'Failed states' represent a global challenge
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Pirates in Somalia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamists in Mali: Failed states are an international challenge. However, efforts to deal with the problem also fail because key factors are ignored.
Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, and more recently Mali and the
Central African Republic, are symbols of chaos, violence and failure.
These countries top the list of the annual Failed State Index published
by the US think tank, Fund for Peace (FFP).
The rest of the world has long viewed these unstable countries as a
regional problem. But, after the terror attacks of September 2001 in the
United States, the international community began looking at these
countries as a global security risk.
As many of these states have lost control of large swaths of their
territory, the lawless areas have become havens for extremists,
terrorists and ordinary criminals. Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali, for
example, still harbor well-organized pockets of al Qaeda terror
The situation is especially apparent in Somalia, where clan chiefs and
rebel leaders toppled the country's weak central government in 1991. A
transitional government, installed in 2004, was not even able to protect
itself. Kidnappings, bombings and assassinations were a daily
occurrence. It took an incursion of Kenyan armed forces to finally push
back the radical Islamist Shabab militia. What's more, independently
operating Somali pirates in the north of the country have been a threat
to international shipping for years around the Horn of Africa.
The United States and the European Union have since adjusted their
security strategies to the ongoing challenge. In 2003, the EU identified
the crumbling states as a major new threat to European security.
However, Tobias Debiel, an expert on development research, said these
fragile states are not automatically doomed to become base camps for
terrorists. The director of the Duisburg-based Institute for Development
and Peace (INEF) noted that the modern, globally networked, gangs or
groups generally only use the uncontrolled areas temporarily.
In most cases, lawless territories lack the infrastructure these groups
need for their activities, he said. "Frequently, terror groups in these
countries have to concentrate more on getting things to work than on
their 'core business' of terrorism," Debiel told DW.
German tanks in Afghanistan are only part of the German aid equation
A failed state that can no longer provide its people with basic services
and which loses control of its territory only ends up magnifying the
problems. In addition to terror and armed conflicts, these include
organized crime, human trafficking, drug dealing, waves of refugees and a
mushrooming arms trade.
This is glaringly obvious at the moment in Syria. Neighboring countries
are having trouble providing the basic necessities for the flood of
refugees, while concerns grow that Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons
could fall into the hands of radical insurgent groups.
Danger of contagion
Failed states are, first and foremost, a disaster for the local
population, but they also present a serious risk to neighboring
countries. The civil war in Syria, for example, is threatening to engulf
Lebanon. It is not uncommon for warring factions or guerilla groups to
operate from a neighboring territory where they have some degree of
"There is a real danger of contagion," said Ulrich Schneckener, a
professor of international relations at the University of Osnabrück in
Germany. When the same ethnic group happens to live along the frontier
of a country at war, there is a real threat that the conflict will spill
over into the neighboring country, he added, pointing to the situation
of ethnic Pashtu clans along the border to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The international community then often finds itself having to engage
extensively in these crisis regions. It draws up aid programs, sponsors
donor conferences, deploys UN peacekeeping forces, or organizes
The German government, for example, is involved in a range of fragile
states. Foreign and security policy is coupled with development aid. For
Afghanistan, an over-arching package was developed to provide military
support, infrastructure measures and the establishment of functioning
Stabilization often not enough
According to Schneckener, international coordination with other donor
countries is essential to a project's success. But there is always the
danger that a single country takes on more than it can handle. The
police mission in Afghanistan is a good example of that, said
"There was widespread criticism of the German police training program,
which the Americans felt was too slow and which was not keeping pace
with the changing security situation in Afghanistan," he said.
The success of international aid is often questionable. Countries, like
the Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan, are sometimes not
stable even after years of aid and effort. Other times problems include a
lack of understanding of local conditions and overly ambitious goals.
"The problem of most efforts to find a solution is ultimately that one
is trying to build a state in a region that is still in the development
phase," said development researcher Debiel. It is important to have a
sense of what is going on there and to understand the power balance
between the various national and local dignitaries and power brokers, he
said. There is no pat formula for stabilization.