Over the course of the post-Cold War period, the Western powers have made increasing, albeit uneven, efforts to respond to the challenge of fragile states. For all the weakness of Western and multilateral policy, those efforts have helped reduce the levels of violence in most regions. Now, though, there is serious and sustained competition for influence in fragile states, and over fragile states policy, which has become an arena for geopolitical competition. Not all of the actions of the West’s competitors, notably China, are malign; but many are, and the overall effect of viewing fragile states through a geopolitical lens is likely to erode that limited progress has been made on stability and responsive governance.

The old geopolitics

In the post-Cold War period, Western nations increasingly focused their attention on the plight of so-called fragile states. With the Cold War behind it, the U.N. began engaging in civil…

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