Why Matter



Fragile states are widely recognized as a danger both to international security and to the security of their neighbors, as well as to the well-being of their own people. Their lawless environments spread instability across borders; provide havens for terrorists, drug dealers, and weapons smugglers; threaten access to natural resources; and consign millions to poverty. They are the source of much of the violence and many of the humanitarian crises around the world. Even when harshly repressive rulers manage to impose some degree of domestic control, their societies fail to provide positive incentives for productive behavior and thus become breeding grounds for criminals and extremists who disrupt the international order.

The debilitating combination of weak governance, ill-conceived policies, and feeble institutions force the peoples trapped in these places to endure the world’s most miserable lives. Depending on how broadly fragile states are defined, up to 2 billion people suffer the consequences of these countries’ meltdowns. Generally poor, undereducated, and undernourished, these communities are denied any opportunity to benefit from the explosive growth of international trade and investment. Three out of four of those living in the most dysfunctional places (some thirty countries) are affected by ongoing armed conflict. Fragile states are the main barrier impeding international efforts to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—which include eradicating hunger, reducing child mortality, and achieving universal primary education—by 2015.

The seemingly irredeemable nature of fragile states suggests a new global bipolarity forming between, on the one side, those countries gaining from globalization and, on the other side, those that are losing. Countries that enjoy a reasonable degree of stability and the rule of law, such as China, India, Turkey, Botswana, and Chile, are able to develop greater interdependence with the international market economic system, which brings greater investment and prosperity. But where a state is too dysfunctional to establish these conditions, instability feeds on itself, emasculating efforts to improve institutions, thwarting attempts to cultivate a business climate that attracts investment, and permanently disconnecting territories from the benefits of trade.


For more information, see:

Fragile States Strategy

By the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)


Investing in Prevention: An International Strategy to Manage Risks of Instability and Improve Crisis Response

By the United Kingdom Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit


Two Trends in Global Poverty

By Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz


Why We Need to Work More Effectively in Fragile States

By the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development


The Cost of Failing States and the Limits to Sovereignty

By Lisa Chauvet, Paul Collier, Anke Hoeffler


Weak Growth and Less Poverty Reduction in Fragile States

By the World Bank