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New from CGD

Weak States and Global Threats: Fact or Fiction?

April 3, 2006

Washington QuarterlyThe gravest dangers to international security come from the world's weakest states. Right? In fact, weak and failing states may be less central to terrorist operations and other global threats than is widely believed. CGD research fellow Stewart Patrick analyzes what types of weak states are associated with what types of threats in this new article in the Washington Quarterly. He argues that the connection depends on the specific threat and the sources of state weakness.

It has become a common claim that the gravest dangers to U.S. and international security are no longer military threats from rival great powers, but rather transnational threats emanating from the world’s most poorly governed countries. Poorly performing developing countries are linked to humanitarian catastrophes; mass migration; environmental degradation; regional instability; energy insecurity; global pandemics; international crime; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and, of course, transnational terrorism. This new preoccupation with weak states is not limited to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit has advocated a government-wide approach to stabilizing fragile countries, and Canada and Australia are following suit. The United Nations has been similarly engaged.

It is striking, however, how little solid empirical research underpins these sweeping assertions and policy developments. Policymakers have presumed a blanket connection between weak governance and transnational threats and have begun to implement policy responses. Yet, they have rarely distinguished among categories of weak and failing states or asked whether and how certain types of developing countries are associated with particular threats. This article from the Washington Quarterly considers which states are associated with which dangers.

The article is based on CGD Working Paper No. 73, Weak States and Global Threats: Assessing Evidence of Spillovers. It builds on prevous CGD work including the Commission on Weak States and US National Security.