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The Downward Spiral of Fragile and Failing States
The latest World Bank study on failed and failing states (now called "fragile states") shows just how rapidly the global situation is deteriorating. As reported in the Washington Post by Karen DeYoung, the number of states that could provide logistical bases and ungoverned spaces for terrorists, transnational criminal organizations and other armed non-state groups has jumped from 17 in 2003 to 26 this year.

The growth of "black holes" and stateless regions is even more alarming when compared to a similar study done by the Bank in 1996, when only 11 states fell into the category of failed states.

Hurdles facing these countries include "weak security, fractured societal relations, corruption, breakdown in the rule of law, lack of mechanisms for generating legitimate power and authority" and limited investment resources to meet basic needs, the report said.

This, in a uni-polar world where the Islamists are seeking to exploit the lack of government control, alliances with transnational criminal groups and rear guard areas to train and begin the caliphate, is extremely dangerous. This puts large sections of the world off limits to traditional state levers of diplomacy, aid, intelligence gathering and international sanction.

Of the curent count, Africa, the perenial leader in the field, accounts for 16 of the countries, up from 10 in 2003 (and seven in 1996). This trend justifies the growing DOD concern about Africa as the key region of emerging Islamist threats. No other region is even close.

Most worrisome is the appearance of two of the continent's powerhouses on the list for the first time. Both Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria now join the ranks of Liberia, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Guinea Bissau as nation's where the government is largely ineffective. Nigeria, with is vast oil reserves, is of particular concern for U.S. strategic interests.

But Cote d'Ivoire is of equal concern because it offers a relatively good banking infrastructure, a large expatriate Lebanese community long simpathetic to Hizbollah, and regional access for moving goods and people. DRC and Zimbabwe contol vital strategic minerals that the Chinese are happily exploiting, and the list goes on and on.

The Bush administration has been slow to recognize the danger posed by failed and failing states, but has at least begun to acknoweldge the crisis.

"The danger they pose is now unparalleled," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in a column that appeared late last year in The Washington Post. "Absent responsible state authority, threats that would and should be contained within a country's borders can now melt into the world and wreak untold havoc.

"Weak and failing states," Rice said, "serve as global pathways that facilitate the spread of pandemics, the movement of criminals and terrorists, and the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons."

Unfortunately, those words have not translated into a coherent policy or even an ability to place the threats posed by these regions anywhere near the top of the priority list. But, if current trends continue, we will have to pay attention because there will be fewer and fewer states to deal with.
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