Do failed states pose a threat to the west?

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the UN General Assembly

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the UN General Assembly

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On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin used the U.N. platform to make very clear to the world, his commitment and support for the current Syrian President Bashar Assad. He further expressed strong rhetoric against the Islamic State militant group and other terrorist organizations; he spoke of irresponsibility and hypocrisy with regards to the approach of dealing with the terrorists. According to President Putin, the West is partially responsible for the creation and flourish of Islamic State by rejecting the Assad regime and instead aiding opposition rebel fighters. His claims have been rejected and at times ridiculed by western governments and journalists. Since then, Putin has launched air strikes claiming to target IS fighters. Could Putin be onto something, however, regarding the links between failed states and terrorism and the long interfering hand of the West.

According to American political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama, ‘since the end of the cold war, weak and failing states have arguably become the single most important problem for international order’. Failed states present a major problem for the international community. Those concerned with development and especially the strategists, for them: failed states are considered to be ‘places where terrorists could step into the vacuum produced by non-functioning governments’. Common questions most scholars in the security field are faced with is the task of trying to untangle the many reasons behind why African and Middle Eastern states are seemingly more vulnerable to religious terrorism. It is fact also that, of the states ranked highest on the Failed States Index, most are African states. There is an abundant array of terms used to describe the very weakest and failing states: ‘crisis states’, quasi states’, ‘collapsed states’ and the list stretches on. The one most commonly used is the term ‘failed states’. The concept of failed states bundles together states that are internally quite different with regards to economic and governmental structures. For example, while Somalia until recently had no functioning government, Pakistan clearly does. One reason for the lack of consensus over labels is that many of them seem to possess negative connotations. Those living in the states prescribed as ‘failed states’ for the most part reject having such terminology attached to their country.

Some people in our Western society are susceptible to extremist messages originating from the media and internet, as the BBC has revealed in a recent documentary and also in the case of the Boston Marathon Bombings. On the other hand, others who consume the same information do not fall under the delusions of the extremist messages. American journalist Paul Williams states that ‘scholars and politicians often disagree about the root of terrorism.’ He further points towards the idea that while some focus mainly on the conditions, some turn their attention to particular conflicts and others render it purely down to extremist ideologies. However, Williams also declares that ‘despite these differences of emphasis…they all aim to…reduce the motivation for individuals to join terrorists groups’.

The US foreign policy model has many critics

The US foreign policy model has many critics

The literature on ‘state failure’ has received considerable attention across the range of social science enquiry. In recent times, the failure of US interventions in Somalia, Haiti and Iraq, and the flourishing of terrorist organisations in Afghanistan have heightened academic and foreign policy interests in conceptualizing the notion of ‘failed states’.

The turn of the new century has witnessed a continuing shift in the nature of conflict and security. Attention has turned to issues such as threats and attacks by non-state actors, the response of states regarding threats from terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the idea of post-conflict rebuilding and interestingly also the recent migrant crisis.

According to the definition issued by Fund for Peace, a state that is failing has several attributes. One of the most common is the loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other attributes of state failure include the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. If security is one of the crucial functions of the state, then increasing a failed states’ capacity to protect citizens from threats, both internal and external is vital. The worst nations in the world as compiled by the Fund for Peace are sources of considerable concern in international politics namely Syria, Afghanistan and Libya.

The list of ‘failed states’ in our contemporary age includes oil rich countries and some which are graced with mineral resources and even diamonds. Solving territorial legitimacy problems proves an ever growing challenge for failed or failing states. There are numerous features which are attributed to the diminishing state. There is a strong correlation between armed conflict and state failure: a majority of the ten most failing states have been torn apart by war in recent years. The war-torn state is further faced with internal civil disturbance and a rise of non-state actors competing and threatening legitimacy.

Africa leads the list f the continent with the most failed states

Africa leads the list f the continent with the most failed states

There are various terrorist groups which exist now and have made their mark on the global arena. American author Phillip Bobbitt explains that these terrorist groups are a product of the “decentralized, outsourcing, privatized, globalised, networked world” in other words the ‘new market state’. While it is true that such market states are generally economically well off and possess more opportunities that the traditional states. However, he makes it clear that these new market states are more vulnerable and more susceptible to the threat of global terrorist ideology which seeks to cause limitless destruction and terror among the population. A particular concern for many is the consideration of the ‘failed state’ as a safe haven for terrorists, and nowhere is the commitment to tackling state collapse more prominent than in the 2013 French intervention in Mali. However, commitment is evidently less and more complex when considering the plight of Syrian refugee’s and those fleeing from Libya.

Palestine has been shrinking ever since the end of World War 2

Palestine has been shrinking ever since the end of World War 2

The Palestinian example is arguably the most severe examples of state failure as the country no longer exists. Indeed, it is not strictly on the Failed States Index. The Palestinian territory would rank extremely low, the Index is a US creation and the US does not recognize Palestine as a state to paraphrase American philosopher Noam Chomsky. Tyrannical Saddam Hussein murdered Iraqis in their millions, invaded Kuwait, and was most likely striving for nuclear weapons and endangering a large portion of the global oil supply. Now it appears the international community is at odds when it comes to President Assad.

The Middle East provides many case studies with the causes of failing often spanning centuries of colonial oppression. Some argue that US brinkmanship in global security perpetuates the causes of state decline. Chiefly, in fermenting resentment through civilian casualties, as in Iraq, or from drone campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan, which makes recruitment easy for destabilizing agents like Islamic State. It is difficult to know if a terrorist leader killed by drone strikes is more valuable in the long-term than the devastation caused by the collateral damage; it engages all sorts of questions on morality and ethical responsibilities when engaging and adopting such foreign policy. It is remarkable just how much the subject in question divides opinions. However, it is not surprising that with the wealth of information produced, there is not yet a consensus regarding the approaches to failed states and the solutions to international terrorism. It is critically commonplace now; there needs to be a sharp refocus on aspects of international terrorism which directly affects citizens of so called ‘failed states’, the likes of Syria and Libya. Migrants are travelling across the sea risking their lives so that they can flee the unbearable turmoil in the countries aforementioned. Some believe strongly, that the fight against terrorism is making significantly visible progress, in Africa and arguably, in the Middle East. Despite the fact that there are instances whereby there are undeniable terrorist influences in states that are failing: it is argued firmly that, the idea of a clear link between the two is vague at best and inconclusive.


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