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Rescuing the descent of nation-states: strong, weak, failed, and collapsed

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The successor to Global Trends 2015, authored before 11 September, is Mapping the Global Future for 2020, authored afterwards with a very different worldview. Global Future speaks more to themes rather than taking individual nations to task. (After all, we may need such a state as a valued ally tomorrow and require the papering over of its excesses, e.g., Uzbekistan.) It speaks of "pervasive insecurity" and an "arc of instability":

Lagging economies, ethnic affiliations, intense religious convictions, and youth bulges will align to create a "perfect storm," creating conditions likely to spawn internal conflict. The governing capacity of states, however, will determine whether and to what extent conflicts actually occur. Those states unable both to satisfy the expectations of their peoples and to resolve or quell conflicting demands among them are likely to encounter the most severe and most frequent outbreaks of violence. For the most part, those states most susceptible to violence are in a great arc of instability from Sub-Saharan Africa, through North Africa, into the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and South and Central Asia and through parts of Southeast Asia. Countries in these regions are generally those "behind" the globalization curve.

Terrorist groups (of which al Qaeda is merely one and not necessarily the most dangerous one in the longer term), criminal groups (which can include drugs but here is meant a broad-spectrum of criminal activities), and drug groups (entities devoted to production and distribution) have already hived off enclaves in all of these areas as well as significant outposts in the 'distribution targets' such as the US and Europe (often utilizing immigrant streams in mini-mart and gas stations). There is already co-opetition between these groups which we make easier by creating areas for them to establish operations and to secure documentation to sanitize people, tools (such as ships), and product. Disease (such as AIDS), natural disaster, and simple geography (as in out of the way places too hard to reach and police, e.g., Pacific islands, parts of PNG) make their contributions.

Rotberg proposes a useful taxonomy of nation-states: strong, weak, failed, and collapsed. While I will touch on some issues of the taxonomy, a weblog entry will not do this justice. See Rotberg's The Failure and Collapse of Nation-States: Breakdown, Prevention, and Repair, in Why States Fail: Causes and Consequences, Robert Rotberg (ed.), Look at the maps at the end of the PDF and you will see a depressing dispersed global supply chain that can conceive, manufacture, and delivery mayhem anywhere in the world. And since the following criteria are not about to receive redress anytime soon, we will be needing to predict and interdict state decline on a global basis:

Unless the developing world becomes much more stable, intercommunal (ethnic, linguistic, and religious) conflict is reduced or ceases altogether, corruption vanishes, good governance becomes common, or the war against terror is won conclusively, the propensity of nation-states to fail will be high and the policy consequences of that failure will correspondingly be serious and many.

I imagine that many readers will see 'interdict' in military terms which is actually too late, too costly, and too ineffective. My intent is commercial and political interdiction, but that is the very area that US nationals are the worst at. We love to be crisis managers and we too often reward and promote those in both commercial and diplomatic spheres for that ability while overlooking those who have vision and the ability to plan for the long-term, resolving problems before they mature. In this area we are at a significant disadvantage to, say, the Chinese.

Recent US actions have created in Iraq an especially potent node in this chain while depriving us of the attention, manpower, and monies needed to proactively deal with the entire chain. As I expect this chain to expand, not contract, the distraction has grave consequences.

At the taxonomy's core is governance capabilities, the "effective delivery by a nation-state of the most crucial political goods [which are] intangible and hard to quantify [and were a] claim that a citizen once made on a sovereign and now make on the state." The hierarchy of political goods starts with "the supply of security, especially human security" and proceeds to "predictable methods of adjudicating disputes and regulating both the norms and the mores of a society" and on to "medical and health care; schools and educational instruction; roads, railways, harbors and other arteries of commerce; a money and banking system," etc.

The signs of nation-state failure start with its leadership:

Preying on their own people is a sign; so is intensifying autocracy, the number of political prisoners, unexplained assassinations, and the denial of fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Judicial independence... massively declining GDPs per capita, soaring inflation, decreasing life expectancies, the growth of large-scale corruption, electoral fraud, border incursions, the rise of powerful nonstate actors, escalating rates of crime, desperately deteriorated roads, rises in the rates of emigration and smuggling, the informal adoption of outside currencies as acceptable tender, and the privatization of education and health services. [Often] present along with corruption and smuggling, are conditions conducive to terror.

The "delivery of political goods in sufficient quantity and quality to a substantial majority of citizens' can offset a level of internal strife, class conflict, insurgency, even civil war. We need to interdict here as weak states quickly become failed states. Later interdiction becomes costly even as it spawns new problems.

Gordon Housworth



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