Strauss Center News

Updates from the Strauss Center and our affiliated distinguished scholars and fellows


Moran on Untangling the Complexity of Fragile States

Mar 31, 2017 |

Ashley Moran, Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar and State Fragility Initiative Director, recently co-wrote a report titled “Untangling the Complexity of Fragile States” with Andrew Albertson, a Senior Advisor at Cure Violence. The report aims to convey how empirical findings on fragile states can inform a new U.S. strategy for fragile states focused on prevention.

The report begins by noting that critics of more proactive measures argue that state fragility is too complex to assess—let alone respond to—in a comprehensive way. In part, this is because scholars and policymakers have often approached the concept of fragility in competing ways and with disparate goals in mind. Yet over the last fifteen years, scholars have made significant advances in understanding fragility and the conditions that contribute to state crises. Underlying conditions—geographic, economic, institutional, and social—contribute directly to state fragility and interact with one another, creating fragility traps. Other more immediate triggering factors can tip the balance of these conditions into crisis.

Moran and Albertson assert that a revised process for assessing the fragility of partner states will be integral to a new strategic approach. They propose that a unified assessment process, focused on prevention, should have three core components: first, it should be grounded in a unified definition of fragility that is predictive of state crises; second, country assessments should evaluate states’ fragility in terms of the conditions and potential triggers empirically linked to the onset of state crises; and third, country assessments should be completed as bilateral processes that fully engage local stakeholders, beginning with government counterparts but also, to the extent possible, representatives of civil society and other sectors.

The authors note that the United States cannot provide all countries with the sustained support needed to fully address the conditions of fragility. For this reason, a new U.S. strategy toward fragile states should focus first on aiding fragile security partners: countries that receive significant security assistance, exhibit significant levels of fragility, and are not actively engaged in major internal conflict. In these countries, crisis prevention should be a core goal of U.S. foreign policy.

Commenting on the report’s release, Moran noted, “As key U.S. security partners face sustained and growing threats to their stability, it’s clear we need a new comprehensive, strategic approach to fragile states. This should leverage the full range of our nation’s diplomacy, development, democracy, and defense tools, with the aim of preventing crises before they occur.”