The ‘Empty Shell’ Approach: The Set Up Process of International Administrations in Timor-Leste and Kosovo, Its Consequences and Lessons


Par Nicolas Lemay-Hébert
International Studies Perspectives, vol.12, no 2, 2011.

State-building under the aegis of international administrations has faced various hurdles and obstacles in Kosovo and Timor-Leste—failures that came to full light in March 2004 in Kosovo and in May 2006 in Timor-Leste. However, the international conception buttressing the set up of international administrations—I dub it the “empty-shell” approach—is still present in certain policy circles. This article aims to analyze this international conception by clarifying how the UN came to impose its authority over the two territories in a very similar process. While the literature on each state-building experiment is vast and compelling, few authors have attempted to contrast the two case studies, especially regarding the mental conception informing the governance process of these territories since 1999. This article links the empty-shell approach with the delegitimization process that came to be experienced by the UN in both cases. The article describes the international policies put in place by the UN to expand its control over the two territories, a mix of co-option of local elites and the marginalization of the local population. Finally, the article reveals some possible solutions in order to avoid the more blatant difficulties pertaining to state-building conducted from the outside-in.

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