According to international security experts, the new president of the United States can’t afford to ignore events in so-called fragile states. They’re convinced that occurrences in developing countries with poor governance will in the near future increasingly bear upon the lives of Americans. But the analysts say in recent years, the US has struggled to implement strategies to help improve conditions in these 50 or so weak states, most of which are in Africa. An American expert on fragile states is calling on the new man in the White House to adopt what he calls an “integrated approach” to security and development that concentrates specifically on countries with ineffective governance.
Stewart Patrick is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the director of the organization’s program on Institutions and Global Governance.
“A fragile state is one that cannot meet the functions that one associates with state sovereignty,” he says.
During his time as a fellow at one of the US’s leading think tanks, the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., Patrick conducted extensive research into failed and failing states. According to him, these countries can be so defined because they can’t provide “basic physical security” to their citizens, and “can’t control the territory of the state.” They also fail to provide “basic social welfare” and “access to food and basic services” such as health to inhabitants. The weak states, says Patrick, fail to manage their economies “in a way that’s conducive to the growth of the private sector…. The final component which is absent in many fragile states is effective government and political institutions that provide accountability for the inhabitants of a country.”
Patrick adds, “If you look around the world, there’s huge disparity in the ability of states to provide one, or in some cases all, of these basic political goods.” Most of these states, he says, are in Africa, and are home to a billion of the world’s inhabitants.
“Africa’s really the host of the most fragile states in the world, for a number of different reasons, many of them historical,” Patrick comments. “Probably the archetype of a fragile – or really a failed state – is Somalia, which has been for nearly 20 years without any effective central government institutions…. It has very little effective control over much of the territory and it exercises virtually no economic management.”
In Somalia, international aid groups provide services that should be the domain of the government, and security is provided to its Transitional Federal Government by an external force, namely Ethiopia.
Patrick also considers the Democratic Republic of Congo, where war has raged for years, to be a failed state, as well as Zimbabwe, which under President Robert Mugabe has undergone a “precipitous decline” due to “government mismanagement” that’s ravaged the economy and led to a “drastic decline in the standard of living” in recent years.
Terrorism, drug trafficking, disease
Patrick says it’s “no longer possible for the world’s richest and most powerful country” – namely the US – “to remain indifferent to the fate of the planet’s impoverished, insecure, and misgoverned countries.”
He explains, “As global interdependence has accelerated, one of the things that we’ve found is that problems rarely remain within sovereign frontiers…. There’s great evidence that at times, transnational threats spill across the borders of weak and failing states and are facilitated by weak and dysfunctional governments.”
Crime, Patrick says, is a prime example.
“Most of the major epicenters of narcotics production and in many cases transit of illegal drugs occur through weak and failing states” in South America, such as Colombia, and the Middle East, such as Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation makes it the center of the world’s heroin supply.
The drugs, says Patrick, end up on American streets and are increasingly being processed in and transported from African states where controls are lax.
“A recent example of the connection between state fragility and transnational threats is the case of Guinea Bissau, which in recent years has become a haven for narcotics trafficking from Latin America. This is a direct result of incredibly weak institutions in the country, which have allowed drug traffickers to run rampant and to bribe government officials in that country.”
The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime recently recognized the burgeoning narcotics crisis in Guinea Bissau and called for extraordinary attention to be paid to the very small country in West Africa.
Turning to the terrorism threat posed to the US by failed states, Patrick again cites Afghanistan, where according to American security agencies the al-Qaeda organization planned the September 11, 2001, assault on US targets. This, he states, provides the best-known example “of the world’s most powerful country attacked by terrorists operating from one of the world’s weakest and poorest states.”
Before the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden found safe haven in another weak state in Africa, Sudan, and the organization also planned attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania from bases in Somalia.
But Patrick says the tendency of state weakness to generate or facilitate transnational threats is not limited to terrorism.
“If one looks at new and emerging infectious diseases around the world, one finds that the inability of states to fulfill public health functions, including surveillance and reaction to disease, has been a grave (contributory) aspect in the spread of these diseases.”
He points to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic and bird flu in recent years, which scientists say originated in poor areas in south Asia, and spread to parts of the developed world.
‘Whole of government’ US approach
Patrick says despite “unprecedented rhetorical attention” to fragile states from Washington since the events of 9/11, the United States’ “strategic mindset” regarding these countries “has not fundamentally changed.”
“Since 9/11, there has been a great degree of rhetorical emphasis placed by the Bush administration on weak and failing states as being increasingly important from a national security perspective, and there’s also growing recognition that weak and failing states represent the hard core of the global development challenge,” Patrick explains. “But despite this recognition and this insight, there has been a lack of strategy.”
