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One Suggestion To Fix Failed States

The lesson of the last ten years is clear: failed states breed terrorists. This is a reality I have written about twice before--here and here--that failed states are the biggest threat facing America.

But military intervention alone doesn’t really solve the problem. Thankfully, the Obama administration understands this, repeatedly stressing that its foreign policy will be based on the three D’s: diplomacy, development and defense. The problem with our three pronged approach is that America vastly under funds the most important peg, development. When America finally embraces a true development strategy, I think we should use the Risk strategy to guide our actions.

Just as failed states tend to clump together, successful states clump together too. Take Europe, for example, or South America. As the Economist reported in October, the nations of Latin America are pulling themselves up together. The same factors that drag down bad states will pull up good ones. A successful nation can trade with its neighbors, welcome back refugees, and enforce environmental policies beneficial to its neighbors and itself.

The biggest cluster of failed nations in the world is in Africa. Failed states are all over the world, but future instability and atrocities will most likely occur on this continent. If we want to ensure future US security, we must start in Africa.

To get a foothold on Africa, I think America needs to start with South Africa, the closest thing sub-Saharan Africa has to a success story. We need to put our relationship with South Africa front and center. We should push to get it on an expanded UN Security Council. We need to work with NGOs, USAID, the UN and others to raise the standard of living without causing corruption or undermining the government. A successful South Africa will help with problematic neighbors like Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique.

With luck, prosperous south African nations will help gain stable footholds into the Congo, Kenya and other  West African nations. We expand from our strongest point, the way a general attacks an enemy’s weakest points. The biggest mistake would be to intervene in a failed state directly, like we did in Afghanistan.

Why is this relevant now? Easy, Somalia.

With the recent detention of another aspiring Somali terrorist, I can safely say terrorism has moved out of the Middle East. I worry that a Somali terrorist--most likely affiliated with Al Shabab and possibly with a deployment to Iraq under his belt--will conduct a high profile terrorist attack against America. Despite the clear displeasure Americans have with going to war, if that happened, America would, in all likelihood, re-deploy troops to Africa. (Probably with a small force similar to what we had in Afghanistan for eight years, but still a force.) We would re-quagmire our already over-worked forces.

Securing Somalia’s neighbors, on the other hand, could provide a feasible way to permanently solve the instability of Africa. And we need to start where the nations are strongest.

eigthteen comments

Of course, with the budget the way it is, this will never happen now.

Also, if the estimates that Iraq war cost over 1 trillion dollars, if we spent half that helping other nations before they harbored terrorists, we’d be in a better spot right now.

The assumption being that any money sent to African nations would actually find its way into places where it would do some good. That’s a pretty big assumption. For Fiscal Year 2006, America gave African nations $1.2 billion. For Fiscal Year 2010 this amount increased to $6.7 billion. I have read that the cost of corruption in African nations runs as high as $300 billion per year according to the African Development Bank.

African (Zambian) writer and economist Dambisa Moyo has written much on this subject and her conclusions are that aid makes things worse for Africans because it goes down the rathole of corruption and makes its people dependent.

Africa is sitting on a wealth of natural resources which get squandered by its corrupt leaders. There is a ton of oil in Nigeria, for example, but for Nigerians, it is hard to find.

For example, between 1970 and 1988 when Africa got the most aid it’s ever had, poverty went from 11.

Furthermore, studies have shown that most terrorists are actually better educated than their peers so it’s not the poor who are becoming terrorists.


Throwing money at a problem makes it worse. The facts are clear.

Just to clarify, failed states harbor terrorists, give them an enviroment to thrive. Was Osama Bin Laden born wealthy in Saudi Arabia and recieve high levels of education? Yes.

But his base of operations was in Afghanistan. Failed states, like Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq after the invasion, harbor terrorists.

On the value of development and charity, agree to disagree.

Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan all are failed states with a weak central government and are rife with corruption. Development aid goes nowhere helpful. For Iraq, many of the same things exist as well although less so. How do you see development aid to those first four countries doing any good considering those conditions?

The pirates off the coast of Somalia, for example, have to either be operating with either tacit government approval or they illustrate the inability of the government to control its own borders.

@Harrison – I agree that just throwing money at failed states tends to only exacerbate the problem. As I read it, that’s not entirely the point of the post though.

We need to work with NGOs, USAID, the UN and others to raise the standard of living without causing corruption or undermining the government.

The same reasoning can be applied to other developing countries and failed states with strategic importance to the US. I’ve been reading through Robert Kaplan’s excellent Imperial Grunts (btw Michael, Eric – if either of you has had a chance to read it, I’d love to hear your take) and the takeaway for me is the value of the American military functioning in an advisory/development role in these kinds of places. Working with NGOs, the state’s own military, the UN and others to make sure the money goes where it needs to. Of course the cost of getting such access is often a nice general aid package it’s still more effective than just handing over the cash and hoping it gets to the right place.

We clearly haven’t been an isolationist nation for at least the last 70 years and our strategic needs and the state of geopolitics today preclude any return to such an arrangement. There’s room for improvement in the way we distribute aid to developing countries and failed states, but it is certainly necessary.

