Afghanistan’s ex-president, Ashraf Ghani, once wrote a book called “Fixing Failed States”. On August 15th he gave up trying to fix Afghanistan and fled to avoid capture by the Taliban, a jihadist group that seized power later that day. Afghanistan is often described as a failed state, perhaps the least-coveted accolade in geopolitics. However, it is not the only one. In recent months, pundits have applied the label to Myanmar, Lebanon and even Nigeria. But what does it mean? When does a state slide from fragility to outright collapse?
The term can be traced back to the 1990s. It was first used to describe Somalia, which crumbled into chaos after a coup toppled its dictator, Siad Barre, in 1991, and the country’s clans started fighting among themselves. When fighters threatened aid workers, the United States sent troops to protect them….