Posted by: bklunk | September 13, 2006

What Do You Have to Do to Make This List?

Understanding the Issue of Failed States

What defines a failed state?  Does one determine a failed state due to their economic or political inadequacy, or is there more to it than just people and money? The Global Policy Forum defines a failed state as: one that “can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty.” As a result, these failing nations face the threat of ultimate collapse, which not only has a direct effect on the citizens of that nation, but on international relations as a whole.

The U.S. Foreign Policy Magazine has named the top ten failed states (2006) as:
1. Sudan                 6. Chad     
2. DR Congo          7. Somalia
3. Ivory Coast         8. Haiti
4. Iraq                     9. Pakistan
5. Zimbabwe          10. Afghanistan

All of these states differentiate in history, culture, and events that led to their label as a “failed state,” yet they also share common trends. Long term internal conflict within the nation, lack of economic progress, and disregard for human rights are all major contributing factors that break down a state.

Recently foreign policy makers have determined that the issue of failing states plays a significant role in international relations. By understanding the weaknesses of a failed state, one can prevent terrorist and drug activity, which usually result from helpless nations under seige of: dictators, economic failure, and endless war.

What annually strikes me about the Foreign Policy list is the number of barely functioning states that don’t make the list.  The “Top Ten” here may only be the tip of the proverbial icegberg.

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Responses

  1. I agree with the definition of the failed state as defined by The Global Policy Forum for the most part, but I also believe that having the ability to attain the means and resources to support the economy and feed citizens ought to be important details in a “successful” state. Without the resources as a support, a state should be considered “failed,” or else it would be in a good position to potentially fail. If the state is depending upon another to provide the resources that it needs, then it will surely fail if/when the provider can no longer give the state what it needs. It is dangerous to be dependent upon others instead of self-sufficient because it would be so easy to get dragged down with the state it depends upon. Secondly, having the means to support the health of a state’s citizens (in terms of food) ought to be a top priority on the list of the “successful” state qualities because this means that the state can avoid affects of malnourishment and starvation. The poverty does touch on this, but it is important to note that if there are starving individuals and people dying from being without food, there would be nobody to run the state, educate, etc. That is why I believe those two points are very important. Also, I find it very sad that the list is the “top ten” failed states… that only accentuates the fact that there are so many countries with serious problems like the ones stated here.

  2. I definitely agree with Kristen Chang. I think that the definition falls a little short. There are some absolute resources needed for the survival of a state, and that does include proper resources to support the economy, feed its citizens ultimately leading to the ability to actually support the states system. However, I do not think that even a “failed state” would ever fall so low as to have leader undergoing starvation.

    Maybe the possibility of having different levels within the deifnition of a “failed state” could better place each state solely in proper categories. And most certainly every counrty has at least one detrimental issue that is much worse than in any other country. The grass is not always greener.

    In agreement with Kristen Chang, each state must have its own sufficient infrastructure that allows for it to be successful independently of any external support. However, I do not think that having aid taken away from any country receiving it would necessarily cause it to fall into the “failed state” category because in one way or another each country must receive help from another country in order to maintain a better flowing international system.

  3. I too agree with the previous replies regarding the definition of a failed state. However, I wish to take up another issue with the original comment. In the last portion of the paragraph, the author talks about failed states in regards to terrorism. Although I do agree that terrorists/terrorism does and can arise withiin failed states due to their political and economic instability, I don’t necessarily believe that we can prevent terrorism and drug activity simply by understanding the failed state. For the example of drug activity, I would question how these states are able to have such a market. The answer, I feel, is quite simple: they rely on outer sources to buy/trade drugs to keep the activity going and often times, those who are receiving the drugs are not failed states, but quite affluent ones. Afghanistan is a prime example of a so-called failed state that is “exporting” drugs. In fact, it is now believed that within the coming year, the United States will be the largest “importer” of opium and other drugs from this country. Cleary, the U.S. would not be considered a failed state. So, before one points the finger at the failed states and accuses them of being the cause for all of the strife, perhaps it would do some good if we looked at the infrastructure and situations within the states that seem to be the most well-off. Often, however inadvertently, the wealthiest states are enablers of many serious problems.

  4. I too agree with the previous replies regarding the definition of a failed state. However, I wish to take up another issue with the original comment. In the last portion of the paragraph, the author talks about failed states in regards to terrorism. Although I do agree that terrorists/terrorism does and can arise withiin failed states due to their political and economic instability, I don’t necessarily believe that we can prevent terrorism and drug activity simply by understanding the failed state. For the example of drug activity, I would question how these states are able to have such a market. The answer, I feel, is quite simple: they rely on outer sources to buy/trade drugs to keep the activity going and often times, those who are receiving the drugs are not failed states, but quite affluent ones. Afghanistan is a prime example of a so-called failed state that is “exporting” drugs. In fact, it is now believed that within the coming year, the United States will be the largest “importer” of opium and other drugs from this country. Clearly, the U.S. would not be considered a failed state. So, before one points the finger at the failed states and accuses them of being the cause for all of the strife, perhaps it would do some good if we looked at the infrastructure and situations within the states that seem to be the most well-off. Often, however inadvertently, the wealthiest states are enablers of many serious problems.

