Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern studies Elliott Abrams discusses the concept of nation-building in U.S. foreign policy for CFR Model Diplomacy’s “Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan” and “Collapse in Venezuela” case studies. Model Diplomacy ( is a free multimedia simulation program that engages students through role-play to understand the challenges of shaping U.S. foreign policy in an interconnected world.

He defines nation-building as a very deep intervention that can be carried out only when the United States fully controls another country. It requires the ability to make changes throughout the country’s political system, military, and economy. Nation-building, he emphasizes, is a huge undertaking.

Abrams outlines the history of U.S. attempts at nation-building. Germany and Japan became democracies quickly after World War II; South Korea was another successful case, though the process took longer. In Vietnam, by contrast, U.S. nation-building efforts failed. Most people would also consider Afghanistan and Iraq to be unsuccessful attempts, Abrams says, noting the challenge associated with the particular American belief in building democracy. Nation-building, he concludes, is not a popular concept today, but questions over how best to do it will likely remain on the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

Instructors interested in exploring “Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan,” “Collapse in Venezuela,” and other cases for their classrooms can visit the Model Diplomacy case library.

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