What is a “failed state”? I never liked the label, since it is usually used to ostracize poor defenseless countries and provide excuses to invade them. But a recent Fund for Peace/Foreign Policy study suggests that some people are beginning to apply the label a bit more universally.
According to the study,
a failing state is one in which the government does not have effective control of its territory, is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population, does not provide domestic security or basic public services to its citizens, and lacks a monopoly on the use of force. 
In the 2006 ranking, some might be surprised to find, the US was actually ranked 18th from the bottom (“bottom” meaning least-failing state, in this case Norway). That is, the country that supposedly “promotes democracy” in “failed states” was considered to be in worse shape than Chile, Singapore, or Ireland. According to the study, a lot of this had to do with the US government response to Hurricane Katrina.
…Hurricane Katrina exposed gaping holes in the countryâ€™s disaster preparedness. Viewers around the world watched in astonishment last August and September as the worldâ€™s superpower left thousands of its citizens stranded for days.
But Katrina can’t be the whole story, since the report also cited “Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines,” i.e., the huge wealth gap, “Mounting Demographic Pressures,” perhaps due to the influx of labor from across the border, and “widespread” human rights violations.
The study of course doesn’t go far enough, failing to comment on the fact that the United States, in addition to failing its own people, has been spreading state failure around the world, or at least contributing decisively to it. In the top ten failing states are Iraq (4th), Haiti (8th), Pakistan (9th), and Afghanistan (10th). Two of these countries were invaded and occupied by US forces after 9/11 and endured a US-sponsored “regime change,” one is an ongoing victim of US “democracy promotion,” and the other is a longtime US ally against “terrorism.”
Many of us recall that the “failed state” label was often invoked when US policymakers needed a justification for intervention in the 1990s and after 9/11. I noticed it a lot around the invasion of Afghanistan. While the current situation in Afghanistan is not completely a product of post-9/11 US policy, many of the armed warlords and drug lords – who control much of the land and fill the parliament, making it difficult for the pseudo-democratic government to have any control – are a product of CIA programs of the 1980s and early 1990s. These same programs contributed to the rise of fundamentalism in bordering Pakistan, the CIA’s primary ally in building the Afghan resistance. Some of today’s major “state failures,” if they can be called that, are Washington’s.