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Fragile states strategy

U.S. Agency for International Development

January 2005

SARPN acknowledges the Development Experience Clearinghouse website ( as the source of this document.
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Events of the last few years have tragically brought home the reality that situations unfolding on the other side of the world—governments collapsing, criminal and terrorist networks, humanitarian crises, and grinding poverty—can have global ramifications. Weak states tend to be the vector for these destabilizing forces, manifesting the dark side of globalization, and pose a very difficult kind of national security challenge.

The phenomenon of weak or fragile states is not new, but the need to address their weakness is more critical than ever. The President’s 2002 National Security Strategy made that clear when he elevated development to be the “third pillar” of our foreign policy—on a par with defense and diplomacy. The strategy recognizes that a root of the national security threat to the United States and the broader international community is the lack of development, which can’t be addressed by military or diplomatic means alone. In countries that lack the ability, or will, to provide basic services or protection, we can no longer choose to look the other way. We need to engage in a coordinated and strategic manner to address the core issues of poverty and underdevelopment.

The United States has a long history of providing assistance to other nations and advancing development. Fragile states, however, pose a particularly thorny development challenge due to their overall weaknesses, particularly of their governance institutions. For development to succeed — in almost any context — we know we need to take the long view and stay engaged for the long haul. There are no quick fixes to strengthen governance or build a country’s ability to improve the lives of its citizens.

While USAID has had a long and successful record of responding to humanitarian crises, postconflict situations, and advancing long-term development, we can and must do better. This strategy outlines our vision of how the Agency can more effectively respond to the far-reaching challenges posed by fragile states in the 21st century. It is guided by the overarching principle that we need to engage carefully and selectively. It recognizes that there are countries where our assistance may not be able to make a difference, and it directs us to focus our efforts on those countries where will be able to have the greatest impact.

The strategy also clearly recognizes that we are only part of the U.S. Government and that effective response will require close coordination between a broad range of agencies and actors. The recent creation of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the State Department, and its mandate to improve and coordinate the civilian response, is a strong step in the right direction.

USAID’s strategy outlines four major elements to meet the unique demands of fragile states: better monitoring and analysis, priorities responding to the realities on the ground, programs focused on the sources of fragility, and streamlined operational procedures to support rapid and effective response. Achieving success in fragile states requires a clear understanding of the problems which, in turn, points to priorities—such as stability, security, reform, and institutional capacity—and programs more closely targeted on the causes of the fragility rather than the symptoms. These are not revolutionary ideas, but taken together they have the potential to revolutionize USAID’s work on the ground.

Much has been learned over the past 50 years of foreign assistance, but we need to adapt and tailor those lessons to today’s challenges. Fortunately, there is great momentum now focused on the challenges of fragile states, both within the United States and internationally. I hope that USAID’s strategy contributes to the critical debate as we move to making development—including the stabilization and development of fragile states—a central component of our national security strategy.

Andrew Natios

USAID Administrator
December 2004

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