Tuesday, November 12th, 2019 PCJ Fellows Talk: Failed States or Failed Solutions? An Empirical Assessment of U.S. Treatment of State Failure

Tuesday, November 12, 20192:00PM - 4:00PM108N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place


Since the end of the Cold War, the damaging effects of state failure have plagued the international community. Solutions like state or “peace” building efforts and multi-national interventions are plentiful in the literature, though their success is difficult to measure. Also strikingly absent from the literature is the empirical likelihood that the West will indeed respond to state failure. Crucially, if the West does not respond predictably to state failure, then the effort devoted to finding solutions may be based on a biased sample of cases, producing serious methodological flaws. This project seeks to fill this gap by conducting one of the first mixed-methods studies of its kind.

Using a large-n dataset, I test the relative strength of state failure in determining where the United States will intervene (financially or militarily). I find that the degree of state failure is not a good indicator of where the US will intervene militarily or financially. Counterintuitively, the US tends to send extremely small contingents to the most critically failed states. Secondly, I conduct a case study of Liberia to illuminate the reasons why the US did not immediately intervene during the civil war and the subsequent state collapse. I also draw on counter-examples from Nigeria for contrast. I find that the important factors in determining intervention include pressure from the international community, the perceived threat of terrorism, and the target states’ geostrategic position. The illumination of these empirical realities may help to determine the actual success (or failure) of international responses to state failure, and can help inform efforts in the study for new solutions.


Michele St-Amant
Department of Political Science

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