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The United States’ Involvement with Weak States


The challenge of weak and fragile states is one of the worst problems facing the developed world in the 21st century. The prevalence of weak states is a foreign policy which has proved to be a serious threat to international peace at large. For instance, the weak and failing states have been the main impetus behind poor economic performance, acts of terrorism, civil war and gross atrocities in some nations of the world. Furthermore, these weak states have threatened the very survival of their own citizens let alone the instability caused in the international platform. Those states which have proved to be vulnerable of this challenge, the international community, major superpowers and humanitarian organizations alongside other nongovernmental organizations have been on the fore front to address the problem in the last two decades.

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Although there was a drastic reduction in the on violent disputes between states especially after the end of the Cold War, there are still serious atrocities within states which have been considered to be weak, fragile or failing. There is a very high causality rate which may not be compared to a real battle zone where two states are at war with each other. In the recent past, the public domain has been dominated by such countries like Iraq and Afghanistan on their inability to control internal peace. However, the actual challenge does not lie per se with these weak states or the neighboring countries. It is more likely that the international arena will still have to encounter increasing and unending episodes of conflicts which arise from weak states especially if the challenge is not brought on board for rapid redress. The states which have a track record of peace and instability are even more likely to suffer more consequences associated with this state of affairs. Hence, it is against this backdrop that the U.S government has been up in arms to intervene on the affairs of weak states with the motive of having a hand in controlling the potential threat which these fragile states may pose1

This paper attempts to explore the motives which draw U.S. to intervene into weak states with specific reference to historical situations.

Characteristics of a state: Strong and weak states

In a strong state, the government of the day is in a position to plan and provide for the needs of its people both in the short and long run. The social, political and economic environment is made conducive for the population and all aspects of investing into the future are well catered for2

On the other hand, a weak state may not easily predict the environment due to a very high degree of instability which exists.

Social trust forms one of the most vital backbones of a democratic state. Unless citizens can afford to lay a formidable trust and create a harmonious environment for themselves, it may equally be cumbersome to pursue certain principles and ideals of societal well being. Indeed, the process of solving internal conflicts can only be a success if this trust is well built among all groups; whether minority ones or those rightfully elected to represent others in governance. This will be the only way to deter dispute even before it breaks out.

One of the many demerits of weak states is the conspicuous lack of social trust which is a necessary ingredient to stability. Fragile and failing states are characterized with inadequate social trust which is very much needed in sustaining different tribes and ethnic groups, communities, religious groups and even the society at large. Those states which are socially, politically and economically fragile may not be able to transcend these enormous qualities. Whenever a society is void of trust, it will almost be close to impossibility to build a politically stable government because consensus will ever be hard to achieve. This is why most weak states are deficient of democratic ideals although they may argue to pursue the same. Therefore, a weak state can only enhance democracy if social trust is put in place. Unfortunately, the weak states are often not in a position to harness this trust leading to their eventual failure and downfall. A case study of Palestine and Israel amid the conflicts which has reigned for centuries is perhaps a striking example of failing states and how social trust can be of great help in building up these war-torn nations. Negotiations in these regions have been dominated by state issues. Needless to say, it is evident that the most important ingredient required towards a formidable peace deal is missing and has deterred any possible success for a considerably long period of time. For instance, the transfer of the settlers on the side of Israel is in fact a case in point where lack of social trust is playing a crucial role. The Palestinian side is not secure or safe of this either. There is the known “Arab Street”.

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The influences arising from both the Israeli and Palestinian states may be powerful although the overall impact as far as building peace and stability in the region is concerned is almost null and void. In practice, there is very minimal focus which has been given to the local people as instruments of building trust within both states. In any case, the years when Bill Clinton was still in office as the U.S president witnessed several failed attempts to negotiate peace deals and this has persisted to the present without significant success.

As mentioned earlier, the weak states lack the basic democratic ideals which are necessary in managing peace and stability. The fragile and failing states have mainly put so much effort on building the states and ignored the need to focus on the instruments of peace which can promise sustained stability. These administrations have also failed to recognize that unless initiatives are put in place to enhance societal trust, internal conflicts will be the order of the day.

The civil society is one of the major pillars through which peace can be promoted. Most of these weak states have either ignored or do not have civil societies through which a platform for peace can be erected. In some weak states, the civil society has played the dismal role of advocating for peace and democracy and in many cases; they are not permitted to advance their activities beyond this point. Hence, overlooking the momentous role which can played by the civil society is another characteristic of most weak states.

