Failed states, and how they got that way

About ten days ago, I wrote about the “failed states” of central America, and why they can’t rein in illegal immigration from their people – because they’re not capable of governing themselves effectively.  Now Strategy Page writes about failed states around the world, and how they got that way.

Why do some parts of the world seem to defy efforts to achieve any degree of unity and peace? Not just for years or decades but for generations and as long as anyone can remember. The worst of these nations (like Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia) seem to actively avoid peace, prosperity and unity and finding solutions for their problems seems futile. But when you step back and take a closer look you find that all these countries have lots in common, aside from being “failed states.” All are largely Moslem and all have serious problems with governing themselves. This spotlights the fact that Moslems in general and Arabs in particular have developed a peculiar relationship with democracy in an attempt to cure these longstanding problems. The list of failed states grows longer if you include those who, on paper, maintain their unity but are chronically chaotic and unpleasant (0r worse) to live in. These include Sudan (and the recently created South Sudan), Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, most African nations and, in the Americas, perpetually chaotic Haiti.

Many of the failed states were never unified nations with effective governments. Most African nations never existed as such in the past but were created after a century of so of European colonial efforts that ended in the 1960s and 70s. The colonial powers leaving, usually willingly as they came to realize that these colonies were expensive to administer and would take a long time to develop prosperous enough economies to be self-sustaining. Unity was an even more difficult problem. When the Europeans left there were nearly a thousand different tribal/linguistic/cultural groups in sub-Saharan Africa. This plethora of cultural identities were the main reason there were few unified states, like ancient Ethiopia, in the region. There had been local kingdoms but they rarely lasted long because of the preference for kin based government based on clans or tribes. Nations with borders was considered a novel, and alien, idea. But the colonial period showed it could work and since the 1960s several African states, like Botswana and the island state of Seychelles and Cape Verde have remained unified, peaceful and prospering.

. . .

The failed Moslem states were another matter because they had a lot of cultural unity but forming effective (prosperous, stable) governments was another matter … A majority of Moslems still think democracy is the best form of government, but a quarter of Moslems also believe that democracy may be unsuitable for Moslem countries at this time. This disappoints and confuses many Moslems. They can see that democracy creates superior results where it has been established, but the process of getting democracy to work reliably is a lot harder and more difficult than many Moslems originally believed. This is largely because of some unique problems in Moslem states.

One of these intractable problems is opposition from some Islamic conservatives. This is made worse because many Arabs believe what Islamic terror groups preaches, that the world should be ruled by an Islamic religious dictatorship, and that this must be achieved by any means necessary. That includes using lethal force against non-Moslems and Moslems who don’t agree.

. . .

That’s not the only problem. Arabs, in particular, [have a] fondness for paranoid fantasies and an exaggerated sense of persecution and entitlement. For example, most Arabs believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were not carried out by Arabs, but were a CIA scam, to provide an excuse for the West to make war on Islam. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. U.S. troops in Iraq were amazed at the number of fantastical beliefs that were accepted as reality there. Currently it is popular to believe that ISIL was created by Israel and the United States and ISIL continues to survive because of continued supported by Americans and Israelis.

Then there is the corruption and intense hatreds. It’s a very volatile and unpredictable part of the world, and always has been.

There’s much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

It’s interesting – and scary – to see how many of the factors identified in the article are at work in Central and South America.  We’re not just dealing with illegal immigration from that continent, but the consequences of the failure of so many of its nation states for so long.

Strategy Page frequently has interesting articles like this one, analyzing a background issue that underlies many modern problems and making the latter more understandable.  If you’re interested in geopolitical and military matters, and you haven’t already bookmarked it for regular reading, you should.



  1. These "failed states" have had tribes, families or warlords running things for thousands of years. If they are still doing that today are they really "failed states"? It looks like business as usual.

  2. South America has the old Spanish
    "limpenza" (blood) culture problem. Only the people with the "good" bloodlines or connected to same are
    allowed to gain real wealth or power. It's a cutthroat system
    brought from Europe and still enforced.

  3. I'ma guess that a map of failed states, and a map color-shaded by average IQ would show a remarkable overlap.

    You send them to school, you buy them books, and they eat the covers for the paste.


  4. To kinda expand on what y'all have said, well, many in these countries don't see them as failed states, because they only see the state as the cover story for a culture of graft and corruption that makes even Chicago and New York seem like the most clean-cut, straight-laced, choir boys ever seen in this world.

    Law enforcement personnel who sell illegal drugs, guns, pardons, girls, booze, licenses, while at the same time fighting 'gangs' who sell illegal drugs, guns, pardons, girls, booze, licenses, who are also fighting other gangs and LEO over….

    And to make matters worse, you get the "Family matters first, then local Tribe, then regional Tribe, then… (Gang counts for Tribe, too)" and no where is any national unity or pride, except over soccer or something silly like that.

    The only break over the Family/Tribe first is when a charismatic dictator on either the local, regional or national level appears, and that opens up a whole different issue.

    Again, like Chicago or New York City times 100 while on crack.

    Nation-building will require the wholesale slaughter of too many people. We, the USA and other Western European Nations, don't have the stomach to slaughter or allow to die by famine or disease or their own stupidity a number sufficient enough to break the Family/Tribe/Gang structure.

