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Failed and fragile states: How can the MDGs be achieved in difficult environments?

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:15

Karin Christiansen, Research Fellow ODI
Ameen Jan, Team leader of Prime Minister's Strategy Unit - Cabinet Office


David Mepham, Associate Director and Head of International Programme


Tony Worthington, MP

1. Karin Christiansen opened the session by explaining why fragile states mattered. She explained that given that 14% of the World's population lived in fragile states, this represented 1/3 of the poor, and that 41% of all child deaths were in fragile states, the MDGs would not be met without progress in these states.

2. She then continued by illustrating that a range of terms were used to describe fragile states ranging from weak, failed, failing, crisis, (rogue) states, poor performers, low income countries under stress, difficult environments, difficult partnerships, thugocracies and so on. There had however been a coalescence around the term fragile states in the last 6 months.

3. In addition to a range of terms, Karin Christiansen noted that a range of definitions were used to identify fragile states. Examples included the World Bank Low Income Countries Under Stress (LICUS), countries requiring special attention (UNDP), Low Income Poorly Performing States (LIPPS), the Human Development Report (HDR) categorisation. While 19 countries appeared on the LICUS, LIPPS and HDR lists, a further 15 on at least two of the lists, countries that were commonly discussed but were not included on more than one of the lists included Korea (Democratic Republic), Myanmar/Burma, Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tajikistan. It was therefore necessary not to place too much emphasis on defining countries.

4. Karin Christiansen posited that a more useful exercise would be to examine the relationships between certain countries. For example, she argued that it would be more useful to learn from UK-Zimbabwe or France-Rwanda relationships than trying to figure out which list the countries should appear on. This she argued shifted the emphasis of the issues in a more constructive direction.

5. After this contextual introduction, Karin Christiansen then turned to examine what 'the problem' was. Essentially, she summarised that fragile states could be argued not to fit the 'reward good performance/policy with major aid scale up' model. This she argued was the prevailing development orthodoxy and summarised for example in the Sachs Report. She argued however that there were serious challenges/dilemmas around the mixed objectives of external intervention, and that there could be tensions for example between trade, aid, humanitarian, development, security and drug policies. This she illustrated with a caricature of a hypothetical country. She noted that each of these objectives came with a concomitant multiplicity of external actors and there was the risk that external actors could overload the agenda and thus undermine their own objectives. Could for example the UK's aid policy undermine its trade policy in a given country or could the UK's trade policy undermine the US's in a particular country?

6. Karin Christiansen then turned her attention to the 2005 initiatives that were on the table. She summarised these as follows:

a) the UN High Level Panel and the proposals for a peace building commission
b) USAID's fragile states strategy
c) DFID's fragile states policy
d) OECD DAC et al work on the Senior Level Forum on Fragile States
e) Ongoing LICUS work by the World Bank
f) UK Cabinet office Countries at Risk of Instability report.

7. She then considered the issues that were on the current agenda. There had been a large body of serious work/engagement which had involved a significant degree of problem identification which fell into different countries. First were countries that were considered a threat to themselves and their populations, secondly, countries that were a threat to regional or collective interests and had the potential to act as a destabilising force and then finally countries that were considered a threat to the West. She argued however, that unambiguous evidence of the latter was needed before accusations could be made. For example, the September 11th terror attacks were planned in Germany and since regime change, drug exports from Afghanistan had actually increased.

8. While there were many different mechanisms that could be used to intervene to address the problems, Karin Christiansen stressed that it was important to acknowledge the importance of the country context and actions needed to be coherent.

9. Karin Christiansen then turned to how to take the work forward. Essentially, this required a focus on the sum of incentives external actors were presenting across all objectives and all actors. In other words, it didn't really matter if Whitehall sounded coherent to Whitehall but what was of more importance was how coherent a set of incentives were in relation to other stakeholders. The coherence agenda also needed to be at the point of impact, or in other words at the country level. Essentially therefore, in the long run this was a state building exercise and it needed to be noted that at times, the aid system competed with a new state for resources.

10. Attention then turned to the mechanisms for implementation of initiatives. Karin Christiansen argued that this required a single country level process, moving towards common problem identification, objectives, strategies, policies, plans, resourcing and implementation mechanisms. She also made the point that it was important to understand what structure there was already present, not to assume that there was no structure, and then to build and repair on it. To illustrate, she used the example of Afghanistan were 200,000 people worked as State employees which indicated functioning state capacity which was not often recognised by international actors.

11. With reference to mechanisms for implementation, Karin Christiansen argued that it was necessary to pursue a do no harm approach to long term capacity and that shadow systems alignment should be used, even if a country's systems and policies were not. She argued that it was also necessary that external actors simplified and sequenced demands, priorities and activities and that they supported fragile states capacity for managing external actors (as a means of reducing the burden of engagement).

12. The floor than passed to Ameen Jan who presented a summary of the Cabinet Office's report 'Investing in Prevention'. He explained that the process began in 2003 when the UK Cabinet Approved Strategic Audit had identified a need for a more systematic approach to promoting global stability, especially in weak and fragile states. The purposes of the work was to develop methods for identifying risks; identify more effective international responses to help stabilise Countries at Risk of Instability (CRI); identify improved risk and decision-making systems to enable early and better responses; and Engage with key international partners and work with the UK government to inform the 2005 international agenda.

