Failed States: Havens for Terrorists?

Are failed states havens for terrorists? Some may be surprised to hear that the best answer is “not usually” (or at least, “not necessarily”). In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, many American commentators were quick to draw a direct connection between failed states and terrorist activity. Yes Afghanistan is a clear example of this connection, as that country emerged out of post-Soviet occupation in the 1990s. More recently Somalia and Yemen have become havens for Al Qaeda linked organizations. All three of these states would qualify as failed states.

Much of this question turns on how we define state failure. Looser criteria result in more states with the label “failed.” For example, a looser set of criteria would result in the inclusion of states like Haiti, Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan. Of these, Nigeria and Pakistan currently have active terrorist organizations with regional or global connections. The other states have only incidental ties with non-state terrorist groups, if any connections at all.

In fact, terrorist organizations with international reach seem to prefer what could more appropriately be termed “weak states.” These countries tend to offer better transportation and communications networks, while still providing significant cover for shadowy operations. The most dysfunctional and disconnected places may not be as fertile terrain for (trans-national) terrorist groups.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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