Writing in 1776, Adam Smith observed that in ancient times, rich nations had difficulty defending themselves from poorer ones, whereas by the late-18th century, the reverse had come to be true. If Smith were alive today, he might argue that the 21st century more closely resembles ancient times than his own era: Failed and failing states now generate far more worries for the international community than powerful ones. Consider the Failed States Index (FSI), an annual survey generated by Foreign Policy magazine and the nonprofit Fund for Peace, which reads like a who’s who of headaches for the international community.
The U.N. has authorized operations in 13 of the FSI’s very worst countries over the past 17 years, including missions in Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR); counterpiracy operations in the waters between Yemen and Somalia; ongoing missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan/Sudan and East Timor; multiple interventions in Haiti; missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea; the nation-building effort in Afghanistan; and the civilian-protection mission in Libya. Not coincidentally, the United States has engaged in significant military operations in six of the 15 worst failed states over the past 17 years -- Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan; has attacked targets in Sudan; is waging a low-profile war against the Lord’s Resistance Army in the DRC, South Sudan and the CAR; and participated in NATO’s Libya operation. Plus, the prospect of intervention in Syria, Iran or North Korea -- all on FSI’s “critical” list -- looms.
These countries are not failing because outside powers intervened. Rather, outside powers intervened because these countries were failing. Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, for example, were already failed or failing states before any Western soldiers were deployed within their borders.