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date: 13 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

As a response to the new policy problems facing the international community after the end of the Cold War, the security studies literature on weak and failing states and their relationship to various forms of conflict emerged. Two sets of events caused policy makers to focus on state weakness as a threat to international security. The first wave of research was generated by the new United Nations (UN)-sponsored peace operations of the post-Cold War era. The second overlapping wave of research followed the al-Qaeda attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, and the resulting perception that non-state terrorist groups were likely to use failed or failing states as their base of global operations. There has been no agreement among researchers about how to define the concept or varieties of state failure. As such, it has not coalesced into something that could truly be called a scholarly research program. Nevertheless, a vibrant literature has emerged on the political economy of “ungoverned territories.” Warlords are actors who use a combination of force, charisma, and patronage to control small slices of territory inside of what is purportedly a sovereign state. They usually profit from organized criminal activities that threaten both the peace and the legal institutions of the state, but can be used to help weak states to survive and reconstitute themselves in wartime. Meanwhile, scholars argue whether states should necessarily be reconstructed after they fail, given that many failed states were unnatural and authoritarian postcolonial creations.

Keywords: failing states, state weakness, international security, state failure, ungoverned territories, warlords, sovereign state

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