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‘Fragile States – Our Collective Responsibility’

The Hague, The Netherlands

Kofi Annan calls for a new, long-term and coherent approach to tackling fragile states.

Your Majesty,  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am truly honoured to be with you today and to have this chance to take part in the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Clingendael.

The Institute has a great deal to celebrate.

In the last quarter of a century, you have built a world-wide reputation for your thorough but imaginative responses to the modern challenges in international relations.

Importantly, too, the work of the Institute is not just theoretical but also practical.

You are playing an invaluable role in building up the knowledge and skills of diplomats from countries around the world.

It is no surprise that a country characterised throughout its history by its outward looking approach should host such an important institute.   

I believe the international community needs more than ever the progressive and internationalist principles for which this country is famous.

It is clear, not least from the financial crisis now affecting every country, that our world is much more interdependent than most people had realized.

The fact that the G20, and not the G7, is shaping the response to the global economic meltdown is a welcome sign of a more inclusive approach to global problems.   

I believe we now need to look urgently at the many other challenges which can only be effectively addressed by a genuinely multi-lateral approach.

And it is one of these challenges – the crucial issue of fragile states – that I want to talk about today.

In particular, I want to stress that we have a collective responsibility to do more to repair and strengthen their damaged fabric.

Not just for the good of their own citizens but for peace and stability in the rest of the world as well.  

What is certain is that without increased and co-ordinated international effort, we can not make progress towards the fairer and more peaceful world to which we committed ourselves in 2000.

The Global solidarity that gave us the Millennium  Development Goals demonstrated, I believe, a genuinely historic commitment to achieve a better, more collaborative and just  world.  

Halfway to the 2015 target date, however, the report card on progress is mixed.

The goal of halving the number of people in absolute poverty, for example, remains on track, thanks largely to extraordinary economic progress in Asia.

The number of deaths of children under five per year has dipped for the first time below ten million.  

But in other areas, progress has been much slower or has actually fallen back.

And these disappointments, of course, came before the global financial crisis put new pressures on the resources of developed and developing nations.

We do not have time to discuss this in detail today.

But it would be a betrayal of trust if the rich countries of the world were to use this crisis as an excuse to renege on their promises to the poor of the planet.

It would also be a short-term decision which would have long-term repercussions for all.  

For a world of continuing gross inequality of wealth and opportunity is not a world where any country, no matter how wealthy or powerful, can enjoy prosperity and peace for the long term.  

But delivering development aid and meeting promises on trade will not, on their own, be enough to meet our ambitions.  

For many countries – if aid is delivered as pledged and spent wisely as promised – the MDGs can be met.    

But there are also nations where this approach will not work and which are the same nations that have seen little or no progress towards the MDGs.

High among these are the fragile states. Those are the States whose vulnerability makes it much harder to withstand any shock, whether internal or external.

There is no single definition of a fragile state nor agreement on how many of them there are.  

But they can best be defined as nations where the state lacks either the will or the capacity to deliver the most basic services to their citizens.

According to the World Bank, some 40 nations and 900 million people live in countries which fall into this category.

The statistics underline the depth of suffering for these people and the scale of the challenge they pose for the world.

While fragile states account for some 14% of the world’s population, they hold 30% of those living on less than $1 dollar a day.

One in three of their citizens are undernourished – a rate twice as high as in other poor countries.

The mortality rate from malaria is thirteen times as high.

These grim figures – from a long list – show the importance of addressing the problems of fragile states to relieve the misery of their citizens.  

But this is not only a moral cause. It is also in all our self-interest.

Without intensifying our efforts to help those living in fragile states, our hopes of a more stable and peaceful world will also be dashed.

For the evidence is clear that the fragility of one state spreads out across its frontiers, across regions and infects the wider world.

We can see this in the impact on the region and wider world of countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan.    

The lawlessness and collapse of national structures in Somalia – which can now hardly be considered a state at all – affects far more than its despairing citizens.

Piracy off its coast is now stretching further into the Indian Ocean and is having an increasingly damaging impact on global trade.

And none of us need reminding how Afghanistan – a failed state for many years – became a base for extremists who exported terror and a primary source of drugs affecting millions across the world.  

Its instability has played a major role in worsening the problems in neighbouring Pakistan and across the region.  

We need to intensify support for reconstruction and to raise living standards to prevent this fragile state falling back into total failure again.  

Somalia and Afghanistan have a long history of deep poverty and strife.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe was once one of the most prosperous in Africa.

Due to the abject failure of its leadership, it is now moving rapidly to becoming a full-blown failed state.

The collapse of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector means a country which used to export food to its neighbours can no longer feed its own people.  

Five million malnourished Zimbabweans urgently require food aid. A cholera epidemic is spreading quickly.

And the impact is seen across the region.

There are now three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa alone whose presence has become a focus for unrest.  

The collapse of a once-vibrant economy is dampening investment throughout Southern Africa.  

These three very different examples demonstrate why in this inter-connected world we ignore fragile states at our peril.  

Working with, and in, fragile states is, of course, difficult, costly and, at times, dangerous.  

But this must not be an excuse for walking away. For if we do, the human and financial cost of trying to repair the damage will be much greater. And as the results of our failure will be felt well beyond their borders, we too will be affected.  

Each fragile state is, of course, unique.

