South Asia's Weak States: Understanding the Regional Insecurity Predicament

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South Asia, which consists of eight states of different sizes and capabilities, is characterized by high levels of insecurity at the inter-state, intra-state, and human level: insecurity that is manifest in both traditional and non-traditional security problems—especially transnational terrorism fuelled by militant religious ideologies.

To explain what has caused and contributed to the perpetual insecurity and human suffering in the region, this book engages scholars of international relations, comparative politics, historical sociology, and economic development, among others, to reveal and analyze the key underlying and proximate drivers. It argues that the problems are driven largely by two critical variables: the presence of weak states and weak cooperative interstate norms.

Based on this analysis and the conclusions drawn, the book recommends specific policies for making the region secure and for developing the long lasting inter- and intra-state cooperative mechanisms necessary for the perpetuation of that security.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This timely book helps explain why South Asia suffers from such high levels of domestic and regional insecurity . . . South Asia's Weak States makes an admirable contribution. It diagnoses South Asia's problems through a strong set of conceptual and historical studies."—John Ciorciari, Perspectives on Politics

"After being preoccupied with great powers for centuries, we are now attempting to come to grips with weak and failed states and their significance to regional politics. By providing a number of perspectives on weaker states in South Asia, this volume contributes to our improved understanding."—William R. Thompson, Donald A. Rogers Professor of Political Science, Indiana University

"Most discussions of South Asia focus on the region's growing strength and promise. This volume performs a valuable service in tempering that optimism. It reminds us that, despite important advances, South Asia remains plagued by insecurity, from the state to the human level. In doing so, the volume makes a useful contribution to regional as well as to broader literatures, drawing lessons that can apply to weak states elsewhere in the world."—S. Paul Kapur, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804762205
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

T. V. Paul is Director of the McGill University/Université de Montreal Centre for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS) and James McGill Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

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Table of Contents


Tables and Figures....................ix
1 State Capacity and South Asia's Perennial insecurity Problems T. V. Paul....................3
2 State Failure and States Poised to Fail: South Asia and Developing Nations Robert I. Rotberg....................31
3 State Formation, Consolidation, and the Security Challenge: exploring the Causes of State incapacity in South Asia Matthew Lange....................51
4 State, Nations, and the Regional Security order of South Asia Benjamin Miller....................74
5 Economic Globalization and State Capacity in South Asia Baldev Raj Nayar....................98
6 Symbiosis and Fracture: Civil Society and Weak States in South Asia Mustapha Kamal Pasha....................122
7 Polity, Security, and Foreign Policy in Contemporary India David Malone and Rohan Mukherjee....................147
8 Weak State, Failed State, Garrison State: the Pakistan Saga Lawrence Ziring....................170
9 Afghanistan: A Weak State in the Path of Power Rivalries Rasul Bakhsh Rais....................195
10 Sri Lanka: Challenges in State Consolidation and Minority integration Sankaran Krishna....................220
11 Bangladesh: "A Weak State" with Multiple Security Challenges Ali Riaz....................241
12 Rebellion and State Formation in Nepal: implications for South Asian Security Maya Chadda....................265
13 transforming South Asia: is a Pluralistic Security Community Feasible? T. V. Paul and Theodore McLauchlin....................293
Author Biographies....................313
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First Chapter


Understanding the Regional Insecurity Predicament

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6220-5

Chapter One

State Capacity and South Asia's Perennial insecurity Problems T. V. Paul

South Asia, which consists of eight states of different sizes and capabilities, is characterized by high levels of insecurity in inter state, intrastate, and human dimensions. Although most emerged as independent nations in the 1940s, the states in the region have not yet been able to settle their several conflicts—internal and external—while some have become the epicenters of both traditional and non-traditional security problems, especially transnational terrorism fueled by militant religious ideologies. The region also has not developed adequate institutional mechanisms and normative frameworks for solving its myriad security challenges collectively and nonviolently. One result of this is that even when some conflicts are resolved, others emerge in their place, often leading to the continuation of the cycle of violence in other parts of the region.

What explains the chronic insecurity of South Asia? A large set of variables have been presented in the literature for this multifaceted insecurity problem. They include: 1. irreconcilable national identities; 2. lack of political development (i.e., the absence of proper democratic institutions and procedures); 3. weak economies; 4. unsettled territorial disputes; and 5. lack of regional institutions. While these factors can explain a great amount of the chronic insecurity of the region, especially at the interstate level, we still lack a compelling explanation that can cover substantial ground for the perpetual multidimensional insecurity of South Asia. Most of the literature on South Asian security deals with interstate dimensions; there has been a somewhat excessive focus on the India-Pakistan rivalry and, in recent years, the nuclear relationship that has emerged between the two states. As a result, scholarly and policy studies of the region's security problem do not treat it in a way that captures its multidimensionality or the relationship between internal, interstate, and human security dimensions.

