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A failed state is a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government. Although there is no general consensus on the definition, Fund for Peace characterizes a failed state as having the following characteristics:
Common characteristics of a failing state include a central government so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; and sharp economic decline.
The level of government control required to avoid being considered a failed state varies considerably amongst authorities. Furthermore, the declaration that a state has "failed" is generally controversial and, when made authoritatively, may carry significant geopolitical consequences.
According to the political theories of Max Weber, a state could be said to "succeed" if it maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders. When this is broken (e.g., through the dominant presence of warlords, paramilitary groups, or terrorism), the very existence of the state becomes dubious, and the state becomes a failed state. The difficulty of determining whether a government maintains "a monopoly on the legitimate use of force", which includes the problems of the definition of "legitimate", means it is not clear precisely when a state can be said to have "failed." The problem of legitimacy can be solved by understanding what Weber intended by it. Weber clearly explains that only the state has the means of production necessary for physical violence (politics as vocation). This means that the state does not require legitimacy for achieving monopoly on having the means of violence (de facto), but will need one if it needs to use it (de jure).
Typically, the term means that the state has been rendered ineffective and is not able to enforce its laws uniformly or provide basic goods and services to its citizens because of (variously) high crime rates, extreme political corruption, an impenetrable and ineffective bureaucracy, judicial ineffectiveness, military interference in politics, and cultural situations in which traditional leaders wield more power than the state over a certain area. Other factors of perception may be involved. A derived concept of "failed cities" has also been launched, based on the notion that while a state may function in general, polities at the substate level may collapse in terms of infrastructure, economy and social policy. Certain areas or cities may even fall outside state control, becoming a de facto ungoverned part of the state.
There is no real consensus on the definition of a “failed-state”. Various government agencies and think tanks often use their own indicators of state failure, leading to an ambiguous understanding of the term. Some scholars focus on the capacity and effectiveness of the government to determine if a state is failed or not. Other indices such as the Fund for Peace’s Failed State Index underline the democratic character of state institutions in order to determine its level of failure. Finally other scholars focus their argument on the legitimacy of the state, on the nature of the state, on the growth of criminal violence in a state, on the economic extractive institutions  or on the states’ capacity to control its territory. Robert H. Bates refers to state failure as the “implosion of the state”, where the state transforms “into an instrument of predation” and the state effectively loses its monopoly on the means of force.
As part of the debate about the state failure definition, Charles T. Call (2010) attempts to abandon the concept of state failure altogether; as, he argues, it promotes an unclear understanding of what state failure means. Indeed, one of the main contributions to the theorization of the “failed-state” is the “gap framework” developed by Call (2010). This framework builds on his previous (2008) criticisms of ‘state failure’, as a concept used as a catch-all term for diverse states with varying problems and as a base and explanation for universal policy prescriptions. It unpacks the concept of “state failure” focusing on three gaps that the state is not able to provide when it is in the process of failure: capacity, when state institutions lack the ability to effectively deliver basic goods and services to its population; security, when the state is unable to provide security to its population under the threat of armed groups; and legitimacy, when a “significant portion of its political elites and society reject the rules regulating power and the accumulation and distribution of wealth.” The “gap framework" seems to be more useful than other definitions. Instead of attempting to quantify the degree of failure of a state, the gap framework provides a three-dimensional scope useful to analyse the interplay between the government and the society in states in a more analytical way. Call does not necessarily suggest that states that suffer from the challenges of the three gaps should be identified as failed states; but instead, presents the gap idea as an alternative to the state failure concept as a whole. Although Call recognizes that the gap concept in itself has limits, since often states face two or more of the gap challenges, his conceptual proposition presents a useful way for more precisely identifying the challenges within a society and the policy prescriptions that are more likely to be effective for external and international actors to implement.
The spread of the term "failed state" has been criticized by policy researchers for being arbitrary and sensationalist. William Easterly and Laura Freschi have argued that the concept of state failure "has no coherent definition", and only serves the policy goals of Western states to militarily intervene in other states. The British writer Anatol Lieven draws a distinction between the "genuinely failed and failing" states of Sub-Saharan Africa with the states of South Asia, whose rulers he says "have not traditionally exercised direct control over... most of their territory and have always faced continual armed resistance somewhere or other". Although he concedes that Pakistan might be considered "failed" when compared to the industrialized states of Western Europe, he criticizes how commentators use the War in North-West Pakistan to brand Pakistan as "failed", while not doing the same for the proportionally more serious Naxalite insurgency in India or the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Call (2008) argues that the label of ‘failed state’ has been applied so widely that is has been effectively rendered useless. As there has been little consensus over how to define failed states, the characteristics commonly used to identify a failing state are numerous and extremely diverse, from human rights violations, poverty to demographic pressures. Thus meaning a wide range of highly divergent states are categorised together as failed (or failing) states. This can conceal the complexity of the specific weaknesses identified within individual states and result in one size fits all approach typically focused on strengthening the state’s capacity for order. However strengthening the security sector may not always be an appropriate solution and may in fact strengthen an already predatory and corrupt system.
