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Published On: Tue, May 9th, 2017

Somaliland: State Responsibility and Failed State

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A responsibility of states is to deliver goods and services to the community such as security, health and education,economic opportunity, good governance, law and order, and fundamental infrastructure requirements (transport and communications). States fail when they are no longer willing or able to carry out these functions. One of the problems in dealing with failed states is in defining exactly who and what they are. State failure need not be reserved for cases of complete state collapse, either into civil war or anarchy but can also be understood as a process involving the weakening of a state’s capacity to meet its responsibilities. Taking this further it may.

be beneficial to consider state failure as a spectrum which ranges from weak or failing states through failed states to collapsed or non-states. In this case a failed state is one that meets a specific set of conditions and excludes states that only meet some of the criteria which can then be classed as weak or failing states depending on the extent of their decline. By using a state’s responsibilities a model can be developed that enables states to be defined and categorized as weak, failing or failed, so that the international community can determine which states no longer meet their sovereign obligations and need support or intervention.


Only a few of the world’s states can be described as failed or collapsed, but there aremany dozens more that are weak and possible candidates for total failure. Theygenerally share some of the following negative characteristics: a rise in criminal andpolitical violence; a loss of control over their borders; ethnic, religious, linguistic orcultural tensions or hostilities; poor communications and transport infrastructure; aweak economy and declining levels of GDP per capita; high levels of corruption; aweak health system with high levels of infant mortality and low levels of lifeexpectancy; limited education opportunities; and a degraded environment.


The state’s most important function is the provision of security. This meanscreating a safe and secure environment and developing legitimate and effective securityinstitutions. In particular, the state is required to prevent cross border invasions and lossof territory; to eliminate domestic threats or attacks on the national order; to preventcrime; and to enable its citizens to resolve their disputes with the state and their fellowcitizens. Another major political good is to address the need to create legitimate effectivepolitical and administrative institutions and participatory processes and ensuring theactive and open participation of civil society in the formulation of the state’s governmentand policies. Other political goods supplied by states include medical and health care,schools and educational instruction, roads, railways, harbors and other physicalinfrastructure, money and banking system, a beneficial fiscal and institutional contextin which citizens can pursue personal entrepreneurial goals, and methods of regulatingthe sharing of the environmental commons.


What is required is a model based on quantitatively based indicators that enables statesto be classified strong, weak, or failed and ranked on a continuum of failure. Althoughindicators of state failure are often underdeveloped and unreliable in weak or failedstates, it is possible to develop a model utilizing indicators grouped under the followingclassifications: Governance, Corruption, Economic, and Social Wellbeing. It could becontended that these concepts of responsibilities are essentially western in origin and afew states may argue that they are not applicable to their situation.However, these responsibilities should be seen within the broader context of the globalhuman rights norms.


States canbe defined and measured on the basis of the concept of state responsibility, that is, theextent to which states fulfill their requirement to provide political goods and services to their citizens. By utilizing indicators grouped under the following classifications:Governance; Corruption; Economic; and Social Wellbeing it is possible to locate states on acontinuum of state strength, based on state responsibility, from strong through weak tofail. By adopting the concept of state responsibility as the basis for defining thesuccess or failure of states, it is necessary to recognize that this has implications for thecurrent conceptions of sovereignty based on the classical conceptions of authority.

By: khadar Da’ud Abdirahman

(MSc. Development Economics)

Tel: 063-4060400



Robert H. Dorff, “State Failure and Responding to It” (paper presented at the Annual Convention of the International

Studies Association, New Orleans, 2002).

Robert I Rotberg, “Failed States, Collapsed States, Weak States: Causes and Indicators,” in State Failure and State

Weakness in a Time of Terror, ed. Robert I. Rotberg (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2003).


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