The human security implications of IMF programs

‘State failure’—the inability of the state to protect its borders and maintain social peace domestically—is an increasing global challenge with serious ramifications for human security. Not only are failing states less able to prevent homicide, civil strife, and refugee flows, but they are also more susceptible to inter-state war and to harboring terrorists. Consequently, international organizations have increased their efforts to prevent state failure in the developing world. While scholars have examined the effectiveness of such efforts, they have paid only insufficient attention to the unintended consequences of policies championed by a specific group of international organizations: international financial institutions.

A particularly powerful international financial institution with the potential to affect state failure and human security is the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As an international ‘lender of last resort’, the IMF provides low-cost financial assistance to countries in economic trouble and offers technical assistance to build resilient tax authorities and state institutions. However, critics contend that IMF conditionality has dismantled state institutions and upset public service provision. Hence, does the IMF help prevent state failure through cheap loans and advice on governance, or precipitate state collapse through conditions that sap state capacity and social capital? This project will combine statistical analysis and case studies in several world regions to find out. The results of the project will contribute to the emergent literature on the socio-political outcomes of IMF conditionality.


Project lead

Dr Bernhard Reinsberg (International Relations, University of Glasgow)

Team members

Louis Bujnoch (Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow)

Research associates

Franz Helms (Policy Analyst (Consultant), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

Project Dates

November 2019 – December 2021


Gerda Henkel Foundation (EUR 52,250)


Reinsberg, B., Stubbs, T., & Bujnoch, L. (2022). Structural adjustment, alienation, and mass protestSocial Science Research (doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2022.102777).

Reinsberg, B., Shaw, D. O., & Bujnoch, L. (2022). Revisiting the security-development nexus: Human security and the effects of IMF adjustment programsConflict Management and Peace Science (doi:10.1177/07388942221111064).

Reinsberg, B., Kentikelenis, A., Stubbs, T., & King, L. (2018). The world system and the hollowing-out of state capacity: How structural adjustment programs affect bureaucratic quality in developing countriesAmerican Journal of Sociology, 124(4): 1222-1257.


“Does the International Monetary Fund undermine human security?”, The Loop (ECPR blog) (August 4, 2022)

“75 Jahre Internationaler Währungsfonds: Wie die Ärmsten unter Hilfskrediten leiden“, Interview with Deutschlandfunk Kultur (March 1, 2022)

“Business as Usual or Breaking With the Past? IMF Tax Advice in the Covid-19 Era,” Austaxpolicy: Tax and Transfer Policy Blog (October 4, 2021) 

Ein starker Zusammenhang zwischen IWF-Präsenz und Massendemonstrationen,” LISA Wissenschaftsportal – Gerda-Henkel Stiftung (December 8, 2020) — re-published in Blickpunkt WiSO (December 19, 2020)


Dissemination conference on ‘The political economy of the security-development nexus’ at the University of Glasgow 22 January 2021. 


The Politics & International Relations subject in the School of Social and Political Sciences hosted a virtual conference on ‘The political economy of the security-development nexus’ on 22 January 2021. The conference was part of the research project on ‘The human security implications of IMF programs’, funded by the Gerda Henkel foundation and led by Dr Bernhard Reinsberg.

The conference brought together more than a dozen researchers from international relations, political economy, security studies and related disciplines, as well as policy practitioners (including from the World Bank), with the aim of addressing current research problems at the intersection of development policy and security studies. A key theme of the conference was the apparent misfit between our enhanced theoretical understanding of the security-development nexus and the relative paucity of disaggregated data for related empirical tests.

Presenters covered an impressive range of issues, collectively furthering our understanding of how economic actors affect human security. Contributions to the conference covered economic actors such as the International Monetary Fund, foreign aid donors, and multinational corporations. They provided novel insights on the following questions:

  • Why do non-traditional security actors get involved in security issues? How do they engage and what explains the variation of their engagement patterns?
  • Do the behaviours of economic actors have unintended consequences that undermine human security, for example by setting incentives for local actors to spread fear?
  • Do economic actors help make states more resilient against security threats or do they sap the state capacity needed to combat crime and violent conflict?