Nation-states fail because they are convulsed by internal violence and can no longer deliver positive political goods to their inhabitants. Their governments lose legitimacy, and the very nature of the particular nation-state itself becomes illegitimate in the eyes and in the hearts of a growing plurality 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 legitimate 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 thus become difficult to achieve when so many of the globe’s newer nation-states waver precariously between weakness and failure, with some truly failing, or even collapsing.
In a time of terror, moreover, appreciating the nature of and responding to the dynamics of nation-state failure have become central to critical policy debates. How best to strengthen weak states and prevent state failure are among the urgent questions of the twenty-first century. This book examines contemporary cases of nation-state collapse and failure. 1 It establishes clear criteria for distinguishing collapse and failure from generic weakness or apparent distress, and collapse from failure.
It further analyzes the nature of state weakness and advances reasons why some weak states 1 2 ROBERT I. ROTBERG succumb to failure, or collapse, and why others in ostensibly more straightened 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 under-researched, hitherto with 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 to prevent failure and, in the cases of states that nevertheless fail (or collapse), to revive them and assist in the rebuilding process. 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 fifty-five recognized national polities. In 1919, there were fifty-nine nations. In 1950, that number had reached sixty-nine. Ten years later, after the attainment of independence in much of Africa, ninety 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; East Timor’s independence in 2002 brought that total to 192.
Given such explosive numbers, the inherent fragility of many of the new recruits (fifteen of Africa’s fifty-four 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. Strength and Weakness Nation-states exist to provide a decentralized method of delivering political (public) goods to persons living within designated parameters (borders).
Having replaced the monarchs of old, 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 performance—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 states. Political goods CAUSES AND INDICATORS 3 are those intangible and hard to quantify claims that citizens once made on sovereigns and now make on states. They encompass 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.
2 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 secure themselves. 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 private security for the full spectrum of public 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 disputes 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 constitute an enforceable rule of law, security of property and inviolable contracts, a judicial system, and a set of values that legitimize and validate the local version of fair play.
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 compete for office; respect and support for national and regional political institutions, like legislatures and courts; tolerance of dissent and difference; and fundamental civil and human rights.
Other political goods typically supplied by states (although privatized forms are possible) and expected by their citizenries include medical and health care (at varying levels and costs); schools and educational instruction (of various kinds and levels)—the knowledge good; roads, railways, harbors, and other physical infrastructures—the arteries of commerce; communications infrastructures; a money and banking system, usually presided over by a central bank and lubricated by a national currency; a beneficent fiscal and institutional context within which citizens can pursue personal entrepreneurial goals and potentially prosper; the promotion of civil society; and methods of regulating the 4 ROBERT I. ROTBERG 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 above. 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 not failed. 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 include a broad continuum of states that are: inherently weak because of geographical, physical, or fundamental economic constraints; basically strong, but temporarily or situationally weak because of internal antagonisms, management flaws, greed, despotism, or external attacks; and a mixture of the two. 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 higher and increasing. In weak states, the ability to provide adequate measures of other political goods is diminished or diminishing. Physical infrastructural networks have 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. CAUSES AND INDICATORS 5 There is a special category of weak state, as explored in Erin Jenne’s chapter. That is the seemingly strong case, always an autocracy, that rigidly controls dissent and is secure but at the same time provides very few political goods. In extreme cases, such as North Korea, the regime permits its people to starve.
Cambodia under Pol Pot also qualifies, as does contemporary Belarus, Iraq, and, possibly, 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. It is not the absolute intensity of violence that identifies a failed state.
Rather, it is the enduring character of that violence (as in Angola, Burundi, and the Sudan), 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 that 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 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, sources of resource wealth, like petroleum deposits, diamond fields, other minerals, or timber. There is no failed state 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.
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 contrast to strong states, failed states cannot control their borders. They lose authority over sections of territory. Often, the expression of official power is limited to a capital city and one or more ethnically specific zones. Plausibly, the extent of a state’s failure can be measured by how much of its geographical 6 ROBERT I. ROTBERG expanse is genuinely controlled (especially after dark) by the official government. How nominal or contested is the central government’s sway over peripheral towns and rural roads and waterways? Who really expresses power upcountry, or in districts distant from the capital?
