Monday, February 4, 2013

Failed States / Brennan Kraxberger

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Politics/Current Events

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

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“Brennan Kraxberger's family knew he was a politics junkie when he began watching C-SPAN as a teenager. After leaving his hometown of Carthage, Missouri, he attended the University of Missouri-Columbia (B.A.) and the University of Iowa (Ph.D.). He now lives in Newport News, Virginia with his wife and two young boys.”

For more, visit Kraxberger’s blog.


“The issue of state failure is both overly sensationalized and under-appreciated in popular discourse. In the West, failed states are too readily associated with terrorist activities. Likewise, publications like the Failed States Index greatly exaggerate the number of countries with extreme political dysfunction. Too often, huge swathes of the developing world – notably Africa – are perceived as failed. Even so, collapse of effective governance in a minority of states is a pressing problem in Africa, parts of Asia, and elsewhere. In another kind of misperception, policy makers and citizens alike often wrongly assume that fixes for state failure are necessarily expensive.

This short book seeks to re-energize policy discussions and improve public understanding of the world’s most troubled places. When governments do not or cannot provide basic public goods and services such as physical security, courts, and infrastructure, the effects extend well beyond threats of piracy or terrorism emanating from states like Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Failed states, or even critically weak states, can export various types of misery and threats to their neighbors and beyond. Dismal economic performance, refugees and displaced persons, illicit smuggling, and health challenges are some of the key negative impacts.

Drawing on a longer historical view of statehood, this work provides a synthesis of recent calls to revamp the global community’s approach to fragile states. The book recognizes the fact that some countries gaining formal independence in the last century have never had much state building success. And it questions the wisdom of only utilizing status quo methods for (re-) constructing functioning states. The book argues for the re-evaluation of statehood, the United Nations sovereignty framework, and the overwhelming bias toward preserving existing territories. Readers will be delighted to see that novel responses to state decay could be less costly than the status quo.”


In the blog’s submission guidelines, I say that non-fiction is acceptable if it is of general interest and targeted at a layperson. Failed States clearly meets the second of these. I suspect I’m going well beyond giving it the benefit of the doubt on the first one. But maybe that shouldn’t be, as what happens on the other side of the world may not be as unrelated to our lives as we think.

A “failed state” is a country where the government has ceased to exist or become so dysfunctional as to be ineffective in actually governing all or a significant part of the country. The obvious and most extreme current example is Somalia. The author discusses the issues that lead to state failure, historical methods for dealing with this, and possible improvements to these methods. He also talks about state failure and its relationship to terrorism.

Although Failed State has obvious appeal to the hardcore political junkie, especially those who are interested in their country’s foreign policy, as well as to those interested in humanitarian efforts, as the world becomes more and more connected, anyone who likes to think they’re well informed should be familiar with this issue. At less than 30,000 words, Failed States is an excellent and quick introduction for that person.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

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