What Is Nation-Building?

In this free resource on nation-building, learn why developing political, economic, security, and social institutions across borders is a complex business.

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Nation-building definition

Nation-building is a significant undertaking that governments employ to develop political, economic, security, and social institutions in other countries—especially those emerging from conflict. 

Governments conduct those activities abroad to secure their own national interests. After World War II, for example, the U.S. government occupied and helped rebuild Germany and Japan to ensure both countries could not spark another conflict or come under Soviet influence in the early days of the Cold War.

As a device that integrates several other instruments of foreign policy—including military force, foreign aid, trade, and diplomacy—nation-building can be an especially powerful intervention. But it can also be costly and controversial, as it requires ample time and resources, risks lives in military operations, and has a mixed record of success.

Explore the fundamentals of nation-building, its goals, and the factors that influence its success.