Troubled Regions and Failing States: The Clustering and Contagion of Armed Conflicts: Volume 27


Table of contents

(20 chapters)
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There is an emerging consensus within the literature on failed and failing states that state failure is contagious across borders. For its part, the literature on regionalisation claims that states within the same region tend to form clusters of security – or insecurity – so that geographical proximity is closely associated with inert security relationships. This article – along with the individual contributions in the volume it introduces – seeks to bridge these two literatures, which otherwise rarely talk to each other. The approach taken throughout the volume is largely qualitative and case-oriented, yet methodologically diverse, while the articles have a shared comparative ambition. This introductory article examines the debate on failing states and contextualises the volume's contributions within that debate. It then does the same in relation to the debate on regional security, before moving on to examine the role and impact of emerging regional responses to insecurity. When we examine recent state-building initiatives, the effectiveness of external actors seems limited, while existing power holders – and the conflicts between them – are at the centre in processes for building states. This calls for studying the practice of state-building, and for rooting policies in viable practices, even when the driving actors are not inherently benign. To a considerable degree, a state's strength and functionality are relational: the state can only be understood in relation to significant other states. Within regions, hegemonic states – and the strategies pursued by other states in their efforts to cooperate with, balance, or counter the hegemon – have major implications for security. Regional cooperation emerges through concrete collaboration to address commonly perceived challenges, at times as an unintended effect of a targeted initiative. Key actors – and the networks of which they form part – are often transnational, spanning the borders of several states. The behaviour of transnational actors, how they interface with the system of states and regions and the potential for their conversion into constructive political forces remain poorly understood. As a whole, these are findings that inspire an agenda for future research at the interface between the state and the region.

This article provides a critique of the discourse of ‘failed states’ and outlines an alternative approach to studying state formation. It is argued that through its taking the model of the modern state for granted, and analysing all states in terms of their degree of correspondence with or deviation from this model, the failed states discourse does not help us understand the nature of the states in question or the processes that lead to strong or weak states. It is suggested that the idea of the modern state should be treated as a category of practice rather than as a category of analysis. State formation could then be analysed by focusing on the interrelationship between the idea of the state and actual state practices, and on both the ways in which states have become linked to domestic society and their relations with the external world.

Chieftaincies constructed of personal power networks emerge recurrently within states and their business corporations, political parties, mafias, insurgencies and artistic cliques. Modern states were built by incorporating chieftaincies as internal organs. Nevertheless, ‘neopatrimonialism’, ‘political machines’, ‘oligarchy’, caudillismo and warlordism – the various names that designate different facets of chieftaincy – represent neither aberrant nor atavistic phenomena. They refer to an immensely adaptable strategy of manipulation in arenas where formal institutional controls prove impractical or undesirable.

Extensive corruption and civil wars are two different symptoms of state failure, but have most of the time been studied separately. This article systematically compares the organizational characteristics of the two phenomena as well as the various research efforts into them, with a focus on economic explanations. It argues that it is unreasonable to believe that economic motivation may become an important trigger for the recruitment of rebel leaderships in countries ridden by corruption, except when their access to the state's pots is blocked. The article examines in various other ways the implications of research carried out in each field for the other.

This chapter examines the relationship between state failure, state-building and regional security through a thick qualitative and historical analysis of a single case: the Russia–Georgia relationship. Its principal finding is that the two sides’ conceptions of state-building contained incompatible identity projects that significantly increased the potential for conflict. This potential emerged in the context of a highly asymmetrical distribution of power in the region. The balancing strategies that Georgia pursued to compensate for this asymmetry aggravated the relationship further and were significant in provoking the August 2008 war between the two states. In making this argument, the chapter begins with a discussion of the relationship between state-building and security. It then turns to an account of the near failure and recovery of the two states and a discussion of the relationship between their state-building projects. It proceeds to situate this unit-level analysis in the regional systemic context. After a discussion of the war itself, the chapter provides concluding remarks on the implications of the conflict for regional security and for the wider discussion of state-building and security. The major implication is that, although state-building is seen as a domestic endeavour, the way in which the project is defined and develops has significant external and regional implications, which may enhance the potential for inter-state conflict. As such, international engagement should take account of the regional environment in efforts to foster the re-building of states.

Conventional analyses and policy prescriptions for postwar societies in West Africa typically conflate wartime networks with continued violence and criminal economic activities. However, while posing real problems, these networks also are potential vehicles for economic transformation. As evidence from Liberia and Sierra Leone shows, some of these networks show signs of developing commercial activities outside old political patronage networks based in the national capital. They provide avenues for ex-combatants to gain direct access to economic opportunities in defiance of the control previously exercised by local political insiders. Alongside this unexpected development lies the risk that foreign-sponsored reform programs unintentionally strengthen centrally organized insider networks that are, to many wartime combatants, avenues of privilege and exploitation. The analysis presented here provides a contrast to the view that the survival of wartime associations of combatants is purely negative in its effects on society and the economy. It suggests that appropriate reform strategies should take into account the potential for some of these associations of ex-combatants to develop as more purely business operations and should seek ways to integrate them into the formal economy.

