While the precarious situations in the three cases we have examined may not result directly from a skewed American emphasis on security, such involvement cannot be totally discounted either. Afghanistan has deteriorated in all aspects of stateness – authority, legitimacy and capacity. Ethiopia, despite improvements in capacity, has seen an erosion in authority and legitimacy. Afghanistan and Pakistan are clearly stuck in a fragility trap, and Ethiopia is not far behind even if it has a better chance of improving over time.

One glaring discontinuity between Trump and his predecessors is climate change and its linkage to failed and fragile states. Going back to the Clinton era, one of the main concerns of post-Cold War presidents has been the impact that climate change has had on state stability. This was a core part of the original State Failure Task Force in the 1990s and has been central to national security ever since. This linkage is discussed in many studies, specifically the relationship between desertification, famine and refugee flows as a source of instability in the Middle East and Africa. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accords and his interest in revitalizing American producers of fossil fuels through exploitation of known resources suggests that America’s commitment to battling climate change and in turn addressing the problems it generates for fragile states is on hold and perhaps reversed.

We also find that under Trump geopolitics is playing a larger role in fragile states, as Chinese and Russian influence increases owing to more economic and military assistance. Thus, the Trump administration is focused primarily on the direct effects these rivals have on core American interests. In the absence of a grand strategy guiding Trump’s engagement with fragile states, we surmise that many pivotal states, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, will grow in importance as they become the targets of major competitors. Those that are less important in terms of geopolitical rivalry will be neglected.

Even before Trump became president, some fragile states were the targets of military intervention, assuring that their civil strife would be prolonged and deadly. We have witnessed the brutal consequences of these rivalries with a lengthy civil war in Syria (with direct Russian and U.S. intervention), long-term economic and political instability in the case of Ukraine and an unremitting humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen (with geopolitical proxies Iran and Saudi Arabia vying for influence).

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David Carment is a Professor of International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI). He is also a NATO Fellow and listed in Who’s Who in International Affairs. In addition Professor Carment serves as the principal investigator for the Country Indicators for Foreign Policy project (CIFP).

Mark Haichin is a doctoral candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs specializing in nuclear deterrence with a focus on North Korea.

Yiagadeesen Samy is a Professor of international affairs and the Director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA).  He joined NPSIA in 2003 after completing his PhD in Economics and has since taught several graduate courses that include economic development, international trade, development assistance and quantitative methods.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

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