The Foreign Service Journal, April 2021

78 APRIL 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL A Realist’s Call to Action Why Nation-Building Matters: Political Consolidation, Building Security Forces, and Economic Development in Failed and Fragile States Keith W. Mines, Potomac Books (an imprint of University of Nebraska Press), 2020, $40.00/paperback, e-book available, 402 pages. Reviewed by Michael M. McCarthy Why Nation-Building Matters is a special piece of research in which the author suc- cessfully combines independent thinking with a profound sense of mission to drive home a controversial argument: We need to make nation-building a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. Marking a refreshing change from doctrine-driven visions of foreign policy, Keith Mines, a recently retired diplomat now directing the Latin America Program at the United States Institute of Peace, arrives at his conclusion about the need to rescope U.S. foreign policy while stay- ing grounded in a series of constructive criticisms about it. This pragmatic approach helps Mines find a balance between promoting big ideas and examining the nitty-gritty implementation challenges that invari- ably crop up in the field. It is also one of the reasons this book is likely to make a seminal contribution to debates on the proper scope of U.S. foreign policy in the unfolding post-Trump, COVID-19 era. Mines’ account does not proselytize, but it does issue a call to action—to reflect on and see the challenge of nation-build- ing more clearly by reminding ourselves that the United States has accomplished more foreign nation institution building than it often gives itself credit for, and that those accomplishments could be squan- dered if we do not consolidate our gains before the vicissi- tudes of geopolitical competi- tion result in permanent losses for U.S. interests. I label this a realist’s call to action, not because the author offers a full-throated defense of realism’s theories of inter- national relations, but because Mines’ argument about how to unleash the hidden strengths of U.S. foreign policy emerges from an honest practitioner’s account of what plans have worked and what plans have not worked. In this respect, John Dewey’s “learn- ing by doing” is a key theme throughout. Tacitly, Mines appeals to the power of experiential learning as the driving force that can help the United States progres- sively accumulate knowledge about nation-building and eventually succeed as a nation-builder. Part of what makes this book such a good read is that it is a deeply personal account. Mines weaves together his expe- rience in conflict zones as both soldier and peacemaker, at the tables of high- stakes negotiations, and in the office car- rying out ordinary diplomatic business. This engaging account convinces readers it would have been a joy accompanying the author for the ride. One narrative high point is when he reflects on his highly formative time as a soldier in El Salvador and Grenada, sections that read like pages straight out of a diary. When Mines explains his personal commitment to finding fixes for situa- tions as dicey as Sudan, post-conflict Iraq and Afghanistan, the account hits a second narrative high point. The results of such efforts may have fallen short of the author’s expectations, yet Mines’ pro- fessed love for the craft of diplomacy and manifest desire to dive into the work, no matter where it leads, make readers feel they are shadowing a Foreign Service officer throughout his adventur- ous career. This book is likely to be popular among a variety of influential communi- ties within the interna- tional affairs profession, a few of which immediately come to mind. Since the book takes on the tough issues of nation-building in a nonpoliti- cized manner, professors and students at international affairs schools may find it a perfect addition to courses examining the intersection between the theory and practice of international affairs. The military is another community that may want to add Why Nation- Building Matters to its must-read list. The book’s subplot is an examination of the relationships between military force, elite-level political negotiation and community building, a trio of factors that military leaders often bring into action as they carry out their missions in times of peace and war. And finally, though Foreign Service officers may not need exposure to more stories from the field, they are likely to profit from critical engagement with an account that provides many lessons learned from some of the biggest crises faced by U.S. foreign policy leaders in the last four decades. Michael M. McCarthy is founder and CEO of Caracas Wire LLC, a research advisory firm specializing in comprehensive political risk analysis of the crisis in Venezuela, and an adjunct professor of political science at The George Washington University ’ s Elliott School of International Affairs. BOOKS