State Failure in a Regional Context

Subsequently published in the Review of International Studies, this paper argues that over the past several years, the study of international security has seen a remarkable increase in engagement with two concepts—state failure and regions. Yet, at the same time, both literatures have remained largely unconnected: state failure is primarily analysed at the level of the (nation-) state concerned, while analyses of regional, and by extension, international security consider state failure only as one among many factors, albeit an increasingly important one. A third discourse, prevalent among scholars and practitioners concerned with development, uses a somewhat different terminology (fragile states, low-income countries under stress) to engage with the phenomenon of state failure and has paid more attention to its regional dimensions, but has only recently paid more careful attention to questions of security. Against this background, the aim of this paper is to begin to fuse these debates in a more systematic way and thereby to develop a useful analytical framework on the basis of which policy recommendations can be made in relation to how state failure may be prevented or contained, and how failed or collapsed states can be rebuilt.

The first three sections of this paper give a brief account of the debates on state failure and regional dimensions of international security as they have emerged over the past several years in academic and policy circles. This will necessarily be brief and does not claim to be comprehensive. In section four, I will propose the main tenets of an analytical framework that fuses these debates and shows how it may be applied, and section five will conclude by outlining the main areas in which policy advice can potentially be generated by applying this analytical framework.

Adopting a levels-of-analysis approach, the paper distinguishes between individual, local, national, regional, and global levels of analysis and considers the nature and role of state and non-state actors at each of them, as well as of issues and structures that present opportunities and constraints for these actors. This obviously requires a definition, in particular, of what ‘regional’ means in the context of state failure, and such a definition is presented in section 4 of the paper.