Failed state

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A "failed state" is one that has a "shattered social and political structure." For example, in a September 10, 2002 article, CNN said that, Afghanistan, "after more than two decades of constant warfare," was "a nation in ruins." Towns and cities had become "reduced to rubble" and its social and political structure had become "torn apart by years of bitter conflict. ... It was this failed state, [said] Western leaders, that allowed Afghanistan to become a home to terrorists -- in turn paving the way for the events of September 11[, 2001]."

In August 2001, Pakistan was described as having "failed to achieve political stability, sustained economic growth or a clear sense of national identity."

Daniel Thürer, Dr. jur., LL.M. (Cambridge), Professor of International Law, European Law, Constitutional Law and Administrative Law at the University of Zurich, writing for the International Review of the Red Cross December 1999, says "Failing States are invariably the product of a collapse of the power structures providing political support for law and order, a process generally triggered and accompanied by anarchic forms of internal violence." He says that the "former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, described this situation in the following way:

"'A feature of such conflicts is the collapse of state institutions, especially the police and judiciary, with resulting paralysis of governance, a breakdown of law and order, and general banditry and chaos. Not only are the functions of government suspended, but its assets are destroyed or looted and experienced officials are killed or flee the country. This is rarely the case in inter-state wars. It means that international intervention must extend beyond military and humanitarian tasks and must include the promotion of international reconciliation and the re-establishment of effective government.'"

"States in which institutions and law and order have totally or partially collapsed under the pressure and amidst the confusion of erupting violence, yet which subsist as a ghostly presence on the world map," Thürer says, "are now commonly referred to as failed States or Etats sans gouvernement."

Thürer states that, "However, neither expression is sufficiently precise. Failed is too broad a term, for, going to the opposite extreme, the aggressive, arbitrary, tyrannical or totalitarian State would equally be regarded as having failed -- at least according to the norms and standards of modern-day international law. On the other hand, "State without government" is too narrow, since, in the type of State [Thürer disccuses in his] article, it is not only the central government but all the other functions of the State which have collapsed." For this reason, Thürer says the term failed State should be understood to mean disintegrated or collapsed State."

An important caveat about these claims is that, as John Pilger says, "Poor countries are 'failed states'; those that oppose America are 'rogue states'; an attack by the west is a 'humanitarian intervention'." In other words, that the phrase failed state is an aspect of neo-colonialism where outsiders with superior technology and what they claim is a superior culture, assess the value of a state or what powers they say a state must have. Accordingly, some opponents of Imperial terror have lately begun to use the "failed state" rhetoric to describe both the United States, and Israel, arguing that these states have never managed to exist without conflict with their neighbours, and have inherently colonial mandates rooted in religious doctrines that are, at best, incompatible with the postmodern world. As Gwyn Dyer says, "these are modern states in a postmodern world." Examples of this counter-rhetoric are provided below.

However, there is some consensus that there ought to be a formal definition of a failed state for purposes of justifying humanitarian invention by the UN.

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Articles & Commentary

Iraq as a "failed state"

Somalia as a "failed state"

Afghanistan as a "failed state"

Pakistan as a "failed state"

Liberia as a "failed state"

Guinea as a "failed state"

Solomon Islands as a "failed state"

Russia as a "failed state"