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Weak and failing states


International Security Studies Final Exam

Weak and failing states have become a high priority for United States national security. They have become a source of disorder in the international community since the end of the cold war. They pose a threat in harboring illicit groups, organized crime, and providing a safe place for international terrorists to set up shop. Although we have spent a large amount of resources in money and military power over the last 20 years, the weak and failing states still have instability, disease, poverty, unstable governments and humanitarian problems in large quantities. This in turn puts the United States at severe risk. When Liberalism is applied to these weak and failing states, it can provide the framework to explain and identify opportunities for change and isolate the key challenges we must meet to make a change. Liberalism also can use its economic, diplomatic, and military instruments of power to address this issue and find a solution that is both beneficial to the United States in correcting and helping the weak and failing states.

Going from a weak state to a failed state is directly contributed to the so called states government. It actually takes effort from one to turn into the other. “ In weak states, the government struggles to provide its citizens with the everyday means of a “quality of life” and contributes by actively engaging in corruption and policies that do nothing but hurt the state as a whole. These weak states struggle in the populations basic needs in education, jobs and public needs. The weaker a state becomes, the more oppressive their government acts to the response of overwhelming civil disorder. A failed state is just that, there is no support for or control over the people, crime is rampant, civil services non-existent and everyone is looking out for himself. This state is in a condition of utter chaos. “Failing states, on the other hand, are more deeply troubled than weak states. Failing states usually suffer from enduring civil wars. Their governments struggle to provide security and order, which people often seek out from alternative sources such as warlords, gangs and rebel groups.”[1] Just because you are a weak state, does not ensure that you will become a failed state though. Some states are or have been failing for a long time, and have stints in which they almost come back into the light, and instances when they convert over to a failed state for a short amount of time. These weak states are a priority for liberalists to save before they end up failed. “In short, some weak states and all failing states share one important attribute: they can no longer carry out the single most important function of government – the provision of physical security and domestic order.”[2]

The values and standards of Liberalism are key to the future of these weak and failing states. It can not be stressed enough of how important both the United States and the weak and failing states futures are in terms of how the problem can be handled and solved. Liberalism sets the ground stages for collective security, independence of economics and international institutions that enables the states to get along and profit among each other. And one of the most important factors of Liberalism is the human rights issues and the individual. “Protecting citizens from the external threats and from internal disorder is the single most important service a government can provide because it is the basis of any stable society. Without it, not much else can be achieved."[3] Once you have protection for the individual, the goals of Liberalism push you then to move along to promote other key factors to ensure a strong state. It is not just good enough to have a peaceful state, that state must be able to thrive on its own and become a contributing force to sustain its self and to global economics. This does not happen overnight, there are many steps leading up to a weak and failing state to a strong and successful state. “Governments must promote, protect, or provide a whole host of other public goods as well, including: a system for creating and enforcing laws, a vibrant economy, physical infrastructure like roads and bridges, public education, civil liberties, public health, social welfare, the publics commons and national identity that trumps other affiliations such as tribe, clan or regional loyalties”[4] Once all these have been accomplished, it shows the rationalization of Liberalism at work.

Power hungry individuals in charge and poor political leadership by the government of weak and failing states opens its gates to the downfall of state security, organized crime and worst of all, terrorists. When a government is weak and does not have security measures in place or can’t enforce these measures, it proves a breading ground for the worst and most ruthless people to gather. These warlords, drug traffickers and terrorists thrive in the fact that they can operate almost in the open without fear of reprimand from the state in question. This in turn puts all thriving states around it in jeopardy and in fact, put the United States in jeopardy. It is not the United States job to police the world and make every state a place worth living, but there may be something to be said in the liberals attempt for assistance in building states and commonwealths. “Moreover, there are around 100 weak and failing states in the world today; far too many for American to manage in any comprehensive manner.”[5] Liberals believe that in will come back two fold, first in economic gains and the most important, the weeding out of the criminal element by that assisted state themselves. This is not something that can happen overnight in the Liberals mind, it takes time, but the investment of time in the long run is worth the effort. “When it does reach out into the world to deal with weak states, the United States should rely on gradual progress through patient, long term advisory and aid relationships, based on such activities as direct economic assistance tailored to local needs; training, exchanges, and other human-capacity-development programs; military to military ties; trade and investment policies; and more.”[6]

Liberalism values the individual, and is especially vocal when it comes to human rights issues. Everything for the Liberal starts with the individual, and if that is able to be corrected, then they believe other aspects will fall into place. This is why Liberals are so vocal on atrocities committed in the weak and failing states. They believe this should not just be the concern of one power, mainly the United States, but of all nations coming together to right the wrongs placed upon innocent civilians. This has been a main focus point of Liberal NGO’s like the Red Cross, and NATO. “Some are largely moral concerns, but others are more practical like trying to avoid political instability and the spread of disease, which often accompanies massive refugee flows. In extreme cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing, an administration may be able to convince Congress and the American people that action is needed even though there are no palpable self-interests at stake.”[7] And, although these atrocities do not directly affect the United States or the World, it is a breeding ground for future problems for everyone, but unfortunately, not all the NGO’s in the world can stop every act of violence in the world. “Knowing which types of troubled states are more likely to produce which types of threats would help government officials to tailor their policies, focusing on those countries that pose the gravest threats.”[8] Unfortunately as history has shown, this is not an easy assumption to make, and there is not a formula that can tell you exactly what and where you need to go to best protect your own interests and the interests of your population as a whole. Sometimes the efforts made, go in vain and there is nothing anyone is able to do about it. “Because violence against civilians is often rooted in deeper crises of political order, critics note that once in, intervenors confront the dilemma of either staying indefinitely and assuming the burdens of governance, as in Bosnia, or withdrawing and allowing the country to fall back into chaos, as in Somalia.”

