Troubled Regions and Failing States: Introduction

Journal article

Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2010) Troubled Regions and Failing States: Introduction, Comparative Social Research 27: 1–23.

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There is an emerging consensus within the literature on failed and failing states that state failure is contagious across borders. For its part, the literature on regionalisation claims that states within the same region tend to form clusters of security – or insecurity – so that geographical proximity is closely associated with inert security relationships. This article – along with the individual contributions in the volume it introduces – seeks to bridge these two literatures, which otherwise rarely talk to each other. The approach taken throughout the volume is largely qualitative and case-oriented, yet methodologically diverse, while the articles have a shared comparative ambition. This introductory article examines the debate on failing states and contextualises the volume's contributions within that debate. It then does the same in relation to the debate on regional security, before moving on to examine the role and impact of emerging regional responses to insecurity. When we examine recent state-building initiatives, the effectiveness of external actors seems limited, while existing power holders – and the conflicts between them – are at the centre in processes for building states. This calls for studying the practice of state-building, and for rooting policies in viable practices, even when the driving actors are not inherently benign. To a considerable degree, a state's strength and functionality are relational: the state can only be understood in relation to significant other states. Within regions, hegemonic states – and the strategies pursued by other states in their efforts to cooperate with, balance, or counter the hegemon – have major implications for security. Regional cooperation emerges through concrete collaboration to address commonly perceived challenges, at times as an unintended effect of a targeted initiative. Key actors – and the networks of which they form part – are often transnational, spanning the borders of several states. The behaviour of transnational actors, how they interface with the system of states and regions and the potential for their conversion into constructive political forces remain poorly understood. As a whole, these are findings that inspire an agenda for future research at the interface between the state and the region.

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