Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?

22 Jul

Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?


To ask whether the United States, the world’s dominant military power, is ‘a failing state’ should cause worldwide anxiety. Such a state, analogous to a wounded animal, is a global menace of unprecedented proportions in the nuclear age. Its political leadership is exhibiting a reckless tendency of combining incompetence with extremism. It is also crucial to ascertain at what point a failing state should be written off as ‘a failed state’ for which there is no longer a clear path to redemption. The November elections in the United States will send a strong signal as to whether the United States is failing or has failed.


Even raising these issues suggests how far the United States has fallen during the Trump years, despite already being in sharp decline internationally ever since the Vietnam War, and continuing, despite a few redemptive moves (now renounced), during the Obama presidency. The responses of the Trump presidency to the two great crises of 2020 were helpful in solidifying the image of the world’s #1 state as truly failing, and not just sour grapes taking the form of an expression of partisan frustration with an appalling leadership. It was appalling because it was affirming the most regressive features of the American past while unconvincingly claiming credit for the stock market rise and low unemployment. The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter campaign against systemic racism gave Trump the opportunity to exhibit his lethally systemic incompetence as a crisis manager producing thousands of deaths among his own countrymen. He also seized the occasion to show the world his seemingly genuine racist solidarity with the Confederate spirit of the American South that tried to split the country and preserve its barbaric slave economy and supportive culture in the American Civil War 150 years ago, and has been a sore loser ever since.


With these clarifying developments, it no longer captures the full reality of this downward trend to be with content by calling attention to America’s ‘imperial decline.’ In the present setting, it seems more relevant to insist on describing America as ‘a failing state,’ and try to understand what that means for the country and the world. To make the contention more precise, it is instructive to realize that the United States is not only a failing state, but the first instance ever of a failing global state, which takes due account of its multi-dimensional hegemonic status as concretized by the planetary projection of its military might to air, land, and sea, to space and cyber space, as well as by its influence on the operation of the world economy and the character of popular culture whether expressed by music or cuisine.


There are several measures of a failing state that cast light on the American reality:

functional failures: inability to respond adequately to challenges threatening the security of the society and its population against threats posed by internal and external hostile political actors, as well as by ecological instabilities, by widespread extreme poverty and hunger, and by a deficient health and disaster response system;

normative failures: refusal to abide by systemic rules internationally as embedded in international law and the UN Charter, claiming impunity and acting on the basis of double standards to carry out its geopolitical encroachments on the wellbeing of others and its disregard of ecological dangers; patterns of normative failures include endorsements of policies and practices giving rise to genocide and ecocide, constituting the most basic violations of international criminal law and the sovereign rights of foreign countries; the wrongs are too numerous to delimit, including severe and systemic denials of human rights in domestic governance; economic and social structures that inevitably generate acute socio-economic inequalities on the basis of class, race, and gender.


Some additional considerations accentuate the failing state reality of the U.S. due to the extensive extraterritorial dimensions that accompany the process of becoming ‘a failing global state.’ This new type of transnational political creature should be categorized as the first historical example of a ‘geopolitical superpower.’ Such a political actor is neither separate from nor entirely subject to the state-centric system of world order that evolved from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and became universalized in the decades following World War II. Although lacking a true antecedent, the role of European ‘great powers’ or ‘colonial empires’ give clues as to the evaluation of the U.S. as a global state or geopolitical superpower;

effectiveness: the loss of effectiveness by a failing state is disclosed by its inability to maintain and exert control over challenges to its supremacy. Such an assessment if vindicated by failed military operations (regime-changing interventions) and the inability to learn from and overcome past mistakes, disclosures of vulnerability to homeland security (9/11 attacks) and overly costly and destructive responses (9/12 launching of ‘war on terror’; declining respect and trust by secondary political actors, including close allies, in the context of global policy forming arenas, including the United Nations; as a further reflection of this failing dynamic of lost control is the pattern of withdrawal from arenas that can no longer be controlled (Human Rights Council, WHO) and the rejection of agreements that appear beneficial to the world as a whole (Paris Climate Change Agreement and Iran Nuclear Program Agreement-JCPOA;

legitimacy: the legitimacy of a global state, which by its nature potentially compromises the political sovereignty and independence of all other states, reflects above all else, on its usefulness as a source of problem-solving authority, especially in war/peace and global economic recession settings; the degree of legitimacy also depends on perceptions by political elites and public opinion that the assertions of global leadership are in general beneficial for the system as a whole, and as particularly helpful to states that are vulnerable due to acute security and development challenges; in this regard, the U.S. enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy after the end of World War II, as a source of security, and even guidance, for many governments in most regions of the world throughout the Cold War, and was also appreciated as the architect of a rule-governed liberal economic order operating with the framework of the Bretton Woods institutions charged with avoiding recurrences of the Great Depression that undermined stability and economic wellbeing during the 1930s, developments that then contributed to the rise of fascism and the outbreak of a systemic war costing upwards of 50 million lives. The American leadership role was also prominent in achieving global public order in such settings as the management of the oceans, avoiding conflict in Antarctica and Outer Space, establishing international human rights standards, and promoting liberal internationalism as a way to enhance global cooperative approaches to shared problems.