The intervention of the U.S government in the administration of weak states has seen some progress being made in spite of a myriad of challenges including resistance from some weak states3

Moreover, the internal efforts by some leaders in weak states to facelift social trust and peace building have equally met resistance from the government of the day. Some of these leaders who tend to advocate for democracy have been tortured or even imprisoned in the course of seeking social justice. Unfortunately, the failed administrations of the weak states do not only leave an impact at the local level but the negative effects spill over to the neighboring states. The Mubarak regime in Egypt is perhaps an excellent example in this case. This government has curtailed all the efforts necessary towards realizing a true and authenticated democracy. The freedom of the press is greatly at stake. The media is highly regulated by the government and is not allowed to report or criticize the regime in a manner likely to mean it is not performing well. The president also imprisoned his political opponent, Amr Noor, a vivid indication of a failed democracy and hence a failed state. This is a very common feature with most weak states.

Another example worth noting is the case of the Russian president Vladimir Putin. He had restrained the operation of the civil society in this country and they could hardly perform to their peak. For instance, they are no longer funded as it is supposed to be therefore minimizing their level of operations and influence.

The abolition of the activities of civil society is indeed on one f the most viable tools which most weak states use to advance their atrocities. It is important that the foundations of democracy are not just confined within the right to vote or the establishment of institutions which stand for democracy. Besides, a working judiciary or even an accountable electoral body may not promise much as far as democracy is concerned. There are other underlying essentials which come in handy and which are required for real democracy to flourish. Unfortunately, weak states are yet to reach this level of democratic understanding like those states which have already left a mark in their democratic practices4

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Even after apartheid was brought to an end, a country like South Africa is still not in a position to enhance peace through a facilitation process. It was the effort of non state actors which saw the country eventually holding elections in 1994 after a three year struggle to do so.

The U.S National Security Strategy has by far and large focused on the potential threat posed by weak and failing states. In any case, the weak states agenda has elicited a lot of debate. Security academics have argued that the weak and failing states have been the cause of concern when it comes to the risk of international peace and stability. It is out of these weak states that weapons of mass destruction are easily used. In addition, acts of terror as well as proliferation of small arms are rampant in these states. Hence, security analysts have concluded that weak states act as vehicles for international peace threat. This was evident with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks involving the Al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden has always remained to the chief suspect in the mastermind of the attack although he is still at large and has not been apprehended so far.

The actual cause of the 9/11 attacks has been conclusively established although some theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain why the Al Qaeda launched the attack. For example, there are those politicians who argue out that the main cause if the attack was poverty level which has continued to remain high in the Middle East region. Nevertheless, the Al Qaeda crew courtesy of Osama Bin Laden once said that the U.S occupation of the oil rich Saudi region was the main cause of the attack. Although efforts to control oil resources may be a likely explanation, it cannot be used conclusively as the sole reason why the attackers perpetrated the act.

US Interventions

Commercial interests

It is imperative and inevitable to explore the contemporary U.S foreign policy under President Obama in order to evaluate and conclude on the past and modern policy genetic traits. To begin with, the Obama administration has often reiterated that Islam is not a foe and that the war on terrorism has little to do with U.S engagement. Moreover, the U.S need to have a breathless pursuit over nuclear program alongside other issues5

There are a myriad of foreign policies as stipulated in the current administrative structure. From the previous analysis however, there is a silent question why U.S was interested in controlling Saudi Arabia. Was it a strategy to fight terrorism emerging from the Middle East? But then, is it only U.S facing the threat of terrorism in the contemporary world? Sincerely speaking, underlying interests contrary to the war against terror is evident here. The Al Qaeda under the guide of Osama Bin Laden ever claimed that the U.S administration had economic interests in Saudi Arabia due to the huge oil deposits. Although this may not be substantiated, some questions are still left unanswered

Ideological interests

The United States government and its people uphold strictly to the principle of democracy and rule of law. That is why political leadership is democratically elected into office by the people. Similarly, constitutional office bearers like the Supreme Court judges have to be appointed into office legally by keenly adhering to existing laws and statutes. Moreover, the Congress has the mandate to make or amend laws which then becomes legally binding to all citizens. The leadership synopsis is well understood by everybody and contravening of the law can be challenged through the judicial system.

This is a similar leadership arrangement in most democratic governments. To this end, critics of U.S aggression have always questioned the appointing authority in world governance. In other terms, why has the U.S government assumed total leadership over the world and more so on the weak and failing states? Who appointed or directed it to do so? It may indeed be a paradox for a country claiming to pursue democracy while totalitarian ideology is the top agenda in its international matters. The basic role of democracy is missing here. The main grievance is that of representation. The U.S has taken a representative role of governing the world. This has led to numerous protests which can be directly linked to U.S “fatherhood” spirit. A clear cut illustration of this can be traced back on the climate change and global warming debate.

