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CIAO Focus, October 2013: The International Response to Fragile States

The “fragile states” concept is widely used in peacebuilding and statebuilding. Yet the term itself, as well as its use, is the topic of considerable debate. There is no internationally agreed definition of what is meant by fragile states. The term encompasses a number of partially overlapping yet distinct notions and labels. The models that are used to identify, measure, and monitor fragility often compare countries and situations that are so heterogeneous that the value of such comparisons is not clear.

Many critics therefore feel that the term is overly simplistic, arbitrary and based on generalities. It can overlook socioeconomic and historic specificities, and diverse situations within a country and across areas of state rule. It is also often considered pejorative and stigmatising. There is even the concern that the term is simply being used, or “instrumentalised”, to serve the political agenda of “strong states”.

However, what the fragile states debate has achieved is to focus attention on some of the world’s most neglected countries. It has also raised awareness of the complex web of factors that may contribute to state fragility and the importance of understanding the complicated contexts in which external actors try to intervene. For instance, the concept stresses the linkages between poverty, economic and political governance, security and conflict, and the need for mutually-supportive policies and approaches. By doing so, it has highlighted areas of opportunity for international engagement and acknowledged the many challenges and dilemmas faced.

Furthermore, while it is unclear how and to what extent this debate has shaped existing international policies, or whether it has been effective in activating coherent early response or prevention strategies in deteriorating fragile situations, what it does do is stress the role of the state. In doing so it has focused attention on the role and impact of external policies in support of more effective and resilient states.

--Fernanda Faria, Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre


From the CIAO Database:

A New Agenda for Education in Fragile States

Somalia Redux? Assessing the New Somali Federal Government

Fragility and State-Society Relations in South Sudan

Implementing a Results-Based Approach to Strengthen IDA Support for Fragile States

Fragile states: a fluid concept for peacebuilding and statebuilding

Africa's Fragile States: Empowering Extremists, Exporting Terrorism

Aid Effectiveness in Fragile States: Lessons from the First Generation of Transition Compacts

Outside Sources: *

The Failed States Index (Fund for Peace)

Fragility, Conflict and Violence (The World Bank)

Crisis States Research Network (LSE International Development)

Assessing State Fragility: A Country Indicators for Foreign Policy Report (CIFP Report)

Fragile States, Global Consequences Part 1 (YouTube Video)

* Outside links are not maintained. For broken outside links, CIAO recommends the Way Back Machine.