I believe the central theme of the post was:

“I think America needs to start [diplomacy and development] with South Africa, the closest thing sub-Saharan Africa has to a success story” in order to “ensure future US security”.

Note that this is substantially different from and unrelated to Harrison’s assertion that

“[in] Somalia, and Sudan… Development aid goes nowhere helpful… How do you see development aid to those… countries doing any good…?”

I’m not sure if Harrison is attacking a straw man or arguing a red herring. Either way, he obviously didn’t read the post very well.

Nick – well said, and likely less inflammatory than mine. Had I seen it before I posted mine I probably would have scrapped my own.

…where’s the delete button around here? hah.

@ Soturi – If you do want me to delete a comment, I have the delete button.

@ Harrison, Nick – How to distribute aid effectively is a different question than whether we should distribute it at all.

But let me put something else out there. Opening up trade barriers—a free market solution—should be included under the umbrella of “development”. In fact, from a market perspective, moving third world countries to the first world should increase the number of customers and buyers out there in the market.

Thank you, soturi, but I was able to successfully grasp the point of the article. My points are neither a “straw man” or a “red herring.” My original point was regarding Africa, and corrupt regimes and aid in general and the fruitlessness of trying to use any form of aid to “help” them.

Regarding Yemen, it is currently ranked, out of 19 nations in the Middle East and N. Africa, 17th in terms of its corruption. A 2009 Carnegie Endowment report said that foreign aid to Yemen will have a tough time doing anything because of the corruption there. And yet, Obama is giving Yemen $63 million in “aid.” In fact, this amount is expected to more than double to about $140 million.

A “red herring” may be found in the Somali terrorist who is, in fact, an American citizen who graduated from his local American high school. I fail to see how doing anything in Somalia will affect these types of people. It’s not like he flew from Somalia to commit a terrorist act. His family have jobs, a house, and he attended schools here for quite a few years.

What was said was:

We need to work with NGOs, USAID, the UN and others to raise the standard of living without causing corruption or undermining the government.

My point, backed up by numerous facts, is that it doesn’t seem possible to do those things without having it all go towards corruption.

As I said originally, writer and economist Dambisa Moyo has studied these issues for many years and I agree with her conclusions, as do many, many others.

@eric – i’ll keep that in mind, thanks.


what you have quoted from the post is a plan of action proposed to accomplish the thesis, as i have quoted it. your arguments concerning failed states in north africa and the middle east may, in fact, be true, but they hold little bearing on the author’s proposition: to assist the diplomacy and development of south african (i.e. NOT failing) nations IOT secure American safety. is it impossible in any way to assist a nation that cannot even prevent pirates from operating within it? perhaps. but arguing so is not the same as arguing it’s also impossible to assist a nation that is geographically different and significantly more stable. Africa is not a homogenous entity.

furthermore, as Eric pointed out, deciding on methods of assistance is not the same as deciding to assist. i find it difficult to believe that any seriously credible source you may choose to quote would say outright “there is no conceivable way to help X country” versus saying “the chosen methods of assistance for x country will not work”.

as a matter of fact, i googled Moyo after i wrote that last paragraph. sure enough, her argument is significantly more nuanced than you present it:


so, if “Dambisa Moyo has studied these issues for many years and I agree with her conclusions”

does that mean you think that we should abandon Africa and let Chinese forms of Aid grow the continent into the 1st world?

your numerous facts probably are quite clear. my problem, consistently, has been how you present said facts and the sketchy conclusions you draw from them.

It is possible to discuss, as you say, South Africa and getting the countries around it to be “stronger” however what is the next logical step once this has been discussed? How to accomplish these goals. Short of regime change or revolution in those surrounding countries, the other method is some sort of financial assistance, isn’t it?

And yet, thus far, financial assistance doesn’t seem to be producing many positive results for the peoples of those nations.

I am not familiar with China’s entry into poverty stricken Africa except in the case of that country attempting to buy land in Madagascar so they could, essentially, outsource the growing of food. Perhaps this is what Ms. Moyo means.

She has written a few books, I have not read the most recent but, as the article for which you provided a link points out, she feels that aid to Africa has been a destructive force and in the interview she said she favors tapering countries off aid over time.

Not sure what conclusions you may have issues with.

“And yet, thus far, financial assistance doesn’t seem to be producing many positive results for the peoples of those nations.” -Harrison

“…but the infrastructure in Sudan right now is amazing and the West did not deliver that in 60 years.” -Moyo

what? you think china built sudan’s infrastructure with hugs and kisses? or do you really think “aid” only exists as the west has chosen to employ it?


if you would read the interview past the one or two sentences that you think buttress your own argument, you would not only be able to make valid conclusions about interventionist aid, but you would find references to chinese involvement in Africa beyond Madagascar.


If you look at Chinese aid to Sudan you will find some interesting things! Among these interesting things is that, in Sudan for example, China is not “giving aid” but, rather, appears to be paying for mining rights while ignoring the fact that 200,000 people were murdered in Darfur. So whereas the U.S. imposes sanctions to punish these murders, China decides to instead mine the country to feed its own needs for natural resources. You think this is a better way?