As a precaution to reduce greenhouse emission believed to contribute significantly to global warming, countries of the world convened in Japan and unanimously agreed to stick to Kyoto protocol6

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Unfortunately, U.S failed to honor the agreement despite being one of the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases. Besides, the recently concluded Copenhagen talks on climate change ended in disillusionment with U.S not walking the talk as a world leader. Its foreign policies should have been handy at this time when the world is struggling to come into terms with the devastating effects of climate change which is yet to be experienced. Indeed, the weak and failing states have their own share of problems and challenges which they are contributing to the world just in a similar way to the U.S government. Hence, the concept of ‘”weak and failing states” has been viewed by others as a pure U.S ideology to control the world7


The ouster of Iraq president, Saddam Hussein from power appeared in the eyes of many as an act of punishment or revenge having fought and nearly won the Gulf War with George Bush (senior) and his allies. The initial claims were that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons and mass destruction and that he was in pursuit of manufacturing nuclear weapons8

This according to the U.S administration was a big threat to international peace and stability. In any case, Iraq had already been classified as a weak and failing state, a country which had failed to follow the ideals and fundamentals of democracy. However, even after his execution, there has been no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq up to date. There are still concerns whether this U.S aggression on Iraq was done in good faith or was just a form of punishment to an old foe.

Strategic Factor/World Police

The U.S government has often assumed the responsibility of the world police in articulating issues of international interest such acts of terrorism. For instance, the main reason why U.S has sometimes invented in the affairs of the weak and failing states is due to failed administrations in these countries and as a result, there is need to have an international watch dog in place to correct any possible messes which may arise from such uncouth administrations. The U.S government has quite often argued that these weak and failing states are the main centers of operation through which terror groups breed themselves before they spill over to other destinations in the world. Terror groups such as Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and Hamas have been blacklisted as potential threats to international peace and stability. Unless their operations are put under checks and balances, achieving sustainable global peace may just be an illusion. Therefore, the U.S government has done just that by playing the role of world police. Terror organizations are more likely to flourish where there are feeble legislations which cannot be enforced or absence of strict legislative framework to deal with acts of terrorism9

This is one sole reason why U.S took the initiative of attacking and destroying the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan. Similarly, Saddam Hussein was ousted from power and eventually executed on the claims that he was harboring weapons of mass destruction as part of the U.S strategy to maintain world peace.

Humanitarian factor

Those who live within the regions classified as weak states are more likely to suffer from both acute and chronic illnesses due to high levels of poverty. As a result, mortality rate can be exceptionally high10

Such inhabitants are also more likely to have poor access to basic amenities and contemporary technology. Hence, they stand a higher chance of facing humanitarian crises than their counterparts in strong states. Therefore, the successive regimes in U.S have often engaged foreign spending on weak and failing states. One of the reasons why the U.S government has been intervening in the affairs of weakly run states is to provide the much needed humanitarian assistance to the worst affected populations11

For instance, the basic state infrastructure, fragile institutions and lack of basic necessities like healthcare have been on the U.S agenda as far as the foreign policy is concerned. Most weak and failing states have not been able to provide for their citizens who end up on the receiving end even as these governments elusively set up institutions to strengthen democracy. Transformational development in selected weak states has been top on the agenda as far its humanitarian aid to poor countries is concerned. Additionally, the U.S government has set up agencies like USAID to expedite the process of providing humanitarian assistance to the affected social groups as a result of poor governance. Furthermore, the weak states have been assisted to set up institutions which can investigate and eliminate terror groups. Nonetheless, such foreign assistance by U.S has elicited debate about foreign spending on matters of security and especially on states which have been categorized as weak12


In summing u this paper, it is imperative to underscore the fact that weak and failing states are indeed a real threat to world peace and instability and not only in developed countries like the United States. It is commonplace for most weak states to lack important instruments of democracy which are necessary for peaceful co-existence. For example, although governments in these states which have been classified as weak may set up institutions and enact legal frameworks to assist in the practice of democratic ideals, the impact is not significant owing to the fact that social trust and organs which can bring out the same have either been ignored or are non-existent. Nevertheless, the U.S motives on the affairs of weak states may by far and large varied. Needleless to say, sharp criticism has emerged on the foreign spending on weak states not just within the internal spheres of the U.S regime but also from external quarters. There are lots if doubts whether the U.S foreign policy is realistic or just an ideology to press the weaker states for selfish gains.


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