Should the West have governed South Sudan?

The solution to these problems is not to send in more peacekeepers to Juba and Bor, or hammer out a power-sharing agreement between the warring parties. Or rather, not only to do these things. The response to South Sudan’s turmoil should be crafted with a set of policy tools that were popular in the 1950s but have been used only selectively in recent years. I am referring to the process known as “trusteeship,” whereby a newly independent nation is granted special forms of assistance and special constraints on sovereignty. In some cases, the former colonial power sought to administer the trusteeship, and in other cases an international coalition or the United Nations did so for a defined period of time.

That is Gregg Zachary writing in the Atlantic. He points to Ghana in 1957 as a quasi example.

My reactions, in order of appearance:

  1. Paternalistic, suspect, and distasteful
  2. Actually, reminiscent of the economist Rudi Dornbusch, who half-seriously suggested that the solution to Argentina’s financial woes was to hand over all financial governance to the most responsible archetype he could imagine: a Finnish woman. Perhaps temporary trusteeship is in the same spirit as independent Central Bank governors: tie your hands.
  3. Actually, on even further thought, what Zachary proposes is exactly what was done in Liberia 2003-13 and the transition has been remarkably smooth, with little distastefulness. I think it was a good idea.
  4. Maybe the deeper problem is that international norms dictate nations can have only one of two forms of government: Subjugation to a larger state dictated before 1948, or complete independence. But not every political situation fits stably into one of those two categories, and inevitably turns to violence. A third and fourth norm might not hurt, ones that provided stability and a transition to full autonomy.

I am not sure yet what my fifth or final reaction is, but I think Zachary is on to something. I think there is something to my initial discomfort, but there may be no perfect solution. Possibly his is the best of a set of bad alternatives. Is there any scholarly work here?

Update: I am told Bosnia, Kosovo and Timor Leste might also be examples. Perhaps the world had more interest and understanding of the situation there, and so were less susceptible to irrational optimism.

Update 2: A rebuttal by @kopalo drawing on this classic Fearon and Laitin article I’d forgotten (ungated)