I argue that South Asia's multidimensional insecurity can be explained largely by two critical factors: the presence of weak states and weak cooperative interstate norms. Both state capacity and weak cooperative norms act largely as intervening variables in causing regional insecurity, as they themselves may be caused by other underlying factors, which I do not cover in this chapter. Other chapters in this volume treat more closely the underlying factors for the weak state syndrome, such as difficulties with state formation and state consolidation in South Asia. It should be noted that state strength alone need not alleviate interstate insecurities, but in some instances it may exacerbate them. Hence, the need for states that observe norms of cooperation, nonintervention and territorial integrity is all the more important for regional security. Moreover, state capacity becomes very crucial in dealing with internal security challenges, which tend to generate interstate conflicts, especially in South Asia.

Various estimates of state capacity place South Asian states among the weakest states globally. For instance, five of the South Asian states have entered the twenty-five weakest states in an annual index of 120 countries published by Foreign Policy magazine since 2006. These states—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka—carry considerable conflicts internally and spillover effects externally.

The region also has weak norms of cooperative behavior. These norms or standards of behavior—often developed through institutional arrangements, as in the case of states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—could provide a compensatory mechanism for preventing violent conflicts even among weak states. In South Asia, what is noticeable is a paucity of nonintervention norms. In other words, the states in the region are not often willing to live by the imperatives of the territorial status quo, as they exhibit characteristics of revisionism to varying degrees. Moreover, internally, states tend not to have highly effective mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of conflicts through democratic means, generating opportunities for disgruntled groups to engage in violent conflicts that are also tempting targets for external intervention. Nevertheless, states in South Asia are exceptionally sensitive to the norms of sovereignty and sovereign equality, even when they do not fully believe in respecting the sovereignty of their neighbors.

What is a Weak State?

Before discussing weak states, it is important to examine state capacity, a topic that has received considerable attention in the sociology and comparative politics literatures. I define state capacity as "the ability of a state to develop and implement policies in order to provide collective goods such as security, order, and welfare to its citizens in a legitimate and effective manner untrammeled by internal or external actors." This definition modifies a view of a coercive state as a strong state by adding welfare and legitimacy factors into the mix of attributes for determining capacity. In the contemporary world, a proper democratic system may be essential for a state to have legitimacy. This definition draws from the existing scholarship on the subject.

At the most general level, a weak state is a state low in capacity, defined in terms of its ability to carry out its objectives with adequate societal support. Since this definition draws together characteristics of the state apparatus itself and its relationship to societal actors, scholars have identified many different phenomena that indicate the general concept of capacity. According to Robert Rotberg, a weak state suffers from deficiencies in the areas of (a) security (i.e., the state security forces, both military and police, are unable to provide basic security to all citizens in a legitimate and effective manner); (b) participation (open participation is limited as elections, if they take place at all, may not be fair and impartial); and (c) infrastructure (the physical infrastructure of the state is in very poor condition while health and literacy are accorded low levels of national priority). A weak state, according to Kal Holsti, suffers from low levels or the absence of "vertical" and "horizontal" legitimacy. The former implies that "substantial segments of the population do not accord the state or its rulers loyalty." The result is that the decisions and decrees of state rulers do not elicit "habitual compliance." An absence of horizontal legitimacy refers to the definition and political role of the community; that is, there is "no single community whose members, metaphorically speaking, have signed a social contract among themselves. Instead, there are numerous communities and categories that shape the nature of politics and authority structures."

A weak state by its very nature is unable to provide sufficient levels of protection to all its citizens. Sometimes political or military elites have the wherewithal to acquire wealth and develop capacity in some kinds of coercive instruments. But the ruling elite often lacks legitimate authority and control in much of the country and frequently will have to engage in brute force to suppress dissidence among disenchanted ethnic or political groups. Possessing some capacity distinguishes this kind of situation from one in which the central government has no coercive resources at all. But this suppression neither creates peace nor increases the support base of the regime. The absence of legitimacy and the full allegiance of population are major chronic challenges that a weak state would face.

The characterization of weakness has to be seen in relative terms, as most states have some elements of strength. A state may be weak in some areas while in others it may show relative strength. That is why not all weak states are "failed states." For instance, Pakistan has a fairly strong army for waging external wars, and to that extent it is able to provide a measure of security to its citizens against external threats, particularly vis-à-vis India, but it is weak in almost all other aspects of state strength. Moreover, we frequently find the pattern that a state has a modicum of coercive resources but lacks the ability to provide welfare and the legitimacy required for long-run stability—a kind of "strength" that "is ultimately based on fear, force, and coercion rather than on consent or voluntary compliance. It therefore suffers from a legitimacy deficit."

A Typology of Weak States

Based on the above discussion, four types of weak states can be identified for the South Asian region: failed states, very weak states, weak states, and strong weak states.

Failed State:

This is a state that has failed in all crucial aspects of state strength: security, welfare, and legitimacy. Such a state may have limited control over the territory it contains. It depends heavily on foreign financial and military support for its daily existence. Afghanistan is the closest case in South Asia, as it survives largely through external support and has limited or no control over vast chunks of its territory.

Very Weak (Fragile) State:

Such a state has somewhat better control over its territory, but this control is tenuous, especially since it is coupled with a lack of legitimacy and an inability to provide welfare. In South Asia, Nepal comes closest to this category.