  5. I find this conversation intriguing, but one part that is missing is that Foreign Policy did more than simply arbitrarily assign labels to these states. I recommend going to this website:

    This is Foreign Policy’s table where they show there are more than just those 10 failed states. In fact, they show 60 states ranked based on 12 categories that according to the website, “highlight the 12 political, economic, military, and social indicators of instability.” Very interesting table, I would love to hear everyone’s reaction!

  6. sorry, here is the website:
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3100

  7. I think everyone who has commented so far has done a great job in defining various points (whether or not they were mentioned in the first post) of a “failed state.” Although I wasn’t able to access the last website provided, it is good to know that there is more to the failed states list than simply the labels assigned.

    I think Angela made a great point in noting that a sometimes the wealthy states are enablers of the very processes that cause the state to falter (i.e. drug sales). However, I think the effects of terrorism may be underestimated in terms of how much it can hurt a state’s ability to prosper. Angela notes that terrorism can arise in a state due to weak economy and politics, but we should also acknowledge how terrorism could be the key factor that actually causes economic and political instability which leads to a failed state. If people are so divided in a state, and so afraid of taking action for fear of being the victim of terrorism this would surely be a key factor in the decline of a state. How are people to try and work together or take action to improve things when others are so extreme as to make every person fear for their life? And perhaps, terrorism is not the problem in all states, but I do believe it is a major issue in some.

  8. I agree with the Global Policy Formum’s definition of a failed state. They state a failed state is: one that “can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty.” But lack of Government, educatation and security in itself causes violence and extreme poverty. It should not only be that state’s problem but a global problem. I think that other state’s should help build up a failed state or prevent a state from failing. I think this because violence and extreme proverty are dangerous to all states. These are breeding grounds for Terrorism. Helping a failed state and building up thier economy can also help your own. In the future you can trade with this state. Helping a state can will build connections and in turn, an ally. Bklunk was right by saying “By understanding the weaknesses of a failed state, one can prevent terrorist and drug activity, which usually result from helpless nations under seige of: dictators, economic failure, and endless war.” but we should not only understand the weakness of a failed state we should try to make the weakness into strength.

  9. The first emotion that struck me when I read this was just how sad this whole thing is..to be called a “failed state”. By living in a nation deemed super power, with a growing economy it is so hard to imagine how these countries could have missed it so bad? Was it luck that our country got involved in the world economy when we did? How come our country industrialized and others did not? The other thing is, if a state is failing, at what point have they completly failed or what are the chances that they will get their feet underneath them?

  10. First, I would like to say that I agree with most of the comments posted regarding the issue of failed states, but there are a few things I would like to address. I agree with Kristi on emphasizing the significance of the relation between failed states and terrorism. Although they may not be directly related, it is a cause and effect process that can ultimately affect the international world. For example, in class Pols51 today, Professor Klunk was talking about the consequences of World War I and how it created the fall of many empires, including the Ottoman Empire. This led Europe to make and break borders creating the modern Middle East. Although this is a very remote cause of the international crisis of terrorism, its roots can still be found in this event, causing internal conflict between various nations, races, and religions. Therefore demonstrating that the birth of a failed state begins with internal turmoil, leading to lack of social or economic progress. So, in many ways this goes back to what Angela was saying about how all the blame cannot be put on failed nations, but other states that may have unintentionally caused or fed the continuation of other nations’ demise.

  11. I also find it interesting that Iraq is on the list as of 2006. Obviously Iraq had problems with human rights and a weak economy before the war, but we have had control of Iraq for several years now and it is still unable to provide the basic necessities, some of which it could produce before the war! It wasn’t until the U.S. led invasion that Iraq reached its current level of fractious violence and extreme poverty either. If this is the case then is the U.S. partly to blame for Iraq’s current status as a “failed state?”

  12. Branching off of Steve W’s comment on surprising countries in the top 10, Pakistan is one of the countries that caught my eye. Pakistan being a country that the U.S. seems to notice yet not really care about so much as it does it’s “axis of evil countries”. If Pakistan is a country that has, and is readily willing to use nuclear weapons as it did during it’s most recent spat with India then shouldn’t it be listed as a greater threat to our national security then countries like Iran, and N. Korea, two countries that have shown no realistic proof of having nuclear weapons. It seems that the combination of instability, and weapons of mass destruction would put Pakistan on our list of number 1 most threatening countries to national security, instead of the current holder, Iran. Iran it seems to me would be equal to Pakistan in terms of security threats to the nation if it were to develop nuclear weapons, which it hasn’t even begun to do.
    Iran in contrast with Pakistan has had no real contact with al-qaeda, and while Iran does support Hezbollah, Hezbollah has yet to attack the U.S. directly, as al-qaeda has done numerous times. Pakistan a country that has allowed Taliban, and al-qaeda members, including possibly public enemy #1 Osama Bin-Laden into the country, could with a revolution similar to the one in Iran in the early 80’s see the country become over-run with the same Islamic radicals the U.S. fears so much.


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