On the Brink, Weak States and US National Security

John Edward Porter
Stuart E. Eizenstat
July 19, 2005

A Report of the Commission for Weak States and US National Security

Terrorists training at bases in Afghanistan and Somalia. Transnational crime networks putting down roots in Myanmar/Burma and Central Asia. Poverty, disease, and humanitarian emergencies overwhelming governments in Haiti and Central Africa. A common thread runs through these disparate crises that form the fundamental foreign policy and security challenges of our time. These crises originate in, spread to, and disproportionately affect developing countries where governments lack the capacity, and sometimes the will, to respond. In the most extreme cases, these states have completely failed, as in Afghanistan, Haiti, or Somalia. In many others, states are not failed but weak. Governments are unable to do the things that their own citizens and the international community expect from them: protecting people from internal and external threats, delivering basic health services and education, and providing institutions that respond to the legitimate demands and needs of the population.

These weak and failed states matter to American security, American values, and the prospects for global economic growth upon which the American economy depends.Spillover effects—from conflict, disease, and economic collapse—put neighboring governments andpeoples at risk. Illicit transnational networks, particularly terrorist and criminal groups, target weak and failed states for their activities. Regional insecurity is heightened when major powers in the developing world, such as Nigeria or Indonesia, come under stress. Global economic effects come into play where significant energy-producing states, regional economic powers, and states key to trade negotiations are weak. Finally, the human costs of state failure—when governments cannot or will not meet the real needs of their citizens—challenge American values and moral leadership around the globe.

For these reasons, weak and failed states pose a 21st century threat that requires institutions and engagement renewed for the 21st century.But, the security challenge they present cannot be met through security means alone. The roots of this challenge—and long-term hope for its resolution—lie in development, broadly understood as progress toward stable, accountable national institutions that can meet citizens’ needs and take full part in the workings of the international community.

Access the book from the main initiative page.

Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)
Appendices (PDF)
Commissioner Biographies (PDF)

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