He says the US hasn’t paid enough attention to the “goal of actually preventing weak and failing states from sliding into instability and conflict.”
Instead, Patrick emphasizes, Washington has placed a “much greater emphasis on post-conflict reaction. There has been too little investment in the means that are required to actually help foster institutions in developing countries, particularly those that suffer from very weak institutions.”
The Bush administration says it is heavily involved in strengthening democratic institutions in fragile states, such as in Iraq and, through initiatives like the Millennium Challenge Account, in Africa.
But Patrick says “much more” is required.
“What’s needed from the next president is a strategic approach to state fragility and failure that recognizes that any effort to build institutions or to nurture institutions in the developing world will require from the US what I call a ‘whole of government’ approach. This would bring all of the instruments of national power and influence that are relevant, to bear.”
He calls on the next administration to rely less on its military instruments “both to reconstruct countries emerging from conflict and also to help stabilize countries that the United States thinks are in danger of instability.”
Patrick wants Washington to utilize its “civilian tools,” which he says are “much more appropriate towards helping to nurture effective states.”
He also wants the new administration to cooperate to a greater degree with the international community in strengthening weak countries in Africa.
The Bush administration says its new military command for Africa, AFRICOM, is evidence of its growing commitment to developing and securing fragile states.
Patrick acknowledges, “On one level, the creation of AFRICOM is a very welcome development, because it rationalizes the US Defense Department’s approach to Africa and promises that there will be more sustained attention by senior US policymakers to security challenges on the African continent.”
But he says the new president is going to have to deal with “risk” involved in AFRICOM.
“The Bush administration appears to be looking at AFRICOM as the proper platform for integrating all of US policy engagement with the African continent…. The symbolic problem (with this) is that it appears to militarize the US approach to the continent by having as the instrument of US policy integration, a combatant command.”
Patrick continues that one of the “substantive problems” with AFRICOM is that “because it’s so heavily military in its personnel, there is a danger that the instruments and policy choices made by the Command will focus more heavily on aspects of security in the relevant countries, rather than the long-term developmental challenges and governance challenges that are really central to the long-term goal of stability and response of governance in African countries.”
AFRICOM officials counter that some of the Command’s top personnel are civilian development experts, and these people – and not military officers – will lead its development efforts in Africa.
Nevertheless, Patrick calls on the new man in the White House to adopt a “comprehensive, integrated approach to the continent of Africa” that places civilian agencies “in the forefront, places the main accent of US policy on diplomatic and development efforts, and takes a more multilateral form, rather than the current US-designed and solely US-implemented approach that relies heavily on military instruments.”
‘Realistic’ American democracy promotion
Patrick says the Bush administration deserves praise for creating the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which he describes as a “foreign aid basket…. devoted to countries that are well governed and have strong institutions.”
He says the MCA is “limited” in that it doesn’t strengthen countries that are most in need of support.
“The MCA was created with the rationale that aid is most effective in good policy institutional environments. However, while the MCA is appropriate for a certain sub-set of countries that are high-performing, it risks leaving behind the countries where the world’s bottom (poorest) billion (people) inhabit - and that includes many of the countries in Africa.”
Patrick wants to see the new president expanding the United States’ ability to improve conditions in especially weak nations.
“Those include improved efforts to deliver rule of law assistance, including police and judiciary assistance, which is critical for good governance in many of these countries.”
He argues that the next administration should pursue “realistic democracy promotion” in failed or failing states.
“A realistic policy of democracy promotion would recognize that there are inherent limits to what outsiders can accomplish by themselves in transforming the governance structures and political systems of foreign countries…. The next administration should continue to promote democracy in other countries, but it should do so in a slightly less hectoring and more low profile way.”
He wants the new president to adopt a policy of fostering democracy that recognizes that the creation of democratic institutions is an “extremely long-term process that, ultimately, is the responsibility of the peoples and leaders of the countries that it’s attempting to assist.”
Patrick also wants the US’s efforts to promote democracy in Africa and other parts of the world to embrace advice from the international community.
“It needs to be more of a multilateral undertaking, rather than a ‘Made in the USA’ enterprise. In some cases the United States has been too quick to try to promote very rapid elections. And in highly divided societies – particularly ones vulnerable to conflict or just emerging from conflict – a monomaniacal focus on elections in and of themselves can be highly destabilizing,” he maintains.
Patrick calls for more “organization” in Washington in this regard.
“The US has a democracy promotion framework that is not particularly integrated right now, and so the next administration must try to bring together and improve the coherence of the multiple agencies that the US now has involved in delivering assistance for democracy, which can range from improving independent media to public education to civic education to actual electoral assistance.”
He advises the next administration in Washington to establish “much closer” ties with and support for the African Union, which he describes as one of the “best” developments in Africa in recent history.