Nations at Risk

By Jenkins, Philip | The Christian Century, September 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Nations at Risk


Jenkins, Philip, The Christian Century


It's the world's least desirable club: the league of failed and failing states. Every year, the Fund for Peace presents its list of the world's shakiest political entities. Qualifications for entry into the club include such factors as demographic crisis, economic decline and bloody intergroup conflict. A failed state is one that loses control of large parts of its territory and fails to provide rudimentary public services, State agencies become in effect criminal organizations, allied with gangs and terrorist factions in bloody battles over state property and natural resources. Gradually, the accumulation of disasters leads to the utter collapse of state authority and its replacement by private militias or warlords. Last year, unsurprisingly, Somalia led the pack of quasistates and nonstates.

Understanding the process of state disintegration is vital for anyone who cares about religion and the fate of fellow believers. Failed states are the troubled home of some of the world's largest populations of both Christians and Muslims, and the concentration of both faiths in dysfunctional and violent countries will grow apace in the coming decades. Billions of people will have to cope with settings utterly lacking in the fundamental protections and services that Euro-Americans take for granted.

African nations lead the way in state failure, with 11 of the top 20 cases in last year's listing. Six more are in east and south Asia, two in the Middle East, and just one--Haiti--in the Western Hemisphere. The fact that most of the candidates cluster in the tropics will matter immensely if climate change develops as predicted. This is the area most likely to be hit by global warming, with all that implies for spreading desertification and decreased access to water and food.

Of course, the problems facing these countries could improve, or perhaps the states will fragment into new political entities, and at least some of those could become stable and prosperous. But for the sake of argument let us assume that the world's present political map will keep roughly its present shape through the mid-century.

Because these countries continue to have the highest birth rates on the planet, their populations will make up an increasing share of the human race by mid-century, and will represent a major component of global migration. …

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