Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’


Apparently I don’t know what it means to be a failed state

January 22, 2010

A few weeks ago, when Yemen grabbed a news cycle or two and folks were saying things like this, Flying Whale and I had a conversation with a good friend about what the criteria was for being considered a “failed state” and whether or not Yemen qualified.

Between the three of us, we dutifully recited Weber (loss of monopoly on violence) and hypothesized that it meant the inability of a centralized government to enforce its will outside of the capital.

And then I read this article.  And now I’m wondering if being categorized as a failed state is even bleaker than I realized.

Khaled Fattah of the Yemen Times writes that Yemen’s government has lost its “infrastructural power” and become a creator of problems, not a source of solutions.

[O]ne may point to the wide-spread endemic corruption, the expansion of ‘dark spaces’ that are far beyond the reach of the state’s eyes and hands, the growth of hidden economies, and the tendency to ignore the juridical processes of the state.

This loss is evident in the absence of the state in many parts of the country, in the inability of state institutions to counter lawlessness and social disorder, in the very poor quality of basic government services, and in the very limited impact of state controls. Unsurprisingly, Yemen today is one of the best examples of political entities where the state is performing ‘self-canceling.’

Although united Yemen has been holding together as a fragile Middle Eastern state, the wide array of anti-central authority actors who are engaged in varying degrees of violence and subversion are operating within a new poisonous environment that can push Yemen towards joining the list of failed states.

A birds-eye view of the current security situation in Yemen reveals how the Weberian notion of a state that enjoys a monopoly on violence is nothing more than a fantasy.

If the author hadn’t so clearly implied that Yemen wasn’t yet a failed state, I’d have thought the description certainly qualified it. I need a new working definition.  Thoughts?

P.S. I’ve been following these three blogs.  They’re a decent starting point.