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Addressing the Problem of Failed States: A New Instrument

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Journal Article

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U.S. Department of State Washington United States

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The problem of failed states and ungoverned spaces is not new. Since the appearance of the first civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India, there have been frontiers and wildernesses without governance. Naturally, these spaces often represented a grave threat to neighbors. Over 2,000 years ago, the Chinese built the Great Wall to keep out intruders from the Eurasian steppes, and over 1,600 years ago, the Romans built a complex defensive system to demarcate and defend its borders in Germany and England. In the past, ungoverned spaces posed a problem only for immediate neighbors. But today, failed states, failing states, and ungoverned spaces may pose a security threat to states around the world. This was brought home on September 11, 2001, when a terrorist group launched themost lethal attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor from a safe haven thousands of miles away. This was a global wakeup call announcing a new era in international relations. The hopes entertained after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 for a New World Order or an end of history were not to be. Indeed, the postCold War world has turned out to be disorderly and dangerous. According to the Failed States Index 2009, there are no fewer than 40 failing states today, many of which are the source of the worlds worst problems of instability and violence. The challenge posed by failed states and ungoverned spaces will last a generation or more. This is a consequence of paradoxical tendencies within the international system. On the one hand, globalization, the extraordinary interconnectedness of economies and societies around the world, will likely grow as advances in communications and transportation continue. Yet while our national societies and economies are interacting ever more closely, there are centrifugal tendencies pulling states apart.

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  • Government and Political Science

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