Review of Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart’s Fixing Failed States

Review of Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart’s Fixing Failed States



Review of Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart’s Fixing Failed States


            In Fixing Failed States, Ghani and Lockhart look into one of the most riveting issues in contemporary international relations, that of dysfunctional countries. The book is largely based on the premise that various issues affecting national and global security are the result of some states’ inability to provide their citizens with basic services. Following this assumption, the book seeks to address the issue of the gap between a real sovereign state and the assumed characterization of sovereignty that most players in international politics hold. Some of the other matters that Ghani and Lockhart delve into include the question of poverty, especially in the developing world, various success stories in the international arena and plausible solutions to the crisis of failed states in the world. Through a deep and insightful analysis, Ghani and Lockhart are able to clearly address the query of failed states. This allows them to deal with some of the major concerns that currently trouble the international community, with the main problem being security. Through their analysis, Ghani and Lockhart provide a fair criticism of the international community and various states in the world. However, their analysis falls of their own high standards as it proposes solutions that are simple and that fail to account for the complexities surrounding each situation.


            Ghani and Lockhart’s analysis is founded on two main concepts of international politics. The first key concept is that of the failed state. Failed states are a main area of concern for the international community because of the threat that they pose for neighboring nations as well as distant countries. Ghani and Lockhart claim that the state is a fundamental aspect of any nation. Through the state’s action, a nation is able to advance by the use of laws that guides activity on the political and economic arenas. A key observation here is that the authors have separated the state and the nation into two different, yet related, entities. Accordingly, Ghani and Lockhart (2008) argue that a failed state refers to a situation where the government is incapable of providing some of the most basic requirements for a people’s existence such as water, food and education. In connection with this idea, the authors came up with the concept of the sovereign gap. This refers to a misconception within the international community that every state in the world is sovereign, irrespective of its capability to meet the needs of its people, while in fact many states that apparently have sovereignty are malfunctioning.

               Using the concepts of the failed state and sovereignty gap, Ghani and Lockhart introduce their book with the bold assertion that forty to sixty states in the world are in regression, close to collapse or already fallen. Following this assertion, the authors proceed to explain the reasons why these failed states have grown to become such dire problems for the international community. One key problem that Ghani and Lockhart point is a lack of comprehension of the dynamics that surround the failed states in the world. According to the authors, the international community is in an apparent state of bewilderment regarding collapsed and failed states. Ghani and Lockhart argue that there is a lack of understanding in the world of what states need to do in order to serve their citizens adequately. The international community has also failed to come up with ways of assisting the governments of failed states. The fact that solutions are applied to all affected countries without concern for the intricacies and specific details involved has only exacerbated the problem.

            The first part of Ghani and Lockhart’s book scrutinizes failed states and the sovereign gap in depth. This is achieved by describing the conditions and situations in the failed states along with the way in which various countries in dire circumstances were able to pull themselves out of their rut. Some of the aforementioned failed states that the authors describe include Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. All three are in a perpetual state of violence and lack central governments strong enough to reach out to the entire population and provide them with necessary amenities. A critical aspect of this analysis is the scrutiny of the worlds interconnected nature. The authors argue that globalization has created a world all countries are connected to different results. States that are able to pull themselves out of despair and dysfunctionality become valuable members of the international community as they benefit and contribute to the global wealth that the developed and stable countries share. However, this system of interconnectivity affects the failed states in a negative way. Apart from being forced to watch the rest of the world live lavish lifestyles filled with wealth and comfort, the failed states become victims of the exploitation of the successful nations. This situation plunges them deeper into destitution.

            The second part of the book contributes to the development of a solution to the crises of the failed state and the sovereignty gap. The multifunctional framework that the authors develop helps to explain the reasoning and purpose of various state functions. Most importantly, the framework comes up with ten critical functions that the authors claim every successful state should be capable of carrying out. These functions range in complexity and importance but all contribute towards the provision of a nation’s citizens with the amenities that they need for acceptable standards of living. The critical function that the authors point out is budgeting. According to Ghani and Lockhart, effective budgeting gives the government the ability to carry out its most important functions. Effective budgeting in this case includes the proper collection and allocation of funds through various legitimate processes.

