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Insecurity in the 21st century appears to come less from the collisions of powerful states than from the debris of imploding ones. Failed states present a variety of dangers: religious and ethnic violence; trafficking of drugs, weapons, blood diamonds, and humans; transnational crime and piracy; uncontrolled territory, borders, and waters; terrorist breeding grounds and sanctuaries; refugee overflows; communicable diseases; environmental degradation; and warlords and stateless armies. Regions with failed states are at risk of becoming failed regions, like the vast triangle from Sudan to the Congo to Sierra Leone. For security, material, and moral reasons, leading states cannot ignore failed ones. While no two failed states are alike, all typically suffer from cycles of violence, economic breakdown, and unfit government, rendering them unable to relieve the suffering of their people, much less empower them. This paper aims to improve the understanding and treatment of failed states by offering an integrated approach based on two ideas: that certain critical challenges at the intersections between security, economics, and politics must be met if the cycle is to be broken and that, in meeting those critical challenges, the guiding goal should be to lift local populations from the status of victims of failure to agents of recovery.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Reframing the Failed-State Challenge

  • Chapter Three

    Identifying and Meeting Critical Challenges

  • Chapter Four

    Creating Conditions for Empowering the Population

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusion: Institutions and Leadership

  • Appendix

    Countries in Alert Zone

The research described in this report was sponsored by RAND Health, the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NDRI), RAND Arroyo Center, and RAND Project AIR FORCE and was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of NDRI, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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