It is argued that five big ideas pervade the state failure literature. The first is the pre-requisite view of development. This view, which dominates the governance literature, argues that liberal markets and transparent, accountable states with bureaucracies with classic Weberian structures are a necessary input for successful economic development to proceed. The second is the liberal view of war and violence, which posits that economic liberalisation and democracy promote peace. A third view develops the idea that clientelist and patrimonial states, while perhaps not developmental, are purposefully constructed by elites to promote their interests in capital accumulation and maintaining power. The fourth is the idea that the unravelling of states is closely related to the nature of so-called 'new wars'. The proponents of the 'new war' thesis argue that contemporary wars are distinct from old wars in their method of warfare, their causes and their financing. Fifth, the 'resource curse' argument, which is the idea that abundance of natural resources, and in particular oil, causes poor growth, and raises the incidence, intensity and duration of conflict, has been an influential part of the state failure literature. This paper addresses some of the important insights and shortcomings of each of these ideas and examines the extent to which they can explain the variation and change in state formation and capacity in fragile states.
Working Paper No. 25 (series 2), 2008, London, UK; Crisis States Research Centre, 54 pp.