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Poli 1003 Short Paper

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POLI 1003 Short Paper

Student Name: Chan Tsz Fung                    Student ID: 3035476430

Topic: State and State Capacity                  Word count: 1999 words

Is Syria a Failed State?

How can Failed States affect Global Stability?

Critically examine whether Syria is a failed state and describe how failed states affect global stability by using the example of Syria.


  Syria, a country located in the Middle East, which is contiguous to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordon, Israel and Iraq. The country is currently led by Bashar al-Assad while there are also other armed interest groups within the country, for instance, Kurdish militias, Syrian rebels, Islamic state[1]. Syria is well-known on international stage due to the continuous conflict within her territory, namely the Syrian Civil War. The conflict caused an estimated 465 thousand death[2], 1.9 million injured[3] and 6.5 million people internally displaced[4]. With such immense civilian casualties, it is worth investigating whether Syria is a failed state. The following essay would be divided into two parts. The first part would be an evaluation on whether Syria is a failed state by using varies criteria to make an overall judgement. The second part would be a discussion on how failed states affect global stability by using the example of how Syria affected surrounding countries and even the globe.

Is Syria a failed state?

  The following part would be an evaluation on whether Syria is a failed state. To lay a better and concrete foundation for further discussion on whether Syria is a failed state. It is vital and crucial to provide a clear definition on what characteristics a failed states should acquire. To clear doubts and provide a highly recognized definition, the definition provided by the “The Fund for Peace” would be used throughout the entire essay. Four indicators would be considered, including the cohesion indicator, economic indicator, political indicator and the social indicator[5]. Syria, was ranked 5th in the “Fragile State Index” in 2017, scoring 110.6 marks with a maximum mark of 120 marks[6], which is in the alert zone. This indicates that Syria is definitely a failed state and the following essay would try to raise arguments supporting the above stance by using the four indicators mentioned above.

  First and foremost, the cohesion indicator. The cohesion indicator mainly refers to the states’ monopoly on the use of force and whether the leader of the state has high representativeness among the civilians. It is obvious that Syria failed to fulfill both requirements and made her a failed state. In terms of state’s monopoly on the use of force, the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad did possess a regular army and monopolized the use of force in the government-controlled areas in Syria, for instance, Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus[7]. In these cities, the Syrian government had full control and capability to carry out law enforcements by the government forces. Though the Syrian government did monopolized the use of force in major regions, it is undeniable that there are still regions that the state couldn’t monopolize the use of force. Syria as a state failed to control a number of cities that are claimed territory by the government, including Raqqa controlled by Kurdish militias, Al Bab controlled by Turkish force, Idlib controlled by Syrian rebels, the Golan heights controlled by Israel and eastern regions controlled by Islamic states[8]. Only approximately 55% territory was tightly controlled by the Syrian government[9] showing that it had slightly more than a half territory that the state could ensure the monopoly of the use of force. With such large amount of civilians supporting the rebels[10] since 2011 due to the Arab Spring Movement, there is no doubt that Bashar al-Assad isn’t a leader with wide public support. Therefore, Syria is surely a failed state judged based on the cohesion indicator.

  Secondly, the economic indicator. The economic indicator mainly refers to the national economy situation of the state and also the economic equality within the state. Syria also performed relatively weak in this aspect as it couldn’t maintain a stable economy and maintain economic equality within it’s territory. In terms of Syria’s national economy, “disastrous” would be the best adjective to describe the situation. After the broke out of the Syrian Civil War, economy declined tremendously as war stopped national production and exports, the real value of exports had decreased by 80% in 2010-2015. An estimated 25% decrease was recorded in Syria’s GDP during 2012-2013[11], it is terrible for a state to have it’s economy evaporate by a quarter in only one year. Nevertheless, the more shocking news for the Syrian economy is it’s loss of labor force, hindering the economy from recovery. In 2010-2015, approximately 50 thousand jobs were lost every month[12], while 4.8 billion Syrian civilian have left Syria already, reducing the labor power of the country. On the other hand, the Syrian government is heavily in debt as it needed financial support from other states to fight against the rebels and strive for state survival. Syrian had an estimated 6 billion external debt[13], facing such deplorable economic situation, Syria might need to consider increasing it’s debt. These factors unfavored Syrian economy in the long-term. Economic equality wasn’t practiced in Syria also as there existed a wealth gap for different districts. Just take Damascus as an example, the rich in the city could buy luxuries, e.g. iPhone 7, tablets, cars. The poor instead could only earn 50 U.S. dollars a month[14] and could barely feed their family. So, it is certain that Syria is a failed state judging by the economic indicator.

  Thirdly, the political indicator, which mainly refers to the state legitimacy, public services and human rights. For state legitimacy, the Bashar al-Assad regime isn’t really a legitimated regime. Though the regime did complete some of the requirements of being a state externally as the current Syrian government is the only recognized legitimate regime in the international stage, the regime failed internally. It is due to the backwardness of democratization in Syria. Before 2011, Syria is still a democratized country, the president and the People’s council was elected, Bashar al-Assad even got 97.6% of vote in 2007[15]. But this situation changed in a mass protest in 2011, as the Bashar al-Assad government decided to violently oppress the protestors[16] which sparked the civil war. Since then, the Syrian government adopted dictatorship under the control of Bashar al-Assad. This proved that the state is no longer representing the mass public but only served the dictator Bashar al-Assad, which didn’t provide the source of legitimacy for the regime in Syria. This led Syria to drop to 166th in the ranking of “Democracy Index” in 2015[17], which is only barely better than North Korea. In terms of public services and human rights, Syria performed poor in these two aspects during the civil war. The Syrian government failed to provide public services to their citizens, as the essay mentioned above, 1.9 million were injured[18] while 6.5 million[19] were internally displaced. Syrian refugees could not get access to clear water, medical care and had insufficient tents to live in. Not only political rights were exploited that people don’t have a say in politics, human rights were not granted also. Chemical attacks happened rapidly in Syria[20], while these attacks were estimated to be launched by the Syrian government. So, in political indicator, Syria is a failed state.



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