A "failed state" is one that is unable to function according to western expectations, either to protect and provide decent services to its citizens, or to behave responsibly in international relations.
Like most concepts in social science, it is best to think of more or less, rather than if a state is failed or not. Somalia is an extreme case, now joined by Syria where unknown numbers of opposition organizations are fighting among themselves as well as against government forces. Mexico belongs somewhere on the list due to the government''s incapacity to prevent drug wars, or even to keep ranking government personnel from participation in the drug trade, with high casualties that limit personal security.
There are three candidates for the designation of failed state in current headlines.
Malaysia has been at the top of many news sites, along with its bungling efforts to explain what happened to one of its planes.
Malaysia is among the states that have trouble managing road traffic, never mind anything more sophisticated. Visitors should think again before renting a car and trying their luck.
International data indicate that Malaysian roads are among the most dangerous. The most widely available indicators are traffic deaths are per 100,000 population and per 100,000 motor vehicles. The numbers for Malaysia and a few other countries are
Malaysia 25 and 36.5
US 10.4 and 15
Germany 4.4 and 6.9
Israel 3.3 and 9.5
Among the problems casting doubt on the management of the Malaysian state, and especially its capacity to protecting airline passengers:
- At least two and maybe more passengers were let through procedures with forged passports
- Several passengers who checked baggage did not board, but the airport did not follow the conventional procedure of removing baggage which might have endangered the plane
- The plane is reported to have loaded much more fuel than appropriate for its intended flight
- Record of hanky panky in the cockpit involving one of this flight crew with comely passengers
- A failure of ranking officials to deal effectively with the disappearance
- The appearance of a shaman seeking the location of the plane with the help of coconuts and bamboo
Ukraine has been competing with Malaysia for headlines, as well as for a ranking among the states considered to have failed.
Israelis are blessed with more than a million neighbors who are Russian speaking, which assures considerable reporting and commentary, as well as a personal friends with family connections in the Ukraine.
One should admit at the beginning that the Ukraine carries a large stain in Jewish memory. There were righteous Gentiles who sought to protect Jews from the Nazis and their neighbors,, and post-Holocaust expressions of regret, but nothing sufficient to erase the record of pogroms that preceded the German invasion, or the participation of Ukrainians in the Holocaust.
It is also appropriate to note that the Ukraine is large, populous, and complex. IDF graduates along with rabid anti-Semites were involved in the opposition to the pro-Russian leader, who himself was a caricature of corruption.
Also, there should be no illusions about Russia. The claim of 93 or 96 percent supporting the Crimean referendum to join Russia is as much a measure of Russian pressure, rent-a-crowds demonstrating in behalf of affiliation, and who knows what about the vote counting as it is a measure of anything that can be called democracy. Nonetheless, what can be gathered from news, commentary, and conversations, is that most Crimeans prefer a Russian affiliation to Ukraine.
One is hard pressed to find anything positive described about any of the various contenders for control in the Ukraine. One friend from the Ukraine uses the American phrase "voting out the rascals" to explain widespread support for Russia in Crimea. Rampant corruption, limited services (no piped water for many of the homes) and few economic opportunities may have led most residents of Crimea to think that Russia must be better than the Ukraine. It may not be, but the new realities may only be apparent later. And the residents might not have an opportunity to vote out the next rascals.
Commentators are ridiculing the toothless American sanctions against Russia (no visas for ranking Russians, but still visas for those at the very top), which have produced similar Russian moves against Americans. The New York Stock Exchange turned positive after a few rocky days, with some saying that the upturn was in response to an apparent resolution of the Crimean problem,
No less a failed regime than Malaysia and the Ukraine is the yet to be designated state called Palestine. One can begin to describe Palestine''s failure with the numerous splits in geography and politics, always on the verge--or over the verge--of bloodshed. Most prominent are the problems between Gaza and the West Bank, but also apparent are chronic disputes based on loyalties to extended families, localities, political ideologies and religiosity within Gaza and among the various communities of the West Bank. Also to be noted is the tragic comedy of the man calling himself president who has outstayed his term of office by more than five years, and is not recognized as president by the Gazan half of Palestine. One seldom has to wait more than a few days for indications that neither those claiming to be officials of the West Bank nor Gaza can control--or want to control--those always anxious to prove their mettle by firing a gun or missile in the direction of Israeli civilians. Unreliable supplies of electricity and water are only two of the Palestinians'' problems with public services, despite their abnormal receipt of outside aid.Gazans recently went for several days with little or no electricity. Various explanations are that the shut down resulted from a failure to pay for imports of fuel from Israel, a quarrel between Fatah and Hamas with respect to who should pay, or Israel''s response to a barrage of missiles by closing its border and stopping fuel shipments for a few days.The various problems of what claims to be Palestine, including the questionable legitimacy of the man claiming to be its president, raises the issue of American moralizing, concerns for democracy and legality, along with their insistence that Israel negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas and the people close to him.It involves a risk of ridicule to suggest that the United States may qualify as a failed state. Yet a ranking of #35 among countries with respect to life expectancy is no great compliment. And the recent flubbings by President Obama and John Kerry with respect to Syria, Iran, most probably Crimea, and Israel-Palestine might qualify for the designation of a failed foreign policy, or a failed State Department.According to a Hebrew epigram, A wise person does not enter where a clever person knows to leave.John Kerry''s deep voice and demands for others to make difficult decisions is not enough to deal with problems that others have wrestled with for 66, 47, 20, or 14 years, depending on whether one starts with the end of the British Mandate, the Six-Day war, Oslo, or the Barak-Clinton proposals.Among the latest provocations of Israeli distrust of Americans is Kerry''s claim that Netanyahu''s insistence on Abbas'' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is unnecessary. That may be true in a narrow sense, but the demand is a test that Abbas continues to fail. Its importance derives from Israelis'' worry (pervading the right, center, and part of the Israeli left) that Palestinians are not ready to recognize Israel in its own terms. Many--perhaps most--Israelis, for their part, are not inclined to withdraw substantial settlements in order to tempt the Palestinians to do what they have repeatedly refused to do.Should Kerry spend more time on Crimea?Not if he wants to demonstrate his diplomatic skills.What about helping the Malaysians direct traffic? Or at least learning along with them something about explaining failure?