Cover: Weakened States Pose Problems for War Scenarios

Weakened States Pose Problems for War Scenarios

Published in: The National Interest (2023)

Posted on rand.org Aug 21, 2023

by Timothy R. Heath

When Yevgeny Prigozhin attempted to overthrow the Russian government with his mercenary company, the Wagner Group, Western observers gleefully described the near-coup as proof of President Vladimir Putin’s weakness. But a more careful consideration suggests self-congratulation may be less warranted than worry. Russia’s political weaknesses are severe but exacerbated by three features widely shared by large, industrialized countries, including the United States and China: 1) a weakening state, 2) the privatization of violence, and 3) the increasing power of non-state groups and identities. These features pose difficult but manageable challenges during peacetime and relatively small-scale combat operations. However, the same features could prove combustible under the pressures of a major war. The potential for an armed insurrection of some type can no longer be regarded as unthinkable.

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