Transnational spillover from weak and failed states

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Other nations, no matter how stable, cannot ignore other nations that are weak or failed states whether or not they have insurgencies, because problems in the troubled states can produce transnational spillover. Transnational threats that can affect developed and stable nations do not necessarily stay within the borders of a weak or failed state. These effects can be produced not only by insurgency, but by economics or anarchy, such as piracy from Somalia.

"National" can be misleading, when state boundaries do not match significant ethnic ones. While the Durand Line divided Afghanistan and Pakistan (or, at the time, India), it was drawn up for reasons convenient to the British Empire, not to the political geography of the Pashtun people on both sides.

Instabiility can have direct (e.g., terrorism, epidemic disease) or indirect (e.g., drug trade, economic instability in resources) effects on them. While ideological or religious terrorism is most frequently mentioned, it is, by no means, the only multinational problem that foreign internal defense (FID) or nation-building considers, starting at the national level. [1] Problems include:

  • Blood diamonds
  • Piracy
  • Disease
  • Illicit drugs
  • Terrorism
  • Ethnic cleansing
  • Economic instability

The results of instability often are not limited to individual countries, but spill over to a region of developing or otherwise unstable states. "Pretending that the conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Darfur in Sudan, Iraq, Palestine and Sri Lanka are the problems of others or are going to solve themselves is not a solution. It should be noted that some states, especially in the ASEAN group, can be quite strong, but still have difficulties with piracy, terrorism, and drug traffic. There are a number of intelligence-sharing arrangements among countries in this area and the US FID assistance needs can involve economically strong countries in other regions. "Nigeria is among the top ten exporters of crude oil to the United States. ...when rebel leaders in the oil-rich Niger delta vowed to launch an “all-out war on the Nigerian state,” instability helped propel global oil prices to more than $50 per barrel.[2]

Blood diamonds

For more information, see: Blood diamonds.

Transnational criminal networks may use weak nations as sanctuaries for high-value, low-volume commodities such as diamonds[3]

Drug trade

For more information, see: Drug trade.

Drugs of abuse also are high-value and low-volume. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) observes

Drug cultivation thrives on instability, corruption and poor governance. The world's biggest drug producing centres are in regions beyond the control of the central government, like South Afghanistan, South-West Colombia and East Myanmar. Until government control, democracy and the rule of law are restored, these regions will remain nests of insurgency and drug production - and represent the biggest challenge to containment.[4]

When a country's legitimate government is weak compared to its drug trade infrastructure, part of the external assistance may be defeating that infrastructure, or, minimally, reducing its ability to corrupt or destroy government institutions.[5].


For more information, see: Piracy.

Piracy is very real in the international waters of weak and failed states, such as Somalia.[6] When pirates are active, providing humanitarian supplies by water is impractical unless the transport vessels are armed, or travel in convoy.

Piracy also may feed into security violations at ports, and as a means by which terrorists transport personnel and materials.[7] An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study on the ownership and control of ships reports that anonymous ownership is more the rule than the exception.[8]. There are reports that 15 cargo ships are linked to al-Qaeda.[9] The reputed strongholds in Pakistan hardly will be bases for ships, and weak and failed states become the logical ports.


Poor public health is a very real problem, especially from domestic conflict that displaces refugees across borders. HIV is the most obvious, especially in Africa, but it is not the only major concern.[10]

Military health specialists, as well as field epidemiologists (e.g., World Health Organization, Doctors without Borders, Centers for Disease Control Epidemiological Intelligence Service, can have an enormous impact. Training and equipping health and education facilities are key issue in restoring stability.


For more information, see: terrorism.

Organized transnational terrorists flourish in weak states. A globally-oriented group using terrorist methods can coexist with a local insurgency, or perhaps in the country that offers sanctuary to a border-crossing insurgency in a neighboring state. Developed country counterterrorism programs can benefit from FID in weak states, by strengthening those states, with due regard to human rights and the rule of law. FID can complement the global war on terrorism by reducing these contributing factors. The defensive measures of anti-terrorism (AT) and offensive counterterrorism efforts can be part of the FID program developed for a HN.

In many cases, measures increasing the capacity of a state to fight terrorism also will strengthen its overall internal development program. These measures can include the following:

(a) Developing the ability of the HN to track illicit financial transactions, break funding streams for criminal and insurgent groups, and prosecute their members. This may involve greater HN cooperation in developing regulated financial institutions. It may require special attention to informal value transfer systems.
(b) Ensuring that HN security personnel have access to appropriate equipment and training to conduct all phases of combating terrorism operations.
(c) Training personnel at entry and exit points (including airports, seaports, and border crossings) to identify and apprehend individuals and materials being used by international terrorist groups.[7]
(d) Assisting HN security and intelligence agencies to be included into international networks that can share information on terrorist activities.
(e) Developing effective judicial systems, and minimizing corruption and intimidation of HN officials.[11]

Ethnic cleansing

For more information, see: Information operations.

International specialists in information operations can help reduce the intensity of ethnic struggle. They have a range of techniques, from presenting things advantageous to all sides, to shutting down inflammatory propaganda outlets.


  1. Weinstein, Jeremy M (06/08/2004), On the Brink, Weak States and US National Security, Center for Global Development
  2. Stuart Eizenstat (January/February 2005), "Rebuilding Weak States", Foreign Affairs (no. 1)
  3. Conflict Diamonds. United Nations Department of Public Information (March 21, 2001).
  4. United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2007
  5. Comodeca, Thomas J. (07-04-2003), The Need for Special Operations Forces in the Andean Region's Counter Drug Efforts, U.S. Army War College. Retrieved on 2007-12-15
  6. Winter, Peter J. (15 March 2006), The Role of the U.S. Navy in Support of the National Strategy for Marine Security, U.S. Army War College
  7. 7.0 7.1 Frittelli, John F. (May 27, 2005). Port and Maritime Security: Background and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service.
  8. OECD Maritime Transport Committee (March 2003). Ownership and Control of Ships. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  9. Robinson, Colin (August 20, 2003). Al Qaeda's 'Navy' - How Much of a Threat?. Center for Defense Information.
  10. National Intelligence Estimate 99-17D: The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the United States, January 2000
  11. Afghanistan: Judicial Reform and Transitional Justice, vol. ICG Asia Report N°45, International Crisis Group, 28 January 2003