3 Citizens depend on states and central governments to secure their persons and free them from fear. Unable to establish an atmosphere of security nationwide, and often struggling to project power and official authority, the faltering state’s failure becomes obvious even before, or as, rebel groups and other contenders threaten the residents of central cities and overwhelm demoralized government contingents, as in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 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’s 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. Another indicator of state failure is the growth of criminal violence. As state authority weakens and fails, and as the state becomes criminal in its oppression of its citizens, so lawlessness becomes more apparent. Criminal gangs take over the streets of the cities.
Arms and drug trafficking become more common. Ordinary police forces become paralyzed. Anomic behaviors become the norm. For protection, citizens naturally turn to warlords and other strong figures who express or activate ethnic or clan solidarity, thus offering the possibility of security at a time when all else, and the state itself, is crumbling. High rates of urban crime and the rise of criminal syndicates testify to an underlying anarchy and desperation. Failed states provide only limited quantities of other essential political goods. They more and more forfeit to upstart warlords and other non-state actors their role as the preferred suppliers of political goods.
A failed state is a polity that is no longer able or willing to perform the fundamental jobs of a nation-state in the modern world. Failed states exhibit flawed institutions. That is, only the institution of the executive functions. If legislatures exist at all, they are rubber-stamping machines. Democratic debate is noticeably absent. The judiciary is derivative of the executive rather than being independent, and citizens know that they can- CAUSES AND INDICATORS 7 not rely on the court system for significant redress or remedy, especially against the state. The bureaucracy has long ago lost its sense of professional responsibility and exists solely to carry out the orders of the executive and, in petty ways, to oppress citizens.
The military is possibly the only institution with any remaining integrity, but the armed forces of failed states are often highly politicized, devoid of the esprit that they once demonstrated. Failed states are typified by deteriorating or destroyed infrastructures. Metaphorically, the more potholes (or main roads turned to rutted tracks), the more a state will exemplify failure. As rulers siphon funds from the state coffers, so there are fewer capital resources for road crews, equipment, and raw materials. Maintaining road or rail access to distant districts becomes less and less of a priority. Even refurbishing basic navigational aids along arterial waterways (as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DRC) becomes typified by neglect.
Where the state still controls such communications backbones as a landline telephone system, that form of political and economic good betrays a lack of renewal, upkeep, investment, and bureaucratic endeavor. Less a metaphor than a daily reality is the index of failed connections, repeated dialings, and interminable waits for repair and service. If private entrepreneurs have been permitted by the state monopoly to erect cell telephone towers and offer mobile telephone service, such telephones may already have made the monopoly obsolete. Even, or particularly, because there is no state to interfere, in a collapsed state privately provided cell telephone systems prevail over what might remain of the land-line network, as in Somalia.
When a state has failed or is in the process of failing, the effective educational and health systems are privatized (with a resulting hodgepodge of shady schools and questionable medical clinics in the cities), or the public facilities become increasingly decrepit and neglected. Teachers, physicians, nurses, and orderlies are paid late or not at all, and absenteeism increases. Textbooks and medicines become scarce. X-ray machines break down and are not repaired. Reports to the relevant ministries are ignored.
Citizens, especially rural parents, students, and patients, slowly realize that the state has abandoned them to their own devices and to the forces of nature. Sometimes, where a failed state is effectively split, as in the Sudan, essential services may be provided to the favored half, but not to the half in rebellion and engulfed in war. Most of the time the destroyed nation-state completely underperforms.
Literacy rates fall, infant mortality rises, the AIDS epidemic overwhelms any health infrastructure that continues to exist, life expectancies plummet, and an already poor and battered citizenry becomes even poorer and more immiserated. Failed states offer unparalleled economic opportunity—but only for a privileged few.
Those around the ruler or the ruling oligarchy grow richer while 8 ROBERT I. ROTBERG their less fortunate brethren starve. Immense profits are available from an awareness of regulatory advantages and currency speculation and arbitrage. But the privilege of making real money when everything else is deteriorating is confined to clients of the ruling elite or to especially favored external entrepreneurs. The nation-state’s responsibility to maximize the well-being and personal prosperity of all of its citizens is conspicuously absent, if it ever existed.
