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Why 'Failed States' is nothing more than a Western fear

September 29, 2015 0 Comment

Why ‘Failed States’ is nothing more than a Western fear

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Must read research proposal – everything there is a must!

The term “failed state” became a prominent academic and policy discourse at the beginning of the 1990s. With the increase of global violence, scholars attempted to identify the reasons as to why certain states failed to fulfil its basic obligation to its people. While the study of failed states initially concentrated on Africa, the so called failed states became a threat to international security in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
However, there are a number of questions that come to mind with this approach on failed states. While it cannot be denied that the majority of the nations labelled as a failed state suffer many political and security challenges; not much study was done on clarifying the cause of such uncertainties. It focuses entirely on the state’s failure and ignores the historical development which may have caused such a result such as colonisation (Hameiri, 2007). Furthermore, there is much disagreement with scholars on the definition of the concept and is often interpreted very differently within political ideologies.
Secondly, the concept of security itself tends to be understood in a Realist and Westphalian ideal. From a realist perspective, inter-state conflicts is a major security concern for states and failed states leads to security concerns such as terrorism (Cecon, 2014). As mentioned before, it was only after the 9/11 attacks that caused the Western policy makers to construct failed states as a security threat. According to Newman, this was an example of the “quintessential example of securitization”: issues are accorded as a threat through political labelling, rather than objective significance (Newman, 2009, 343).
The notion of a secure state according to Western standards was formulated in 1648, with fundamental principles in mutual recognition, independence and authority (Krasner, 2001). States are considered to be failed if they do not correspond to the Westphalian model which was constructed in a different political atmosphere from today (Cecon, 2014).
Finally, many theorists connected the theory of failed states to extremism by clustering all the states together and creating assumptions about “Failed States”. The association between the two are very complex and in reality, the majority of failed states do not have any terrorism activities (Piazza, 2008).
Of course, this does not mean the theory behind “Failed State” should be abandoned. Its rise in popularity recently suggests the need to further study the issue of political and security issues. To do this a critical approach to defining the terminology and security threat is required.
Thesis Statement
The term “Failed State” is not useful as it does not have a clear definition nor evidence of being a large security threat as it is accepted to be today.
Research Question/s:
Is the notion of failed states such a security threat given that the assumption that failed states causes extremism has been disputed?
•    How can states be considered a failed state when they have no authority over their own long-term stability once branded?
•    Does the label failed state allow legitimate military interventions, benefiting the ones intervening?
•    Does the securitization of the West externalize threats in the South as an excuse for intervention?
The objective of this research is to analyse the notion of failed states critically and objectively. It cannot be denied that the theory is very biased towards the Western world. Given the political and economic disadvantages that come from being branded as a failed state, it is necessary to ensure that they won’t be taken advantage of by other states. While this research does not aim to downplay any potential risks that come with failed states, it hopes to contribute the objective truth about the dangers of failed states and why the concept does not help analyse failed states but rather creates them.
Literature Review:
The literature I reviewed was “Failed States, Collapsed States, Weak States: Causes and Indicators” and “When States Fail” both by Robert Rotberg. He discusses some indicators of Failed States in his literature such as regimes preying on their own constituents and declining GDP figures (Rotberg, 2013).
However, I disagree with some of his arguments; economic decline is not an indicator of Failed States but rather the cause of it. There are many economic and political implications when a state is associated with the term failed state. Economically, no foreign investors will establish nor invest in a nation where he/she may not feel safe. While politically, they cannot take part in regional economic corporations.
Contrary to Rotberg’s arguments that states fail mainly due to internal corruption and conflicts, there are numerous theories that tend to explain why states usually fail. One of the most influential explanations is based on resource curse that was proposed by John and Rosser in 2006. Another example explaining the term failed state was developed by William Reno. He composed the idea of elite accommodation as his main point of argument. He argued that the end of the cold war led to the rise of political and economic liberalization policies that tended to put the traditional patterns under pressure in Sub-Saharan Africa region. Such traditional patterns in series undermined the incentives of rules of weak states to start and adopt conventional strategies that were meant to maximizing power using economic growth.
In order to approach this question, I will be mainly focused on theories backed up by case examples (such as Somalia etc).


Essay Question – focus more on conceptual issues rather than policy recommendations and rephrase the question for clarity
Case Study – Somalia is too broad, narrow the scope by looking at specific parameters of the language surrounding failed states and how the concept is used, or the core economic issues at stake (since you mentioned this).
Theory – conceptual approach you will use must be clear

Research Proposal Summary
•    Needs conceptual /theoretical/empirical issues with failed states: thesis will be that the concept of failed states has been exaggerated and is dominated by Western values.
o    Issues about the power of the ‘failed state’ rhetoric

•    Political concepts required: Realist and Westphalian idea (if there is another look that is fine but in both cases the conceptual approach that will be taken must be very clear)

•    Thesis statement: Is the notion of Failed States such a security threat given that the study is dominated by such Realist and Westphalian values? (can rephrase this)

•    Need a academic literature review on the concept of ‘Failed States’ – ‘Failed States, Collapsed States, Weak States: causes in indications” by Robert Rotberg – link that economic decline is not the cause of failed states but the result of it etc.

•    Need two case studies – look at the specific parameters of the language surrounding failed states and how it is used and its political and economic implications.

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