State Death

In the midst of 24/7 media coverage of current events and politics, we often miss the deeper currents of human history. We can easily get too caught up in the horse races of election seasons, questions about the rise and fall of governments, and fluctuations in public opinion polls.

An outstanding book by Tanisha Fazal provides an illuminating window on contemporary world politics. The book is State Death, a title that is justifiably provocative. In the book, Fazal looks at the period of the early 1800s up to the present, and examines why and how states cease to exist. Since 1816, she found that 66 of 207 states died, or lost their status as sovereign states. Put another way, just over 30 percent of modern states have succumbed to state death. In the United Nations era (1945-present), though, state death has basically ceased.

At first glance, the recent absence of state death would appear to be a great achievement. In the pre-World War II world, state death typically involved conquest and bloodshed. Over the last six decades, a “norm against conquest,” supported by the United States and other major powers, has provided protection against state death. This norm against conquest has been beneficial in obvious ways. Even so, the assurance of state survival – if only through international recognition at the UN – has facilitated catastrophic outcomes for some countries. As Fazal powerfully argues, lack of state death has facilitated state failure in key cases. Paradoxically, the promotion of international peace has contributed to repression and armed conflicts within states, especially since the end of the Cold War. For more on these issues, keep following this blog or check out Fazal’s award-winning book.

*** 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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