The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands was conceived in the ‘state-building moment’ that informed Western responses to ‘state failure’ over the past two decades. That moment has Now passed with renewed fiscal austerity, growing scepticism with interventionism, and shifts in Australia’s regional policy priorities. The decade-long mission, which has recently begun to drawdown, was successful in restoring security to Solomons but less so in its more ambitious state-building efforts. Among the key constraints has been the mission’s inability to influence a more inclusive political settlement. We highlight inherent tensions between instrumentalised approaches to state building and more organic processes of state formation. Looking forward, we consider how external assistance can contribute to state formation while retaining a focus on the ‘life support’ objectives of state building. We sketch some possibilities for hybrid forms of institutional development that might combine strengths from both local and liberal orders.