The Threat of Violent Conflict and Failed States
Fragile states are both cause and manifestation of a breakdown in international order. States that cannot maintain the rule-of-law or provide for the well-being of their citizens are closely associated with civil violence and amplify the risk of transnational threats such as terrorism and deadly infectious disease. Civil violence often crosses borders and draws regional and international actors into its vortex. Today’s cases – Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, and Lebanon – demonstrate the consequences: lives lost, many more futures diminished, regional rivalries inflamed, and the credibility of international institutions in doubt. Moreover, the failure of the international system to manage violent conflict is only magnified by the apparent weaknesses in halting large-scale human rights abuses or even mass killings – as we have been witnessing in Darfur.
The indicators about what lies ahead are worrying. A number of large, populous countries face risks of serious political instability (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia) or institutional collapse (Nigeria), with enormous economic, humanitarian and security implications spreading beyond their own borders. The international system lacks an effective mechanism either for promptly addressing the underlying sources of such instability, or for identifying and proactively responding to potential triggers. Similarly, several conflicts in the Middle East are increasingly linked to one another – sectarian and terrorist violence in Iraq, Iran's perceived rise in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the internal Palestinian conflict, and Lebanon's struggle against Syrian influence – posing new challenges to regional and international security.
At the same time, the growth of peacekeeping over the last decade has stretched it to the breaking point, and has not been accompanied by effective peacebuilding, creating the risk that this investment will be squandered. The current demand for peacekeepers has reached an all time high; 180,000 of them serve in more than 20 conflicts. Serious failures in Lebanon or Darfur could result in a loss of credibility and retreat. A major setback in Afghanistan would signal that even the UN and NATO together cannot sustain a major operation in support of a fragile state seeking help to establish a fragile democracy – potentially doing more sustained damage than the Iraq rift.