from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

An Alluring but Costly Distraction

After 9/11, the United States' foreign policy and security apparatuses adopted a new threat perception, one focused on failed and fragile states. The result: two decades of costly distractions.
U.S. soldiers from D Troop of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walk on a hill after finishing with a training exercise near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan December 30, 2014.
U.S. soldiers from D Troop of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walk on a hill after finishing with a training exercise near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan December 30, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In my weekly column for World Politics Review, I discuss the conventional wisdom of the failed state thesis that came to dominate U.S. foreign policy after 9/11, why it was so attractive, and how the United States' preoccupation with it undermined the country's capacity to deal with critical challenges of the twenty-first century. 

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is an opportune moment to reflect on the lessons the United States drew from those horrible events. One of the most problematic was the belief that the main threats to U.S. and international security emanated not from powerful states, as in the past, but from weak and failing ones. This questionable conviction led to a sweeping reorientation of U.S. foreign and national security policy that distracted the country from more important sources of danger and reinforced a militarized approach to the very real development and humanitarian needs of the world’s fragile states. 

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9/11

Fragile or Failed States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

In late summer 2001, the United States was at the zenith of its unipolar moment, with no peer competitor. The ability of al-Qaida to organize and carry out a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. homeland from Afghanistan, one of the most impoverished and least developed countries on Earth, delivered a shock to the national psyche comparable to and arguably greater than Pearl Harbor. Within U.S. policy circles, a new consensus quickly emerged, which then-President George W. Bush articulated in his first National Security Strategy published in June 2002: “America is now threatened less by conquering states than by failing ones.” The implication of 9/11, the author Thomas P. M. Barnett wrote in his bestselling 2005 book, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” was clear: “Disconnectedness defines danger.

Read the full World Politics Review article here.

More on:

9/11

Fragile or Failed States

Diplomacy and International Institutions