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Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security (January - June 2004)
The Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security recognized that weak and failed states matter to U.S. national security, American values, and the prospects for global economic growth. The commission outlined a framework for action that seeks to mobilize key actors and instruments in U.S. foreign policy to the task of meeting the threat of weak states.
Research fellow Stewart Patrick spoke to the Eisenhower National Security Series conference on Stability Operations. He stressed the need to move toward a "Whole of Government" approach to preventing and responding to state failure. A more balanced approach uniting the "3Ds" of development, diplomacy and defense will require far greater investments in critical civilian agency capabilities for conflict prevention and post-conflict response, as well as a long-term, developmental perspective that avoids short term political expediency. The only effective "exit strategy" in post-conflict operations is the creation of effective states, through the nurturing of local institutions of governance.
Download the speech (pdf, 89KB)
The attacks of 9/11 prompted a decisive shift in U.S. rhetoric towards fragile states. Previously neglected, weak and fragile states were seen as a core development issue and a looming threat to global security. Five years later, what is the U.S. doing to meet this challenge? CGD research fellow Stewart Patrick recently analyzed the U.S. budget to see if the spending matched the rhetoric. He argues in a Q&A that the U.S. has yet to respond with sufficient funding or a coherent strategy.
Q. What are fragile states and why are they important for international development and U.S. security?
A: Fragile states have trouble performing the most basic functions of any effective state: delivering security to their people, governing legitimately, managing their economies, and providing basic social welfare. As many as 50 countries in the developing world fall into this category. They range from Pakistan, a brittle and chronically unstable nation, to war-torn Liberia, just starting to recover from decades of violence. In some cases fragility is closely linked to poverty. In others like Zimbabwe the big culprit is bad leadership by authoritarian elites. Whatever their origins, fragile states represent both the hard core of today's development challenge and a growing source of transnational threats, ranging from terrorism to crime to infectious disease, as I've argued in a previous working paper, Weak States and Global Threats: Assessing Evidence of Spillovers.
Q. What is the U.S. doing to respond to fragile states?
A: The attacks of 9/11 prompted a decisive shift in U.S. rhetoric toward fragile states. As the president declared at his 2002 National Security Strategy release, "The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders." But beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House has not yet developed a strategy to deal with fragile states, especially before such countries pose major threats to national security. Nor has it put its money where its mouth is. Our analysis of this year's U.S. budget request shows that, if you subtract aid to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- as well as HIV/AIDS spending -- total U.S. bilateral aid for the world's 50 most vulnerable countries amounts to little more than one dollar per person per year. I hope that the administration's recent foreign aid reorganization will begin to address this gap between rhetoric and reality.
Q. In providing aid to fragile states, how can the U.S. be sure the money is spent effectively and not lost to corruption?
A: There's no question that it's tough to spend aid money effectively in fragile states, particularly where host governments are unresponsive or where corruption is endemic. For this reason donors have tended to focus aid on "good performers," through such mechanisms as the Millennium Challenge Account. But we've also learned that it makes no sense, on humanitarian and national security grounds, to write off an entire class of developing countries. There's growing evidence that carefully targeted aid can help build capacity and commitment for reform in fragile states, which might entail working outside formal government or targeting specific sectors such as education. We recommend that U.S. policymakers treat foreign aid in fragile countries as a form of venture capital -- inherently more risky, but liable to have big payoffs.
Q. How does the U.S. compare to other donor governments working in fragile states?
A: The United States has made some headway. USAID has published its own "fragile states strategy." The State Department has created an office of post-conflict reconstruction. And the foreign aid reform project is meant to promote "effective democratic states" in the developing world. But compared to other donors, the U.S. approach is dominated by security-related concerns, particularly the Department of Defense, at the expense of a government-wide strategy. In contrast, some other donors--notably the United Kingdom--have moved toward a more genuinely "whole of government" approach to fragile states that unites defense, development, and diplomatic actors in a common effort. My colleague Kaysie Brown and I are completing a study on what major donor countries are doing to integrate the "3Ds" (defense, diplomacy and development) in engaging fragile states.
Q. What should be done to improve foreign aid in fragile states?
A: While engaging in fragile states can be risky, it is now clear that abandoning these countries is not the right answer. At the same time, research on "what works" in fragile states is still in its infancy. To increase our knowledge base, CGD has launched a multi-year initiative on Engaging Fragile States, supported in part by the Australian Agency for International Development (AUSAID). We hope to strengthen donor action in fragile states by answering questions such as: What can be done to promote aid effectiveness in the world's weak and failing states? How can external actors help address the endemic problems of corruption in poorly performing countries, particularly in resource-rich countries? And how can donors increase the coherence of their efforts to help prevent state collapse in the first place, rather than being left to pick up the pieces of yet another failed state?
In U.S. Foreign Aid Reform: Will It Fix What Is Broken? CGD research fellow Stewart Patrick says the U.S. foreign aid regime is broken, and it is not clear that the Bush administration's reform plan will fix it. Patrick proposes a total overhaul of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act and the creation of an independent, cabinet-level department for international development.Learn more
This new collection of essays sets an agenda for increased American effectiveness in dealing with failed states to promote economic development and international security. It includes an overview of the poorly understood challenge of weak and failed states and case studies by regional policy experts, then offers recommendations for reform of U.S. foreign and development policy to better meet the challenges posed by weak states.
In this new working paper, CGD Research Fellow Stewart Patrick urges analysts and policymakers to look more deeply at the links between failed states and global threats such terrorism, weapons proliferation, organized crime, and global pandemics. He then provides the tools: a framework for determining which types of states are associated with which dangers.
Helping ex-combatants re-join society is a critical step in war-to-peace transitions. CGD Non-Resident Fellow Jeremy Weinstein analyzed a large sample of ex-combatants in Sierra Leone to evaluate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs. Surprise finding: participants' age and gender, the main criteria used in program design, had little to do with success. Past experience - including abuse - mattered more.
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.
These weak and failed states matter to American security, American values, and the prospects for global economic growth upon which the American economy depends.