Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

States in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

States in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT.

The majority of states in the world today can be classified as weak, failing, or failed. These fragile states are unable to control their territory, maintain a monopoly over the use of force, or perform core functions for their citizens. Often they are also plagued by excessive corruption. As a result of these conditions, fragile states afford opportunities that various kinds of armed groups can and do exploit. Armed groups become empowered in these states and then pose threats to local, regional, and even global stability. As a result, weak, failing, and failed states will constitute a major international security problem well into the 21st century because they provide havens in which increasing powerful armed groups can recruit, plan, train, and build up a resource base and from which they can deploy to execute operations.

Keywords: fragile states, armed groups, legitimacy, security, capacity, conflict

1. Introduction

There are many more states today than there were a century ago.1 Not only are there more states, but there are also many more types of states, many of which can be classified as weak, failing, or failed. The proliferation of states has fundamentally altered the contemporary security landscape. Weak, failing, and failed states provide havens in which increasing powerful armed groups can recruit, plan, train, and build up a resource base and from which they can deploy to execute operations.

In the 21st century, the majority of the world's nearly 200 states can be classified as weak, failing, or failed.2 In other words, more than half of the world's population lives in fragile states that are likely to be among the preponderant sources of instability, conflict, and war over the next decade or two, at the very least.3 These states provide the conditions for the incubation and maturation of hundreds of armed groups to include insurgents, terrorists, militias, and criminal organizations.4 They are also vulnerable to exploitation by an array of other state and nonstate actors who exploit these states' lack of territorial control, security, and legitimacy to advance their global interests and aims.

The preponderance of fragile states has contributed to the emergence of an increasingly decentralized world in which conflicts and hostilities manifest themselves. It has created opportunities for competent authoritarian states to project power in their geographic region and potentially beyond, exploiting fragile states to create new types of coalitions, partnerships, and networks of state and nonstate actors. It has relegated strong stable democracies to the minority of the world's state actors, and created a host of serious challenges with which they must contend for the foreseeable future. In 2002, the U.S. National Security Strategy recognized that "America is now threatened less by conquering states than... by failing ones."5 The 2010 National Security Strategy echoed this caution. "Failing states breed conflict and endanger regional and global security."6 Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stressed the gravity of these developments for U.S. security:

The recent past vividly demonstrated the consequences of failing to address adequately the dangers posed by insurgencies and failing states. Terrorist networks can find sanctuary within the borders of a weak nation and strength within the chaos of social breakdown. The most likely catastrophic threats to the U.S. homeland, for example, that of a U.S. city being poisoned or reduced to rubble by a terrorist attack, are more likely to emanate from failing states than from aggressor states.7

The proliferation of fragile states is at the core of an evolving complex security landscape that is likely to persist for decades. Defining the contours of this complex new environment requires a better understanding of how and why the proliferation of states is shaping its transformation. This will be accomplished by developing two ways to categorize and assess contemporary state actors. …

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