Fragile States: Defining Difficult Environments for Poverty Reduction

In recent years, there has been growing concern over the impact of weak or ineffective states. Sovereign states are expected to perform certain minimal functions for the security and well being of their citizens, as well as the smooth working of the international system. In simple terms, people need states to work. States that fail to meet these minimal standards have been characterised as ‘weak’, ‘fragile’, or ‘poorly performing’. More extreme cases have been labelled ‘failed’ or ‘collapsed’.

The proliferation of labels – ranging from ‘crisis states’ to ‘countries at risk of instability’ and ‘countries under stress’ – reflects the range of ways in which the core problem has been conceived. There has been much debate over terminology and analytical frameworks. Yet despite questions of definition and approach, the experience of people who are the victims of state failure underlines the urgency of the questions.

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