Published: September 2009


Arrests in Somalia

Failing Nations

Why things fall apart

By Robert Draper
Photograph by Pascal Maitre

It can happen after one fateful event—a civil war, natural disaster, or brutal takeover—or insinuate itself gradually, like a cancer that eats away at a country for decades. But when a nation is failing, you see it in the eyes of its people.

Over a billion people live in countries in danger of collapse. Some leaders lose control over their territory and cling to their capitals while warlords rule the provinces. Many governments are unable or unwilling to provide the most basic of services. Most are hobbled by corruption and environmental degradation. Such unstable states are dangers not just to themselves but also to the whole world. They incubate terrorism, criminal organizations, and political extremism—because when your country is falling apart around you, any way out can seem like a good way out.

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