chapter  4
17 Pages

4 Regional crisis, conflict and fragile states CATY CLéMeNT

The notion that fragile states constitute a strategic threat to the Global North is fairly recent. In fact, even well into the twentieth century, what are now conceived of as fragile states were still perceived as an opportunity by the strong states of the international system to extend their zone of influence, be it through annexation, or direct, indirect or post-colonial rule. The Global North was made up of few strong states whose boundaries shifted frequently as they integrated or lost territory. One-sixth of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in fragile states whose toxic potential is considerable: although representing only 13 percent of all states, they account for half of the world’s civil wars.1 There is no doubt that fragile states constitute a substantial threat to the international system; they were involved in 77 percent of all international crises of the post-Cold War era. Failed states share some characteristics, particularly the appalling living conditions suffered by their population, and the enduring character thereof. An average failing state stays that way for about 59 years,2 while in states emerging from war there is a 50 percent chance that conflict will resume within the following five years.3 Thirteen years into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) war, according to International Rescue Committee mortality surveys, death rates today remain well above the regional average with over 1,300 excess deaths on a daily basis. In Liberia, 75 percent of women have been raped at least once and the practice continues unabated.4 The conceptual shift from fragile states as “opportunities for influence and expansion,” to weak environments that pose “strategic threats” over the past 20 years is the result of a growing concern in the most developed countries for their own human security. The notion of political power as a personal fiefdom has by and large disappeared in the West in favor of “democracy for the people,” including their well-being. Although considerable disagreements exist on the root causes and remedies of state failure, the international system and its critics agree that weak states are:

1 a problem 2 for their people as well as for

3 the international system as whole; 4 remedies have often been ineffective, and, 5 something needs to be done.5