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Wild West Country GLOBAL GOVERNANCE POLICY SERIES

Towards a New Framework for Failed and Crisis States

26 MINUTES

Keywords: Poverty alleviation> creation of civil society> colonialism> deligitimisation of the state> security apparatus> factionalised elites> demographic pressures> group grievance> intervention> human rights> economic decline> Montevideo Convention> Monyomiji> Joseph Kony> LRA> Al Qaeda> Niger-Delta.


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Can the problem of the failed state be solved, or will these states remain a permanent fixture of the international environment? Conflicts between states (like World Wars) have been largely replaced in a post-Soviet Union world by conflicts within states. Dealing with these intra-state conflicts is problematic because of the concept of state sovereignty. Failed states pose a serious danger to international security and prosperity, as seen most recently in the case of Somali Piracy. When one state fails, its internal events produce repercussions in the neighbouring states, particularly when dealing with very small countries. Rebel or faction groups that operate in one country very often end up operating from across the border, which in turn tends to destabilize the government in the neighbouring country that was frail to begin with. When a failed state’s problems reach a critical level and threaten the stability of surrounding countries, outside intervention has, at times, taken place. More states are presently on the road to total failure. Increased cooperation on a global level is necessary to limit the harmful consequences of this type of systemic collapse, in order to avoid future failed states to appear in the international scene with great economic and humanitarian consequences. This paper explores the possibilities available to assist failed states (if this is possible) through placing their problems into a common framework while recognising their individual needs.


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Concept formation: the failed state First, however - what is a failed state? We currently have a loose grasp of the concept. A layperson could tell what a “failed state” or a “collapsed state” was and could very likely list a few examples. They could even offer insights into why they think certain states are comparatively unsuccessful. As it stands, it is a rather self-explanatory handle reserved for those states that are economically weak, plagued by internal conflicts, governed by an inept or illegitimate administration and have a lack of human necessities. And while it is relatively easy to draw the contours of a definition, we first need to distinguish between the symptoms and causes of failure. There may be a clear correlation between failed states and (for instance) a lack of basic human services, but we need to clearly identify the underlying causes in each case. Is a particular state’s failure the result of armed insurgency, corrupt government or a weak economy? Or is it a result of all of the above? The causality is often complex, but needs to be excavated to show, also, the ways in which it varies in each situation. While failed states can all share common traits, there will generally be differing routes one must take in order to ‘fix’ these failed states. And of course the underpinnings of sovereignty versus the need for collective and human security will often stand opposed to one another as we debate whether any sort of intervention or ‘fixing’ is even called for or legitimate. However, to proceed, it is important to take recourse to a theoretical framework. As is usually the case with any theoretical framework or even any discussion about world affairs, concept formation is central. So below we will lay out a definition of a failed state. There are also a few contemporary definitions which may help in this regard.


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Failed States The basic definition

The term Peace of Westphalia denotes the two peace treaties of Osnabrück (15 May 1648) and Münster (24 October 1648) that ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The treaties resulted from the first modern diplomatic congress, thereby initiating a new political order in central Europe, based upon the concept of a sovereign state governed by a sovereign. In the event, the treaties’ regulations became integral to the constitutional law of the Holy Roman Empire.

The most basic way in which we can define a “failed state” is to firstly consider the nature of statehood. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) is largely responsible for the modern nation-state being the primary actor on the world stage. It brought about a formal recognition that each state was a sovereign power answerable to no other state and no other body (specifically the Church). In recent decades, with the rise of the multi-national corporation and the pre-eminence of supranational organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union, this pride of place has been somewhat eroded, although not altogether lost. The state still forms the basic building block of the international arena and of most political theory. It has been important to identify which states can actually be recognised as such. In this the UN is useful because membership denotes statehood. Taiwan for instance, whose status as a state is uncertain, does not hold a UN membership. The legal backbone of state definition was formulated in the Montevideo Convention (1933), which stipulated the following criteria for statehood: a defined territory; a permanent population; a government, and the capacity to conduct international relations. In recent years, a state’s human rights record has also played some part in whether it will be recognised as a state, but it is the last point regarding the capacity of a state to enter into international relations which is the most important of all of these criteria. Indeed it is this factor which allows a failed state to remain a state (Shaw, M.: 2010). Ultimately it is a question of international recognition. In South Africa, the former Apartheid government formed the “homeland states” of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (the TBVC states). This was a central feature of their segregation policy and as a result there was no international recognition and no ability for the governments of these states to enter into diplomatic relations with any states other than South Africa. This is in spite of the fact that there was a defined territory, government and a permanent population. Another example already cited is Taiwan. This state meets all of the criteria except for the most important one: international recognition (largely due to China’s influence). And by the same token, states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan that are often called failed states have very questionable credentials regarding defined territory, government and permanent population. Yet they are still recognised as states by their peers and as such qualify as states, even if they happen to be failed (Dugard, J.: 2008).

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Towards a New Framework for Failed and Crisis States