February 1, 2004
This paper begins by analyzing the threat weak and failing states might present and identifying Asian states that might be of concern. Second, it reviews the current U.S. administration’s public statements on the Asian states it considers weak or failing.  Third, the paper concludes with an effort to track the extent to which U.S. public opinion reflects the Bush administration’s statements, offering analyses by independent experts. This paper attempts to answer such questions as: Do weak and failing states pose a threat to the United States, the Asia-Pacific region or the international system? If so, what is the nature of the threat? How is it manifest? How is it perceived?

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Conclusions

Comparing diverse viewpoints such as those offered by independent analysts, the U.S. administration, and American public opinion presents numerous challenges. In particular, these groups use different vocabularies, making the focus on specific terms such as “weak,” “failing,” “failed” states of dubious value. Still, some general conclusions can be drawn from this analysis.

  • Independent analysts differ in their characterizations of weak and failing states, the reasons why states slide from one category to another, and the relationship between cause and effect in state failure. Yet, the process of cataloging conditions associated with weak, failing and failed states has created a checklist of problem areas that is useful in analyzing Asian states.
  • A consensus exists among independent analysts that the conditions associated with weak, failing and failed states often spill over into neighboring states, thus contribute to regional instability, provide incentives for WMD proliferation, facilitate narcotics trafficking, and support terrorism.
  • The Bush administration understands the threat posed by weak, failing and failed states and incorporates this appreciation into policy statements, senior officials’ speeches, and congressional testimony.
  • Despite the efforts by independent analysts and Bush administration officials to explain the threat from weak, failing and failed states, American public opinion reflects a strong concern only in the wake of a high visibility manifestation of the threat, such as a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland. That is, anxiety about the threat from these states spikes after, not before the threat becomes a reality. On the other hand, limited data hints that concern about the threat posed by the United States is very high in weak and failing states, even without specific American action against them.

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