The Relationship between State Autonomy and State Capacity

Amongst the various dimensions of state power are state autonomy and state capacity. It is important to remember that they are distinct concepts and there is no obvious relationship beween the two. As the chart below (taken from Chapter 3 of O’Neil) demonstrates, a state can have high capacity and low autonomy (or vice versa) or high (or low) levels of both. Can you think of a country that would fit in each cell of the 2X2 matrix below?







State is able to fulfill basic tasks, with a minimum of public intervention; power highly centralized; strong state.

Danger: Too high a level of capacity and autonomy may prevent or undermine democracy.

State is able to fulfill basic tasks but public plays a direct role in determining policy and is able to limit state power and scope of activity.Danger: State may be unable to develop new policies or respond to new challenges owing to the power of organized opposition.


State is able to function with a minimum of public interference of direct control, but its capacity to fulfill basic tasks is limited.

Danger: State is ineffectual, limiting development and slow development may provoke public unrest.

State lacks the ability to fulfill basic tasks and is subject to direct public control and interference—power highly decentralized among state and nonstate actors; weak stateDanger: too low a level of capacity and autonomy may lead to internal state failure.

Citizenship and Statelessness

Do all persons have citizenship?

No. It has been estimated that there are currently about 15 million stateless persons worldwide. From the Nubian people of Kenya to residents of the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent, statelessness is a global phenomenon affecting the health, economic well-being, and human security of the individuals, families, and groups involved.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has produced a series of documentaries on the issue, the introduction to which can be viewed below. From the description:

Although some stateless people are refugees, many have never crossed a border or left their country of birth. Although the problems related to statelessness may manifest themselves differently, at the root is a group of people who have been denied a legal identity.

A stateless person is not recognized as a citizen by any state. Citizenship enables you not only to vote, hold public office, and exit and enter a country freely, but also to obtain housing, health care, employment, and education. Citizenship is necessary in order to live a decent human life. Stateless people are denied that right.

For more information, visit

William Buckely and Noam Chomsky Debate Military Intervention

Here’s a fascinating debate from the 1960s between two American intellectual giants–William Buckely and Noam Chomsky–on the morality of military intervention. Chomsky makes a very strong claim: in the history of humankind never has a state intervened military on the basis of disinterested (i.e., altruistic) motives. Military intervention is always about the furthering of self-interest, but is often dressed up in garb of humanitarianism. Chomsky notes, of course, the few exceptions; exceptions, that is, in the sense that some states didn’t even bother trying to put a veneer of humanitarianism on their naked power grabs–think Belgian in the Congo.

IS 302–Reading Questions for Freedom’s Battle (Bass)

The readings for this Friday’s seminar come exclusively from Gary Bass’s recent book Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. Here are some of the questions that will orient class discussion

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Humanitarian interventions of the 19th century were less humanitarian than imperialistic. Great powers simply cloaked what amounted to self-interested military intervention in the garb of humanitarianism, when these interventions were nothing of the sort. Explain.
  2. Is the realist worldview tenable, given what you know about some of the humanitarian interventionS of the 19th century?
  3. What was the effect of media–the so-called CNN effect–on the humanitarian impulses during the 19th century?
  4. What does Bass mean by an “imagined humanity?” Continue reading

Resources for First Paper (IS 210)–Risk Assessment

Here are some data resources that may be helpful to you while researching and writing your first paper assignment. I’ll be showing you how to use/access some of these sources in class on Thursday, September 23rd.

Continue reading

Does Africa Need a New Map?

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, G. Pascal Zachary argues that it’s time to redraw Africa’s political borders, which are “unnatural” and a legacy of 19th and 20th-century colonialism. As is well-known the newly independent states that comprised the Organisation for African Unity met in 1964 and agreed that the extant international borders in Africa were sacrosanct, believing that this would best guarantee stability on the continent. It worked, to a degree. While there have certainly been very few international (i.e. inter-state) wars in Africa in the intervening 45 years, the continent has been ravaged by intra-state (i.e., internal, or “civil”) wars during the same period. What are the potential benefits of redrawing Africa’s borders to make them more coterminous with ethnic boundaries (as has been done recently in, amongst other places, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union)? Zachary’s claim:

Borders created through some combination of ignorance and malice are today one of the continent’s major barriers to building strong, competent states. No initiative would do more for happiness, stability, and economic growth in Africa today than an energetic and enlightened redrawing of these harmful lines.

How important is for for state strength and stability for ethnic and political border to be coterminous? The redrawing of borders–and it is obvious that the mechanism would be military force–would almost certainly lead to tremendous suffering and bloodshed, with competing campaigns of ethnic cleansing. But, as Zachary notes, since the start of the post-colonial era millions of Africans have died in internal conflicts, and:

Rethinking the borders could go far to quelling some of these conflicts. Countries could finally be framed around the de facto geography of ethnic groups. The new states could use their local languages rather than favoring another ethnicity’s or colonial power’s tongue. Rebel secessionist movements would all but disappear, and democracy could flourish more easily when based upon policies, rather than simple identity politics. On top of that, new states based on ethnic lines would by default be smaller, more compact, and more manageable for governments on a continent with a history of state weakness.

Assuming that the political will to achieve this goal were to evolve, what would be the best mechanism? What would Herbst’s argument be? Is this even feasible? Where would one draw the new boundaries? How would one define an ethnic group? Refer to these two maps to get a sense of the near impossibility of the task at hand. While there are about 50-odd states in Africa, there are literally hundreds of geographically-concentrated ethnic groups. In addition, there is a tremendous amount of inter-mingling of ethnic groups as well.

Failed States and the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index 2010

On Thursday, September 23rd we will begin to analyse the exceptionally important concept–the state. It will become strikingly obvious that a strong state is a necessary–but not sufficient–condition for political stability, political and personal liberty, democracy, and economic well-being. Conversely, citizens living in weak, failing, or failed states face lives of economic destitution, personal insecurity (think of Hobbes’ state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish, and short), and lack of basic rights and freedoms. The Fund for Peace publishes an annual index of failed and failing states. A quick look at the results over the last decade or so finds that the same dozen or so states are continually at the top of the list of failed/failing states. Here is a map depicting the results of the most recent index:

Notice the geographical concentration of failed states (in red). Why are the vast majority of the world’s failed states found in central Africa and southwest Asia?

What are the characteristics of failed states that distinguish them from more stable states? Maybe this video of life in Somalia will provide some clues: