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“Failed” States and Global Security: Empirical Questions and Policy Dilemmas

Stewart Patrick
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2486.2007.00728.x 644-662 First published online: 1 December 2007

Weak and impoverished states and ungoverned areas are not only a threat to their people and a burden on regional economies, but are also susceptible to exploitation by terrorists, tyrants, and international criminals. We will work to bolster threatened states, provide relief in times of crisis, and build capacity in developing states to increase their progress (2006 National Security Strategy of the United States of America).

One of the dominant influences shaping contemporary North–South relations is the perception that the main threats to international security emanate disproportionately from poorly governed states in the developing world. Beyond representing the hard core of today's development challenge, such countries are said to enable a host of transnational dangers from terrorism to weapons proliferation, organized crime, pandemic disease, environmental degradation, regional conflict, humanitarian catastrophes, and energy insecurity (Crocker 2003; Fearon and Laitin 2004:13; Fukuyama 2004:92; Rice 2006). This perception is particularly prominent within advanced market democracies, and notably the United States, where it has gained the status of conventional wisdom. In response, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) governments have begun to adapt their defense, diplomatic, and development policies and instruments to help prevent state failure and respond to its aftermath as well as to try to quarantine themselves from the presumed “spillover” effects of state weakness. Such moves have been mirrored by those of international institutions, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

What is striking is how little empirical analysis has been undertaken to document and explore the connection between state failure and transnational security threats (Patrick 2006a). Scholars and policymakers have advanced blanket associations between these two sets of phenomena, often on the basis of anecdotes or single examples (e.g., al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan) rather than through sober analysis of global patterns or in-depth case studies …

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