Failed state

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As a " failed state " ( English failed state ) is one for a general definition of State referred, which can no longer perform its basic functions. The term was first used in the early 1990s.


The definition of state failure depends on the particular academic discipline. Political science and international law therefore have different approaches to the problem of the so-called failed state . As a concept of international law, the state is defined from three elements : state territory , state people and state authority . Regardless of the form of government and economy and their democratic legitimation , states are therefore territorial rulers. In the modern political science conception of statehood, a state must above all perform three central functions for its citizens: security , welfare and legitimacy / rule of law . Ultimately, these are services provided by the state.

If a state no longer fulfills these three functions in a noteworthy way, political science speaks of a failed state . The theory of international law, on the other hand, looks less at the services that a state provides as political goods and more at the stability of state power. According to the accepted doctrine , a failed state always exists when the organizational structures of state power (government, authorities, state institutions) largely disintegrate and no longer fulfill their tasks.

When a state, however, still may partially or function in a limited way, one speaks depending on the severity of the structural deficiencies of a weak state (engl. Weak state ), or a malfunctioning or decaying state (engl. Failing state ).

A failed state does not have to be in a state of chaos and anomie . It is also possible that non-state actors take the place of the state and establish a new order of their own ( mafia , warlords ). Such orders, however, are regionally limited and do not fully perform the three core functions of a state mentioned above; they are also based on violence and repression.

The concept of a failed state does not include states that are not democratically legitimized and have deficits in the rule of law (see, inter alia, defective democracies ). Because of the international law principle of state equality, the state system does not recognize any “pariah” states . A state may therefore be a totalitarian state and commit considerable violations of international law, especially in the area of ​​human rights, but it does not lose its status as a state in the sense of international law and therefore cannot be described as a failed state .


Fragile States Index

Since 2005, the private think tank Fund for Peace, in cooperation with the journal Foreign Policy, has published the so-called Fragile States Index ( Failed States Index until 2013 ), in which states are examined for their risk of state collapse . Twelve different factors are combined to form the index.

Social indicators
Economic indicators
Political and military indicators
  • State legitimacy ( corruption , political participation, elections, undeclared work , drug trafficking , protests and demonstrations)
  • Public services (police control / surveillance, crime , literacy , level of education, access to drinking water and sanitary facilities, infrastructure , quality of health care , telecommunications , access to the Internet, security of power supply)
  • Human Rights and Rule of Law ( freedom of the press , civil liberties, human trafficking , political prisoners, imprisonment, religious persecution, torture , executions)
  • Security apparatus (international conflicts, arms deliveries, popular uprisings / riots, bombings, fatalities in conflicts, military coups, rebel activities)
  • Factionalized Elites (power struggles, election fraud, political competition)
  • External intervention (foreign aid, presence of peacekeepers and UN missions , military interventions, sanctions, creditworthiness )

The higher the index value, the lower the statehood. To this end, the states are divided into four different classes, each with three levels: Alert , Warning , Moderate and Sustainable (future-proof, viable). The Alert class includes those states that are already a failed state or that are in acute danger of developing into one. In 2019, a total of seven countries were given Very High Alert status.

rank country value
1 YemenYemen Yemen 113.5
2 SomaliaSomalia Somalia 112.3
3 South SudanSouth Sudan South Sudan 112.2
4th SyriaSyria Syria 111.5
5 Congo Democratic RepublicDemocratic Republic of Congo Democratic Republic of Congo 110.2
6th Central African RepublicCentral African Republic Central African Republic 108.9
7th ChadChad Chad 108.5
8th SudanSudan Sudan 108.0
9 AfghanistanAfghanistan Afghanistan 108.0
164 PortugalPortugal Portugal 025.3
165 AustriaAustria Austria 025.0
166 NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands 024.8
167 GermanyGermany Germany 024.7
168 IrelandIreland Ireland 020.6
169 LuxembourgLuxembourg Luxembourg 020.4
170 SwedenSweden Sweden 020.3
171 New ZealandNew Zealand New Zealand 020.1
172 CanadaCanada Canada 020.0
173 IcelandIceland Iceland 019.8
174 AustraliaAustralia Australia 019.7
175 DenmarkDenmark Denmark 019.5
176 SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland 018.7
177 NorwayNorway Norway 018.0
178 FinlandFinland Finland 016.9

The index is very widespread in non-scientific literature and is often cited, but the research methods are novel and not scientifically proven. There has been no detailed examination of these studies by other researchers.

