EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 13. The Great Mobilization: A Response to Failing States

If the number of failing states continues to increase, at some point this trend will translate into a failing civilization. These declining states threaten the political stability of the international system. Somehow we must turn the tide of state decline. One thing seems clear: business as usual will not do it.

Failing states, a relatively new phenomenon, require a new response. Historically, as noted in Chapter 1, the principal threat to international stability and the security of individual countries has been the concentration of power in one country. Today the threat to security comes from the loss of power and the descent of nation-states into anarchy and chaos. These failing states become terrorist training grounds (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), drug producers (Afghanistan and Myanmar), and weapons traders (Somalia and Nigeria).

The goals discussed earlier of stabilizing population, eradicating poverty, and restoring the earth are indispensable, but we also need a focused effort to deal specifically with states that are failing or at risk of doing so. The United Kingdom and Norway have recognized that failing states need special attention and have each set up interagency funds to provide a response mechanism. They are the first to devise a specific institutional response. 35

At present, U.S. efforts to deal with weak and failing states are fragmented. Several U.S. government departments are involved, including State, Treasury, and Agriculture, to name a few. And within the State Department, several different offices are concerned with this issue. This lack of focus was recognized by the Hart-Rudman U.S. Commission on National Security in the Twenty-first Century: “Responsibility today for crisis prevention and response is dispersed in multiple AID [U.S. Agency for International Development] and State bureaus, and among State’s Under Secretaries and the AID Administrator. In practice, therefore, no one is in charge.” 36

What is needed now is a new cabinet-level agency—a Department of Global Security—that would fashion a coherent policy toward each weak and failing state. This recommendation, initially set forth in a report of the Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security, recognizes that the threats to security are now coming less from military power and more from the trends that undermine states, such as rapid population growth, poverty, deteriorating environmental support systems, and spreading water shortages. The new agency would incorporate AID (now part of the State Department) and all the various foreign assistance programs that are now in other government departments, thereby assuming responsibility for U.S. development assistance across the board. The State Department would provide diplomatic support for this new agency, helping in the overall effort to reverse the process of state failure. 37

The new Department of Global Security (DGS) would be funded by shifting fiscal resources from the Department of Defense. In effect, the DGS budget would be the new defense budget. It would focus on the central sources of state failure by helping to stabilize population, restore environmental support systems, eradicate poverty, provide universal primary school education, and strengthen the rule of law through bolstering police forces and court systems.

The DGS would deal with the production and international trafficking in drugs. It would make such issues as debt relief and market access an integral part of U.S. policy. The DGS would provide a focus for the United States to help lead what it can be hoped will be a growing international effort to reduce the number of failing states. This agency would also encourage private investment in failing states by providing loan guarantees to spur development.

The United States might also benefit from the creation of a U.S. youth service corps, which would provide for one year of compulsory public service for its young people. Young people could serve at home or abroad, depending on their interests and on national needs. At home, they could teach in inner-city schools, work on environmental clean-up programs, plant trees, and help restore and maintain the infrastructure in national parks, much as the Civilian Conservation Corps did in the 1930s. In developing countries, they could contribute in many ways, including teaching and helping to organize family planning, tree planting, and micro-lending programs. This program would involve young people in helping the world while developing a sense of civic pride and social responsibility. 38

At a more senior level, the United States has a fast-growing reservoir of retired people who are highly skilled in such fields as management, accounting, law, education, and medicine and who are eager to be of use. Their talents could be mobilized through a voluntary senior service corps. The enormous reservoir of management skills in this age group could be tapped to provide the skills so lacking in failing-state governments.

There are already, of course, a number of volunteer organizations that rely on the talents, energy, and enthusiasm of both U.S. young people and seniors, such as the Peace Corps, Teach for America, and the Senior Corps. But conditions now require a much more ambitious, systematic effort to tap this talent pool.

The world has quietly entered a new era, one where there is no national security without global security. We need to recognize this and to restructure and refocus our efforts to respond to this new reality.

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35. Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security, On the Brink: Weak States and U.S. National Security (Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2004), p. 27.

36. The U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change (Washington, DC: February 2001), p. 53.

37. Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security, op. cit. note 35, pp. 30–32.

38. “ Roosevelt’s Tree Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” at www.cccalumni.org/history1.html, viewed 18 October 2007.


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