When States Fail: Causes and Consequences

When States Fail: Causes and Consequences

by Robert I. Rotberg

Since 1990, more than 10 million people have been killed in the civil wars of failed states, and hundreds of millions more have been deprived of fundamental rights. The threat of terrorism has only heightened the problem posed by failed states. When States Fail is the first book to examine how and why states decay and what, if anything, can be done to

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Since 1990, more than 10 million people have been killed in the civil wars of failed states, and hundreds of millions more have been deprived of fundamental rights. The threat of terrorism has only heightened the problem posed by failed states. When States Fail is the first book to examine how and why states decay and what, if anything, can be done to prevent them from collapsing. It defines and categorizes strong, weak, failing, and collapsed nation-states according to political, social, and economic criteria. And it offers a comprehensive recipe for their reconstruction.

The book comprises fourteen essays by leading scholars and practitioners who help structure this disparate field of research, provide useful empirical descriptions, and offer policy recommendations. Robert Rotberg's substantial opening chapter sets out a theory and taxonomy of state failure. It is followed by two sets of chapters, the first on the nature and correlates of failure, the second on methods of preventing state failure and reconstructing those states that do fail. Economic jump-starting, legal refurbishing, elections, the demobilizing of ex-combatants, and civil society are among the many topics discussed.

All of the essays are previously unpublished. In addition to Rotberg, the contributors include David Carment, Christopher Clapham, Nat J. Colletta, Jeffrey Herbst, Nelson Kasfir, Michael T. Klare, Markus Kostner, Terrence Lyons, Jens Meierhenrich, Daniel N. Posner, Susan Rose-Ackerman, Donald R. Snodgrass, Nicolas van de Walle, Jennifer A. Widner, and Ingo Wiederhofer.

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
The failure of nation-states is nothing new. But in the age of global terrorism, the consequences of state failure for the international order are potentially much more damaging than ever before. This volume brings together experts to explore the problem of weak states in the developing world and to offer ideas about how to strengthen rights and rule. It is most useful in providing a framework for diagnosing the ailments that afflict states in various stages of decay in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: weak states fail to provide key public goods such as security, law, property rights, banks, schools, and hospitals; failed states (Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire, the Taliban's Afghanistan) are characterized by chronic violence, corruption, deteriorating infrastructure, and predatory ruling regimes; and in collapsed states (Lebanon in the 1970s, Somalia in the 1980s, Nigeria and Sierra Leone in the 1990s), rule by the gun wipes away any pretense of public authority.

The authors identify many causes of state failure, but almost all cases are associated with civil violence and the rise of warring nonstate groups flush with revenue from minerals or narcotics. The international community can often help resuscitate failed states by sponsoring elections and committing to long-term security protection. But several contributors warn that, in the worst instances, major powers and the United Nations must be willing to "decertify" failed states while parties disarm and the country is put back together.

Perspectives on Political Science
Rotberg has collected a cadre of renowned scholars who flesh out the political, economic, and social reasons for state failure and provide prescriptions for both prevention and postfailure resuscitation.
— Cameron M. Otopalik
Perspectives on Political Science - Cameron M. Otopalik
Rotberg has collected a cadre of renowned scholars who flesh out the political, economic, and social reasons for state failure and provide prescriptions for both prevention and postfailure resuscitation.
From the Publisher
"Rotberg has collected a cadre of renowned scholars who flesh out the political, economic, and social reasons for state failure and provide prescriptions for both prevention and postfailure resuscitation."—Cameron M. Otopalik, Perspectives on Political Science

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When States Fail

Causes and Consequences
By Robert I. Rotberg

Princeton University Press

Robert I. Rotberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691116725

Chapter One




NATION-STATES FAIL when they are consumed by internal violence and cease delivering positive political goods to their inhabitants. Their governments lose credibility, and the continuing nature of the particular nation-state itself becomes questionable and illegitimate in the hearts and minds of its citizens.

The rise and fall of nation-states is not new, but in a modern era when national states constitute the building blocks of world order, the violent disintegration and palpable weakness of selected African, Asian, Oceanic, and Latin American states threaten the very foundation of that system. International organizations and big powers consequently find themselves sucked disconcertingly into a maelstrom of anomic internal conflict and messy humanitarian relief. Desirable international norms such as stability and predictability become difficult to achieve when so many of the globe's newer nation-states waver precariously between weakness and failure, with some truly failing, and a few even collapsing. In a time of terror awareness, moreover, appreciating the nature of and responding to the dynamics of nation-state failure motivate critical policy debates. How best to understand the nature of weak states, to strengthen those poised on the abyss of failure, and to restore the functionality of failed states, are among the urgent policy questions of the twenty-first century.