Failed states based on the Fragile States Index 2018
alarm warning stable sustainable stable no information

Bertelsmann Transformation Index

According to the Bertelsmann Transformation Index , failed states are those "in which the state monopoly on the use of force and basic administrative structures are so severely restricted that the government is barely able to act." In the 2012 annual report, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Somalia and the Central African Republic designated as such failing states .


The following explanations for the creation of failed states are in use:

Colonial heritage

The colonial era destroyed traditional social structures in many places, but these were not replaced by Western constitutional structures. The colonial powers had no interest in providing the newly created state with its own identity ( nation building ). Colonial demarcations without considering ethnic settlement areas such as in Africa south of the Sahara or Syria instead encouraged nationality and religious conflicts. The states that were finally granted independence after the Second World War often had only hull-like structures and institutions; the influence of the former colonial powers led to a fixation on the exploitation and export of unprocessed raw materials (so-called "extractive", e.g. oil-based economy , with the " resource curse ") and promoted corruption .

Consequences of neoliberal structural adjustment programs

The weakness and the collapse of states can also be generalized to as today, according to one study IMI neoliberal called structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank attributed. The debt crisis in the 1980s meant that many countries in the Third World were dependent on loans from the IMF and World Bank. These loans were only granted if the states concerned agreed to reduce state spending and privatize state-owned companies. Cuts in the social sector followed, as a result of which the states lost their legitimacy with the respective populations and increased state repression to maintain power. Overall, there was a legitimacy crisis in numerous countries in the Third World. From this perspective, the current weakness and collapse of states are a consequence of the politics of the 1980s.

End of the cold war

Another possible cause of the disintegration of central state power, which is discussed in the theory of international relations , is the dissolution of the ideological, economic and political systemic confrontation of the Cold War that was initiated in the early 1990s . Dictatorial regimes were held in power during the Cold War by the superpowers out of ideological and strategic interests , mostly without being firmly anchored in their own country . The unity of the state was artificially maintained through arms deliveries and foreign trade support. After the collapse of the Soviet Union , the inadequate internal legitimacy of these state apparatuses, which political and military opposition movements and rebel groups exploited, became apparent.

Political and social "relaxation"

The lack of strength of a state (government, society) to counteract the social, economic and political / military indicators of the above-mentioned Fragile State Index sustainably and purposefully with neutralizing or even conflicting means. This weakness leads to the development of these indicators - which progresses gradually from creeping to sudden - through damage views, undesirable developments and / or complete loss of control in one or more of these areas. The state collapse is the logical consequence of the reduction in constructive forces and the increase (consciously or unconsciously) of destructive and obstructive forces, which can affect every state and its society - regardless of previous historical developments.

Failed modernization processes

The globalization has led to greater social and geographical mobility of the population that no counterweight precludes a national consolidation process. Noam Chomsky speaks of the "political implications of globalization", John Rawls of the "burdened societies". In addition, there are over-ambitious, but unsustainable, industrialization and other investment projects that have not been adapted to regional conditions. With their failure, the young intellectual and economic elites who no longer see any prospects in their home countries also migrate.

External intervention in case of failure of states

As part of a normative approach, Michael Walzer , who takes a critical look at the situation of failed states, tries to derive a restrictive catalog of rules for humanitarian intervention from outside. Walzer states that multiethnic states are more tolerant of minority groups than nation states, but accepts the interventions to support the separation of oppressed minorities from the state association as well as interventions in the event of morally shocking crises.

Possible solutions within the framework of development cooperation

Globalization has not only created market opportunities and new options, it has also increased the vulnerability of weak economies and facilitated the development of gray areas beyond legality. It is therefore important to provide sources of income beyond illegality in crumbling states.

There is a consensus that without a “good” policy there can be no sustainable solution to the problems of failing states. That is why good governance has developed into an international reference concept for development cooperation.