As suggested, the United States as a failing state has been graphically revealed as such by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic: refusal to heed early warnings; unacceptable shortages of equipment for health personnel and insufficient hospital capacity; premature economic openings of restaurants, bars, stores; contradictory standards of guidance from health experts and from political leaders, including falsehoods and fake news embraced by the American president in the midst of the health emergency. Beyond this, Trump adopted an inappropriate nationalist and commodifying approach to the search for a vaccine capable of conferring immunity from the disease, while at the same time immobilizing the UN, and especially the WHO, as an indispensable venue for dealing with epidemics of global scope, including its role in dispensing vital assistance to the most disadvantaged countries. These failings have shockingly resulted in the United States recording more infected persons than any country in the world, as well as having the highest incidence of fatalities attributable to the disease.


In contrast, has been the responses of several far less developed and affluent countries that effectively contained the disease without incurring much loss of life or severe economic damage by way of lost jobs and diminished economic performance. Judged from the perspective of health such societies are success stories, and instructively, their ideological identity spans the political spectrum, including state socialist Vietnam to market-driven countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Such results parallel the finding of Deepak Nayyar who reports in his breakthrough book, The Asian Resurgence (2019), that the remarkable growth experience of the 14 Asian societies that he empirically assesses, supports the conclusion that ideological orientation is not an economistic indicator of success or failure. Such findings are relevant in refuting the triumphalist claims of the West that the Soviet collapse demonstrated the superiority of capitalism as compared to socialism. The crucial factor when it comes to economistic success is the skilled management of state/society relations whether in relation to investment of savings in prioritizing development projects or seeking to impose a lockdown to curtail the spread of a deadly infectious disease.


Yet, there is a normative side of response patterns as suggested above. China treats the desperate search for a workable vaccine as a sharable public good, while the United States under Trump maintains its standard transactional approach despite issues of affordability for many countries in the South, as well as the poor in the North. From a 21stcentury perspective, the ethos of being all in this together is the only foundation for grappling with the increasingly challenging dilemmas of world order. It is a sign of a failing state, whatever its capabilities and status, to use its leverage to gain national and geopolitical advantages. Along this line, as well, is the normative disgrace of refusing to suspend unilateral sanctions imposed on countries such as Iran and Venezuala, already stressed, for at least the duration of the pandemic in response to widespread humanitarian appeals from civil society actors and international institutions.


A final observation as to whether the U.S. vector points toward a failed or redemptive future. If Trump loses the election and gives up the White House to his opponent the prospects for reversing the failing trend improve, while if Trump is reelected in November or succeeds in cancelling the electoral outcome then the U.S, will have moved closer to being a failed state as the citizenry would have endorsed failure or the constitutional order shown to be enfeebled, insufficiently resilient to reject failure. Even if Trump is replaced and Trumpism subsides, the momentum behind predatory capitalism and global militarism will be difficult to curtail without a revolutionary push that rejects the bipartisan consensus on such matters and challenges the sufficiency of procedural democracy centered upon the role of political parties and elections. Only a progressive movement from below will shatter that consensus, ending laments about the U.S. being in transition from failing to failed. Whether the BLM leadership of a movement alternative is robust and comprehensive enough to end American freefall will become clearer in coming months.      

23 Responses to “Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?”

  1. Omar Alansari-Kreger July 22, 2020 at 1:13 pm #

    There is a great deal of overlap when comparing the general decline of the Roman & American Empires respectively. Seemingly in both cases, an instantaneous cataclysmic collapse was averted only to be supplanted by a slow & agonizing death. The collapse of Rome was drawn out over centuries only to be restored in romanticized incarnations as high Westphalian state symbols of Western civilization’s cultural primacy over all others. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, every ambitious barbarian nation sought to seize the former power & glory of Rome.

