Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security

Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security

Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security

Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security


Conventional wisdom holds that weak and failing states are the source of the world's most pressing security threats. After all, the 9/11 attacks originated in an impoverished, war-ravaged country, and transnational crime appears to flourish in weakly governed states. However, our assumptions about the threats posed by failing states are based on anecdotal arguments, not on a systematic analysis of the connections between state failure and transnational security threats. Analyzing terrorism, transnational crime, WMDs, pandemic diseases, and energy insecurity, Stewart Patrick shows that while some global threats do emerge in fragile states, most of their weaknesses create misery only for their own citizenry. Moreover, many threats originate farther up the chain, in wealthier and more stable countries like Russia and Venezuela. Weak Links will force policymakers to rethink what they assume about state failure and transnational insecurity.


One of the defining challenges in our world, now and for many years to come, will be to deal
with weak and poorly governed state’s—state’s that are on the verge of failure, or indeed,
state’s that have already failed. These crises create environments of anarchy, and conflict, and
ungoverned space—where violence and oppression can spread; where arms traffickers and
other transnational criminals can operate with impunity; and where terrorists and extrem
ists can gather, and plot, and train to kill the innocent. in a world as increasingly connected
as ours, the international state system is only as strong as its weakest links.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, July 16, 2008

[Al-Qaeda recruits] operate freely in the disaffected communities and disconnected
corners of our interconnected world—the impoverished, weak and ungoverned state’s
that have become the most fertile breeding grounds for transnational threats like terror
and pandemic disease and the smuggling of deadly weapons.

Senator Barack Obama, April 23, 2007

It has become commonplace to claim that the gravest dangers to U.S. and world security are no longer military threats from rival great powers but rather cross-border threats emanating from the world s most poorly governed, economically stagnant, and conflict-ridden countries. Public officials and the media—as well as many scholars— depict weak and failing state’s as generating or enabling a vast array of dangers, from transnational terrorism to weapons proliferation, organized crime, humanitarian catastrophes, regional conflict, mass migration, pandemic disease, environmental degradation, and energy insecurity. Leading thinkers like Francis Fukuyama argue, “Since the end of the Cold War, weak and failing state’s have arguably become the single-most important problem for international order.” Official Washington agrees. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has spoken of the “chaos that flows from failed state’s,” which serve as “breeding grounds, not only for the worst abuses of human beings . . .

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