What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Working on state failure...

I'll be working these days on reshaping a conference paper of mine on state failure into a journal article for publication. I should really put it together, after all that is the way for me to live by my mission statement. As usual, I'll be arguing for the sort of dual conceptualisation of state failure you may read about on the right flank of my blog, and for consistently using the term 'state failure' instead of 'failed states', thus referring to a universally observable phenomenon, and not just one more way to label states that look 'bad' for one underdefined reason or another.
One of my arguments will be focused on Afghanistan. The debate over whether Afghanistan is a failed state or not is rather pointless, I beleive. It is something the Afghan government can't accept given that "failed" is too strong a label. Instead they would prefer emphasising fragility (which is a good code word for asking for help in return for offering the hope of success; while they clearly can't claim success yet, as it wouldn't be wise for them to do so, given how that could also be a disincentive for increasing aid to Afghanistan). Opponents of such a stance will basically say, oh, but look, this and this and that and that are just in such a dire state - it can't be anything else but a failed state! Regarding those then who would come up with a somewhat more subtle classification of failed states, an international law professor, Gábor Kardos, once told me in a discussion, this is as though they would take a folding ruler, and measure the exact distance between the ideal (Western) nation-state and the thing they find in Afghanistan, and come to a judgement on the basis of that.
So it won't simply be a rather simple-minded discourse about whether Afghanistan is failed enough, it will also be a West-centric one. Now, it's an old saying in the discourse that a failed state is something you at least know when you see it, but perhaps Afghanistan shows that this is just not necessarily true. Rather, people will see things differently. They will all have their own totally debate-proof definition, as clear as the definition of an "ethnic group" left in the trunk of C's (proverbial) Ferrari was...
Looking at the issue from a global/security-oriented perspective through the concept of negative spill-over effetcs (NSEs), i.e. in my way, will still be West-centric given its state-centricity (which I'm always ready to treat as just a theoretical premise that is there as much to be criticised as much it is there to be taken seriously), however, that is operationalisable relatively smoothly. There is a major normative issue regarding what we see as "negative," or what we see as something that can be "securitised," but once we have an idea of that (subject to critical inter-subjective consensus), effects can be measured, and that should move the debate in some better-definable direction. It also automatically gives one metrics regarding what one would like to change and to what degree one would like that to change. (And that minimal, explicitly expressed West-centricity may be the limitation because of which one may not potentially get there where one would like to, quite possibly.)
So I'll be working on this for the upcoming few days, but I'll still try to find time for my Uruzgan Studies, too. That's a promise!

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