And you conveniently omit Ms. Moyo’s preceding words from your quote:

“I don’t want to live in a place with a tyrannical dictator running footloose and fancy-free, and it’s not great with a civil war

Why would you omit that part? Wouldn’t this go to the heart of what I’m saying which is giving money to these countries only feeds corrupt regimes?

China also offers political and military backing of the criminals running Sudan.

You support this?

Ms. Moyo does say that the Chinese don’t care what happens politically in these countries and neither does the West. That might be true, but I never said I agreed with this opinion.

why WOULD i omit that? perhaps it’s because Moyo has concluded this:

“The evidence shows [democracy is not a prerequisite for economic growth]”. -Moyo

and i therefore felt it irrelevant, because of this:

“Dambisa Moyo has studied these issues for many years and I agree with her conclusions” -Harrison

or…wait. is that ANOTHER of her conclusions that you don’t agree with, despite agreeing with her conclusions?


and what IS the heart of what you’re saying? is it this:

“financial assistance doesn’t seem to be producing many positive results for the peoples of those nations”?

if so, i think it would necessarily follow that what you have omitted is the qualifier “western”. as in: “WESETERN financial assistance doesn’t seem to be producing… positive results”.

because, as we have seen, eastern financial assistance* has, by your own trusted source’s assertion, built quite the infrastructure in sudan, despite your misgivings with that country’s politics.

[* “Beijing has agreed to offer $10.4 million of humanitarian aid to Darfur and delivered half of the aid during its special envoy’s trip to Sudan in May.” from the other link i gave above]

what i would support, based on what i have learned thus far, is the poster’s proposal to offer non-imperial and non-addictive developmental and diplomatic assistance to stable countries in South Africa, to foster an environment in which the REST of Africa can lift themselves out of their current miasma.

Western or Chinese aid has not produced “positive results” for the peoples of these countries from what I know and if you read up on Chinese aid in Sudan, for example, you’ll see that.

You may be confusing good roads in the Sudan with good government in the Sudan and thus a happy populace in the Sudan. I am not. As I wrote above, China has essentially paid a bribe to mine that country for its own purposes. I believe China tried to do the same thing in Madagascar except instead of mining it was farming and things didn’t go so well when many of the locals complained they were being used.

Since everything I have written here has been about aid doing good not harm to the peoples of a country which receives it, I have not written anything contradictory. I also said I have not read Ms. Moyo’s latest book, which is what the interview with her was about…

I would support aid to stable, peaceful countries but my expectations that this would somehow bootstrap everybody else is extremely low.

I’m really not so sure what you’re trying to accomplish here except to nitpick, which I don’t feel is a productive use of anybody’s time.

can you reconcile these two??

1. “I am not familiar with China’s entry into poverty stricken Africa”

2. “…if you read up on Chinese aid in Sudan, for example, you’ll see [my point].”

if my nits were as squared away as yours are i suppose i may be equally touchy about having them picked…

ok, not really. i come to these discussions fully expecting my premises and conclusions to be questioned at times, to have to defend them now and again, and to change them when they are shown to be wanting.

and i expect to be called out when it looks like i’ve been fibbing to bolster my argument:

“She has written a few books, I have not read the most recent” -Harrison

she’s published a total of one. i’m interested to know which other ones you’ve read.

now, as for China’s African effects being positive or negative, here’s a link to the pew poll Moyo mentions in her interview that indicates a number of Africans absolutely LOVE what China’s doing for them: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/656/how-the-..

including this metric for the nature of change, that’s 3 of Moyo’s 4 conclusions, as presented in this discussion, that you disagree with. the one you do agree with I think is a simplification to the point of misrepresentation.

BUT! lets not pick at nits, shall we? After all, in the big scheme of this discussion, you’ve come all the way from this:

“My original point was regarding Africa… and the fruitlessness of trying to use any form of aid to “help” them.

to this:

“I would support aid to stable, peaceful countries…”

and i can let it go at that much more reasonable conclusion.

lest you think i’m selectively quoting you, too, however, regarding the second half of the latter quote:

shall we debate the feasibility of neighbors synergistically boosting each other up the ladder of success (or doing the exact opposite)? i’m certainly inclined to accept that “successful states clump together” is not a correlation/causation misreading. on an individual basis, i’m fairly sure it’s been proven individuals perform better when surrounded by high-performers. why wouldn’t that extrapolate to the national level?

Just to quickly weigh in with regard to western aid in Africa, I think it should be mentioned that medical aid with regard to the AIDS pandemic in the region has in fact yielded positive results bringing antiretroviral medications to millions more than previously had access and leading to an increase in the number of child born HIV free, increased prevention and awareness, and through both an increased good will toward western culture by those assisted.

The lesson of the last ten years is clear: failed states breed terrorists. This is a reality I have written about twice before--here and here--that failed states are the biggest threat facing America.

I disagree. My reasoning is here: (http://thefullforceofthewind.blogspot.c.. I only recently managed to get hold of the files, hence the delay in reply :P