A failed state is a country whose government has no control and cannot exercise a monopoly on the legitimate use of force over a substantial part of its territory or citizenry. It is continuously and successfully challenged by private military power: terrorists, warlords, or militias. Its promulgations and laws are futile and inapplicable.
With the exception of the first criterion (hostility towards Pax Americana), some scholars claim that the USA is, itself, a rogue state (q.v., for instance, William Blum's "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" and "Rogue Nation" by Clyde Prestowitz).
Admittedly, the USA's unilateralist, thuggish and capricious foreign policy represents a constant threat to world peace and stability. But labeling the USA a "rogue state" may be overdoing it. It better fits the profile of a semi-failed state.
A semi-failed state is a country whose government maintains all the trappings and appearances of power, legitimacy, and control. Its army and police are integral and operative. Its institutions function. Its government and parliament promulgate laws and its courts enforce them. It is not challenged by any competing military structures within its recognized borders.
Yet, the semi-failed state - while going through the motions - is dead on its feet. It is a political and societal zombie. It functions due mainly to inertia and lack of better or clear alternatives. Its population is disgruntled, hostile, and suspicious. Other countries regard it with derision, fear, and abhorrence. It is rotting from the inside and doomed to implode.
In a semi-failed state, high crime rates and rampant venality, nepotism, and cronyism affect the government's ability to enforce laws and implement programs. It reacts by adding layers of intransigent and opaque bureaucracy to an already unwieldy mammoth. The institutions of the semi-failed state are hopelessly politicized and, thus, biased, distrusted, and compromised. Its judiciary is in a state of decrepit decline as unqualified beneficiaries of patronage join the ranks.
The result is social fragmentation as traditional and local leaders, backed by angry and rebellious constituents, take matters into their own hands. Centrifugal politics supplant statehood and the nation is unable to justly and effectively balance the competing claims of the center versus the periphery.
The utter (but insidious) institutional failure that typifies the semi-failed state is usually exposed with the total disarray that follows an emergency (such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack).
To deflect criticism and in a vain attempt to reunite its fracturing populace, the semi-failed state often embarks on military adventures (cloaked as "self-defense" or "geopolitical necessity"). Empire-building is an indicator of looming and imminent disintegration. Foreign aggression replaces reconstruction and rational policy-making at home. The USA prior to the Civil War, the USSR between 1956 and 1982, federal Yugoslavia after 1989, and Nazi Germany are the most obvious examples.
Is the USA a semi-failed state?
I. Empire-building and foreign aggression
Its neighbors always perceived the United States as an imminent security risk (ask Mexico, half of whose territory was captured by successive and aggressive American administrations). The two world wars transformed the USA into a global threat, able and only too willing to project power to protect its interests and disseminate its brand of missionary liberal-capitalism.
In the last 150 years, the USA has repeatedly militarily attacked, unprovoked, other peaceful or pacified nations, near and far. To further its (often economic) ends, the United States has not refrained from encouraging and using terrorism in various parts of the globe. It has developed and deployed weapons of mass destruction and is still the biggest arms manufacturer and trader in the world. It has repeatedly reneged on its international obligations and breached international laws and conventions.
II. Dysfunctional institutions
Hurricane Katrina (August-September 2005) exposed the frailty and lack of preparedness of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and, to some extent, the National Guard. It brought into sharp relief the cancerous politicization of the crony-infested federal government.
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