The Sad State of the World
Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, East Timor. Four states currently in the headlines the most worrying thing about which -- apart from that each has a Western presence which may continue for years -- is that they may be joined by other countries jolted into collapse by any unpredictable crisis. A huge natural disaster, epidemic or internal conflict could precipitate many of the countries referred to as "failed states" into complete collapse. For two successive years (2005, 2006) Foreign Policy has listed the 'most failed' states based on twelve indicators which attempt to measure the degree to which each has broken down. The 28 worst states in the 2006 list is shown below.
|3||Cote d'Ivoire||17||Sierra Leone|
|13||Central African Republic||27||Colombia|
Leo Tolstoy wrote that "all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The Foreign Policy list of 'most failed' states for 2006 (hardly changed for 2005) suggests that Tolstoy's observation applies to countries as well. North America, Western Europe and Japan are functionally similar but each failing state fails in its own way. Some failing states, like Haiti, have no natural wealth, while Iraq and the Congo sit on a fortune in mineral riches. Many are technologically backward but two -- Pakistan and North Korea -- are nuclear or near-nuclear powers. Some, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Sudan are part of Islam's "bloody borders". Others, like North Korea and Cuba (number 62) are Cold War relics which somehow escaped the extinction of socialist states, but for how long no one knows.
One problem with the Foreign Policy list of failing states is that it does not factor the geopolitical significance of each state -- from the perspective of the West -- into its rankings. If it did then the failed states of greatest concern would be those which intersect the axis of the Global War on Terror (Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc); involve nuclear weapons (Pakistan, North Korea) or are geographically close to the major Western countries (East Timor [unrated], Solomons [unrated], Indonesia  for Australia; Mexico  and Cuba  for the US). If the Failed State problem were viewed less as a humanitarian challenge and more as gigantic politico-military problem then they would be less a fit subject for aid agencies and more the stuff of serious diplomatic and military strategy. But it will be difficult to persuade diplomats and soldiers to acknowledge that it falls within their competence. Diplomats are used to dealing with governments; not the absence of functioning governments. Soldiers are accustomed to defeating rival armies; not facing armed chaos. Diplomats don't do tribal conflicts and armies have no manual for dealing with swarms of kidnappers. Failing states constitute a problem for which the West has not yet evolved an appropriate organizational response.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, East Timor -- the four countries currently in the headlines -- illustrate in their own ways the shortcomings of the traditional responses. Where the West has responded with armies, namely in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor, those armies have lacked persistence (the ability to be sustainably deployed over long periods) and key non-military capabilities (language skills and economic development capacity). While armies have improvised (by restructuring themselves for multiyear deployments, acquiring language capabilities, grafting civic action capabilities onto their base configuration, etc) they are not natural for the task in the way that a chainsaw is not a natural tool for hammering nails into wood. Similarly, the Sri Lankan crisis demonstrates the inadequacy of "peacekeeping" and diplomacy where widespread security problems remain. Both the standard responses of "army" and "diplomacy" -- roles developed in the European state context -- are of limited value in places like the Congo, Sierra Leone, the Sudan or the Ivory Coast.
If the failing states and their manifestations (conventional and WMD terrorism, prohibited drugs, massive illegal immigrations, gigantic humanitarian crises) are going to be a persistent, long-term problem then the natural response would be to create a capability to meet the challenge. In outline any mechanism capable of dealing with failing states would combine aspects of what is called "homeland security" (border control, immigration policy), a forward military presence, economic development and institution building in an effort to meet the problem. But above all it should be scalable because the list of failing states seems capable of lengthening indefinitely while the current means for dealing with them appear capable of only marginal growth. That all-around and scalable mechanism probably doesn't exist. But new needs usually inspire equally new organizational paradigms and perhaps one will emerge. During the Great War, for example, it became clear that the British Empire lacked an institution able to fight a long European war. So they created a new one. Horatio Kitchener remolded the colonial army into a mass army.
Contrary to general Cabinet belief that the war would be over by Christmas of 1914, Kitchener predicted a long and brutal war ... Kitchener fought off all opposition to his plan, and all attempts to weaken or water down its potential, including a piece-meal dispersal of the regiments. ... Kitchener's Army represented a major turning point in the military history of the United Kingdom: for the first time, the full effort of the nation and its people was committed to a massive land force fighting against other powers of Europe, with the Royal Navy playing an important but secondary role.
There was no revolution in tactics or technology; Kitchener simply found a new way to sustainably harness the British potential for the Great War. Similarly, if today's institutions cannot cope with a low-intensity but widespread Third World chaos, the West must find new ways to concentrate its underutilized potential or fall further and further behind. The important thing to realize is that much of this potential lies outside Western state bureaucracies. Global Guerillas quotes Philip Bobbitt's observation on the relationship of the nation-state's decline and the corresponding rise of sub-state actors like Al Qaeda.
The “market-state” is the latest constitutional order, one that is just emerging in a struggle for primacy with the dominant constitutional order of the 20th century, the nation-state. Whereas the nation-state based its legitimacy on a promise to better the material well-being of the nation, the market-state promises to maximize the opportunity of each individual citizen. The current conflict is one of several possible wars of the market-states as they seek to open up societies to trade in commerce, ideas, and immigration which excite hostility in those groups that want to use law to enforce religious or ethnic orthodoxy. States make war, not brigands; and the Al Qaeda network is a sort of virtual state, with a consistent source of finance, a recognized hierarchy of officials, foreign alliances, an army, published laws, even a rudimentary welfare system. It has declared war on the U.S. for much the same reason that Japan did in 1941: because we appear to frustrate its ambitions to regional hegemony.
But the observation should also underlie counter-terrorism since the same trends which amplify the power of non-state actors in failed countries also empower non-state actors in functioning societies. The West may not yet know how to utilize its own non-state actors to meet the challenge of gangs from the Third World, but the unused potential is there; from the millions of Western citizens who speak Third World languages fluently to private industry, where the real technical strength of the West lies. Non-state actors have often shown they understand what needs to be done before government does. The near-spontaneous appearance of the border "Minutemen" guards; blogospheric translators of captured Iraqi documents and the voluntary provision of help to Iraqis, Afghans, Sudanese, etc are token of an energy that can be harnessed in some way to meet the challenge. Eventually and only after existing institutions are stretched to the limited, a new model may emerge. "Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."