from Africa in Transition

What Can the United States Do About Failing States?

March 06, 2013

Blog Post

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Nigeria

Civil Society

Corruption

Around one billion people live in fragile or failing states. Yet no Washington administration has developed a strategy for helping such states address the causes of their fragility. Instead, most administrations respond ad hoc to the crises of the day, ranging from Tunisia and the debut of the Arab Spring, to Mali and radical Islamism in the Sahel. Too often, Washington’s focus is short term and on “international terrorism,” rather than on the root causes of state failure.

Pauline Baker and Eric Ham have done a public service by  proposing a comprehensive U.S. strategy for addressing state failure in their new report, S.O.S.: A U.S. Strategy of State-Building. They systematically designate four “core issues:” demographic pressure, economic and social inequality, broken security apparatus, and de-legitimization of the state. They propose that the United States work to build institutional capacity for good governance, but separate and apart from its military and security responses to counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Their proposal requires that Washington identify potential host governments with the need and willingness to be partners in state-building. Furthermore, the strategy encourages the United States to greatly enhance its cooperation and coordination with the business community and multinational organizations with the aim of fostering economic opportunity. To give state building its proper due, the report urges that a state-building strategy be included in the president’s National Security Strategy; and, moreover, that the administration establish an undersecretary for state-building in the Department of State.

Baker and Ham use Nigeria as a case study to demonstrate how their “core issues” influence state failure. They note that the already existing Nigeria-U.S. Bilateral Commission could be the entry point for the joint development of a comprehensive strategy to address state-building.

Baker and Ham’s “core issues” provide a useful analytical framework. Their proposed U.S. comprehensive strategy ought to lead to some fresh thinking about what Washington can do to strengthen failing states, even if some of their recommendations (e.g., establishment of an undersecretary for state-building) are bound to be controversial.

Pauline H. Baker is president emeritus of the Washington-based, non-governmental organization(NGO) Fund for Peace. She led the Fund’s development of an annual Failed State Index that is published by Foreign Policy. Eric Ham is at Global Political Solutions, a private business development and government relations firm. Baker and Ham led the Fragile State Strategy team of the Society for Internal Development’s (SID) Washington, DC chapter. SID is an NGO that has long focused on development issues, and  is associated with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

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