Failed states


Failed states have forfeited their independence and require a credible outside authority which can prepare the ground for a sustainable democracy. A durable democratization of the failed or collapsing states is impracticable without help from the outside world. But the present praxis is a glorious mess. On average, thirty different organizations vie for the opportunity to offer support to a less developed country. This cannot go on.

The present disarray

Principally in Africa there are a number of states in different degrees of dissolution. These failed states are unstable and are mostly governed by dictators of variable longevity. In the absence of an outside intervention, the situation looks hopeless and no end to the sufferings of the people can be perceived. Haiti is the most prominent failed state outside Africa.

When genocide is imminent, the UN statutes prescribe immediate intervention but the Security Council has regularly acted too late and too feebly. The aborted intervention in Ruanda, when up to one million humans were slaughtered, is the biggest scandal in the history of the United Nations. East Timor was presented as a rare example of a successful UN-mission, but the country crashed soon after independence due to internal strife and still relies on foreign policing forces. In Sudan the UN representatives have carefully avoided describing the bloodletting in Darfur as genocide to avoid exposing the lack of decisiveness.

The AU (African Union) was constituted in 2002 with high-flying goals but its operations, for instance in Somalia, have been inept. Resolute interventions by Great Britain (in Sierra Leone) and France (in the Ivory Coast) show that order can be restored with very limited means. In any case, a durable democratization of the failed or collapsing states is impracticable without help from the outside world.

A hands-on solution

An authoritative European inquiry* has mapped out the situation and produced a comprehensive report. It concludes that the collapse of states is not a passing phenomenon but depends on the present international order – or rather the disorder. The report presents three scenarios: a malign one, a benign one and a third called the re-colonization scenario. Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan and Iraq are seen as relevant precedents for the last alternative.

Failed states have forfeited their sovereignty and require a credible outside authority which can reform the politics, create a capable administration and pave the way for sustainable democracy. A failed state could be adopted by one of the major democracies, for instance the EU or one of its member states, which would assume the responsibility for the political, economic and social development. Sovereignty would be suspended for a while, but the establishment of law and order, together with appropriate support efforts, should soon produce concrete results at the grass root level. The build-up of crucial trust capital would facilitate productive plus-sum play across the board.

In Bosnia and Kosovo the European Union has de facto assumed a re-colonialist responsibility and the same goes for Australia in the South-West Pacific. A guardian state must exert uncontested control over its operational area to guarantee security and thus promote private investment. Its activities will be closely watched which should ensure fairness and keep the unavoidable use of force to a minimum. A protracted engagement is in nobody’s interest. When the internal plus-sum game is initiated, the guardianship can step by step transform into a genuine partnership, democratic self-government and full sovereignty.

The call for help sounds ever higher from countries where the government has to be rebuilt from the ground up, with or without democracy. The European Union is developing its capability to project ‘soft power’ by preventive action. How this will work out is an open question; at the time of writing the outcome of interventions in Lebanon and Congo is pending. In general, the actual application of force still falls to the United States, which is becoming increasingly reluctant to engage itself in unpopular international policing.

*Failed and Collapsed States in the International System. (2003) A report prepared by The African Studies Centre, Leiden; The Transnational Institute, Amsterdam; The Center of Social Studies, Coimbra University; The Peace Research Center- CIPFUHEM, Madrid. On the web.