Addressing State Failure

THE DANGER OF FAILED STATES

In today's increasingly interconnected world, weak and failed states pose an acute risk to U.S. and global security. Indeed, they present one of the most important foreign policy challenges of the contemporary era. States are most vulnerable to collapse in the time immediately before, during, and after conflict. When chaos prevails, terrorism, narcotics trade, weapons proliferation, and other forms of organized crime can flourish. Left in dire straits, subject to depredation, and denied access to basic services, people become susceptible to the exhortations of demagogues and hatemongers. It was in such circumstances that in 2001 one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan, became the base for the deadliest attack ever on the U.S. homeland, graphically and tragically illustrating that the problems of other countries often do not affect them alone.

The international community is not, however, adequately organized to deal with governance failures. The United States and the rest of the world need to develop the tools to both prevent conflict and manage its aftermath when it does occur. Such efforts will entail not just peacekeeping measures, but also influencing the choices that troubled countries make about their economies, their political systems, the rule of law, and their internal security. Weak countries are unable to take advantage of the global economy not just because of a lack of resources, but also because they lack strong, capable institutions. To promote sustainable peace, Washington and its partners must thus commit to making long-term investments of money, energy, and expertise.

The United States is moving in the right direction. Following a decision of the National Security Council in the spring of 2004, the Bush administration created a new office within the State Department: the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. S/CRS will help lead and coordinate joint operations across agencies to respond effectively to evolving crises around the world, in concert with the international community. The White House has requested $124.1 million from Congress to finance the first phase of the new office and the programs it will support. The price for building a rapid-response capability is small. It is miniscule compared to the cost of ignoring the threats posed by failed states.

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