When states fail do they destabilise entire regions? This article from Conflict Management and Peace Science assesses the negative effects of state collapse, focusing particularly on the spatial diffusion of these consequences. It argues that when a state collapses, neighbouring states are also likely to experience higher levels of political instability, unrest, civil war and interstate conflict. State failure is not contagious, but some of its most negative consequences diffuse to other states.
State failure may result in political disturbances ranging from minor political unrest to interstate war. The consequences of state collapse include political unrest and instability, civil war, international conflict and state failure itself. Studies over the past forty years have shown that the causes of violent conflict – both external and domestic – include previous violent conflict. Conflict has been found to act as both cause and consequence of further conflict.
Looking at 73 of the country-years in which a state failure occurred, there is a new or ongoing civil war in almost 60 per cent of those years. Similarly, in sub-Saharan Africa, civil war occurs in 55 per cent of the country-years. Successful coups or coup attempts occur in 18 per cent of the sub-Saharan country-years.
Major points regarding the regional effects of state failure include the following:
- State collapse, which is generated by political instability, armed conflict and civil war, in turn generates unrest, instability, interstate and civil war in its neighbours and near regions.
- Minor consequences of state failure – political unrest and instability – spread to a lesser degree than more intense forms of violence – civil and interstate war.
- State failure does not diffuse to contiguous neighbours, the regional neighbourhood or in the international system.
- Instability and political unrest spread through contiguity, not through a distance-weighted measure of state failure.
- Although state failure in a nearby or neighbouring state significantly increases armed conflict and other aspects of domestic political upheaval, the total number of states collapsing in the system in a given year has no effect.
Evidence of whether and to what extent state failure and its effects diffuse to other countries is central to policy questions on ways to address state failure.
- Attention needs to be paid not only to the political/military consequences of collapse, but also to nonpolitical consequences, such as economic, social, and human security consequences of state collapse and violent conflict.
- The investigation of economic and social consequences must take into account that democracy has a strong curvilinear effect on state collapse. Collapse is least likely at the highest and lowest levels of democracy.
- Policy prescriptions should be devised for managing and preventing the negative domestic and regional effects of state failure, as well as for preventing future failures.
- The question of why state failure itself doesn’t diffuse relates directly to the various forms of early warning and intervention systems generated by international organisations and state governments.
- Many such ‘at risk’ or fragile states have been affected by the diffusion of the negative effects of state failure. Timely interventions might be an important factor in the lack of diffusion of state failure.
- Stable and developed democracies might be crucial in helping endangered democracies avoid failure. In other areas, the lead may be taken by NGOs.