Events

Preventing the Next Wave of Conflict: Understanding Non-Traditional Threats to Global Security - Governance

August 01, 2002 // 12:00am

One of the most important lessons of September 11 is that the national security risks to the U.S. posed by the collapse of governments, even in distant, seemingly strategically-marginal countries, can be enormous. Al Qaeda gained strength over time because it found places where it could operate freely in the absence of a traditional government with an investment in the global community (Afghanistan, and before that, Sudan).

The number of states unable to sustain themselves and manage as part of the international community is growing. Countries like Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia and Cambodia are characterized by governmental inability to manage the state, control criminal elements, tackle social, economic and environmental challenges, or resolve conflicts over borders and territory. They can contribute to regional and global instability in several ways. By creating havens in which there is no rule of law, they permit the growth of transnational crime. As hosts to continuing conflicts over territory and the rights of religious and ethnic groups they often become gross violators of human rights, and generate humanitarian and refugee crises with regional implications for stability. The perpetual incapacity of these governments to solve problems and foster economic and social development erodes the faith of the citizenry in government, rendering the process of transformation and democratization more difficult.

Given the overwhelming persuasiveness of the research of democracy promotion as conflict prevention strategy, it would be easy to conclude that fostering the transition to democracy around the world is the best strategy for assuring U.S. and global security. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the process of democratic transition is unpredictable. Often the process fails or progress is extremely slow, and the risks to stability during and immediately following transformation are great. This meeting attempted to assess the importance to good governance, U.S. tactics to reduce governance-related instabilities, and potential priorities for U.S. action to reduce instability due to failures in governance.

Failed states working towards good governance and democracy should be supported, however, the best guarantee against instability and conflict is the existence of a strong state, Marina Ottaway said. But because the international community has limited capacity to encourage the required conditions for stability, it must make choices between longer goals and what is attainable in the short term. The ideal situation is a state with full control of its territory, clearly delineated borders, and an administrative capacity not only for making, but implementing policy. In her opinion, "there is not much point in talking about good governance if you do not have a functioning state to begin with. You cannot talk about democracy—at least at the government level—unless you have a functioning state. So in many ways the existence of a functioning state is the precondition," she said. Furthermore, under what conditions does a collapsed state pose a real danger of major conflict? Drawing an analogy to a natural disaster and the potential outbreak of cholera, she noted that the outbreak is not predetermined. Rather it will occur only if there is social infection to begin with; in other words, somebody has to be the carrier of that infection. In her opinion, state collapse may spiral into armed conflict as groups compete for power in an attempt to reconstitute the state. In Somalia, generally the textbook example of a failed state, conflict actually abated when groups ceased competing for control of the state. "I think that this has quite serious implications in terms of intervention, Ms. Ottaway said, "because what it means is that the international arrangement to restore the state can in fact be a major source of conflict in and of itself. Unless the intervention is decisive— meaning that is there is enough force deployed or enough diplomatic intervention—to impose the reconstitution of the state on the competing parties, the intervention can be a source of conflict rather than a source of stability...half measures are much more dangerous that no measures at all."

Furthermore, she noted that collapsed states do not automatically become major problems for the international community. On the contrary, terrorist groups often find it difficult to operate in splintered and fractured countries with limited infrastructure and services and while Afghanistan may be considered a failed state, that moniker is not accurate because as ruthless as the regime was, the Taliban did have a certain degree of authority. Still, "We cannot assume that whenever we find a really weak state or collapsed state the we automatically have all of these dire consequences even in terms of the threat to the public or in terms of international threat."

Referring to Samuel Huntington's observation that it is more important to understand the degree of governance rather than the kind of government in changing societies, she suggested, "State reconstruction efforts emphasizing good governance when the state lacks the capacity and infrastructure to implement any reforms, or even govern outside of the capital, are futile." Furthermore, tensions exist between the long-term concerns of the international community for capacity and institution building and the more immediate concerns of the population, including the government's capacity to provide basic services such as jobs, education, and health care.

Because democratization is inherently a destabilizing process, it should be undertaken sequentially, beginning with the construction of the state and leading to basic administrative issues and finally, democracy concerns, she suggested. By reestablishing stability, interventions by the international community might accelerate the process and modifying the sequence, but much depends on the level and character of the intervention. "I would argue that it is possible to conceive of having simultaneous processes toward state building, governance, re-establishing good governance and promoting democracy only if there is a major international presence and a major international investment."

Failing states, specifically countries unable to deliver basic services—education, health, food, and economic opportunities—pose humanitarian, political and strategic challenges and require the convergence of the humanitarian, political and military communities, Ambassador Richard Haass said. States such as Colombia and Pakistan, who are increasingly unable to manage their own security, are of particular importance to the United States. The traditional response of encouraging good governance through economic reforms has been too narrow, Haass suggested. He pointed out that countries can adopt fairly good economic policies and then for reasons that are partly domestic and partly international, "things do not go well. Unless you have the safety nets and unless you have the governance infrastructure there, these societies risked being overwhelmed...clearly one needs to introduce a larger political side on that side of reform."

Conditional aide, as exemplified by the Millennium Challenge Account, provides economic development assistance to developing countries that show commitment toward good governance, investments in education and health care and sound economic policies. Another way to encourage state behavioral changes is by offering institutional arrangements and membership in international institutions requiring certain types of structural adjustments.

The adage 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,' is true in the case of preventing state failure, as it is a lot cheaper than dealing with its consequences. "The problem for policy makers is that it is harder to make the case for prevention than for dealing with consequences," he said. "Once you have the mess on your hands, you can point to it and it is often dramatic. But until you have it, it is hard to get the international community to notice, and it is equally hard to get Congress to put up the resources to deal with it," Ambassador Haass said.

However state failure was encouraged in places like the Soviet Union, South Africa and would be welcomed in Iraq. However, he noted that there is a great difference between government failure and systemic failure and social state failure. He then asked the working group how the international community should deal with states that are failing in many ways; yet have legitimate leaders keeping the country together. In cases like Zimbabwe and North Korea it is especially difficult to provide humanitarian assistance without perpetuating the system that is essentially responsible for the mass suffering, he said.

Furthermore he asked the group what new types of capacities, based on changing norms and opinions about state sovereignty, should be developed within the U.S. government and the international community. The danger of halfway measures continues to plague us, he noted. "It is a real world question that we faced in the Balkans, that we face in Afghanistan, and that we could face in Iraq. Is you goal to make the situation "good enough," or is you goal to make it "good?" And do you have the luxury of the latter?"

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