Fragile states as a threat to international system

Fragile states as a threat to international system

Since the end of the Cold War, the nature of international conflicts has changed considerably. While there has been a steady decline in interstate warfare, intrastate conflicts have increased in number and ferocity. In some cases, these intrastate conflicts have overstepped the state boundary and became threats to their neighbors as well as the international system. The advent of information technologies and the easing of travel of ideas and people have helped this spillover. 

Several intrastate conflicts immediately come to mind: Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and others. The transnational problems such as the humanitarian crises, the millions of refugees that these conflicts cause, the rise of radicalism and radical groups, and regional instability, have become serious challenges not only to nearby states but also to the international community.

What’s more, in various cases, the border between interstate and intrastate phases of conflicts is obscured by what some people call “hybrid warfare,” which is the concentric use of conventional and non-conventional (or military and non-military) tools. In most conflicts, traditional military tactics and weapons are used concomitantly with guerilla warfare, propaganda, cyberattacks, the employment of special forces with local militias, and social media campaigning. These are so intertwined with each other that traditional security organizations, such as NATO, struggle to find ways to respond to them.

Foreign Policy magazine’s recently released “Fragile States Index 2015” provides useful information to identify the potential risk areas around the world. The index comprises 178 countries with their stability and risks levels based on 12 social, economic, political and military indicators.

According to the index, the most fragile states are clustered in Africa, which hosts seven of the world’s 10 most fragile states. South Sudan tops the index, followed by Somalia and the Central African Republic. In contrast, the Nordic countries have been dominating the “very sustainable” and “sustainable” rankings for the last decade. I doubt that anybody will dispute the finding that Finland has been the “most stable” country in the world since 2011.

Similarly, most European countries are among the least fragile states of the world. Twelve out of 15 “sustainable” and “very sustainable” states are located in Europe, and 10 of them are EU members. For the last 10 years, Greece has seen a significant worsening trend and today it represents the weakest link in the EU. Looking at the ongoing negotiations between Greece and EU officials, as well as its reflections in the country, Greece’s position may continue to worsen in the coming years.

But the most striking results of the research are related to Ukraine and Syria, which took significant nosedives in 2014. The outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea made Ukraine the country with the most deteriorated rating. 

The political instability and subsequent civil war in Syria has deepened its fragility. Iraq is also among the most risky countries, ranking 12th in the fragile states index with its ongoing political instability. The instability in Libya, the recent escalation of the crisis in Yemen, and the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will undoubtedly affect next year’s results.

For Turkey, there has been no serious change over the past year, and it ranks 90th out of 178 states.

Turkey’s highest fragility score is in the “group grievance” indicators, which refer to tension and violence between various sub-groups. This is no doubt a direct result of the sustained polarization within the country, which has continued for a number of years. Obviously, more care should be paid in this area.