The dilemma of the failed state thesis in post-9/11 world affairs


Failed State Thesis
Failed States
Terrorist Threat
Liberal-Democratic Regime
Weberian Ideal Type State


The 9/11 terrorist attacks shifted the emphasis of failed states as just a regional humanitarian problem to one that could present a global security threat. In this regard US policymakers, especially, identified failed states as possible terrorist threats. However, this renewed attention to the study of state failure has exposed a number of theoretical weaknesses in this body of literature. The latter could mainly be ascribed to the way in which US policy makers have often used generalised definitions of failed states and then applied it to states that are perceived as threats. Another problem is the fact that government sponsored research institutes and think tanks are operating independently from university academics. This situation has caused theoretical confusion as conditions in failed states are often interpreted differently resulting in the development of a number of opposing theories, definitions and confusing classification models. The body of literature is further accused of endorsing a “Weberian” definition (ideal type) of the state against which degrees of “failure” in non-complying states are measured. This article will investigate the extent of these theoretical weaknesses and expose the dangers of following an approach that seem to misinterpret the political realities of developing states (often regarded as failed) – this despite having an extensive popular following. It will further focus on possible alternative approaches – or the formulation of ideas that are better suited and relevant to the often unique internal political, social and economic dynamics of unstable states.

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