In This Review

When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
Edited by Robert I. Rotberg
Princeton University Press, 2003, 336 pp.

The failure of nation-states is nothing new. But in the age of global terrorism, the consequences of state failure for the international order are potentially much more damaging than ever before. This volume brings together experts to explore the problem of weak states in the developing world and to offer ideas about how to strengthen rights and rule. It is most useful in providing a framework for diagnosing the ailments that afflict states in various stages of decay in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: weak states fail to provide key public goods such as security, law, property rights, banks, schools, and hospitals; failed states (Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire, the Taliban's Afghanistan) are characterized by chronic violence, corruption, deteriorating infrastructure, and predatory ruling regimes; and in collapsed states (Lebanon in the 1970s, Somalia in the 1980s, Nigeria and Sierra Leone in the 1990s), rule by the gun wipes away any pretense of public authority.

The authors identify many causes of state failure, but almost all cases are associated with civil violence and the rise of warring nonstate groups flush with revenue from minerals or narcotics. The international community can often help resuscitate failed states by sponsoring elections and committing to long-term security protection. But several contributors warn that, in the worst instances, major powers and the United Nations must be willing to "decertify" failed states while parties disarm and the country is put back together.