Over the past several weeks my blog posts have evolved from addressing basic, definitional aspects of failed states to addressing specific situations in currently failing states. This is an evolution that I was expecting and, to some degree, had planned on doing. What I did not expect, however, was that even my first two blog posts (Defining the Failed State and High Alert! How effective is the Fragile States Index?) would begin to hint at a recurring theme of complexity.
When I first described a failed state as a state that no longer has defined territory, a monopoly over violence, or sovereignty, I also stated that it is necessary to look at failed states individually because while all failed states fail at least one of the above criteria, internally they are all very different and present different situations. The path that I expected my blog to take was to then explore the histories of currently failing states, including Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, to see how they reached their presently failing status.
What turned out to be more interesting, though, was considering the issues currently surrounding those states and not specifically how they got to that point. In the cases of Syria, Ukraine, and Somalia, I examined how Western states are trying to cope with these failing states and the influence these states have on policy decisions. In Syria and Somalia, Western policies have not worked as expected; US banking policies may actually be helping Somalian pirates rather than hurting them, and, in Syria, Western attempts to provide aid are causing the state to feel more, rather than less, threatened. The crisis in Ukraine has placed Germany in a position where Germans must consider the impact of acting in Ukraine on their own national identity. The analysis of policy impacts on both failing states and the implementing state led to a conclusion common between many of my blog posts: implementing policy in or interacting with a failed state is complex and unpredictable.
It is the difficulty of making policies and predicting their effects that I would like to focus on going forward on this blog and in my research paper. How should Western states respond to crises in failed states? Should they do nothing, provide humanitarian aid, or focus on security? On what interests should they act—Western pro-democratic interests, the citizens of the failed state’s interests, or stability? This topic provides a chance to look at more scenarios in failed states and how policies have worked there, good or bad. As all failed states are different, these questions will likely not yield a specific set of behavior and policy that is ideal, but I think they will provide useful information about what Western states should be cautious of when working with failed states.