This book explores the nature of failure and collapse among developing world nation-states and examines how such faltering or destroyed states may be resuscitated.1 It establishes clear criteria for distinguishing collapse and failure from generic weakness or apparent distress, and collapse from failure. The volume further analyzes the nature of state weakness, and it advances reasons why some weak states succumb to failure, or collapse, and why others in ostensibly more straitened circumstances remain weak and at risk without ever destructing. Characterizing failed states is thus an important and relevant endeavor, especially because the phenomenon of state failure is underresearched, with the literature hitherto marked by imprecise definitions and a paucity of sharply argued, instructive, and well-delineated cases. Further, understanding exactly why weak states slide toward failure will help policymakers to design methods of preventing failure and, in the cases of states that nevertheless fail (or collapse), to revive them and assist in the rebuilding of their nation-states.

States are much more varied in their capacity and capability than they once were. They are more numerous than they were a half century ago, and the range of their population sizes, physical endowments, wealth, productivity, delivery systems, ambitions, and attainments is much more extensive than ever before. In 1914, in the wake of the crumbling of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, there were 55 recognized national polities. In 1919, there were 59 nations. In 1950, that number had reached 69. Ten years later, after the attainment of independence in much of Africa, 90 entities were nations. After many more African, Asian, and Oceanic territories had become independent, and after the implosion of the Soviet Union, the number of nations jumped to 191.2 With East Timor's independence in 2002, that number became 192. With such explosive numbers, the inherent fragility of many of the new recruits (15 of Africa's 54 states are landlocked), and the inherent navigational perils of the post-Cold War economic and political terrain, the possibility of failure among a subset of the total remains ever present.

The Nature of Failure: Performance Criteria

Nation-states exist to provide a decentralized method of delivering political (public) goods to persons living within designated parameters (borders). Having inherited, assumed, or replaced the monarchs of yore, modern states focus and answer the concerns and demands of citizenries. They organize and channel the interests of their people, often but not exclusively in furtherance of national goals and values. They buffer or manipulate external forces and influences, champion the local or particular concerns of their adherents, and mediate between the constraints and challenges of the international arena and the dynamism of their own internal economic, political, and social realities.

States succeed or fail across all or some of these dimensions. But it is according to their performances-according to the levels of their effective delivery of the most crucial political goods-that strong states may be distinguished from weak ones, and weak states from failed or collapsed ones. Political goods are those intangible and hard to quantify claims that citizens once made on sovereigns and now make on states. They encompass indigenous expectations, conceivably obligations, inform the local political culture, and together give content to the social contract between ruler and ruled that is at the core of regime/government and citizenry interactions.3

There is a hierarchy of political goods. None is as critical as the supply of security, especially human security. Individuals alone, almost exclusively in special or particular circumstances, can attempt to make themselves secure. Or groups of individuals can band together to organize and purchase goods or services that maximize their sense of security. Traditionally, and usually, however, individuals and groups cannot easily or effectively substitute privately arranged security for the full spectrum of public-provided security. The state's prime function is to provide that political good of security-to prevent cross-border invasions and infiltrations, and any loss of territory; to eliminate domestic threats to or attacks upon the national order and social structure; to prevent crime and any related dangers to domestic human security; and to enable citizens to resolve their differences with the state and with their fellow inhabitants without recourse to arms or other forms of physical coercion.

The delivery of a range of other desirable political goods becomes possible when a reasonable measure of security has been sustained. Modern states (as successors to sovereigns) provide predictable, recognizable, systematized methods of adjudicating disputes and regulating both the norms and the prevailing mores of a particular society or polity. The essence of that political good usually implies codes and procedures that together comprise an enforceable body of law, security of property and inviolable contracts, an effective judicial system, and a set of norms that legitimate and validate the values embodied in a local version of the rule of law.

Another key political good enables citizens to participate freely, openly, and fully in politics and the political process. This good encompasses the essential freedoms: the right to participate in politics and compete for office; respect and support for national and regional political institutions, such as legislatures and courts; tolerance of dissent and difference; and fundamental civil and human rights.

Other political goods typically supplied by states and expected by their citizenries (although privatized forms are possible) include medical and health care (at varying levels and costs); schools and educational instruction (of various kinds and levels); roads, railways, harbors, and other physical infrastructures-the arteries of commerce; communications networks; a money and banking system, usually presided over by a central bank and lubricated by a nationally created currency; a beneficent fiscal and institutional context within which citizens can pursue personal entrepreneurial goals, and potentially prosper; space for the flowering of civil society; and methods of regulating the sharing of the environmental commons. Together, this bundle of political goods, roughly rank ordered, establishes a set of criteria according to which modern nation-states may be judged strong, weak, or failed.

Strong states obviously perform well across these categories and with respect to each, separately. Weak states show a mixed profile, fulfilling expectations in some areas and performing poorly in others. The more poorly weak states perform, criterion by criterion, the weaker they become and the more that weakness tends to edge toward failure, hence the subcategory of weakness that is termed "failing." Many failed states flunk each of the tests outlined earlier. But they need not flunk all of them to fail overall, particularly since satisfying the security good weighs very heavily, and high levels of internal violence are associated directly with failure and the propensity to fail. Yet, violence alone does not condition failure, and the absence of violence does not necessarily imply that the state in question is unfailed. It is necessary to judge the extent to which an entire failing or failed profile is less or more than its component parts.

