COMMENTING ON “NATION-STATE FAILURE: A RECURRING PHENOMENON?”
My first point would be that I do not have any fundamental disagreements with the thrust of the paper. It could have been more sharply focused but it was for discussion only and not a fully developed brief.
The taxonomy Rotberg uses of Strong, Weak, Failed and Collapsed for a continuum of State health is a serviceable one. A ” Collapsed” State from Rotberg’s description really involves more of a collapse of the underlying society itself, an unraveling of social mores and implicit Rule-Sets as well as the machinery of government. My primary criticism is that the lines between Weak, Failed and Collapsed remain rather fuzzy and ill-defined, something Rotberg sought to change.
I will give kudos to Rotberg though for calling attention to the phenomena of the seemingly strong, Weak State. A totalitarian dictatorship is a vertical scenario and has the strong yet fragile characteristics of a pillar. It can bear and exert great force up and down it’s chain of command but when attacked from the side it will shatter and fall with dizzying speed. This is an important point I have seldom seen noted elsewhere.
I developed a different frame of reference on the integrity of a system for the Rule-Set Reset around the idea of an axis based upon two continuums. The first represented the ability of a system to Enforce its Rule-set and ran from Strong to Weak. The second intersecting vertical axis represented the degree of clarity that the system Articulated it’s Rule-set and went from Implicit to Explicit. The resulting quadrants ( and ease of converting into a graph) would give the analyst a little more room for nuance in accurately sizing up states or other complex systems.
Rotberg is also correct in looking to leader behavior as one of his indicators. Big Man kleptocracy or Nomenklatura style parasitism are red flag warning signs of impending state failure. The unholy speed with which the ex-Communist Party bureaucrats looted the Russian state in the 1990’s was a good indication of the extent to which their nihilistic greed had previously been held in check only by fear of the KGB. His identification of security as the prime public good provided by a state meshes well with the ideas of Dr. Barnett in PNM ( who I believe worked on the previous NIC project) and his call to ” export security” to the Gap.
Overall, a good starting point for discussion, so Rotberg can be said to have accomplished his aim.