Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- LAST REVIEWED: 16 September 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0119
- LAST REVIEWED: 16 September 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0119
A failed state is a country with a government that cannot or will not deliver essential political goods (public services) to its citizens. The state, usually not yet a nation-state, may hold a seat in the United Nations and function as a sovereign entity in regional and world politics, but so far as most of its people are concerned, the state fails them by its inability to perform state functions adequately. Thus, failed states are those political entities in international politics that supply deficient qualities and quantities of political goods and, simultaneously, no longer exercise a monopoly of violence within their territories.
Failed states are one of four types of state. Of the 193 members of the United Nations, sixty or seventy are strong states. Those are the nation-states that rank highest in the democracy rankings of Freedom House, the human rights reports of the US State Department, the anti-corruption perception indexes of Transparency International, the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program, the competitiveness indices of the World Economic Forum, and the Doing Business surveys of the World Bank—they include nations such as Finland, New Zealand, and Singapore, plus Canada, the United States, large portions of Europe, and countries such as Brazil and South Korea. After the strong states come eighty or ninety weak states: some almost strong and some, at the very bottom of the weak listing, tending toward failure and capable of becoming a subtype called “failing.” They are weak because they supply lesser or less-than-adequate quantities of political goods and/or poorer-quality political goods. Failed states (often about twelve worldwide at any one time) and collapsed states (now one), which make up separate categories, follow.
Early Research and the Development of the Concept
In the centuries since the Congress of Westphalia (1648), weaker nation-states, monarchies, duchies, and outlying domains failed repeatedly. More powerful nation-states conquered or otherwise incorporated those failing polities, some of which subsequently were the locus of irredentist demands. Weaker polities were similarly relieved of their independence. As states were created and torn apart, decade after decade and century after century, centripetal and centrifugal forces would cause implosion as well as explosion. Tilly 1975 indicates that the 20th- and 21st-century states arose in different context than European states did in earlier periods. Migdal 1988 details how insufficient concentration of “social control” weakens states and prevents the emergence of strength. Tilly 1990 concludes that the problem for the new post-1990 states was not social engineering, for that had never worked before. Krasner 1999 distinguishes four types of sovereignty: domestic, interdependent, international legal, and Westphalian. Hechter 2001 links sovereignty to economic success and claims that sovereignty is a necessary but insufficient condition for nationalism. See also Anderson 1996.
Anderson, Malcolm. Frontiers: Territory and State Formation in the Modern World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
A geographical approach to irredentism and artificiality of borders as the falsely presumed origin of new states.
Hechter, Michael. Containing Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
The rise of nationalism often leads to state failure. In part, the social base of nationalism rests on people who profit individually from their claims of sovereignty.
Krasner, Stephen D. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Failed states may have an international legality without being sovereign domestically, or even being legitimately Westphalian.
Migdal, Joel S. Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Nonstate interest groupings gained leverage on the emerging states, and colonial policies favored the rise of authoritarian leaders.
Tilly, Charles. “Reflections on the History of European State-Making.” In The Formation of National States in Western Europe. Edited by Charles Tilly, 3–83. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975.
Whereas conquest and the fulfillment of economic imperatives largely propelled the creation and annexation of earlier states in the post-Roman world, more modern states developed out of the development of nationalism and new attitudes to imperialism.
Tilly, Charles. Coercion, Capital, and European States, A.D. 990–1992. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
The model would not necessarily be Western or follow the European model, of which, in any case, there were many. Social stresses were much greater in modern times of state formation than in earlier times.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- Africa, Public Opinion in
- Africa, Women’s Political Representation in
- African Development, Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Ancient Chinese Political Thought
- Arab Spring, The
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Argentine Government and Politics
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Arms Race Modeling
- Asia, Water Politics in
- Asian American Mobilization and Political Identities
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarian Regimes, Lawyers in
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Authoritarianism in the Public
- Authoritarianism in Turkey
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Big Data in Political Science Research
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Birthright Citizenship
- Brazilian Foreign Policy
- Brazilian Political Development
- Brexit, British Politics, and European Integration
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Caribbean, Elections and Democracy in the
- Celebrities in US Politics
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China, Political Economy of
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Climate Change and Politics
- Collective Memory
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Political Economy of Resource Extraction
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Computational Social Science
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Constitutional Politics in Asia
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Elections, Partisan Realignment, and Long-Term El...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism, Empirical Indicators of
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy and Minority Language Recognition
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Democratization in the Muslim World
- Development of Survey Research
- Diasporas and Politics
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- Dual Citizenship
- East Africa, Politics of
- East and Southeast Asia, Political Party Systems in
- East and Southeast Asia, Women and Politics in
- East Asia, Civil Society and Social Movements in
- Economic Voting
- Effects of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks on American Public O...