See also


  • Annette Büttner: State collapse as a new phenomenon in international politics. Theoretical categorization and empirical verification. Tectum, Marburg 2004, ISBN 3-8288-8605-1 (also: Diss., Univ. Trier, 2003).
  • Noam Chomsky : Failed States. The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Metropolitan Books, New York 2006, ISBN 0-8050-7912-2 .
    • German translation: The failed state . Kunstmann, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-88897-452-6 (Note: The book expands the term failed state considerably, the definition does not coincide with the definition recognized in international law and political science.).
  • Robin Geiß : "Failed States". The normative recording of failed states (=  publications by the Walther Schücking Institute for International Law at the University of Kiel 152). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-428-11615-1 (also: Diss., Univ. Kiel, 2003).
  • Matthias Herdegen , Daniel Thürer , Gerhard Hohloch (eds.): The elimination of effective state power: "The Failed State" (=  reports of the German Society for International Law 34 = German Society for International Law. Papers and theses 24). CF Müller, Heidelberg 1996, ISBN 3-8114-1196-9 .
  • Markus Holzinger: Rule of Law in the South. Some observations on state legitimation from a global historical perspective. In: Social Sciences and Professional Practice . Vol. 38, Issue 1, 2015, pp. 20–35.
  • Ingo Liebach: The unilateral humanitarian intervention in the "failed state" (=  international law - European law - constitutional law 32). Carl Heymanns, Cologne / Berlin / Munich 2004, ISBN 3-452-25763-0 (also: Diss., Univ. Hannover, 2003/2004).
  • Robert I. Rotberg: The Failure and Collapse of Nation-States. Breakdown, Prevention, and Repair. In: Robert I. Rotberg (Ed.): When States Fail. Causes and Consequences. Princeton University Press, Princeton / Woodstock 2004, ISBN 0-691-11671-7 , pp. 1-49, ( PDF; 690 kB ).
  • Werner Ruf (ed.): Political economy of violence. State collapse and the privatization of violence and war (=  peace and conflict research 7). Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2003, ISBN 3-8100-3747-8 .
  • Ulf-Manuel Schubert: State collapse as a problem of the international system. Tectum, Marburg 2005, ISBN 3-8288-8839-9 (also: Berlin, Free University, diploma thesis, 2004).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Ulrich Schneckener : Post-Westfalia meets Pre-Westfalia. The simultaneity of three worlds. In: Egbert Jahn , Sabine Fischer, Astrid Sahm (eds.): Peace and conflict research from the perspective of the younger generations (=  The future of peace , vol. 2). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-531-14142-2 , pp. 189–211, here pp. 194–198.
  2. Ken Menkhaus: Somalia. State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism (=  Adelphi Papers 364). Oxford University Press, Oxford [u. a.] 2004, ISBN 0-19-851670-3 .
  3. Petra Minnerop: Pariah States in International Law? (=  Contributions to foreign public law and international law 178). Springer, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-540-23448-9 (also Diss. Univ. Göttingen, 2003/04).
  4. ^ Fragile States Index: Fragility in the World 2019 .
  5. ^ Transformation index BTI 2014 - method. Bertelsmann Stiftung , archived from the original ; accessed on January 22, 2014 .
  6. BTI 2012 - Political Trends. (PDF; 322 kB) Bertelsmann Stiftung, archived from the original on October 21, 2012 ; accessed on January 22, 2014 .
  7. Ismail Küpeli: The talk of the "failed state". Legitimization of the neoliberal world order and military interventions (=  IMI study , No. 05/2010). IMI, Tübingen 2010. More detailed: Tarak Barkawi, Mark Laffey: The Imperial Peace: Democracy, Force and Globalization. In: European Journal of International Relations , Vol. 5, No. 4, 1999, pp. 403-434, doi : 10.1177 / 1354066199005004001 .
  8. ^ Ulrich Schneckener: States at Risk. Retrieved July 18, 2018 .
  9. ^ Noam Chomsky: International Capital: the New Imperial Age. In: Noam Chomsky: Understanding Power. The Indispensable Chomsky. Edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel. New Press, New York 2002, ISBN 1-56584-703-2 , pp. 377-381.
  10. ^ John Rawls: The Law of Peoples. 1st paperback edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 2001, ISBN 0-674-00542-2 , pp. 105-113.
  11. Michael Walzer (Ed.): Toward a global civil society (=  International Political Currents 1). Berghahn Books, Providence, RI [and a.] 1995, ISBN 1-57181-054-4 .
  12. Michael Walzer: The Moral Standing of States: A Response to Four Critics. In: Philosophy and Public Affairs. Vol. 9, No. 3, 1980, pp. 209-229, JSTOR 2265115 .
  13. Ludgera Klemp, Roman Poeschke: Good governance against poverty and state failure (PDF). In: Disintegrating States (=  From Politics and Contemporary History , vol. 55, No. 28/29), Federal Center for Political Education / bpb, Bonn July 11, 2005, pp. 18-25, here p. 19.
  14. Tobias Debiel : Fragile States as a Problem of Development Policy (PDF). In: Disintegrating States (=  From Politics and Contemporary History , vol. 55, No. 28/29), Federal Center for Political Education, 2005, pp. 12-18.