Susan L. Woodward

Susan Woodward

Research Interests

  • a specialist on the Balkans, her current research focuses on transitions from civil war to peace, international security and state failure, and post-war state-building.


  • Ph.D. in Political Science from Princeton University
  • M.A. in Political Science from Princeton University
  • B.A. in Political Science from University of Minnesota

Susan L. Woodward is professor of political science at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A specialist on the Balkans, her current research focuses on transitions from civil war to peace, international security and state failure, and post-war state-building.

She was a member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration, 2010-2014, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, 1990-1999, and then at the Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College, London, 1999-2000, head of the Analysis and Assessment Unit for UNPROFOR in 1994, and a professor of political science at Yale University, 1982-89, Williams College, 1978-82, and Northwestern University, 1972-1977.

Her many writings include The Ideology of Failed States: Why Intervention Fails (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War (Brookings Press, 1995), and Socialist Unemployment: The Political Economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990 (Princeton University Press, 1995).

Courses Taught

Basic Theories and Concepts in Comparative Politics, Civil War, Comparative Political Order, International Intervention, Peacebuilding, Comparative Political Institutions, Workshop on the Dissertation Proposal

See CV for Awards and GrantsProfessional Affiliations and Memberships, and Publications. 


Susan Woodward, The Ideology of Failed States: Why Intervention Fails (Cambridge Univ.  Press, 2017).

What do we mean when we use the term ‘failed states’? This book presents the origins of the term, how it shaped the conceptual framework for international development and security in the post-Cold War era, and why. The book also questions how specific international interventions on both aid and security fronts – greatly varied by actor – based on these outsiders’ perceptions of state failure create conditions that fit their characterizations of failed states. Susan L. Woodward offers details of international interventions in peacebuilding, statebuilding, development assistance, and armed conflict by all these specific actors. The book analyzes the failure to re-order the international system after 1991 that the conceptual debate in the early 1990s sought – to the serious detriment of the countries labelled failed or fragile and the concept’s packaging of the entire ‘third world’, despite its growing diversity since the mid-1980s, as one.

Susan Woodward, Socialist Unemployment : The Political Economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990(Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995).

In the first political analysis of unemployment in a socialist country, Susan Woodward argues that the bloody conflicts that are destroying the former Yugoslavia stem not so much from ancient ethnic hatreds as from the political and social divisions created by a failed socialist program to prevent capitalist joblessness. Under Communism the concept of socialist unemployment was considered an oxymoron; when it appeared in postwar Yugoslavia, it was dismissed as illusory or as a transitory consequence of Yugoslavia’s unorthodox experiments with worker-managed firms. In Woodward’s view, however, it was only a matter of time before countries in the former Soviet bloc caught up with Yugoslavia, confronting the same unintended consequences of economic reforms required to bring socialist states into the world economy.

By 1985, Yugoslavia’s unemployment rate had risen to 15 percent, ranging from 1.5 percent in Slovenia to more than 30 percent in Kosovo and Macedonia. How was it that a labor-oriented government managed to tolerate so clear a violation of the socialist commitment to full employment? Proposing a politically based model to explain this paradox, Woodward analyzes the ideology of economic growth, and shows that international constraints, rather than organized political pressures, defined government policy. She argues that unemployment became politically “invisible,” owing to its redefinition in terms of guaranteed subsistence and political exclusion, with the result that it corrupted and ultimately dissolved the authority of all political institutions.

Forced to balance domestic policies aimed at sustaining minimum standards of living and achieving productivity growth against the conflicting demands of the world economy and national security, the leadership inadvertently recreated the social relations of agrarian communities within a postindustrial society.

Susan Woodward, Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War (Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution, 1995).

Yugoslavia was well positioned at the end of the cold war to make a successful transition to a market economy and westernization. Yet two years later, the country had ceased to exist, and devastating local wars were being waged to create new states. Between the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the start of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1992, the country moved toward disintegration at astonishing speed. In this book, Susan Woodward explains what happened to Yugoslavia and what can be learned from the response of outsiders to its crisis. Woodward’s analysis is based on her first-hand experience before the country’s collapse and then during the later stages of the Bosnian war as a member of the UN operation sent to monitor cease-fires and provide humanitarian assistance.