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Election Observation and the Detection of Fraud
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Assistance
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Electoral Institutions and Women’s Representation
- Electoral Reform and Voting in the United States
- Electoral Volatility in the New Democracies of Latin Ameri...
- Electronic Voting Systems
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Parliament, The
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Extension of Voting Rights to Emigrants
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Feminist Political Thought
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Framing Effects in Political Communication
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender and Political Violence
- Gender and Politics in South Asia
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Gender Gap in US Public Opinion
- Gender Stereotypes in Politics
- Genetic Underpinnings of Political Attitudes and Behaviors
- German Politics and Government
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Health-Care Politics in the United States
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Ideal Point Estimation
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Ideological Reasoning in Politics
- Illiberal Democracies and Democratic Backsliding
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and European Politics
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Impact of C-SPAN on US Democracy
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Independent Voters, The Study of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Politics and Representation in Latin America
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Indonesia, Politics of
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Institutional Factors Affecting Women’s Political Engageme...
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- Interethnic Contact and Impact on Attitudes
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Intersectionality in Political Science
- Interstate Border Dispute Management in the Indo-Pacific
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Italian Politics and Government
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Migration: Dynamics and Politics
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Electoral Reform in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Malaysian Politics and Government
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Mexican Political Development
- Minority Governments
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Mixed-Member Electoral Systems
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- Motivated Reasoning
- Narrative Analysis
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Online Public Opinion Polling
- Organized Criminal Syndicates and Governance in Mexico and...
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Party System Institutionalization in Democracies
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Personalization of Politics
- Plato’s Political Thought
- Policy Feedback
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Ambition
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of India
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Humor and Its Effects
- Political Institutions and the Policymaking Process in Lat...
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Roles and Activities of Former Presidents and Pr...
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics, Gender Quotas in
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Ethnic Identity in China
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Politics of the American South
- Politics of the Philippines: From Rizal to Duterte
- Politics of the US-Mexico Border
- Populism in Latin America
- Positive and Negative Partisanship
- Postcolonial Political Theory
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Candidate Selection in Comparative Perspectiv...
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Protest Participation
- Public Opinion in Affluent Democracies
- Public Opinion in Europe toward the European Union
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Opinion on Immigration
- Public Opinion toward the Environment and Climate Change i...
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Recruitment and Selection for Elected Office
- Redistricting and Electoral Competition in American Politi...
- Referendums and Direct Democracy
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion and Politics in Latin America
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau’s Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Science and Social Movements
- Secession and Secessionist Movements
- Semi-Presidential Systems
- Social Networks, Mass Publics, and Democratic Politics
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Asian Political Thought
- South Korea, Politics of
- Southeast Asian Politics
- Spectacle, The
- Sport and Politics
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- State-Society Relations in South Asia
- Stereotypes in Political Reasoning
- Supreme Court and Public Opinion
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- Thailand, Politics of
- The Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspecti...
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- The Politics of Parenthood: Attitudes, Behavior, Policy, a...
- The Politics of Waste and Social Inequalities in Indian Ci...
- Third-Party Politics in the United States
- Tocqueville’s Political Thought
- Transboundary Pollution
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Trust in Latin American Governing Institutions
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Politics, Neoliberalism in
- US Presidency, The
- US Presidential Campaigns and Their Impact
- Venezuela, The Path Toward Authoritarianism in
- Voter Support for Women Candidates
- Voter Turnout
- Voter Turnout Field Experiments
- Voting Technology and Election Administration in the Unite...
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- White Identity Politics
- Women and Conflict Studies
- Women’s Inclusion in Executive Cabinets
- Women’s Legal and Constitutional Rights
- Women’s Political Activism and Civic Engagement in Latin A...
- Women’s Representation in Governmental Office in Latin Ame...
- Women’s Representation in the Middle East and North Africa
- Workers’ Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics