CRF Blog

Think Again: Failed States

by Bill Hayes

In Think Again: Failed States, James Traub in Foreign Policy examines seven misconceptions about failed states.

“Failed States Are a Threat to U.S. National Security.”

Only some of them. It has been a truism of U.S. foreign policy since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that the United States is, in the words of President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy, “threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that over the next 20 years, the gravest threats to America will come from failing states “that cannot meet the basic needs — much less the aspirations — of their people.” Both as candidate and as president, Barack Obama has repeated this claim and has sought to reorient policy toward the prevention of state failure.

But the truth is that some state failure poses a real danger to the United States and the West, and some does not. Consider the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where some 5 million or more people have died in the wars that have convulsed the country since the mid-1990s — the single most horrific consequence of state failure in modern times. What has been the consequence to Americans? The cost of coltan, a material mined in Congo and used in cell phones, has been extremely volatile. It’s hard to think of anything else. [more]