Small Wars Journal

Don’t Cut Aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 1:36pm

Don’t Cut Aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala

Stephen B. Young

President Trump has ordered the termination of aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.  This is idiocy and only makes sense in a fairy tale world of willful make-believe.

It may not be charitable to say, but Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are more or less “failed states”. Conditions of gang-based insurgency have overtaken them. The national state in each territory is ineffective in many fundamental respects.

State authority to receive legal acknowledgement from other states under international law must demonstrate effective control over a territory.  A national state must, in the words of the great German student of power and authority Max Weber, firmly hold a monopoly of violence in the territory and subject that monopoly to moral legitimacy.

The Westphalian system of nation-states (starting with the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Catholic / Protestant religious wars in Europe) is the basis for international law and inter-state relations. It presumes the reality of national authorities holding the requisite monopoly of violence.  “Failed States” do not meet the Westphalian criteria for recognition as a peer with nations that do meet such criteria for effectiveness in the ability to rule.

Insurgencies and small wars define “failed” and ‘failing” states. Wherever they can sustain themselves, the territory which they contest fails to meet Westphalian standards of nation-statehood. The political mission of such militant opposition to national public authority is to eliminate the sovereign government as a legal and political reality.

The objective of counter-insurgency is eliminating insurgent rival power centers within a country and transforming its central government into a de facto as well as de jure national administration.  Successful counter-insurgency produces a qualified Westphalian state under international law.

Where there is growing or wide-spread insurgency, a small war underway, or massive disobedience of national police authority, there is not a modern, effective nation state. Consider Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Myanmar, Somalia, and large areas of Western Africa.  Large scale terrorism which has outgrown normal policing efforts is very often the front end of an insurgency.

While the terminology is repugnant to many who prefer to live in an ideal Westphalian world order, “nation-building” is at the heart of counter-insurgency. And “nation-building” takes money. Aid for “nation-building” is in the highest national security interest of the United States. We just have to learn how to do it well.

To treat Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as Westphalian states where the national government has real authority is to ignore reality. 

Those countries need “nation-building” in order to become Westphalian states capable of enforcing border control and providing sufficient public security and economic development so that their people are happy and content to live out their lives in their local communities under a viable and just national state political system.

Cutting our aid to them and so undermining their efforts at “nation-building” is just stupid.



About the Author(s)

Stephen B. Young served with the CORDS program in the Republic of Vietnam from 1967 to 1971 as a Deputy District Advisor in Vinh Long province and as Chief, Village Government Branch. Young's service with CORDS was recognized by President Richard Nixon, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, and CIA Director William Colby. A fluent speaker of Vietnamese he has written on human rights in traditional Vietnam, Vietnamese legal history, Vietnamese nationalism, and with his wife translated Duong Thu Huong's novel The Zenith into English. Young is a graduate with honors of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is a former Assistant Dean of the Harvard Law School and Dean and Professor of Law at the Hamline University School of Law. He is Global Executive Director of the Caux Round Table and the author of Moral Capitalism and The Road to Moral Capitalism. His most recent book is The Theory and Practice of Associative Power: CORDS in the Villages of Vietnam 1967-1972.