Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle


Insecurity in the 21st century appears to come less from the collisions of powerful states than from the debris of imploding ones. This paper aims to improve the understanding and treatment of failed states by focusing on critical challenges at the intersections between security, economics, and politics and on the guiding goal of lifting local populations from the status of victims of failure to agents of recovery.


In their research and field experience, the authors have observed a wide gulf separating the treatment of the security problems of failed states from the treatment of those states’ economic problems. This, in turn, may impair treatment of political problems. Such disunity of effort in assisting failed states may suboptimize resource allocation, hinder coordination, and cause important demands to be neglected. With their different backgrounds—security, economic development, political systems, health policy, and institution-building—the authors felt that, as a team, they might be able to forge an integrated, general approach to rescuing failed states, recognizing that each specific case demands a tailored approach. After holding a seminar with representatives of the World Bank, the United Nations, development agencies, and several security organizations, the rand team set out in search of ideas that would bridge the gap and thus permit more effective strategies and actions toward failed states.

The approach on which they settled was to identify certain critical difficulties that contribute to the cycle of violence, economic collapse, and political failure that ensnares vulnerable states. While such difficulties demand special attention, they often suffer from inattention— precisely because they fall into the crevasses between security, economics, and politics. Simply stated, the international community is ill equipped to treat the causes of state failure.

For experts in development and security, the critical challenges flagged and solutions offered by the team may not be novel. Rather, they may reflect concerns that such experts have harbored but have been unable to tackle satisfactorily because of the jurisdictional limits, bureaucratic-cultural impediments, and disconnected funding mechanisms that form institutional gaps that experts themselves cannot bridge. Thus, while this paper should be of interest to researchers and practitioners, it is primarily intended for policymakers—legislators, senior officials in national governments, and executives in international organizations, up to and including ministers and members of governing boards—who are in a position to break down the barriers that have impeded success in breaking the failed-state cycle.

In an attempt to reach across the divide that hinders efforts to treat failed states, this work was supported by several rand research units involved in security and development. the research was sponsored by rand Health, the rand National Defense Research Institute, rand Arroyo Center, and rand Project air force and was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the rand National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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