    Even if Zika/Ebola/Pig Flu/the next great plague comes around and devastates any of these failed nations, if anyone survives, they will just repopulate under the same lack of trust structures that caused them to fail as cities/regions/states/nations to begin with.

    Which, of course, sucks. But that's the way low-trust societies work. Or don't work, as the case may be.

  5. And, yeah, I know, I kinda contradicted myself in the 3rd to last and 2nd to last paragraphs. Let me clarify. Some 'nations' could be fixed by the elimination of a good portion of their population. Some will only be fixed by the complete loss of their population. Both are very sad, but true.

    Or I just may be a dark, mean-spirited person.

    Or both.

  6. John, your understanding of South America is at the same level that you Spanish writing. Were what you wrote true, then Spain would be a failed state too.

    Problems in Spanish America come from some rapacious elites put in place with English support in order to undermine the Spanish Monarchy, with notable success. Characters like Bolivar were quite nasty, even genocidal.

    Then there is the attempts of some proponents of secular humanism, read Freemasons, to eradicate Roman Catholicism in Mexico, with the result of the Cristero War and a quite uninterrupted succession of Atheists PRI presidents of the country.

  7. @Beans,

    Consider the Philistines, Carthage, and the Aztecs as the ultimate exemplars.

    Some groups just need a heap o' killin'.

    The mistake was holding short, and letting the do-gooders have their heads in the 19th century.

    The jury is in on that: that experiment failed.

    Darwin will have his due.

  8. To lump all "Failed States" together is foolish. The culture of the south/central Americas is not the same tribal culture of the "Arabs" and middle east, nor are they the same as the Africans.

    There is no "One size fits all" problem (or solution).

    In the Arab states, the issue is mostly the culture caused by Islam. In Africa, it is partly islam in some places, and mostly tribalism. Pretty much the same with Afghanistan/Pakistan and most of the other 'stans. There can be no unity because there are more than one tribe/family/grouping. Islam is merely an additional issue….it both unifies and, at the same time, divides. Until you separate the tribes in the middle east and in africa and give them each territory for their own "country", you will not have "unified" governments.

    The Americas are different, if similar. They have less tribalism, but greater crime due to other reasons, mostly culture. Plus they are also lower educated.

    The question of IQ is blatantly answered in Africa and the Middle Eastern countries. Less so (but not entirely so) in the Americas.

    Different peoples, different issues. No one single fix.

  9. "One of these intractable problems is opposition from some Islamic conservatives. This is made worse because many Arabs believe what Islamic terror groups preaches, that the world should be ruled by an Islamic religious dictatorship, and that this must be achieved by any means necessary. That includes using lethal force against non-Moslems and Moslems who don’t agree."

    Oh, they mean actual Muslims, obeying the dictates of the Quran.

    "Moderate Muslims" are a near-fictional creature, whose opinions matter not one tiny bit to actual Muslims.

  10. "There is no "One size fits all" problem (or solution)."

    B is incorrect here.

    Also, the long description about how all of them are different is redundant, and consequently wrong.

    The only problem is CULTURE. Yes, there are various levels or layers of culture. Family, tribe, groups, religions, etc. These are variations on a theme.

    The major problem with culture is an inbuilt resistance to change. "Good" cultures are a little flexible. Bad ones have no ability to change, and are based on bad principals to begin with. As long as they have continuity of generations, the culture is locked in stasis. You can try to impose changes from a power outside the culture, but I suspect it would take millenniums to effect a measurable, persistent change, and I wouldn't be willing to wager any money on the outcome.

    Culture is imbibed from a mother's milk, for all intents and purposes. Sadly, Aesop is correct in what it would take to fix the problem. I would put the cutoff age at ~5 years old. Maybe less.

  11. The Arabs are intensely tribal, with a clan structure layered on top of that. They don't identify themselves by their country's name, they identify themselves by their clan names.

    To most Arabs, the arbitrary lines on the map drawn by Winston Churchill mean nothing at all.

  12. I opine, because I am no expert, that John Ringo got it about right in "The Last Centurion". General trust vs familial trust societies.

    A nation can only cross familial / clan / tribal bounds where there is universal agreement to be a General Trust society. In such a society, familial trust activity is a cancer which will hollow out & kill the nation. In a General Trust society/nation, familial trust has another name – "Corruption". Cancer & Gangrene are equally valid alternate names. Eventually the host organism dies. Unpleasantly.

    Familial Trust societies can never really become "nations" beyond the family/clan boundaries. Wherever wider borders have been imposed on familial trust societies externally, those "nations" have failed, or are in the process of doing so with a few exceptions (Morocco maybe?). Wherever wider borders have been achieved by a familial trust clan, it has been by the sword – domination or genocide. Neither is a cohesive, successful "nation". Especially unpleasant if you are one of the dominated. Or genocided…

    Religion is a contributing factor to nationhood failure where it promotes or permits familial trust over general trust. It can also be the catalyst for nationhood success where it promotes the greater good over clan. Christianity seems to me to be the only religion fitting the latter – "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28) Only in such a radical statement, that every human has equal value to every other human, can a 'nation" survive across tribal bounds. Anything less is doomed to failure. Eventually.

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