            In the final section of the book, Ghani and Lockhart provide comprehensive strategy that can help reverse the crisis that is engulfing the world. The authors propose a sovereignty strategy that should help bring together solutions on the political, social, judicial and economic fronts together. The implementation of this strategy can help improve the conditions in many countries and create functional governments. According to the authors, these strategies can help build domestic capability for the performance of each function in the medium to the long term (Ghani & Lockhart, 3008, p. 202).


            The book has several commendable points. Firstly, many of the arguments that Ghani and Lockhart make are infallible. Various scholars will agree that the use of force has not produced the desired results in nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Both nations were invaded by the western powers after it was alleged that they were providing assistance for international criminal groups such as Al-Qaeda. The authors argue that Afghanistan was a war of necessity, implying that it was justified, and that Iraq was a war of choice. However, they still conclude that neither war produced the results that that invaders had hoped for when they first conceived military action. The situations in other parts of the world embolden the idea that violence and coercion cannot improve the condition in a failed state. Indeed, the solution to the problem of failed states involves much more than the elimination of armed groups. The solutions should be widened to cover the spectrums of politics, society and economics so that every pertinent issue is dealt with.

            The authors are also accurate in their arguments regarding the international community’s understanding of the failed state. The fact that billions of dollars of aid have failed to pull Africa out of her rut implies that the problems the continent faces will not be solved with the simple solution of funding. Various dynamics and intricacies need to be explored such as ethnic tension, rampant corruption and divisive politics. The same case applies in the Middle East where sectarian tension appears to be approaching a high point and the resources that the international community has channeled into the region appear to have had very little effect so far.   

            Despite the infallibility of some of the author’s key arguments, the book makes weak and questionable claims in various areas. Firstly, some of the examples that the authors provide concerning states that have recovered from collapse are not explored enough to contribute to the book’s main arguments. For instance, the first part of the book examines various states that were able to recover from states of destitution. These examples include the countries in Europe where the Marshall Plan played a key role in the reconstruction of the war torn states. However, there are various problems with these examples. The first issue is that the Marshall Plan provides an inadequate example for the solution of the failed state problem because the circumstances surrounding it are entirely different. For example, the plan was executed in a region that was growing at a fast pace before the war. Additionally, issues involving their neighbors were affecting the states in Europe and not internal strife, as is the case for most African and Middle Eastern nations. Accordingly, the Marshall Plan was bound to work in countries that were stable internally but a similar structure is unlikely to change nations that face more internal problems than external ones.

            The authors’ assertion that budgeting is the most important aspect for the failed states is also questionable. Budgeting is without a doubt a very important issue for these states. Billions of dollars of aid have been directed to failed states over the past few decades but to no avail. This implies that the usage of this money is crucial to the development and progress of failed states. However, this conclusion ignores the fact that other issues contribute more towards the misappropriation of funds than poor budgeting. For most countries in the developing world, corruption is perhaps the main problem affecting the usage and expenditure of the central governments. Almost all countries in the developing world have issues surrounding corruption, starting from corruption in local governments to a lack of integrity in the main offices in the land. These issues are a critical problem for many African countries and possibly affect the nations more than the authors explained. Dealing with corruption would have a tremendous effect on failed states around the world. Firstly, the governments in those nations would have a clear understanding of where they lie when it comes to finances. Money lost through illegal deals would be recovered and the governments would have a clear estimate of where their shortcomings are. This would then assist the aid donors and the budgeting process. The budgeting process would have clarity when it comes to the areas of need and the funds would be channeled appropriately. Alternatively, the aid donors would have a better understanding of the amount of money that each state needs. They would also be more confident that the donations that they make do not go to the sole benefit of corrupt leaders in the recipient nations.


            In Fixing Failed States, Ghani and Lockhart provide clarity on an issue where there was a limited understanding of the various dynamics involved. Their book addresses the question of the failed state in a way that few others have before accounting for variables that other scholars have neglected. Some of the arguments that the authors make are hard to dispute such as the ineffective nature of military force as a solution to the matter of the failed state. However, other aspects of their argument have flaws. One key issue that the authors seem to neglect is the role that corruption has played in ensuring that failed states do not recover from their ruts. Additionally, the authors also seem to propose blanket solutions to a problem that has various specificities in each state. Regardless of these issues, Ghani and Lockhart make a compelling argument that is sure to make a valuable contribution on the issue of failed states.


Ghani, A., & Lockhart, C. (2008). Fixing failed states: A framework for rebuilding a fractured world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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