A plethora of books by geopolitical heavyweights is now ringing alarm bells. In "The Return of History and the End of Dreams," Robert Kagan says we are now back in a world of clashing national ambitions and interests, closer to the 19th century than to the 1990s.
Rapacious capitalist greed in the United States triggered the subprime mortgage fiasco, beginning almost a year ago, which rapidly hit most Western countries and shredded the real estate value of millions. In Palm Beach, Fla., homes worth $10 million or more have not lost value and go on selling.
Greed is also behind the unfolding global food crisis and its devastating impact on human security. Crop land displaced for fuel crops shrunk bountiful U.S. agricultural surpluses for the world's hungry. One tank of ethanol for the average sport utility vehicle requires enough grain to feed a person for a year.
Over the past nine months global food prices (through March 2008) are up 40 percent, leaving reserves at a 30-year low. The U.S. Agency for International Development is scaling back food aid to some of the world's poorest countries. Food riots in widely scattered parts of the developing world are just a harbinger of worse things to come.
At one end of the global spectrum are America's 10 biggest yearly executive compensation packages, ranging from $83.1 million to $26.6 million (according to USA Today's data derived from Salary.com). At the other end are the world's failed and failing states. Mostly in Africa but also in Asia, these failures have cascaded in the almost two decades since the end of the Cold War. Between 40 and 60 nations, home to close to 2 billion people, are either sliding backward and teetering on the brink of implosion or have already collapsed.
This is the data in "Fixing Failed States," published this week by Oxford University Press, which is now in Sen. Barack Obama's hands. Clear, taut language makes it accessible at almost any level of education.
Co-authored by Afghan-born Ashraf Ghani, a finalist for both the jobs of U.N. secretary-general and president of the World Bank, and Clare Lockhart, a British lawyer who spent four years in Afghanistan and played the key role in developing that ravaged country's reconstruction efforts, "Fixing" is a roadmap to a groundbreaking new solution to this most pressing of global crises.
Why is it that Singapore, once a malarial swampland, has managed to emerge as one of the world's most prosperous countries, where ministers and senior civil servants are paid more than $1 million a year to remove the principal reason for corruption in the developing world? Ghani and Lockhart cite chapter and verse on their investigations among failing and failed states. They argue only an integrated state-building approach can reverse the decline, with a strategy that assigns responsibility equally between the international community, national leaders and the citizenry.
The authors answer why one half of the globe has created an almost seamless web of political, financial and technological connections that underpin democratic states and market-based economies while "the other half is blocked from political stability and participation in global wealth." And within these countries, extremist groups, along with "vicious networks of criminality, violence and drugs feed on disenfranchised populations and uncontrolled territory."
These collapsed and collapsing states are unable to provide even the most basic services for their citizens and are now "at the heart of a worldwide systemic crisis that constitutes the most serious challenge to global stability in the new millennium." The global food crisis threatens to push borderline cases into bankruptcy.
Ghani and Lockhart say even if it were desirable, it is neither credible nor feasible to impose order from the top down. While the legitimate use of force is an important criterion in defining states, it is no longer the sole criterion. Rather, "the solution must come through establishing legitimacy in the eyes of the international community and a country's citizens. It does not make sense to conceive of sovereignty as an untrammeled right, divorced from obligations both to the population governed and to the international community of states."
Neglected, failing states quickly become breeding grounds for terror. A U.S. government paper for internal use said, "the more anarchic and anomic the nation state, the more non-state actors and the forces of terror can take opportunistic advantage of a deteriorating internal security situation to mobilize adherents, train insurgents, gain control of resources, launder funds, purchase arms, and ready themselves for assault on world order."
Failed, failing and weak states that harbor the incubus of failure run the gamut from Zimbabwe, where a defeated neo-Marxist president defied election results, to Somalia, where government exists only in tables of organization, to Afghanistan, where the government's writ barely extends beyond central Kabul.
There are two African countries, each one a third the size of the United States, whose sovereignty is in question daily -- Congo and Sudan. U.N. observers in the eastern Congo speak of "atrocities beyond words." Sudan carries the bloody stigma of Darfur. But Ghani and Lockhart argue forcefully these failed states can now be fixed.