13. Ameen Jan started by noting that instability impacted on a broad range of HMG objectives and owing to the nature of the problems, was likely to continue. The report identified that responding to crises as they emerged was very costly and there was therefore a need to invest in both prevention and intervention efforts. There was thus a need to develop practical approaches to prevention which required early investment in a range of measures by governments and a variety of international institutions.

14. Ameen Jan then considered the purposes of addressing instability. Essentially, an effective strategy to substantially reduce risk of instability and prevent crises, addressed multiple strategic objectives by protecting human security; reducing harms to the UK; creating opportunities to address common concerns; supporting democratic transitions, especially as new democracies were eat high risk of instability.

15. He went on to explain that in terms of the approach, there was no single definition of instability but that by describing a country or region as unstable, the presence of political, economic or social upheaval was suggested. He noted that a country's capacity to effectively manage and adapt to change was at the centre of creating stability. It was also necessary to reduce structural risks such as poverty and economic decline and increase external stabilisers such as security guarantees and strong political associations. He stressed that an appropriate preventive response could only originate from a deep country and regional analysis that looked at both internal and external risk factors as well as national and international capacities. This Basic Instability Framework was summarised diagrammatically (please see powerpoint presentation) and was applied to Somalia in 2004 as a case example. Here the internal and external risk factors for instability were high and the external stabilising factors were low. This helped to explain why previous attempts over the last ten years to set up a government in Somalia had failed, although the most recent initiative was much more promising.

16. Ameen Jan then went on to argue that comprehensive engagement required joint action to align incentives and increase capacity. This involved aligning government incentives with domestic and international responsibility and building country capacity to address key areas of concern. He noted that it was not productive to work on building government capacity in areas where it had little incentive or willingness to act; in this situation, there was need to work towards aligning government incentives first, and then building its capacity.

17. In this vein, Ameen Jan finished by outlining the four areas of international response to reducing instability. These were:

i) Building country capacity by investing in stability
- This involved investing in stability through development assistance which was a necessary but not sufficient condition. There was therefore also a need to invest in institutions that supported democratic transitions and conflict management and in improved management of natural resources
ii) Aligning incentives of national elites with longer-term stability
- This required understanding elites' incentives including internal political dynamics. This then demanded an understanding of both positive and negative incentives designed to align elite incentives with stability
iii) Enhancing the international policy environment for stability
- Essentially, this required the creation of a supportive external environment for countries at risk of instability and included action on development assistance, trade, debt, the AIDS pandemic, geopolitical interest and transnational threats, nuclear non-proliferation, energy security and climate change
iv) Establishing a coherent and credible international framework for crisis response.
- This involved filling the key gaps in international crisis response including effective strategies for post-conflict stabilisation, addressing conflict financing, and increasing international peacekeeping and rule of law capacity

18. The floor then passed to David Mepham who started by stating that he agreed with much of what both of the speakers had said. He concurred that the MDGs could not be met in difficult environments and that the state could not be by-passed in attempts to do so. He presented 6 propositions that needed to be addressed in relation to fragile states:

i) Firstly, there was a need to re-politicise the development debates. He criticised the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign (http://www.makepovertyhistory.org/) for not giving enough attention to fragile states. He argued that it was necessary to go beyond more and better aid, trade and debt and that it was necessary to get real about the political context and what was necessary for development success. Efforts such as the Drivers of Change process were useful in this vein.
ii) Secondly, fragile states came in many different forms and no 'one size fits all' policy response was appropriate. The different types of fragile states had been summarised by DFID as:

a) countries that had the capacity and political will to reduce poverty and improve development
b) countries that had the political will but not the capacity to reduce poverty and improve development
c) countries that had the capacity but no political will act and
d) countries that and no capacity or political will to act

He argued that in countries in groups a) and b) a 'normal' or 'refined' development relationship was possible but in c) and d) a different type of relationship was necessary.

iii) Thirdly there was a need to re-think the 'carrots' and 'sticks' and look at the systems of incentives. At the same time appropriate penalties were necessary. Economic sanctions had recently received decreased attention and there was a need to rethink how penalties could be used whilst not exacerbating humanitarian suffering and poverty.

iv) Fourthly the development community needed to put the security issues higher on the agenda. While DFID had led the way on this, there was still a need for a lot more to be done as security issues were still not sufficiently integrated.

v) Fifthly there was also the need for effective management of natural resource wealth and this was vital for addressing the problems in fragile states. Natural resource management was important especially as there was often an economic aspect to conflict. One recommendation of IPPR was whether more could be done by International Financial Institutions who would be well placed to help devise an appropriate template on how to manage resources.

vi) Finally state failure was not just an internal problem requiring internal solutions and that external actors often had a role. This went beyond colonialism or cold war affiliations. Across a swathe of issues, the 'G8 et al' countries were working in a way that undermined poor countries. There was thus a need for developed countries to take responsibility for their own actions.

Nambusi Kyegombe
March 2005


Traditional aid and development mechanisms have tended not to be applicable in failed and fragile states. This is often due to the challenges exerted from weak governance, issues of political will, conflict and insecurity. This session examines whether suitable modalities can be developed for delivering the MDGs in failed and fragile states.

Attlee Suite