But there are a series of factors which contribute to their problems – and they allow us to see where and how we must target support.

These factors include, among others, poverty, ethnic divisions, weak state institutions, unemployment, lack of productive capacity and the denial of human rights.

When the State cannot provide security for its citizens, armed groups proliferate and tear apart the fabric of society.  

Interference from outside borders and endemic corruption, particularly when linked to mineral wealth, are also drivers of fragility, as are arms and human trafficking.  

Environmental factors, such as climate change, turn productive land into deserts and flood low lying islands and coastal regions. The resulting pressure on natural resources will increasingly play a part in fostering fragility.

But not all countries which are poor are fragile.

Look at Botswana, for example.

It gained independence from Britain in 1966. Its neighbour South Africa under the apartheid regime was a destabilising factor in the whole region.

And, of course, it enjoys great natural wealth.

But thanks to effective and stable state institutions, it has a strong claim to be Africa’s most successful democracy and has a record of economic growth unrivalled across the world.

This helps explain why there is an increasing consensus that it is the weakness of state institutions, above all, which determine a country’s fragility.

Other factors are important in contributing to a country’s fragility.

But in all cases, weak institutions play a major role in exacerbating or provoking these causes.  

Effective, trusted and stable institutions and the rule of law help manage tensions successfully and peacefully.

Without them grievances can all too easily explode into conflict and are difficult to contain.

This has led to a growing recognition that building up a country’s governance capacity is vital in helping fragile states and, as importantly, stopping stable states from slipping into this category.

And yet the way the international community behaves in practice does not always take this knowledge into account.

Democratic elections are rightly seen as important in helping countries towards stability and good governance.

But we also have to recognise that they are not a panacea and certainly no substitute for long-term institution building

Yet all too often, democratic elections are seen by the international community as a symbol of successful engagement in a country and a trigger to withdraw or scale down support.

This is very short-sighted.

The reality is that weak democracies, with poor state capacity, can find it hard to prevent disputes getting out of hand and escalating into renewed civil war.

This is particularly true in post conflict societies where hatreds and fears are still raw.

It is a sobering thought that as many as 40% of resolved conflicts start again within a decade.

So we need to look long-term.

We need to put much more effort into building up the effectiveness of state institutions. This includes building and supporting productive capacities and the provision of educational,health and other services.

This means that we have to be prepared, if necessary, for continued international attention and presence to provide re-assurance while this takes place.  

On aid, too, we need to look more long-term as well as responding more fairly.

In the case of post-conflict states, research shows that while humanitarian aid is critical at the beginning, economic aid is most effective four years after the conflict has ended.  

Yet again this is the time when donors are often thinking of pulling out.  

We also have to correct the way aid is distributed.

Over the past decade, aid decisions by bilateral and multilateral donors have often been influenced by a concern to reward good performers.

This is understandable. But fragile states are, by definition, not good performers and this has meant them losing out on desperately needed support.

The World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessments show that fragile states make up 40% of the low-income countries but receive just 14% of aid.

We have to put this right.

We need to think local as well as long-term.

By building up the capacity of civil society, letting local communities and leaders shape solutions, we have a much better chance of sustainable progress.

When Kenya was facing crisis earlier this year, it was their own leaders – with outside encouragement – who forged an agreement which continues to serve the country well.  

A strong civil society is also important in helping ensure peace agreements are kept and in pressing for human rights, the rule of law and helping hold their leaders to account.

This is even more effective where women are encouraged to play their full role in their societies.  

We need to be bold. We need to think long-term. And we need to act together.

First we need to recognise the scale of the problem and acknowledge that one in six of our fellow human beings live in states where they lack the most basic services or protections.

Without our active and collective engagement and support, the problems in these states will worsen and will increasingly affect our own security and prosperity.

Second, we have to act on the truism that prevention is always better – and much cheaper – than a cure.

We need to move from the prevailing culture of reaction to a genuine  culture of prevention.

We need early warning systems so we can respond in a timely way to prevent problems escalating into a crisis – and fragile states from becoming failed ones.
This includes helping countries adapt to new challenges such as climate change – largely caused by the world’s richest countries but whose effects  fall hardest on the poorest.

Third, we need a co-ordinated, long-term and collective approach which crosses all national, regional and multi-lateral levels.

We need to focus strongly on building up the capacity of effective state institutions and civil society without which no long term progress is possible.

And we need to include local actors in the setting of aid priorities as well as rethink the prevailing conditionalities that are often attached to them.   Fragile states need help now, not once they have fallen into the abyss.

And fourth, we should ensure that despair at the complexity and seriousness of the problems we face does not prevent us from working together to overcome them.   

Twenty years ago, Mozambique was the definition of a failed state.

It was in the grip of a long and terrible civil war, its society divided, its infrastructure in ruins, its people living in abject poverty.

Through good leadership and the targeted support of the entire international community, it is now well on the road to recovery.

Democracy is embedded, former military rivals stand against each other in free elections, the country, although still poor, is benefiting from strong economic growth.

Mozambique shows what can be achieved through determination, vision and collective effort.

We need to show the same courage and commitment in helping all fragile states overcome their problems.

If we do, the prize will not be simply a better life for 900 million of our fellow human beings but security and prosperity for all of us.

Thank you.