re mentioning with climate change and other factors, but also on the policies that major powers adopt, particularly the United States.”

“The dearth of other attractive options means that we need to keep it on the menu, because there might not be better ways of addressing some of these challenges, like corruption and impunity in fragile states.”

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