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Failed States: Everyone's Problem

Report Examines Threats to Global Security

WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 21, 2004 (Zenit) - A Washington-based think tank, the Center for Global Development, published a study on the security implications of dysfunctional states. The document, "On the Brink: Weak States and U.S. National Security," is a result of an eight-month project of the Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security.

"Terrorist organizations, transnational crime networks, disease and violence flourish in these countries," said commission co-chair John Edward Porter in a June 8 press release. "Not only do the citizens of these nations suffer, but the world community is imperiled by this general instability and the opportunity for safe haven it provides for those who wish to destabilize other fledgling democracies and the industrialized world."

According to the report, foreign policy problems such as terrorism, transnational crime, global poverty and humanitarian crises have varying causes. "Yet a common thread runs through all of them. They originate in, spread to, and disproportionately affect developing countries where governments lack the capacity, and sometimes the will, to respond."

In comments accompanying the report's release, Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, said there is a veritable "sleeping giant" of threats in countries such as Bolivia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya. These are nations, Birdsall explained, that "now find themselves weakened to the point where their instability threatens to derail political and economic progress and, in some cases, they have become attractive to the entities, some known, others unknown, who would wish to see harm visited on the United States and other nations of the developed world."

Basic gaps

The report identified some key gaps that indicate when a state has passed from normal troubles to a situation of chronic weakness.

-- The security gap: Where the state is failing to control its territory and protect its citizens from internal and external threats. This allows terrorists or criminal groups to use the territory in order to mount violent or illicit acts.

-- The capacity gap: Where the state is failing to meet the basic needs (education, health care and infrastructure) of its people. This leaves countries vulnerable to epidemics and other humanitarian crises.

-- The legitimacy gap: Where the state is failing to maintain institutions that protect the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens. The absence of legitimacy provides an opening for violent political opposition, as well as creating greater opportunities for corruption.

The report also observed that these failings affect not only the weak states themselves but also their neighbors. "Regional insecurity is heightened when major powers in the developing world, such as Nigeria or Indonesia, come under stress." The effects can even be global, as in the case when energy producers are affected.

Help states develop

Overcoming these failings will not be easy, notes the report. Money alone will not be sufficient, as "Financial assistance alone, without plans for and commitment to resolving underlying political and structural problems, is insufficient and often wasted." Moreover, the local ruling elites, often part of the problem, cannot be bypassed or easily weakened.

The study considers that the security problems posed by weak states require a broad-based development that will also integrate them more fully into the international community. To achieve this, U.S. foreign policy will need to adapt. The report calls for development policy to be given a higher priority so that the "development challenges of weak states can be effectively managed before they produce security crises." This means that U.S. policy needs to undertake longer-term programs that are more oriented to building up states.

The report acknowledged that in 2002, President George Bush announced a major increase in U.S. aid programs. With the "Millennium Challenge Account," foreign aid is scheduled for an increase of 50%. However, the emphasis of this program is to provide greater assistance to low-income countries that already meet certain conditions of ruling justly, respecting rights and economic freedom. Therefore, weak states "were understandably left out of the conversation -- and in this case, their absence underscored the dearth of strategic thinking on the challenges they pose," noted the report.

Part of the measures suggested in the report are oriented toward the prevention of problems. In the economic area it recommends promoting growth and poverty reduction through increasing market access for developing countries and developing more effective means of assistance.

For example, the report recommends providing duty-free and ...

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