The relevance of regional security has increased in the wake of decolonization and the end of the Cold War. In a globalized and intertwined world, security can no longer be conceived as having the state as its sole object or subject. Regional clusters of security have become a new paradigm in international relations, and a new wave of regionalist scholarship has arisen in response. However, although this body of work has devoted considerable attention to defining the elements that constitute each regional cluster, less attention has been given ascertaining how such clusters are formed. This exploratory chapter provides an extensive review of the relevant literature and draws two conclusions. First, it suggests that, as postulated by a large portion of the regional security literature, regions of security are a natural consequence of proximity, as threats travel more easily over short distances than over longer ones. Second, it extends that argument by arguing that security also clusters at the regional level when regions are targets of extra-regional threats (regions as objects), and when they gain ‘actorness’ and operate as agents of peace and security (regions as subjects).

This article calls for closer attention to the Middle East in the wider debate on the purported rise of new modes of armed conflict following the end of the Cold War, particularly in relation to the notion of ‘regional conflict formations’ (RCFs). In so doing, it presents and analyses three main paradoxes. First, though the contemporary Middle East had its own share of intrastate conflicts that generally grew into regional constellations, a look at the region's post-colonial history suggests that such trends are not as novel as has often been claimed. Second, the striking longevity of regionally entwined conflict in the Middle East calls into question the common and generalizing argument that it was the end of the Cold War, together with the alleged disengagement of the superpowers, that constituted the radical shifts – including the rise of RCFs – that signalled the demise of old forms of politics and conflict involving weak states. Third, Middle Eastern states, mostly authoritarian in outlook, have over recent decades become stronger despite prevailing conditions of regionalized conflict; indeed, as tentatively suggested in this article, to some extent because of those factors.

This chapter explores how the dynamics of cross-border conflicts relate to the characteristics of the states involved. The underlying idea is that cross-border conflicts will develop in different ways and involve different sets of actors depending on the relative strengths and other characteristics of the states separated by the border. This proposition is investigated through a comparison of the conflict dynamics across three of Ethiopia's borders. These borders differ in terms of the relative strength of the two states they separate in each case, as well as on the kind of state presence found in the borderlands. Thus, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia can be said to have a strong state presence on both sides; between Somalia and Ethiopia the state is considerably stronger on the Ethiopian side; while the border between Ethiopia and Sudan has a weak state presence on both sides. The conflict dynamics across the border with Eritrea have tended to be of a ‘classic’ bipolar and interstate kind, while the border with Sudan has seen a much more complex and ‘anarchic’ conflict pattern, involving a complex array of both non-state and state actors. The Somalia border falls somewhere in between, with a complex set of actors and conflicts, yet subject to an overall structuring along one dimension. These differences are argued to be congruent with the relative strength of state presence in these borderlands. The main value of the chapter may lie in its approach to the theme of African borders, and in the relativistic way in which it conceptualizes state strength.

Informed by the literature on regional security and fragile states, ‘new regionalisms’, and natural resources and violent conflict, this essay investigates the challenges of state-building in West Africa. These range from the influence of diasporas and subregional strongmen to flows of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) and lootable natural resources. The analytical framework that links patron–client networks and lootable natural resources is applied to the cases of Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire. In recent years, strategies by African leaders to co-opt subregional strongmen as part of patronage networks have failed. The essay finds that an ossified state presence and the erosion of a leader's influence enables subregional strongmen to gain control over valuable natural resources, such as diamonds. The essay then assesses the impact of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) on state-building, concluding that although international regimes like the KPCS can increase state capacity and thereby counter the deleterious effects of state failure, they are not sufficient state-building tools. Hence, the KPCS must be supplemented through a combination of more explicit state-building initiatives under the auspices of bilateral government donors, aid agencies, diasporas and transnational and local NGOs.

Three successful uprisings in mid-2003 – in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan – introduced the notion of the ‘colour revolution’, usually understood as an organised unarmed public uprising aimed at replacing a discredited regime with a more democratic government. Careful examination shows that, besides these cases and the overthrow of the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia in 2000, eight more cases could be added to the list of colour revolutions, making it possible to investigate characteristic features of the phenomenon and to evaluate the trend of failure in attempts at revolution since 2005. In a deviation from classical models, economic grievances are found to have little bearing on public mobilisation for revolutionary causes; external influences, on the other hand, have considerable impact. In the second half of the 2000s, Russia's assertive counter-revolutionary stance prevailed over the United States’ declining capacity and the diminishing gravitation of the EU, so all revolutionary attempts failed, including the April 2009 unrest in Chisinau, Moldova. Analysis of such characteristics of ‘colour revolutions’ as close correlation with elections, non-violent strategies of opposition and implicit connection with ‘frozen conflicts’ despite the absence of any ethno-nationalist agenda makes it possible to arrive at a more precise definition of the phenomenon and to identify several potential revolutionary situations. The economic recession that began in late 2008 will inevitably transform the social context of ‘colour revolutions’, which might become less controllable and more violent.

