The policy practitioners in the World Bank, OECD, and other development agencies used the term ‘fragile state’ during 1990s before using of the term ‘failed state’. The failure to provide security to the citizens, failure to provide public services including health and monopoly of state violence are three central components that define ‘failed state’. The incubation and spread of deadly diseases are one of the many features of failed state as outlined by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in its 2004 report. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) on Issues of Public International Law has defined failed state or state failures as “the impotence of the central government.”. The bourgeois intellectuals started using the term without questioning the validity of its core concepts. The Failed State Index was designed by the Funds for Peace in 2005. There is no empirical evidence or justification behind such an index. But the think tanks and academicians started using such a sham index to rank states in terms of their abilities, and efficiency in dealing with different forms of crisis and frame policies accordingly.
The Coronavirus pandemic and failures of capitalist states provide an opportunity to interrogate the ideas and objectives around the ‘failed state’ and expose its conceptual ambiguity, theoretical absurdity and empirical fallacies. The ‘failed state’ thesis and its narratives were developed in the form of blistering critique of postcolonial states in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The motivation was to undermine postcolonial states, their development promises, processes, and legitimacy in the eyes of their own citizens. The stages of economic growth, modernisation, and development theories were offered as alternatives within Eurocentric paradigm, that ignored the historical conditions and contemporary limitations to reflect on the realities of uneven developments in world economy. The idea behind such a narrative is to hide the imperialist and colonial plunders, which led to the economic underdevelopment in postcolonial states and their failures.
Further, the neo-colonial trade policies undermined the postcolonial states ability to engage with international trade and business. The terms of trade during globalisation is not only unequal and unfair but also exploitative. The colonial aid for trade policies were designed in such a way that led to exploitation of natural resources of postcolonial states. These are some of the causes that led to the failure of postcolonial states in delivering public goods such as basic health, education, security, roads, transportation, and communication infrastructures. The predatory ruling regimes, and their cronies were promoted by the western powers, which accelerated weakening and collapse of postcolonial states. The states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia and Serra Leone have collapsed due to different forms of imperialist and neo-colonial interventions. But these states were branded as failed states.
The failed state as a concept developed to organise these weak states and control their resources necessary for the survival and growth of capitalism. Failed state was a pretext of imperialist interventions to establish a political regime that works as per the orders of the capitalist states in Europe and America. It is capitalism and its international institutional apparatus developed the failed state thesis to hide the exploitative colonial past and imperialist present. The failed state as a concept needs to be discarded as it does not serve to analyse and explain the conditions of development and underdevelopment within the historical contexts of state formations. The Failed State Index is historically flawed and analytically poor. It does not help us to understand the subjective and objective conditions of state failures. It cannot guide policy framework in any positive direction.
The capitalist states like UK and USA have abandoned their constitutional responsibilities to protect citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pestilence led lockdown impels to rethink, reflect and reject the Eurocentric ideological narratives of ‘Westphalian nation-states’; capitalist in letter and spirit. It is also the time to rewrite the ideological narratives and dominance of the so-called success stories of western states and their universalising tendencies of capitalism as only alternatives. In reality, capitalist states like; USA has not only failed to face the pandemic, the USDA under the Trump administration is making all efforts to strip away nutrition benefits from more than a million Americans who depend completely on food stamps. The United Kingdom under Boris Johnson led conservative government has failed to provide basic safety nets to frontline workers. The government is planning to further weaken the working class by freezing the wages, and removing triple lock system on pensions to fund the debt and cover the deficit due to Coronavirus crisis. This is morally indefensible but Malthusian capitalist state in UK lacks moral compass. The capitalist states in France, Italy and Spain have also failed to protect their citizens during this pandemic. These Westphalian states were formed to consolidate capitalism during mid 17th century but they failed miserably to face the challenges of public health crisis during 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. The failure shows the limits of the capitalist states and fallacies of failed state as a narrative. The countries like China, Cuba and Vietnam were successful because of their swift, scientific and collective response to the crisis. But this is unacceptable to the advocates of failed state thesis.
However, the rise of radical right-wing political parties and their reactionary nationalist politics is giving breathing space to the failed capitalist states. The popular discontent is externalised by conspiracy theorists and their propaganda machine to undermine the success of China, Cuba and Vietnam in dealing with the Coronavirus crisis. The rising tide of xenophobia gives the capitalist states more power to hide their failures under security cover that undermines civil liberties of citizens during lockdowns. The emergency measures and suspension of normality helps the capitalist states to divert the democratic discontents and resistance movements that empowers the citizens. Deaths and destitutions are the twin net outcome of the Coronavirus pandemic accelerated by capitalism.
The capitalist states have failed to respond to the global health crisis and other ancillaries of the pandemic. The people are facing alienation and discontent in life within lockdown for survival. The dreadful days of coronavirus pandemic will come to an end at one point of time and people will take off their mask of fear. But let’s not forget to unmask the capitalist state and its healthcare systems that failed the masses. The atomised individualism promoted by capitalist system is also busted during the unavoidable lockdown induced lethal loneliness. All forms of alienations are organic to capitalism that the failed states aggravate during this pandemic. There is an adage that one learns from everyday experiences of the present crisis; that the capitalist state and all its machineries have failed in the face of pandemic. Therefore, social and political solidarity is the only alternative against capitalism and all its alienating experiences.
Societies, states, governments, economy, culture and politics exists for the people, and because of the people. These entities and institutions are meaningless without people. So, it is imperative to reflect on the directions of our life, society and states. There are two directions. The first one is to continue with business as usual with the capitalist system and suffer under its profit driven barbaric pandemic of inequality and exploitation. The second option is to break away from such a system and focus on people and their wellbeing. This is a historic opportunity to make a clear choice for our present and future. The Coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity to transform the state apparatus and overthrow capitalism, that destabilises human existence and failed citizens, states and societies around the world. It important to move to an unwaveringly international, regional, national and local political and economic system that puts people and nature at the core of its agenda.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak, Coventry University, UK