    As for America, decline is virtually synonymous with collapse. Plights of returning to better days are met with empty promises. It is here where politicians & their electorates have the most in common: the inability to appreciate the reality of a radically changing world. America’s decline has proven to be much more accelerated. It has materialized over a period of decades as opposed to centuries since the demise of world communism. That reality has only been supplanted by the same material devices of hard power forged out of designs of hegemonic control exploited to achieve geo-political primacy. America’s hand in the development of weapons of mass destruction is a testament to its imperial footprint which is directly attributable to episodes of foreign policy blowback articulated through intelligence failures. It is therefore unsurprising why America has conveniently exempted itself from membership in the International Criminal Court. The harbinger of neo-liberal democracy is always above the fray even when it is wrong!

    The rise of social justice movements across the United States, particularly the Green New Deal & Black Lives Matter, will in all likelihood serve as the nation’s existential watershed moment. This will prove quite comparable to events that materialized in the Soviet Union during the 1980s.

    Specifically, this is in direct reference to Gorbachev’s Glasnost & Perestroika reforms. In effect, the Soviet state reevaluated the governing mechanics of its socio-political underbelly ultimately determining its survivability going into the 21st century. When Soviet citizens were afforded freedom of press & assembly for the first time, the resulting dissidence led to its demise first & collapse second.

    Americans, irrespective of ideological persuasion, are blinded by a psychology of self-centered attitudinal entitlement where absolute individualism reigns supreme. The current wave of civil unrest & systemic failures in government have culminated into the formation of a new generational watershed moment.

    This could make or break the nation for better or worse. The only disparity is that no national movement of official reform has been sanctioned by the people accumulatively through their elected representatives. Perhaps this is asking too much in a nation where people aspire to be different from each other not because they understand what they stand for, but to simply be recognized for the sole purpose of superficial recognition.

    What will the American glasnost & perestroika movements look like? Are such movements remotely possible under Millennial leadership? Are they already here? Will a broader democratic GOP victory against Trumpism function as a symptomatic response to problems growing increasingly irreversible?

    Time will tell…

    • Richard Falk July 22, 2020 at 10:34 pm #

      Thanks for this very illuminating comment. I had also thought of the Soviet experience with glasnost & perestroika,
      recalling when in Moscow for a few days in the mid-1980s an intelligent Russian friend told me that ‘we have glasnost
      but no perestroika.’ I believe the U.S. is in similar circumstances, although the outcome of the play forces remains, as you
      suggest, uncertain. Of course, the Soviet collapse followed the failure to achieve structural reform, and I believe that will
      be necessary to avert future catastrophic developments. Of course, the technological surroundings of modernity magnify the
      costs and consequences of failure, collapse.

  2. Don E. Scheid July 23, 2020 at 7:34 am #

    Hi Richard,
    Two countries that should receive recognition for doing very well in the COVID-19 pandemic are Iceland and New Zealand.
    While the U.S. is failing, Trump is flailing, striking out at any and all to regain momentum for his presidential campaign. Witness the Gestapo tactics by federal agents in Portland (like Putin’s “little green men”?).
    If Trump wins the election, my wife and I will be moving to a country in Europe.
    –Regards, Don E Scheid

    • Richard Falk July 23, 2020 at 10:24 pm #


      Of course, you are right about Iceland & New Zealand, both governed by women as is Germany.

      Living by necessity during the pandemic in a Turkish village has already made me feel a partial
      expatriate for the first time in my life. And if Trump wins or stays, we may join you in Europe!

      Greetings from Yalikavak,


  3. ray032 July 23, 2020 at 9:17 am #

    Richard, once again you show yourself as a Potent Force for Positive Development, and recognizing the imperative for Global Co-operation and Unity in this EPOCH changing TIME.

    I agree with your insightful analysis of the realities of OUR GENERATIONS. It’s more accurate than the paid prognosticaters.
    It is so Inspirational to see you still have a powerful, clear sighted mind and a body that is still self-mobile. Both you and the Queen are good lookers in your advanced years. lol!

    This paragraph registered as a key to my mind, along with so many other pertinent thoughts you brought to order, “These failings have shockingly resulted in the United States recording more infected persons than any country in the world, as well as having the highest incidence of fatalities attributable to the disease.”

    It registered as evidence of the Biblical advisory we can see in action in THIS MATERIAL World, “What you sow, so shall you reap.”

    I do have a serious concern though as a Canadian living 40 miles from the US Border. What I saw at the beginning of the virus was Americans having a rush on toilet paper in tandem with Americans having the runs on guns in anticipation of the Day hovering on the Horizon when the excrement hits the fan.
    Americans have more guns in private hands than any other Society on Earth when that Day arrives.

