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The Trouble with RAMSI: Reexamining the Roots of Conflict in Solomon Islands

From: The Contemporary Pacific
Volume 19, Number 2, Fall 2007
pp. 409-441 | 10.1353/cp.2007.0052

Abstract

While the debate that has followed the intervention by the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (ramsi) has centered on the suitability of the failed state label to Solomon Islands, I argue that this debate is misdirected because the concept of state failure itself is accepted uncritically. Examining what is meant by state failure is crucial, because (a) it has assumed an almost commonsensical mantle, which obscures its particular political and ideological underpinnings; and (b) it has considerable conceptual limitations that render it a problematic framework for explaining the roots and possible trajectories of the conflict in Solomon Islands. State failure is essentially a descriptive category with limited explanatory capacity, grounded in a depoliticized and ahistorical theorization of institutions, state, and society. At its core is an unhelpful preoccupation with state capacity as measured against a hypothetical legal-rational good-governance model. Conflicts are understood in this framework as the result of poor governance or recalcitrant social forces. ramsi, consequently, has sought to strengthen the institutional capacity of Solomon Islands as the key to conflict resolution as well as a preventative long-term peace-building initiative. In contrast, I argue that unless we develop a clearer understanding of the causes and dynamics of conflict, ramsi's state-building approach is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate tensions in Solomon Islands. This approach involves a shift in emphasis away from the current fixation on institutional capacity audits associated with the failed state concept, toward a more constructive theorization of the historically contingent relationship between changing patterns of economic development and social conflict.



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