Although the United States has the most powerful military in the world, a military response is not always the answer to everything. The military has an amazing liberal philosophy when it comes to it as a whole, but not equipped for every situation. Our military is amazing at some things, but lacks the proper experience and training to take on other tasks. Each situation must be calculated and analyzed to come to the best conclusion on how to proceed. Our military is bound by orders and discipline and will take on any task it is required to do, they take and relay orders to accomplish every task at hand, but cannot turn around weak and failed states on their own. “A deployable civilian corps of state building experts is required not only because the US military would prefer to not perform certain duties, but because civilians are simply the more appropriate choice for doing many tasks and missions associated with stability operations.”[9]

Although, as stated above, there are many challenges for Liberals to provide assistance in weak and failing states, there are many opportunities when that backing comes to fruition. These Liberal international institutions can provide initial intervention crisis capability and assist with the developing peace process, which in turn will help not only the weak and failing states, but their neighbors. “Intervening powers must also proceed with the understanding that they cannot bring about liberal democratic states overnight. Objectives need to be tempered to match both local and international political constraints.”[10]

The United States can play a big part when it comes to diplomacy, providing military, economic backing and medical aid. But, by utilizing and assisting IGO’s and NGO’s they can not only foster, but sustain political agenda’s along with mediation and security support. The more weak and failing states that are helped, the more allies we will have in the end. Money does not solve all problems, but it is a start and with other assistance, can end up being profitable for everyone in the long run. The problems arise in the selection of what weak and failing states should be helped, and on what basis should they be chosen. Should the aid be used in just the alleviations of poverty or to beef up the business factions and the security of that state? “Who is in most need of the aid and who can best use it to alleviate poverty? Others will want to consider different factors: How can aid be used to bolster security or business or other interests”[11] All this does not sit well with everyone though, it is the Liberalists job to convince “the people in charge” that all the allies that we make, can be of some use or factor in the future, whether it be for trade and prosperity or the use of bases and critical strategic points in future conflicts. “Moreover, too few politicians in Washington D.C. are convinced that such aid is effective or necessary to ward off future threats to US security interests from fragile states. Convincing them otherwise is a tall order.”[12]

In conclusion, Liberals have a plan for our future and the future of the present weak and failing states and have proved what they practice in real world tribulations, work. The problem lies in the fact that everyday more and more areas of the world are producing weak and failing states. The United States and the economic and military might of the world, even if all their resources were put together, could not solve the worlds economic, social and instability problems. But, we need to continue to use the Liberals game plan to ensure we can make a difference one place at a time. “Without constructive engagement from the movers and shakers of world politics, the factors and trends that contribute to the creation of weak and failing states will not abate any time soon. Without concerted constructive engagement, simply managing the adverse effects of weak and failing states will be impossible.”[13] In doing this, we are preserving and enabling a peaceful and prosperous future for everyone.


[1] DiPrizio, Robert, Weak and Failing States, Air Command and Staff College AY15 Course Reading. Maxwell AFB, 2.

[2] ibid., 3.

[3] ibid., 1.

[4] ibid., 1.

[5] ibid., 7.

[6] Mazarr, Michael J, The Rise and Fall of the Failed-State Paradigm. Foreign Affairs 93, no.1 (Jan/Feb 2014): pg 5.

[7] DiPrizio, Robert, Weak and Failing States, Air Command and Staff College AY15 Course Reading. Maxwell AFB, 8.

[8] ibid., 8.

[9] ibid., 15.

[10] Western, Jon, and Joshua S. Goldstein. “Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age.” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 6 (November/December 2011): 59.

[11] DiPrizio, Robert, Weak and Failing States, Air Command and Staff College AY15 Course Reading. Maxwell AFB, 9.

[12] ibid., 17.

[13] ibid., 16.


DiPrizio, Robert, Weak and Failing States, Air Command and Staff College AY15 Course Reading. Maxwell AFB

O’Hanlon, Michael, Obama’s Weak and Failing States Agenda. The Washington Quarterly 35, no.4 (Fall 2012): 67-80

Mazarr, Michael J, The Rise and Fall of the Failed-State Paradigm. Foreign Affairs 93, no.1 (Jan/Feb 2014): pp113-121

Western, Jon, and Joshua S. Goldstein. “Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age.” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 6 (November/December 2011): 48-59.

Walzer Michael. Just and Unjust Wars. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1977. Pages 86-91 and 101-108.

Nye, Joseph S., Jr., and David A. Welch. Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation: An Introduction to Theory and History, 9th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2013. Pages 193-218


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