Somalia gained new notoriety this week, as revelations about recent U.S. drone strikes there surfaced and the Eastern African nation was ranked first on a list of the most failed states in the world.
The Fund for Peace launched its 2011 Failed State Index at an event earlier this week, listing Somalia as No. 1 for the fourth year in a row, due to a combination of "widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, abysmal development and piracy."
Somalia was also named an area of focus of the White House's new counter terrorism strategy, also released earlier this week. Somalia is home to Al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group that pledged its support to al-Qaeda in 2010. A Center for Strategic and International Studies report released in February called the group better positioned than any other al-Qaeda affiliate to actively cultivate homegrown extremism.
"Influenced by its al-Qaeda elements, al-Shabaab has used terrorist tactics in its insurgency in Somalia, and could -- motivated to advance its insurgency or to further its al-Qaeda agenda or both -- strike outside Somalia in East Africa, as it did in Uganda, as well as outside the region," according to the White House's National Strategy for Counterterrorism report published on June 28.
At the Failed States Index launch event earlier this week in Washington, D.C., Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, in advance of an expected decrease in U.S. foreign aid spending, warned American policymakers not to turn their backs on Somalia and such troubled nations.
"We're going to be spending less money, because we've got less money and we're going to have to figure out a way to handle this debt," Mullen said. "We've got to turn that around, but that doesn't mean shut it off.... History is replete with examples of when we've isolated ourselves, and I think it just generates another big war, which is what we don't need."
Mullen acknowledged the nation's war weariness to spend overseas when there were things to fix at home, but appealed to other nations, as well as private and non-profit groups with knowledge and experience in failing states, to partner with the U.S. government before crisis erupted.
Mullen stressed there were no military solutions to fixing these failing states.
"The security piece is a necessary condition but it is insufficient in and of itself. It's taking us a long time to figure that out," Mullen said. "Right now, our emphasis is far too much on the [military] kinetic side."
Yemen More Worrisome Than Afghanistan or Iraq
Mullen also warned the audience about Yemen, which appears on the index as 13th in failed states and is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; that country is another focus of the White House's new counterterrorism strategy.
"The al-Qaeda federated group that in Yemen is an incredibly dangerous group that has taken full advantage of the chaos that has been in that county, and needless to say, has intensified as we sit here today," Mullen said.
"For several years, I have worried a great deal about Yemen, really as a potential next place for al-Qaeda central. And it is becoming that fairly rapidly," he said.
Mullen said he was less worried about Afghanistan (No. 7) and Iraq (No. 9).
"Obviously these are countries that have been through enormous crisis," he said. "I'm actually fairly confident over time, that Iraq will pull itself out of its place on this index. I think Afghanistan certainly inherently does not have the resources immediately available. There is a rich abundance of resources, it's going to take time to get at that. That offers possibilities down the road."
The Failed States Index's communications director, J.J. Messner, said that while the index should not be used to predict crisis, it could serve as an early warning system for policymakers to address alarming trends, such as the rising social, economic, political and military pressures on states.
"These challenges will come at us at a speed quite frankly that is accelerating," Mullen warned. "We cannot control outcomes anymore."