Failed states serve as a catalyst to non-state terrorist networks. They provide locations for critical face-to-face meetings/training that create the lifelong bonds of trust necessary for the smooth operation of covert networks (see, "Mapping Terrorist Networks" for more). They are also excellent conduits for transnational crime (drug and human trafficking primarily) that fund ongoing operations. However, an exact definition of what a failed state is and how they become failed states is fuzzy. As part of the CIA's National Intelligence Council's 2020 project, Robert Rotberg submits a paper, "Nation-State Failure: A Recurring Problem" (PDF) which provides more definition to the debate.
Delivering the goods
Nation-state success can be measured by its ability to deliver political goods. Here is his hierarchy of political goods:
- Security. The is the state's primary function. It provides a framework through which all other political goods can be delivered.
- Law. A system of codes and proceedures which regulate the interactions of the population and sets the standards for conduct.
- Medical and Health care.
- Schools and Educational Instruction.
- Critical infrastructure.
- A money and banking system.
- A business environment.
- A forum for civil society.
- A method of regulating environmental commons.
A taxonomy of success and failure
He proposes the following more descriptive taxonomy of the health of states (based on their ability to deliver the political goods described above) than the current bi-polar model:
- Strong States are in full control of their territories and provide high quality political goods to their citizens. The perform well in GDP per capita (and the growth of this), the UNDP's Human Development Index, Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, and Freedom's House Freedom of the World Report.
- Weak States contain ethnic, religious, linguistic, or other tensions that limit or decrease its ability to deliver political goods. These conflicts are on the edge of exploding into open conflict. GDP per capita has fallen or falling. Interestingly, the privatization of education and health care is a sign of state weakness. Corruption is common. The rule of law is weakly applied. Despots rule. Examples: Iraq (under Saddam), Belarus, N. Korea, and Libya.
- Failed States provide very little political goods. The forfeit the distribution of political goods to warlords or non-state actors (ie. Hamas). Security is non-existant in all but the major cities (if that). The economic infrastructure has failed, the health care system is in decline, and the educational system is in shambles. GDP per capita is in a precipitous decline, inflation soars, corruption flourishes, and food shortages are frequent. Failed states often have a very rich minority that take advantage of the failed system. Examples: Nepal, Congo, Liberia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
- Collapsed States are failed states with a complete vacuum of authority (rare). They are black holes in regards to all indicators of health. Collapsed states can become failed states with intervention. Historical examples: Lebanon, Tajikistan, and Sierra Leone.
How to prevent the decline of nation-states
Obviously, it is much less expensive to stop a state from failing than to reconstruct it after it has failed or collapsed. Western policy is almost exclusively focused on failed states within strategic regions at the expense of weak states on the brink of failure. For example: the money spent on Iraq and Afghanistan is two orders of magnitude more than the US spends on help for weak states. Those efforts aimed at weak states have been mostly ceded to financial institutions (banks and funds) that either focus their efforts on either profit (returns from loans) or export expansion (for western producers, particularly agriculture). If we ever do get to a failure prevention strategy, the effort should focus on the following:
- Rewards for democratization. Repression is often a sign of impending collapse (although it can stabilize a state in a weak state for extended periods -- Iraq, Iran, N. Korea, and others are examples). A system of rewards and punishment that leads a state to less repression can help to prevent state failure.
- Rapid economic decline. Financial shocks can cause a state to fail (ie. a rapid oil price increase). Rapid intervention to alleviate this economic situation can help a weak state survive failure. This process needs to be formalized.
- Security. Timely security support can help a state from losing control of its borders and prevent the rise of non-state actors. A good way to accomplish this is to fund an organization that can contract private security forces (from an ala carte menu of firms with different capabilities) for service in a weak state with control problems.