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Why development actors need a better definition of ‘state fragility’

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The new importance of ‘fragile states’ on the international development agenda has directed more aid resources to countries most in need and made state-building a legitimate object of international support. • However, the definitions of ‘state fragility’, which guide resource allocation and programme design, are problematic and miss the most important question: why are some poor countries unstable and particularly subject to violence and warfare while others have achieved long periods of peace even in conditions of poverty and low economic growth? • CSRC research demonstrates that the reigning definitions of state fragility can divert attention away from the factors most likely to provoke conflict in the poorest countries and cause misunderstanding of the factors that have allowed states to sustain peace. In the worst cases these definitions have led international actors to advocate inappropriate reforms, which aggravate fragility. • State fragility is being used as a catch-all phrase for conflict, post-conflict, humanitarian crisis-prone or chronically poverty stricken states, but our research shows that these comprise both ‘fragile’ and ‘resilient’ states, where policy choices are starkly different. • The distinctions between ‘fragile’, ‘resilient’ and ‘developmental’ states create specific and different challenges in terms of what is required for statebuilding and what security, governance and economic reforms are appropriate.

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