In addition to the previous critiques of the 'failed state' concept, Alex Maroya argues that the term 'failed' is limited in its approach. He suggests that "it is the model of statehood based on territorially sovereign, extensive central government that has failed much of the world, and the frontier areas of the former European empires in particular."  Rather than producing states that mirror the Western system, these states should develop their own model of statehood, which does not use coercion as a form of rule. The author in fact argues for more radically decentralised concepts of the state, instead of the rigid borders which have contributed to conflict and instability. The examples of the so-called "failed states' of Somalia and the south of Sudan illustrate for the author that decentralisation of the government could be a better option. Instead of merely labelling these states as 'failed' and almost 'doomed' to perpetual conflict, the literature should focus on alternatives such as multiple levels of governance and regional integration. In other words, "the international relations discourse needs to move away from blithe talk of 'state failure' and towards a critical understanding of the kinds of states that have developed in former frontier regions."
The concept has been criticised for being teleological, ahistorical and reflecting a Western bias of what constitutes a successful state. Inherent in the concept of the failed state is the assumed association with terrorism and other transnational threats. They are sometimes described as incubators for international terrorism.
According to Trial Attorney of U.S. Department of Justice Dan E. Stigall, "the international community is confronted with an increasing level of transnational crime in which criminal conduct in one country has an impact in another or even several others. Drug trafficking, human trafficking, computer crimes, terrorism, and a host of other crimes can involve actors operating outside the borders of a country which might have a significant interest in stemming the activity in question and prosecuting the perpetrator." 
A study of the Cligendael Center for Strategic Studies explains why states that are subject to failure serve as sanctuaries (used to plan, execute, support, and finance activities) for terrorist organisations. When the government does not know about the presence of the organisation or if it is not able to weaken or remove the organisation, the sanctuary is referred to as a “Terrorist Black Hole”. However, next to governmental weakness there need to be „Terrorist Comparative Advantages“ present for a region to be considered as a "Terrorist Black Hole". According to the study, social tensions, the legacy from civil conflict, geography, corruption and policy failure, as well as external factors contribute to governmental weakness. The comparative advantages are: religion and ethnicity, the legacy from civil conflict, geography, economic opportunities, economic underdevelopment and regional stimuli. Only the combinations of the two factors (governmental weakness & Terrorist Comparative Advantages) explain what regions terrorists use as sanctuaries.
Research by James Piazza of the Pennsylvania State University finds evidence that states suffering from state failure experience and produce more terrorist attacks. Contemporary transnational crimes "take advantage of globalization, trade liberalization and exploding new technologies to perpetrate diverse crimes and to move money, goods, services and people instantaneously for purposes of perpetrating violence for political ends." 
Moreover, "problems of weakened states and transnational crime create an unholy confluence that is uniquely challenging. When a criminal operates outside the territory of an offended state, the offended state might ordinarily appeal to the state from which the criminal is operating to take some sort of action, such as to prosecute the offender domestically or extradite the offender so that he or she may face punishment in the offended state. Nonetheless, in situations in which a government is unable (or unwilling) to cooperate in the arrest or prosecution of a criminal, the offended state has few options for recourse." 
The Failed States Index published its ninth annual report in 2013, prepared by the Fund for Peace and published by Foreign Policy Magazine. The Index categorizes states in four categories, with variations in each category. The Alert category is in dark red, Warning in orange, Stable in yellow and Sustainable is green.
The FSI total score is out of 120, and in 2013 there were 178 states making the ranking. There are three groupings: social, economic and political with overall twelve indicators.
Each indicator is out of 10, adding up to a total of 120. However, in order to add up to 120, the indicator scores are rounded up-or-down to the nearest one decimal place. In the 2013 Index, Somalia ranked number one for the 6th consecutive year, scoring a near 10/10 in almost all categories.
While it is important to note that the FSI is used in many researches and makes the categorization of states more pragmatic, it often receives much criticism due to several reasons. Firstly, it does not include the Human Development Index to reach the final score, but instead focuses on institutions to measure what are often also considered human aspects for development. Secondly, it parallels fragility or vulnerability of states with underdevelopment. This comparison firstly assumes that underdevelopment (economic) creates vulnerability, thus assuming that if a state is ‘developed’ it is stable or sustainable. Secondly, it measures the failure (or success) of a state without including the progress of other areas outside the sphere of the 12 indicators, thus excluding important measures of development such as the decline the of illiteracy, decrease in fetal mortality rates, increased access to clean water sources and medication, amongst others. Nonetheless, when discussing failed states it is important to mention the FSI not just for its use by governments, organisations, educators, and analysts, but also because it provides a measure of assessment that tries to address the issues that cause threats, both domestically and internationally.
For a critical approach, see: