Failed States or Failed Solutions? An Empirical Assessment of U.S. Treatment of State Failure in the Developing World



St-Amant, Michele Raya

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Since the end of the Cold War, the effects of state failure have plagued the international community. There are many purported solutions to state failure like financial assistance and multi-national interventions, though the success of these solutions is difficult to measure. Additionally, the empirical likelihood that the West will indeed respond to state failure is missing from state failure discourse in both the academic and policy realms. Crucially, if the West does not actually respond predictably to state failure – or at least in the ways that we should expect – then the effort devoted to finding the solution to state failure may be in danger. This project seeks to fill this critical gap in the literature by conducting one of the first mixed-methods studies of its kind. Using an original large-n dataset, I test the strength of state failure in determining the likelihood of an intervention (financial or military) by the United States. I find that state failure itself is not a good indicator of where the U.S. will respond. Secondly, I conduct a case study of Liberia and Nigeria – two failed states that have received different treatment by the United States. I find that the important factors in determining intervention in these cases include pressure from the international community, the perceived threat of terrorism, and the failed states’ strategic position as a regional player. This study adds to a growing body of literature that is critical of the usage of the term ‘failed state,’ and also adds a flavor to the debate about whether or not the international community has a substantive effect on U.S. foreign policy. The critical empirical relationship between state failure and U.S. response may help to determine the actual success (or failure) of international responses to state failure, and can help to inform and drive efforts in the study for new solutions.



Failed states, Military intervention, State capacity, Foreign policy