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The primacy of domestic politics and the reproduction of poverty and insecurity

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The dominant international discourse about ‘fragile states’ calls for external actors to build the capacity of domestic institutions as a means of overcoming poverty and insecurity in the global South. It frames the pathway to greater peace and prosperity as primarily, if not entirely, domestically constituted, thereby confining the causes of poverty and insecurity to the domestic arena as well. This article argues that by focusing so intently on the domestic capacity of these states, international peace/state-building and development interventions discount, and thereby reinforce, non-domestic factors that impede security and development. These include: external support for repressive regimes; the sale of weapons to local actors; and the preservation of international trade arrangements implicated in sustaining global inequalities. This article argues that while each of these issues have greater levers for change in the North than in the South, they are generally excluded from discourses about overcoming poverty and insecurity. Therefore, if international actors are serious about attending to these issues, there are more pressing areas for reform than the internal institutional configurations of Southern states. Intervening in domestic institutions is, however, what development and state-building agencies are structured to do, meaning that to overhaul this mandate would directly challenge their existence.

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