Corruption flourishes in many states, but in failed states it often does so on an unusually destructive scale. There is widespread petty or lubricating corruption as a matter of course, but escalating levels of venal corruption mark failed states: kickbacks on anything that can be put out to fake tender (medical supplies, textbooks, bridges, roads, and tourism concessions); unnecessarily wasteful construction projects arranged so as to maximize the rents that they generate; licenses for existing and nonexistent activities; and persistent and generalized extortion. In such situations, corrupt ruling elites mostly invest their gains overseas, not at home, making the economic failure of their states that much more acute.
Or they dip directly into the coffers of the shrinking state to pay for external aggressions, lavish residences and palaces, extensive overseas travel, and privileges and perquisites that feed their greed. Military officers always benefit from these excessively corrupt regimes and imbibe ravenously from the same illicit troughs as civilian officials. An indicator of failure, but not a cause of failure, are declining real national and per capita levels of annual GDP. The statistical underpinnings of most states in the developing world are shaky, but failed states—even, or particularly, failed states with vast natural resources—exhibit overall worsening GDP figures, slim year-to-year growth rates, and greater disparities of income between the wealthiest and poorest fifths of their populations.
High official state deficits (Zimbabwe’s reached more than 30 percent of GDP in 2001) fund extravagant security expenditures and the siphoning of cash by friendly elites. Inflation usually soars because rulers raid the central bank and print money. From the resulting economic insecurity, often engineered by rulers so as to maximize their own fortunes and their own political and economic power, there are many rents to be collected by entrepreneurs connected to the prevailing regime. Smuggling becomes rife. When state failure becomes complete, the local currency falls out of favor and one or more international currencies take its place. Money changers are everywhere, legal or not, and arbitrage becomes a steady international pursuit.
Sometimes, especially if there are intervening climatic disasters, the economic chaos and generalized neglect that is endemic to failed states leads to regular food shortages and widespread hunger—indeed, even to episodes of starvation and major efforts of international humanitarian relief. Natural ca- CAUSES AND INDICATORS 9 lamities can overwhelm the resources even of non-failed, but weak, states in the developing world. But when state competencies have consciously been sucked dry by unscrupulous rulers and their cronies, as in failed states, unforeseen natural disasters or man-made wars can drive ignored populations over the edge of endurance into starvation. Once such populations have lost their subsistence plots and their sources of income, they forfeit their homes and their already weak support networks and are forced into an endless cycle of migration and displacement.
Failed states provide no safety nets, and the homeless and the destitute become fodder for anyone who can offer food and a cause. A nation-state also fails when it loses legitimacy—when it forfeits the “mandate of heaven. ” Its nominal borders become irrelevant. Groups within the nominal borders seek autonomous control within one or more parts of the national territory, or sometimes even across its international borders. Once the state’s capacity to secure itself or to perform in an expected manner recedes, and once what little capacity remains is devoted almost exclusively to the fortunes of a few or to a favored ethnicity or community, there is every reason to expect less and less loyalty to the state on the part of the excluded and disenfranchised.
When the rulers are perceived to be working for themselves and their kin and not for the state, their legitimacy, and the state’s legitimacy, plummets. The state increasingly is conceived as being owned by an exclusive class or group, with all others pushed aside. The social contract that binds inhabitants to an overarching polity becomes breached. Various sets of citizens cease trusting the state. Citizens then naturally turn more and more to the kinds of sectional and community loyalties that are their main recourse in time of insecurity and their main default source of economic opportunity. They transfer their allegiances to clan and group leaders, some of whom become warlords. These warlords or other local strongmen can derive support from external as well as indigenous supporters.
In the wilder, more marginalized corners of failed states, terror can breed along with the prevailing anarchy that naturally accompanies state breakdown and failure. A collapsed state is a rare and extreme version of a failed state. Political goods are obtained through private or ad hoc means. Security is equated with the rule of the strong. A collapsed state exhibits a vacuum of authority. It is a mere geographical expression, a black hole into which a failed polity has fallen. There is dark energy, but the forces of entropy have overwhelmed the radiance that hitherto provided some semblance of order and other vital political goods to the inhabitants (no longer the citizens) embraced by language or ethnic affinities or borders. When Somalia failed in the late 1980s, it soon collapsed.