    The US is this World’s biggest supplier of the weapons of Death and Destruction to a World where 750,000 Humans made in the Image and Likeness of God, die of STARVATION EVERY MONTH because of the Man Made Economic Pyramid System in which we are all cogs, with the richest at the top, and the increasing numbers of poor at the bottom level.

    It’s a sad joke The developed Christian Nations are so terrified of an invisible microbe that has killed only 500,000 people Globally since it started, and remain Blind and Oblivious to the 750,000 people dying of starvation every month we can see. That’s a manifestation of Divine Justice!

    It’s an indisputable fact of History, when the weight on the shoulders of the weakest at the bottom becomes so great they can’t support all above it, collapse is inevitable.
    We’re at the cusp.

    I saw it as due to tunnel vision, when the Religious and Secular Leaders in the World did not recognize the Red Flag Warning Sign to this Material World, when ISIS blew up the Islamic Mosque in Nineveh, Iraq, containing the Tomb of Jonah in the whale fame from the Jewish-Christian Old Testament some 3000 years ago, in 2014.

    Jonah was sent to that ‘World City Nineveh’ to warn them, if they did not change their ways, they are on the Path to Destruction. If Israel incites the US to attack Iran. this whole World will experience the consequences, including in the US and CanaDa.

    The Scribes and Pharisees demanded a Sign from Christ Jesus. He answered, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah:
    For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

    ISIS made that old Bible story CURRENT and this World still has not considered it.
    In another part of the Bible, the Apostle Peter emphasized the Believers understand ‘a 1000 years is the same as a Day and a Day is as 1000 years.

    By that TIME measurement we are at the 3rd Day.

    It is interesting to note you describe the US as having a case of sour grapes. Just before I read this, I posted this comment in ZeroHedge on this discussion, ‘”Death And Bomb Threats” Made Against China’s Embassy In Washington; Beijing Blames Trump.’

    It’s indicative of the BLIND hatred Trump is inciting in the US, the majority want to bomb and destroy China completely totally contrary to the notion American Power for the Good, is supposed to stop rogue States from taking that kind of action before it happens.

    “This has nothing to do with the Chinese surpassing the US Economically, and a threat to what was up to now, US control of the world.

    This has nothing to do with the Chinese surpassing the US Economically, and a threat to what was up to now, US control of the world.

    Since American Corporations moved to China to take advantage of much cheaper labour and less environmental Regulations, the Chinese, much smarter than Americans, learned Capitalism from those Americans 30 years ago, and doing it better, lifted some 800,000,000 of their Citizens out of poverty, while poverty and homelessness is increasing in Capitalist America.

    This is more like American sour grapes over China’s success.”

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    • Richard Falk July 23, 2020 at 10:19 pm #

      Ray: once again I thank you for encouraging words and perceptive comments rooted in biblical
      wisdom. We do need Jonah to appear as soon as possible. In a sense, Greta Thunberg comes close,
      although she made me think of Joan of Arc. On China: so long as China was content to be ‘the factory
      for the world’ it was profitable for the West, but when China began to mount a challenge to Western
      technological supremacy it crossed a geopolitical red line, and tensions started to increase, further
      accentuated by Trump’s diversionary effort to blame China for the virus and pandemic.

      Greetings, Richard

      • ray032 July 24, 2020 at 10:15 am #

        Another Biblical Irony-Mystery or CURRENT Sign to the World, is Daniel, considered by Christian Theologians to be the “END TIMES Prophet,” is buried in an Islamic Mosque in IRAN.

        Daniel is reputed to be a dissolver of doubts, and God knows this World needs more People like that.

  4. Beau Oolayforos July 23, 2020 at 8:41 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    It seems we need to begin by once again acknowledging the obvious: “We’re all in this together” is antithetical to Trumpies. A world where everyone prospers together is beyond their diseased imaginations – No, for them, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, where your gain is my loss, and vice-versa.

    So I’ll vote for Biden, though I’m no fan. When he was a Senator, I was disappointed to see him such a cheerleader for the KLA. Wouldn’t be surprised if he supported Camp Bondsteel. He thereby shows the same distressing enthusiasm for picking sides in other people’s civil wars. But maybe he can be worked with:

    How about, as a target, we try to eventually devote the same percentage of GDP to our military as the Swiss spend? No one dares to attack them. You have probably spent time there, and perhaps have seen the calm efficiency of their military preparations; and could not have missed the benefits of centuries of benevolent neutrality to their citizenry. It is what I wish for our own country, as she (hopefully) enters her Golden Years.