For over three decades, Afghanistan has been a battleground in which many of the states of the wider neighbourhood have been involved. The importance of fostering a concerted effort for Afghan peace and stability is widely agreed upon, yet such a process remains difficult to bring about. Some analysts emphasize states and their security relationships, seeing Afghanistan as an ‘insulator’ caught between different regional state systems, each with a strong dynamic of its own. Other analysts emphasize various transnational networks and see Afghanistan as the ‘core’ of a larger conflict formation. This chapter takes as its starting point the former perspective, which has been codified by Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver (2003) as the regional security complex (RSC) approach. The chapter examines the security dynamics of each of the regions surrounding Afghanistan – South Asia, the Persian Gulf and South Asia – adopting a comparative and historical perspective, with an emphasis on the period since the late 1970s. It concludes that each of Afghanistan's three surrounding regions is characterized by deep security concerns of its own. These concerns nonetheless inform the engagement of neighbouring countries in Afghanistan, which then comes to reflect conflicts and cleavages specific to the respective regions. One central implication is that a more promising strategy for Afghanistan might be to seek a unilateral non-offensive or neutral status, rather than full security integration with its neighbours. Although such a strategy would necessitate the creation of a forum for Afghanistan's neighbours to foster understanding for the Afghan position, it represents a dramatic departure from mainstream policy proposals with their emphasis on an integrated regional approach.

This article explores the ways in which hegemony and power impact on the emergence, development and conflict management function of regional organizations. It compares the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), both of which include a strong regional power. These powers have contrasting postures: South Africa is a keen regionalist, a reluctant hegemon and a pacific power, whereas India is a keen hegemon, a reluctant regionalist and a militarist power. The presence of the hegemon has stimulated regionalism in Southern Africa but retarded regionalism in South Asia. Despite these differences, SADC and SAARC have similarly failed to manage regional conflict effectively. This has been due in large measure to the conflictual relationship between the hegemon and another powerful state in each region, Zimbabwe in the case of South Africa, and Pakistan in the case of India. Some of these dynamics are well explained by neorealist theory, but other dynamics are best explained by constructivist and liberal positions. This supports the argument by Katzenstein and Okawara (2001–2002) that in the field of international relations an eclectic analytical approach is required to comprehend complex processes that combine material, ideational, international, domestic, contemporary and historical factors.

The importance of the security-political strategies of Africa's subregional organisations was accentuated in 2002 with the launching of the African Union's Common African Defence and Security Policy (CADSP), which will include, among other things, the establishment of a Continental Early Warning System and an African Standby Force. From that point on, subregional organisations were to be the building blocks of an all-African approach to security politics. The strategies of these organisations range from the top-down approach of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the bottom-up approach of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Taking into account the particular characteristics of Africa's regional conflicts, this article examines the relevance for the CADSP of the approaches to conflict prevention and resolution of the latter two organisations. It analyses, first, the challenges facing the African Standby Force through an examination of ECOWAS's security-political strategy, and, second, the challenges facing the Continental Early Warning System through a look at IGAD's strategies. It suggests that two main issues are of critical relevance for the success of the CADSP. First is the lack of compatibility between the all-African strategy and the strategies of the various subregional organisations. Second is the lack of compatibility between formal processes of integration and trans-state regionalism within the continent. Although formal processes of integration are important, informal processes often play a much stronger role, undermining much of the progress made by the formal processes.

During the past two decades, both West Africa and Central Africa have suffered a large number of intertwined wars. In both regions, these ‘webs of war’ have included interstate conflicts and rivalry, as well as wars over the control of many of the involved states. Existing perspectives tend to reduce these intertwined wars to a series of parallel civil wars within each of the various states. They see states as operating at the regional level, whereas the armed opposition to those states operates only at the national level. This chapter argues that many armed, non-state groups in West Africa and Central Africa should be seen as regional actors, and thus that conventional two-level analysis does not catch the complexity of conflict in those regions. Although major violence continues in Central Africa, it has largely been contained in West Africa. This needs to be seen in relation to the level of institutionalization of security and military cooperation in the two regions. In both regions, regional organizations carried out military operations that were highly controversial among their member-states. In West Africa, a series of interventions strengthened both regional cooperation and cooperation with external partners, whereas in Central Africa this was not the case. In West Africa, peace support operations have increasingly been carried out within a regional perspective. Not so in Central Africa. The chapter concludes with an examination of efforts to build a capacity for peace support operations within the African Union, based on subregional organizations but with strong involvement by external actors.

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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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