Fragile States and Great Power Rivalry Are Back. Is the U.S. Ready?

Fragile States and Great Power Rivalry Are Back. Is the U.S. Ready?
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a welcoming ceremony, Beijing, June 25, 2016 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

Two themes will figure prominently for the next American president in managing the challenges to global order and U.S. national security: Applying the lessons learned from America’s experience over the past two decades in dealing with fragile states; and relearning the lessons forgotten from the Cold War about great power rivalry.

Both will be enduring aspects of the international order, and navigating them will be complicated by a political landscape, in the U.S. and other countries, that puts limits on what governments can achieve beyond their borders.

Fragile states and the risks they pose became a central concern to U.S. national security policymakers in the years after 9/11. The subsequent disappointments of stabilization missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have made them a political nonstarter among an inward-turning American electorate. But a report published last week by Michèle Flournoy, William Burns and Nancy Lindborg, who have been chairing the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Fragility Study Group, and a Foreign Affairs article summarizing their conclusions, make it clear why it would be a mistake to ignore them.

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