State Collapse and Islamist Extremism: Reevaluating the Link

State collapse has emerged as one of the most troubling international security challenges today. The promise of an uncontrollable progression, from internal conflict to international terrorism, has become a truism in public commentary and policy circles. The Bush Administration’s US National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, for example, maintained that ‘in ailing states or states emerging from conflict, the risks are significant. Spoilers can take advantage of instability to create conditions terrorists can exploit’. In typical assessments, this creates ‘breeding grounds for violent extremism’, as state weakness radicalizes its population and extremists flock to collapsed states. In a widely accepted formulation, ‘It has become conventional wisdom that poorly performing states generate multiple “spillovers”, including terrorism’. If correct, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia and several other predominantly Muslim countries have collapsed or on the verge. If state collapse increases the threat of Islamist extremism, today’s world is a scary place, indeed.