Back of Beyond 2
Sgt Stryker links to Foreign Policy's Failed State Index. For most of the 20th century, rivalries between the Great Powers constituted the major threats to peace. But suddenly, as Foreign policy notes, today's greatest threats come from the weakest states in the world.
America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” That was the conclusion of the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy. For a country whose foreign policy in the 20th century was dominated by the struggles against powerful states such as Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union, the U.S. assessment is striking. Nor is the United States alone in diagnosing the problem. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that “ignoring failed states creates problems that sometimes come back to bite us.” French President Jacques Chirac has spoken of “the threat that failed states carry for the world’s equilibrium.” World leaders once worried about who was amassing power; now they worry about the absence of it.
Failed states have made a remarkable odyssey from the periphery to the very center of global politics. During the Cold War, state failure was seen through the prism of superpower conflict and was rarely addressed as a danger in its own right. In the 1990s, “failed states” fell largely into the province of humanitarians and human rights activists, although they did begin to consume the attention of the world’s sole superpower, which led interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. For so-called foreign-policy realists, however, these states and the problems they posed were a distraction from weightier issues of geopolitics.
September 11 demonstrated how potent threats hatched in Failed States had become. And that lesson was followed by Madrid, Bali and London among many others. Foreign Policy attempted to construct a set of indicators which could measure the degree of instability -- and by proxy the degree of danger -- that this chaos represented. They concluded:
Weak states are most prevalent in Africa, but they also appear in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Experts have for years discussed an “arc of instability”—an expression that came into use in the 1970s to refer to a “Muslim Crescent” extending from Afghanistan to the “Stans” in the southern part of the former Soviet Union. Our study suggests that the concept is too narrow. The geography of weak states reveals a territorial expanse that extends from Moscow to Mexico City, far wider than an “arc” would suggest, and not limited to the Muslim world.
Future historians will argue long and hard about how this massive danger so suddenly appeared -- like an asteroid falling from the sky -- after fifty years of continuous political progress. Colonial empires were liquidated; hundreds of flags blossomed in the halls of the United Nations; borders were declared obsolete; armies were described as redundant. There were problems, it's true, but banners proclaimed, "Welcome to the UN. It's your world". The End of History was actually announced. And all of a sudden the danger of Failed States materialized, like a T-Rex, into the circle of light of a General Assembly risen in applause. It wasn't supposed to happen. Not after all the Five Year Development Plans, structural adjustment loans, treaties, protocols. The one probable thing about the origin of this monster is that it was partly the result of the nostrums the world had been induced to drink over the intervening years. None of the many states in the Assembly Hall admitted to being the monster's keeper, but at any rate, there it was.
The Belmont Club's last post, Back of Beyond, described the efforts of the one remaining great power which did not decommission its freedom of action to address the problems in Central Asia, a reaction which some commenters have criticized as "imperial". What is most striking is that action itself in the face of the threat of Failed States has become discredited. The great debate in the West today isn't over what to do, but whether it isn't better to do nothing. There is a considerable body of opinion which argues that if the General Assembly carries on clapping, the monster will head for the nearest exit and never be seen again; or perhaps the monster may be invited to join One World and take its place in the Security Council. As the BBC Program, the Power of Nightmares argues, the danger may be entirely imaginary -- provided we make no sudden moves.
In the past our politicians offered us dreams of a better world. Now they promise to protect us from nightmares. The most frightening of these is the threat of an international terror network. But just as the dreams were not true, neither are these nightmares. In a new series, the Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion. It is a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media. At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. ... Together they created today's nightmare vision of an organised terror network. ...
... There are dangerous and fanatical individuals and groups around the world who have been inspired by extreme Islamist ideas, and who will use the techniques of mass terror - the attacks on America and Madrid make this only too clear. But the nightmare vision of a uniquely powerful hidden organisation waiting to strike our societies is an illusion. Wherever one looks for this al-Qaeda organisation, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the "sleeper cells" in America, the British and Americans are chasing a phantom enemy. But the reason that no-one questions the illusion is because this nightmare enemy gives so many groups new power and influence in a cynical age - and not just politicians.
The one possibility that Foreign Policy doesn't directly explore is whether the West itself is not in some way a failed state: purblind, self-deluding and paralyzed. From its dim past Euripides once warned, "Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad."