Fixing Fragile States

Fixing Fragile States

Fragile states are a menace. Their lawless environments spread instability across borders, provide havens for terrorists, threaten access to natural resources, and consign millions of people to poverty. But Western attempts to reform these benighted places have rarely made things better. If we want to avoid revisiting the carnage and catastrophes seen in places like Iraq, Bosnia, and the Congo, we need to rethink Western ideas on fragile states and start helping their peoples build governments and states that actually fit the local landscape.

Eye-opening, provocative, and compelling, Fixing Fragile States lays bare the fatal flaws in current policies and explains why the only way to give these places a chance at peace and prosperity is to rethink how development really works. Flawed governance systems, not corrupt bureaucrats or armed militias, are the cancers that devour weak states. The cure, therefore, is not to send more aid or more peacekeepers but to redesign political, economic, and legal structures—to refashion them so they can leverage local traditions, overcome political fragmentation, expand governance capacities, and catalyze corporate investment.

After dissecting the reasons why some states prosper and others sink into poverty and violence, Fixing Fragile States visits seven deeply dysfunctional places—including Pakistan, Bolivia, West Africa, and Syria—and explains how even the most desperate of them can be transformed.

Read an excerpt | Author Q&A



“Conventional approaches to spurring development, through foreign aid, technical assistance, or exhortation by Western governments and nongovernmental organizations, have obviously failed in [fragile states], where Western notions of a competently governed, democratic central state have often not taken hold. Kaplan, a business consultant, here reviews the reasons for these failures and offers ten guiding principles for altering conventional approaches to development . . . This is a stimulating contribution to a growing literature on how to deal with fragile states.”
— Reviewed by Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008

“A timely and provocative volume, Fixing Fragile States offers a seldom voiced perspective on why international efforts to repair broken countries tend to fail. Seth Kaplan argues that instead of dispatching troops or sending more aid policymakers should focus on what these desperate and dangerous places really need: long-term help in building strong institutions to foster social cohesion, responsive and accountable government, and locally-driven economic dynamism. Kaplan’s focus deals with one of the great challenges of our time, and his analysis deserves a wide hearing.”
— Dr. Chester A. Crocker, professor of strategic studies at Georgetown
University and former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs

“A widely ranging and deeply penetrating analysis of why states fail and what to do about it. The book is full of new ideas that locate the job of state-building—usually misnamed nation-building—in the local institutions of society.  It will enrich our flagging debate about failing states by focusing us not only on good ideas but also on their specific application (or lack of it) in seven cases of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. An insightful view by a man who knows his business.”
— Dr. I William Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Distinguished Professor of International Organization and Conflict Resolution, School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University.

“Fixing Fragile States presents a bold and innovative approach to development, one that emphasizes the need to customize governing bodies to suit local customs and the capacity of local institutions. For we Africans, tired of being told to emulate Western models of governance, this book is a breath of fresh air. With its explanation of how countries can use their own strengths to build stable and prosperous societies, Fixing Fragile States should be required reading, not only for government officials and development specialists, but for everyone concerned with the fate of weak and failed states.”
— Edna Adan Ismail, ex Foreign Minister, Somaliland

“For anyone interested in development, Kaplan’s book is a welcomed addition to the growing library of literature dealing with the subject. . . . Kaplan’s stress on using idiosyncratic approaches that match local conditions is important. . . . The development community needs as many tools in its kit as it can find. Kaplan’s book provides a few more of those tools.”
— Enterprise Resilience Management Blog Review


Table of Contents

List of Tables, Charts, and Maps

1. Introduction: Why Fragile States Matter

Part I Diagnosis
2. Fostering Development: The Missing Ingredients
3. Fragile States, Fractured Societies

Part II Prescriptions
4. A New Paradigm for Development

Part III Application
5. West Africa: Stitching a Fragmented Region Together
6. The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Constructing the State Bottom Up
7. Syria: Countering Sectarianism with Unifying Institutions
8. Somaliland: Reconnecting State and Society
9. Bolivia: Building Representative Institutions in a Divided Country
10. Pakistan: Redirecting a Countrys Trajectory
11. Azerbaijan: Pressing Reform on an Autocracy



How to Buy It

Fixing Fragile States is available is available on the following websites:


Barnes & Noble