Bosnia, Lebanon, and Afghanistan collapsed more than a decade ago, and Nigeria and Sierra Leone collapsed in the 1990s. When those collapses occurred, 10 ROBERT I. ROTBERG substate actors took over, as they always do when the prime polity disappears. Those warlords or substate actors gained control over regions and subregions within what had been a nation-state, built up their own local security apparatuses and mechanisms, sanctioned markets and other trading arrangements, and even established an attenuated form of international relations. By definition illegitimate and unrecognized, warlords can assume the trappings of a new quasi state, such as the internationally unrecognized Somaliland in the old north of Somalia.
Despite the parceling out of the collapsed state into warlord fiefdoms, there still is a prevalence of disorder, anomic behavior, and the kinds of anarchic mentality and entrepreneurial endeavors—especially gun and drug trafficking—that are compatible with external networks of terror. None of these designations is terminal. Lebanon, Nigeria, and Tajikistan recovered from collapse and are now weak. Afghanistan and Sierra Leone graduated from collapsed to failed. Zimbabwe is moving rapidly from being strong toward failure. Although a state like Haiti is termed endemically weak, most categorizations are snapshots. The quality of failed or collapsed is real, but need not be static. Failure is a fluid halting place, with movement forward to weakness and backward into collapse always possible.
Certainly, too, because failure and collapse are undesirable results for states, they are neither inevitable nor unavoidable. Whereas weak states fail much more easily than strong ones, that failure is not preordained. Failure is preventable, particularly since human agency rather than structural flaws or institutional insufficiencies are almost invariably at the root of slides from weakness (or strength) toward failure and collapse. Lebanon’s experience is instructive. As Oren Barak suggests, the inability of Lebanon’s feuding sectoral leaders to adapt a 1943 power-sharing agreement to altered political and social circumstances brought the divided state to its knees.
During the nation’s civil war of the mid-1970s, it collapsed. But once a cease-fire had been forged in 1990 and a new political compromise achieved through international mediation and the formal acceptance of Syria as a neighborhood hegemon, Lebanon could be revived as a functioning state, and slowly reconstructed. Without guarantees of human security, and the cooperation of dueling leaders, which Syria compelled, any resuscitation of the post-collapse Lebanese state would have proven impossible. 4 Contemporary State Failure, Collapse, and Weakness This decade’s failed states are Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Sudan.
5 These seven states exemplify the criteria of failure sketched out above. Somalia is a collapsed state. Together they are CAUSES AND INDICATORS 11 the contemporary classical failed and collapsed states, but others were once collapsed or failed and many other modern nation-states now approach the brink of failure, some much more ominously than others. Another group of states drifts disastrously downward from weak to failing to failed. What is of particular interest is why and how states slip from weakness toward failure, or not. The list of weak states is long, but only a few of those weak and poorly governed states need necessarily edge into failure. Why?
Even the categorization of a state as failing—Colombia and Indonesia, among others—need not doom it irretrievably to full failure. What does it take to drive a failing state over the edge into failure or collapse? Why did Somalia not stop at failure rather than collapsing? These questions are answered in the country chapters that follow this opening essay. Because separate discussions of five failed and collapsed states are followed by examinations of seven weak states, two of which were once collapsed states, there is a wealth of empirical material on which to discriminate between the several categories of statehood in the developing world. Of the failed and collapsed cases, not each one fully fills all of the cells of the matrix of nation-state failure.
However, to qualify for failure a state needs to demonstrate that it has met most of the explicit criteria. How truly minimal are the roads, the schools, and the hospitals and clinics? How far have GDP and other economic indicators fallen? How far does the ambit of the central government reach? Has the state lost legitimacy? Most important, because civil conflict is decisive for state failure, can the state in question still secure its borders and guarantee security to its citizens, urban and rural? Walter Clarke and Robert Gosende ask how Somalia, a nation-state of about 9 million people with a strongly cohesive cultural tradition, a common language, a common religion, and a shared history of nationalism could fail, and then collapse.
Perhaps, they say, it never constituted a single coherent territory, having been part of the colonial empires of two suzerains, with other Somalis living outside the boundaries of the two colonies. Then, as was often the experience elsewhere in Africa and Asia, the first elected, proto-democratic, postindependence civilian governments proved to be “experimental, inefficient, corrupt, and incapable of creating any kind of national political culture. ”6 Gene