Weak States and Global Threats: Assessing Evidence of Spillovers
A key motivation behind recent donor attention and financial resources devoted to developing countries is the presumed connection between weak and failing states, on the one hand, and a variety of transnational threats, on the other. Indeed, it has become conventional wisdom that poorly performing states generate multiple cross-border “spillovers,” including terrorism, weapons proliferation, organized crime, regional instability, global pandemics, and energy insecurity. What is striking is how little empirical evidence underpins such sweeping assertions. A closer look suggests that the connection between state weakness and global threats is less clear and more variable than typically assumed. Both the type and extent of “spillovers” depend in part on whether the weakness in question is a function of state capacity, will, or a combination of the two. Moreover, a preliminary review suggests that some trans-border threats are more likely to emerge not from the weakest states but from stronger states that possess narrower but critical gaps in capacity and will. Crafting an effective U.S. and international strategy towards weak states and the cross-border spillovers they sometimes generate will depend on a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms linking these two sets of phenomena. The challenge for analysts and policymakers will be to get greater clarity about which states are responsible for which threats and design development and other external interventions accordingly. This working paper represents an initial foray in this direction, suggesting avenues for future research and policy development.
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