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versión On-line ISSN 2304-8557
versión impresa ISSN 0023-270X

Koers (Online) vol.73 no.4 Pretoria  2008


The dilemma of the failed state thesis in post-9/11 world affairs


Die dilemma van die mislukte staattesis in internasionale verhoudings na 9/11



A. Schoeman

Department of Political Science, University of the Free State, Qwaqwa Campus, Phuthaditjhaba. E-mail:




The 9/11 terrorist attacks shifted the emphasis of failed states as just a regional humanitarian problem to one that could present a global security threat. In this regard US policymakers, especially, identified failed states as possible terrorist threats. However, this renewed attention to the study of state failure has exposed a number of theoretical weaknesses in this body of literature. The latter could mainly be ascribed to the way in which US policy makers have often used generalised definitions of failed states and then applied it to states that are perceived as threats. Another problem is the fact that government sponsored research institutes and think tanks are operating independently from university academics. This situation has caused theoretical confusion as conditions in failed states are often interpreted differently resulting in the development of a number of opposing theories, definitions and confusing classification models. The body of literature is further accused of endorsing a "Weberian" definition (ideal type) of the state against which degrees of "failure" in non-complying states are measured. This article will investigate the extent of these theoretical weaknesses and expose the dangers of following an approach that seem to misinterpret the political realities of developing states (often regarded as failed) - this despite having an extensive popular following. It will further focus on possible alternative approaches - or the formulation of ideas that are better suited and relevant to the often unique internal political, social and economic dynamics of unstable states.

Key concepts: failed state thesis; failed states: terrorist threat; liberal-democratic regime; Weberian ideal type state


Die 9/11-terroriste aanvalle het die fokus van mislukte state as bloot streeksgebonde humanitêre probleme verskuif na een wat 'n globale sekuriteitsrisiko kan inhou. Veral Amerikaanse beleidmakers het mislukte state ná hierdie insident as potensiële terroristebedreigings begin identifiseer. Die hernude belangstelling in die studie van mislukte state het egter ook 'n aantal teoretiese tekortkomings binne hierdie studieterrein blootgelê. Laasgenoemde kan toegeskryf word aan die wyse waarop veral Amerikaanse beleidmakers dikwels veralgemeende definisies van mislukte state gebruik en dit dan toepas op state wat as "misluk" beskou word. 'n Verdere probleem is die feit dat regeringsgefinansierde navorsingsinstitute en dinkskrums dikwels onafhanklik van akademici by universiteite funksioneer. Hierdie stand van sake lei tot teoretiese verwardheid, aangesien toestande in mislukte state dikwels verskillend geïnterpreteer word. Die gevolg hiervan is dat teenstrydige teorieë, definisies en klassifikasiemodelle dikwels ontwikkel word. Die studieterrein word verder daarvan beskuldig dat dit 'n "Weberiaanse" (ideaaltipiese) definisie van die staat onderskryf om verskillende grade van mislukking by nie-toegeeflike state te bepaal. Hierdie artikel sal poog om die omvang van hierdie teoretiese tekortkomings te ondersoek en te fokus op die gevare van 'n benadering wat oënskynlik die politieke realiteite binne ontwikkelende state (wat dikwels as misluk beskou word) misinterpreteer. Ten slotte sal aandag geskenk word aan moontlike alternatiewe benaderings, of die formulering van idees wat meer relevant en toepaslik is vir die dikwels unieke interne politieke, sosiale en ekonomiese dinamika van onstabiele state.

Kernbegrippe: liberaal-demokratiese regime; mislukte staattesis; mislukte state: terroriste bedreiging; Weberiaanse ideaaltipiese staat



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