It’s the world’s least desirable club: the league of failed and failing states. Every year, the Fund for Peace presents its list of the world’s shakiest political entities. Qualifications for entry into the club include such factors as demographic crisis, economic decline and bloody intergroup conflict. A failed state is one that loses control of large parts of its territory and fails to provide rudimentary public services. State agencies become in effect criminal organizations, allied with gangs and terrorist factions in bloody battles over state property and natural resources. Gradually, the accumulation of disasters leads to the utter collapse of state authority and its replacement by private militias or warlords. Last year, unsurprisingly, Somalia led the pack of quasi-states and nonstates.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.