In This Review

Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security
Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security
By Stewart Patrick
Oxford University Press, USA, 2011, 352 pp

The conviction that weak states are as great a potential threat to peace as strong states has dominated thinking about U.S. national security since the late 1990s. This superb book provides an important corrective to that flawed view. Patrick takes a close look at the alleged linkages between weak states and various global threats -- transnational crime and terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, energy insecurity, and infectious diseases. In each instance, Patrick finds that the connections are complicated and contingent. The weakness of states, as such, is not the problem. For example, Patrick argues that functioning but corrupt states, such as Pakistan, actually provide more congenial bases of operation for terrorists than do collapsed and lawless states. Yet Patrick does not turn the conventional wisdom completely on its head. The case studies do find that corruption, economic distress, a weak rule of law, and poor security provide enabling conditions for transnational threats. Patrick’s message to policymakers is not that they should become sanguine about weak and fragile states but that they should avoid false solutions and simplistic doctrines.