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Forerunner to external intervention
Underscoring the considerations raised above is the growing apprehension among the major powers and several analysts over some manifest weaknesses of the global system, which globalisation has been revealing. In particular there is concern over the exceptional fluidity and ease of movement in the illegal/illicit trade in people, arms, drugs and finance. Thus, for example, the international narcotics trade, which is closely associated with organised corruption is presently estimated to be of the order of value of US$500 billion annually. There is also the fragility and vulnerability of the global financial system which have already been revealed in a number of initially local crises, that have subsequently generated worldwide contagion and near panic in financial markets. Indeed, it is now widely admitted that the collapse of major financial institutions occasioned by corruption is a real threat to global stability. If this occurs, not only will those holding illicit/illegal funds suffer, but so too will those who hold legitimate funds in savings, pensions and insurance accounts. In the past the adverse impact of financial crises on the income and wealth of the poor has been far worse than that of the rich.
Although I have been referring to the ‘failed state thesis’ with some certainty, in the current debates on globalisation considerable controversy surrounds an acceptable definition of this term. However, I should advise readers that I do not intend to delve into this at any length, since my primary purpose is to establish that, while the ‘failed state thesis’ captures important new phenomena in the world today, it is not applicable to the circumstances we are examining, which typify societies like Guyana at their present stage of development.
It is nonetheless important to acknowledge the importance of the question: what is a failed state? One of the many reasons for doing so is that, based on the preceding discussion, follow-up questions, which are usually encountered after the question of definition is raised, are: What should the international community do when it finds one? Is there a right to intervene? Is there an obligation to intervene?
Rationale: humanitarian and strategic grounds
Not surprisingly, most of the responses to these questions in the available literature are invariably affirmative. Some writers argue the right/obligation for intervention by other states on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. The proponents of this view clearly embrace in their definition of a failed state, one that cannot ensure the security of its own people. Other writers argue on ‘strategic’ grounds the right/obligation for external intervention. The proponents of this view clearly see a failed state as one that threatens the peace, stability, and sovereignty of other countries. There are of course proponents for whom both views converge. Increasingly however, some members of the international community, led by the United States, appear to be merging both views and portraying intervention as both a right and obligation.
My own examination of various cases suggest that from a purely practical standpoint certain guidelines seem to operate when those responsible for making policy decisions are concerned with failed states. There is evidence that in the past there has been an attitude that says: ‘you know a failed state when you see one.’ Here definitional niceties are not required. Other operational guidelines, however, have been even more vague and have led to the introduction of related concepts like the ‘ugly state.’ This particular example has been used when referring to states where human rights abuses are widespread. Finally, there are also those guidelines that stress situations of domestic turmoil and general lawlessness. Here I have found that states are assessed simply in terms of whether or not, they are ‘facing to collapse.’
A second important issue for us to examine in regard to the ‘failed state thesis’ is the root causes attributed in the debates to the emergence of these states. One that has been widely canvassed in the literature is ‘exploitive colonialism.’ It seems to me that the corollary of this is that failed states are post-colonial phenomena. However, in the literature it is common to find examples of failed states cited in Europe. Indeed, as we shall see later, there are even writers who locate the origin of the ‘failed state’ in 17th century Europe! This type of analysis already highlights a major weakness of method. The concept of the failed state is not treated as a specific historical category defined by particular internal and external conditions, but is in fact treated as a social construction that can exist anywhere and at any time, independent as it were of any particular set of historically defined social, economic, and cultural conditions. As we shall see more fully later, the concept of the criminalised state, which I am seeking to articulate is located in a specific set of historically defined circumstances. Without the broad contours of these circumstances, the concept has no salience.
Next week we continue this discussion of the root causes of failed states.