Weak State:

The weak state may be weak in legitimacy, welfare, and ultimately security, but it has substantial coercive power. Due to its lopsided coercive capacity, it would use force to suppress internal dissidence but in the end not become much stronger. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh come under this category.

Strong-Weak State:

The state is strong in several aspects, especially in its legitimacy and control over most parts of the country. It is weak in terms of its ability to provide welfare and internal security. However, over time such a state exhibits the highest prospects for emerging as a strong state, given its advantages in legitimacy. India typifies such a state in South Asia.

* * *

These categories are only for analytical purposes, and they need not capture all the nuances in assessing state strength. A state could move periodically from a very weak to a weak category and return to the former subsequently. The crucial point here is that all states in South Asia are weak in many dimensions of state strength and that the relationship between state capacity and security, broadly conceived, is complex and multidimensional.

How Weak States Affect Security: Causal Linkages

Weak states contribute to insecurity in multiple ways. It would be circular to define state weakness in terms of an inability to provide security and then see state weakness as a cause of insecurity. But a focus on state weakness helps bring out some interesting dimensions of insecurity challenges. In particular, weak states can face dilemmas in seeking to become strong, and state weakness sets up complex, multidimensional security challenges. First, weak states cannot often face internal security threats effectively, as they have poorly developed police and internal security forces. Facing a "state-strength dilemma," rulers of these states attempt to increase their capabilities and presence, which "generates resistance that weakens the state. In attempts to overcome resistance, governments rely on coercive measures against local power centers of various types, as well as against communal/religious/ethic groups." Moreover, weak states have limited national institutional capacity to tackle security challenges effectively. This generates personalist and ad hoc approaches to security threats, especially internal ones.

Second, secessionist and irredentist groups tend to operate from weak states and threaten the security and integrity of neighboring states. In such contexts, irredentism, which may combine with secessionism, is especially a problem, given that the same ethnic group may inhabit two neighboring states, and their allegiance to one or both states is often questionable. Insurgents and terrorist groups could be tacitly or openly promoted by state elites or leaders of ethnic groups sympathetic to the cause of their co-nationals.

Third, regimes in weak states sometimes externalize internal conflicts to strengthen their domestic positions. The expectation is that diversionary wars or crises would distract popular attention from internal economic, social, and political problems while bringing legitimacy to the regime that engages in such activities. This would be supported by military, bureaucratic, and political institutions that thrive on such conflicts. Engaging in external conflict can also allow a state to successfully pander to key interest groups. The actions they undertake would create negative security externalities or spillover effects for others, causing intensified security dilemmas not only in the traditional area of military security but in nontraditional domains such as human security.

Finally, weak states offer fertile grounds for external powers, especially major powers, to meddle in their regions either as coalition partners or as sympathizers to antagonistic internal groups. The pathologies and behavioral attributes of weak states thus generate regional insecurity at the interstate, intrastate, and human dimensions.

How does South Asia fit into this characterization of weak states' insecurity dilemma? Before addressing this issue, I examine the chief characteristics of the South Asian region.

South Asian Subsystem Characteristics

A region is a geographical cluster of states that are proximate to each other and thus are interconnected in spatial and cultural terms. This interconnectedness may manifest itself in strong security and, in some instances, economic ties. William R. Thompson defines a region as "a set of countries that are or perceive themselves to be politically interdependent," or as "patterns of relations or interactions within a geographic area that exhibit a particular degree of regularity and intensity to the extent that a change at one point in the system affects another point." The states in a system thus interact regularly in a variety of ways, creating patterns of intricate relationships. David Lake defines a regional system as "a set of states affected by at least one transborder but local externality that emanates from a particular geographic area. If the local externality poses an actual or potential threat to the physical safety of individuals or governments in other states, it produces a regional security system or complex." A regional subsystem has also been said to generate a set of "security complexes" which "rest, for the most part, on the interdependence of rivalry rather than on the interdependence of shared interests."

The definitions of region and regional security complex that rely exclusively on states suffer from problems, as they tend to offer very traditional approaches to the understanding of a regional subsystem. The main focus in such analyses is the interactions among states in an anarchic system, where the assumption is that states are the pivotal actors and have the capacity to engage in intense competition or rivalry. However, a regional subsystem can include both state- and societal-level interactions and insecurities. Employing the lens of the state to view all the security problems of a given region may fail to capture the independent role of nonstate actors as players in security affairs.

Despite this major problem, the scholarship on regional subsystems has relevance to South Asia. Conflict and cooperation patterns in the regional subsystem may be a reflection of the particular interdependencies and externalities of the interconnected states as well as societal groups. The South Asian region has some subsystemic characteristics as well as different clusters of relationships that cannot be placed neatly under a systemic framework. Most of the South Asian states emerged in the decolonization era, and the two principal actors—India and Pakistan—underwent a bloody partition during that process. Although variations can be seen in the levels of state capacity (India with the highest and Afghanistan the lowest), almost all of the eight countries of South Asia are weak states with strong societies. They all have experienced difficulties with state formation and consolidation. State and nation are incongruent in these countries.


Excerpted from SOUTH ASIA'S WEAK STATES Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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