“Failed State” Explained, And What It Could Mean For Lebanon

Failed State Explained, And What It Could Mean For Lebanon
EPA | The New York Times/Michelle V. Agins

Recent reports have indicated that the United States is on the verge of declaring Lebanon a “paralyzed failed state.” While it is no secret that Lebanon is at risk of total collapse, is it technically a Failed State?

What Is a Failed State?

As a general definition, a Failed State is one that can no longer meet the basic responsibilities and fulfill the essential tasks that define a functional sovereign government.

The term is sometimes criticized as being a form of overgeneralization since Failed States come in different degrees and levels that may vary dramatically.

A state can generally be regarded as a failed one when it becomes unable to perform the following functions:

  • Sustain its authority over its territory and people, and maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, which means that only official forces can resort to using violent force inside the state
  • Protect its national boundaries
  • Effectively make collective decisions
  • Provide reasonable public services to citizens
  • Interact with other governments and maintain diplomatic relations and international trust.

The term may also apply to a state whose government has lost legitimacy, regardless of whether it is functioning properly.

A Failed State has several key characteristics, among the most notable of which are massive economic decline, mass migration, collapsed infrastructure, and the absence of essential public services such as education and healthcare.

With that comes a sharp decline in overall living conditions.

Cases of human rights abuse are generally very high in a Failed State, and human development indicators, such as infant mortality and literacy rates, also increase.

The government of a Failed State typically disintegrates to a point where it can no longer raise taxes, while political, social, and economic stability erodes as the government lacks the ability to make decisions and implement policies that would improve security and sustainability.

In advanced stages of collapse, all of this chaos creates the perfect environment for warlords and terrorist organizations to thrive, wreak more havoc, and undermine the state further.

This scenario became Somalia’s reality when it got caught up in the conflicts between numerous warlords and militia groups that have facilitated its collapse. Such is the case in Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, and other war-torn countries.

If Lebanon Were Declared a Failed State

Since a Failed State loses its order and its capacity to provide essential services and perform basic functions, these tasks somewhat become the responsibility of the international community, as the collapse of a state may pose a threat to world peace.

As such, the intervention of other countries may ensue to help the state-building and humanitarian relief processes.

This may come in the context of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter or through other means of intervention, such as using aid as the primary factor in state-building.

A critical problem that could arise in the aid scenario would be aid funds reaching the pockets of corrupt officials instead of the state.

The country’s leadership would have to prove itself worthy of international trust and support before any such initiatives are activated.

In Lebanon, which has not officially been declared a Failed State yet, already has this trust problem.

France-led international efforts to help pull Lebanon out of its crisis have been held back by the failure of Lebanese politicians and parties to comply with the conditions set by world leaders.

A key condition in this regard is the formation of a rescue government of specialists, which would carry out the reforms needed to begin benefiting from international support.

However, seeing that such a government may not be in their best interest, corrupt politicians are likely to continue pushing back against international initiatives.

The ball, in this case, would be in the world leaders’ court.