February 2015

State Fragility

Suda Perera

This two-page Concept Brief introduces the concept of state fragility, a term that has been widely used but only fuzzily defined. It was written by DLP Research Fellow Dr Suda Perera, and addresses three main questions:

  • What is state fragility?
  • How is the concept used in international development?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the term?

A state that is unable to fulfil its social contract by providing protection and basic services for its citizens can be regarded as 'fragile'. Such states are vulnerable to conflicts, humanitarian crises and environmental shocks. One of the key goals of the development agenda, therefore, is to reduce state fragility and increase state stability or resilience.

Reducing endemic fragility has been framed as vital not only for the security of the 'fragile' state in question but also for global stability. As development has become increasingly securitized, the focus on so-called 'fragile states' has come to dominate the international agenda.

However, a focus on state fragility can divert attention from non-state governance mechanisms, and labelling a state as 'fragile' may have unintended consequences that affect its development.

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State Fragility

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