Strong states unquestionably control their territories and deliver a full range and a high quality of political goods to their citizens. They perform well according to indicators like GDP per capita, the UNDP Human Development Index, Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, and Freedom House's Freedom of the World Report. Strong states offer high levels of security from political and criminal violence, ensure political freedom and civil liberties, and create environments conducive to the growth of economic opportunity. The rule of law prevails. Judges are independent. Road networks are well maintained. Telephones work. Snail mail and e-mail both arrive quickly. Schools, universities, and students flourish. Hospitals and clinics serve patients effectively. And so on. Overall, strong states are places of enviable peace and order.

Weak states (broadly, states in crisis) include a broad continuum of states: they may be inherently weak because of geographical, physical, or fundamental economic constraints; or they may be basically strong, but temporarily or situationally weak because of internal antagonisms, management flaws, greed, despotism, or external attacks. Weak states typically harbor ethnic, religious, linguistic, or other intercommunal tensions that have not yet, or not yet thoroughly, become overtly violent. Urban crime rates tend to be high and increasing. In weak states, the ability to provide adequate amounts of other political goods is diminished or is diminishing. Physical infrastructural networks are deteriorated. Schools and hospitals show signs of neglect, particularly outside the main cities. GDP per capita and other critical economic indicators have fallen or are falling, sometimes dramatically; levels of venal corruption are embarrassingly high and escalating. Weak states usually honor rule of law precepts in the breach. They harass civil society. Weak states are often ruled by despots, elected or not.

There is a special category of weak state: the seemingly strong one, always an autocracy, which rigidly controls dissent and is secure but at the same time provides very few political goods.4 In extreme cases, such as North Korea, the regime permits its people to starve. Cambodia under Pol Pot and Iraq under Saddam Hussein also qualify, as do contemporary Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Libya. Across recent times, the list of states that are fundamentally weak but appear strong is even more extensive.

Failed and Collapsed States

Failed states are tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous, and contested bitterly by warring factions. In most failed states, government troops battle armed revolts led by one or more rivals. Occasionally, the official authorities in a failed state face two or more insurgencies, varieties of civil unrest, different degrees of communal discontent, and a plethora of dissent directed at the state and at groups within the state.5

It is not the absolute intensity of violence that identifies a failed state. Rather, it is the enduring character of that violence (as in recent Angola, Burundi, and the Sudan), the consuming quality of that violence, which engulfs great swaths of states (as in Afghanistan, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo-DRC-Liberia, and Sierra Leone), the fact that much of the violence is directed against the existing government or regime, and the inflamed character of the political or geographical demands for shared power or autonomy that rationalize or justify the violence in the minds of the main insurgents.

The civil wars that characterize failed states usually stem from or have roots in ethnic, religious, linguistic, or other intercommunal enmity. The fear of the other (and the consequent security dilemma) that drives so much ethnic conflict stimulates and fuels hostilities between regimes and subordinate and less-favored groups. Avarice also propels that antagonism, especially when greed is magnified by dreams of loot from discoveries of new, contested, pools of resource wealth such as petroleum deposits, diamond fields, other minerals, or fast-denuded forests.6

There is no failed state (broadly, a state in anarchy) without disharmonies between communities. Yet, the simple fact that many weak nation-states include haves and have-nots, and that some of the newer states contain a heterogeneous array of ethnic, religious, and linguistic interests, is more a contributor to, than a root cause of, nation-state failure. State failure cannot be ascribed primarily to the inability to build nations from a congeries of groups of diverse backgrounds.7 Nor should it be ascribed baldly to the oppression of minorities by a majority, although such brutalities are often a major ingredient of the impulse toward failure.

In most failed states, regimes prey on their own constituents. Driven by ethnic or other intercommunal hostility, or by the governing elite's insecurities, they victimize their own citizens or some subset of the whole that is regarded as hostile. As in Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire or the Taliban's Afghanistan, ruling cadres increasingly oppress, extort, and harass the majority of their own compatriots while privileging a more narrowly based party, clan, or sect. As in Zaire, Angola, Siaka Stevens' Sierra Leone, or pre-2001 Sudan, patrimonial rule depends on a patronage-based system of extraction from ordinary citizens. The typical weak state plunges toward failure when this kind of ruler-led oppression provokes a countervailing reaction on the part of resentful groups or newly emerged rebels.

In contrast to strong states, failed states cannot control their peripheral regions, especially those regions occupied by out-groups. They lose authority over large sections of territory. Often, the expression of official power is limited to a capital city and to one or more ethnically specific zones.


Excerpted from When States Fail by Robert I. Rotberg Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Raimo Vayrynen
The contributions to this volume are well-written studies that meet quite demanding criteria of scholarship. They provide coherent analysis on the causes and indicators of state failure as well as the repair of failing or failed states.
Raimo Vayrynen, University of Notre Dame and University of Helsinki
I. William Zartman
A fine collection of papers on state failure and rebuilding. There is not a weak contribution in the lot. There is much in this book to enrich the debate on the topic and its various aspects.
I. William Zartman, Johns Hopkins University, author of "Ripe for Resolution" and editor of "Collapsed States"

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