Failed and Collapsed States in the International System

01 December 2003

This report is available in PDF format.


  • Introduction
  • Key Issues
  • Tensions in the International System
  • Scenarios
  • Conclusions

The Report's Conclusions

It is not the purpose of this report to make detailed policy recommendations. It aims merely to signpost some possible areas of attention in the light of current and possible future trends in regard to the number of failing states in the world. The first and most urgent requirement is to see the world as it is rather than as we wish it to be. This is not a recommendation for cynicism or an abandonment of ideals of equity and justice. It does mean ceasing to pretend that the number of failing states is few, that they are of little importance for the world, or that current development policies might result in things going better in due course. These are all unrealistic or inaccurate perceptions. What exactly constitutes international justice and equity is beyond the scope of this report, but it does appear that if considerable numbers of people in the world are dissatisfied with their condition, international security will deteriorate. The following conclusions, then, relate only to the policy areas that are likely to be critical in any event over the next few years, whatever scenario unfolds, and that will contribute to eventual outcomes:

  • The trans-Atlantic relationship. The security and prosperity of Europe since 1945 have been based on a close alliance with the USA. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been signs of a weakening of this relationship, which may have lost some of its rationale. The policy of the Bush administration, particularly since late 2002, has raised serious questions about the long-term future of this relationship. Clearly, EU member-states will need to consider long and hard their attitude towards this question. Whatever the outcome, it will have momentous consequences in virtually all sectors.
  • Security and the future of NATO. This is clearly connected to the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship. However, even in the event of continuing close military cooperation between EU countries and the USA, NATO or any similar structure will need to give serious attention to its policy in regard to failing states outside its own territory. In short, should NATO countries develop a collective policy and capacity towards interventions in failing states in e.g. central Asia or Africa? Inasmuch as they have these capacities, they will need to be accompanied by suitable political and diplomatic policies. In short, the question of security and security structures must be at the heart of a more integrated approach to the question of failing states.
  • Migration will continue to be a major question under all circumstances. Current EU regimes on migration are generally unsustainable over the medium term. Migration policies need to be tailored to the projected demographic development of EU countries themselves (implying a need for more migration) but also to the situation of countries producing migrants. Draconian measures are likely to be ineffective in halting immigration entirely but are likely to force more migrants into illegality and into semi-criminal circuits. Unpalatable measures, such as the formal creation of two-tier citizenship (i.e. provision for migrants to live and work legally but without access to social welfare services) are a real possibility.
  • In connection with policy on migration, "dense" systems of North-South partnership need to be considered. In cases where failing states are sources of out-migration, thought will need to be given to possible strengthening via direct intervention by EU countries (cf. Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire). This may extend beyond government structures: for example, teaching hospitals in the Netherlands that chronically lack nurses or other personnel may directly sponsor sister-institutions in countries such as Ghana, recruiting a quota of graduates from the South each year for their own needs, while also ensuring a plentiful supply of locally qualified staff. (A similar system has been pioneered by football clubs sponsoring "feeder" clubs in the South). European publics will need to become more familiar with the prospect of schemes of this sort.
  • Economic development policies grafted on the tenets of neoliberalism have at best led to ambivalent outcomes. Officials in EU countries may have to rethink the assumed likelihood that these policies will be able to stem downward spirals of economic stagnation and state collapse.
  • There is a revival of religion in the world that is of major importance. Officials and the general public in EU countries are likely to see an enhanced importance of religion in both political and social fields as migrants settle in their countries. Great care will need to be taken if this is not to become a ground of conflict. Administrative attention to religion need not imply abandoning the traditional European policy of separation of church and state. It may imply, though, officials monitoring developments in the religious field as they do, for example, in regard to the private economic sector.

"Failed States" is a joint project of TNI, Centro de Investigacion para la Paz (CIP, Madrid), Instituto de Estudios Sobre conflictos y Accion Humanitaria (IECAH, Madrid) and the Centre for Social Studies (Lisbon). This project is studying failed or failing states in the context of the fundamental shift in global relations that has occurred since the end of the Cold War. Unlike most other studies in this field, this project looks to explain state failure not just in terms of endogenous factors but also in terms of the impact of international factors and context. Furthermore, it looks at the effect of failed states internationally. The project challenges the idea that failed states can be technically rehabilitated without a reshaping of the international system of governance itself. Collaborators are drawn from the African Studies Centre at Leiden University, The Netherlands; the Department of International Relations at Coimbra University, Portugal and the Centre for Peace Studies in Madrid and the Transnational Institute.
For more information, contact Mariano Aguirre or David Sogge.