    • Richard Falk July 23, 2020 at 10:12 pm #

      I share your sense of Biden, but maybe he can be pushed from below. He exemplifies
      what’s wrong with the ‘bipartisan consensus’ as a permanent posture of government formed
      during the Cold War, but entrenched in the links between the deep state and private sector.

      Also, the Swiss model is a brilliant idea. I have been to the country often, particularly Geneva,
      but never before considered it to be a model for the U.S.. It does have some skeletons, including
      the darks sides of secret banking.

    • ray032 July 24, 2020 at 7:40 am #

      I have watched US Presidential Elections since Eisenhower, and the 2016 election was the 1st one where I saw the choice being offered the American People was between BAD or WORSE.
      Sadly, I see the same choice is being offered in 2020.

      • Richard Falk July 24, 2020 at 8:45 am #


        I forgot to thank you for comparing me to the Queen. I am flattered but
        I doubt that she is!

  5. Per/Norway July 25, 2020 at 11:54 am #

    i do not think we can blame The Orange One for the corona handling, and to do so is to defend/parrot the DNC crime cartel. The prez is not in charge of the counties and states that have tried their best to tank their economies to spite tRump. To promote the oligarchs narratives makes you/us “usefull idiots”, “gatekeepers” or worse, you wrote a lot of non mainstream info that falls in the shadow of a literal dumb oligarch narrative like the one i comment on right now.
    But i will still check out your blog since i found it, i only hope you dont use such oligarch narrative(s) often.

    • Richard Falk July 25, 2020 at 9:52 pm #

      I get your point, but there are two narratives, not one. One if saving the world
      from a sociopathic narcissist in control of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. The
      other is what you call ‘the DNC crime cartel’ that serves the interests of predatory
      capitalism, global militarism, and deep state bureaucracies.

  6. Kata Fisher July 29, 2020 at 1:12 am #

    Dear Professor Falk, I am thankful for my neighbors who make ours – and if you would live here – yours sourdough bread. After 10:30 am to 12:10 am shift at business – 6 + 1/2 days a week … gI come home, and I really enjoy it. I treat my self inhumanly just because I am qualified to do manage. Most of us understand that our in-human-flesh arch enemy is a Moran with personal drama and drug problem! Yes, the whole state and ideas of it – world wide has failed. No wonder – we had grave abuses of Church Order and state sponsored GENOCIDE. Now we have a mass extinctions to all. I hope that all old fashion immunization shots & boosters – keep you and yours all well and alive. You and we will not even need new ones to stay alive. Don’ts stop doing what you do – at least one generation will appreciate. This is just a opinion – and NOT a medical advice because I am not qualified to give one.

    • Richard Falk July 29, 2020 at 4:59 am #

      Dear Kata:

      Hoping you are managing to be safe and satisfied all at once!

      Sourdough bread is among my favorite weaknesses,


      • Kata Fisher August 4, 2020 at 12:57 am #

        Dear Professor Falk,

        American Republic and her love of prudent choices – has never treated me wrong.

        I am certainly more satisfied and safer then the wizard upon learning that both Church and God had cursed him, and his daughter and her child, and child of the child.

        I know, it’s just not fear to be cursed like that. I do not know what’s fair, at all. But God has tough me what is just and what He does.

        Not everyone agrees that our brains are universe in our ears. It can wring.

        Not everyone can hear and acknowledge God.

        He has pushed me out of my comfy zones more than once – only not to find my Hallelujah’ s.

        But one thing he can’t do is make me my country’s Navy pilot chasing out of the space aliens. Navy pilots of motherland totally miss me for the job. Lol. I really should just get a safe and satisfying job.

        God totally has do and don’ts because he has always allowed the Church to keep both its reason and conscience. It’s already after 2000 A.D. and it’s very late.

        He has not left for good, and not without any witness to Himself.

        Solomon was accursed individual, and he was not the Kingdom after King David’s line. It is true that Solomon was very, very wise. he had wisdom that he lost.

        There is time in human history that God had stripped everything off.

        There is difference between perceived danger and real, actual danger.

        When the times end does Church really, really believe there will be on planet earth more than 2 actual humans?

        All things are totally debatable. Some things are just between Church and God. It’s like saying of contemporary Pope Francis to the Church to seek Pardon of St Francis of Assisi – its go on and make me die from laughing.

        I cant listen to heretics ands their nonsense.

        He does not understand his perceptions – the heretic should go ask pardon for himself.

        I am sure that he SHOULD NOT swear by Holy altar of God and all things on it.


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