States Intervention in Failed States for Humanitarian Reasons


The world is made up of many different states. Some of these states have enjoyed and are still enjoying some form of stability, whether social, economic, or political. Unfortunately, some are not enjoying this kind of stability. The citizens of these states, facing some instability, have no course to suffer as most of their leaders are the cause of their position. Organizations have been formed in the world to tackle this problem. It is therefore upon the other states to come and help restitute some form of stability in those facing instability. However, recently questions have been raised as to what is the cause or the agenda of these countries in intervening in states facing instability? This paper seeks to give a clear direction on why stables states intervene in failed states by giving the main reason whether it is humanitarian, security, or even both. The paper will also give a brief definition of what a failed state is. The paper will also give a few relevant examples of failed states in the world today.

What is a failed state?

Many people have not been able to give a clear indication as to whether a state is “failed” or not. This is because the choice of words used in defining what a failed state is does not give a clear indication of what it really is. Having defined what a ‘successful’ state is, “a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders” (Max Weber), a failed state was assumed to be the opposite of a successful state. The problem, therefore, came in determining whether or not a government maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Four elements were therefore put forward to establish as to whether or not a state is failed; loss of physical control of its territory by a state, abrasion of the authentic authority to make collective decisions, inability to provide public services to its citizens, and lastly, inability to interact with other states as a member of the international community.

Why then do other states intervene in failed states?

It is said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. This implies that the more powerful a state is in the world, in terms of stability, the more the responsibility in intervening in failed states. The reasons as to why they do so vary. Take the example of Somalia, which is ranked the most failed state in the world, and the situation they are facing. It has been fifteen years since the citizens of Somalia enjoyed some form of stability. It is therefore upon the stable states to intervene and provide some support to these people. This is humanitarian. The citizens of the country probably had nothing to do with the civil unrest faced in the country fifteen years ago. However, they are the casualties. Humanitarian aid is needed in this case.

Another cause of action can also be seen in international intervention in Somalia. The time magazine last year listed the Somali pirates as among the ten people who mattered most in 2008 in the world. Somalia has had no government for fifteen years. Warlords and other forms of vigilante groups have taken it upon themselves to make the laws and punish anyone who fails to adhere to the laws. International intervention, in this case, is for security reasons, where we have seen quite a number of naval officers from other countries sent to the country to the Somali coast to tackle this situation. A subset body of the United Nations was formed to tackle international security matters. The Security Council is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that world peace is maintained and possible security threats are countered. It has, however, received much criticism from other states in the world who have argued that it is a club of five permanent members. Other humanitarian bodies of the same organization such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees have received accreditation from many states in the world.


The question of whether or not states intervene in failed states for security or humanitarian reasons should not arise. This is because, in my opinion, they are mandated to do so. The world has however changed and different people have different reasons as to why they do different things. So, do states intervene in failed states for humanitarian or security reasons? My position on this matter would be that states would do anything possible to protect their image and most importantly their citizens. They intervene under the pretext of both the reasons, as they are supposed to; while really they are trying to protect themselves.


Rajan Chella.Global Politics and Institutions. Vol 3. New York: Harvard University Press. 2003.

Steward Anderson. Failed States Today. 2nd Edition. Carolina: University of Carolina press. 2007.