Spring 2024 - IS 806 G100

State Failure and Reconstruction: Comparative Perspectives (4)

Class Number: 5170

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Fri, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.



Examines the causes of state fragility and collapse, and assesses the challenges of reconstruction. Focusing on cases from different regions, we will explore the security dimensions of state fragility, the role of humanitarian intervention, the challenge of building democratic institutions in divided societies, and the relationship between state building and peace building.


This graduate seminar focuses on the topics of state formation, state decay, and reconstruction in the wake of state ‘failure’ or collapse. We will pay particular attention to debates over international intervention in fragile or ‘failing’ states.

The term “state failure” has become common currency in the media and policy world in recent decades. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the notion became commonplace that some states are unable to effectively control their territory, leading to security threats for other countries and to humanitarian crises. In 2002, the United States declared failed states to be a greater threat than its large, geopolitical competitors; a year later, the European Union published a similar policy.

The corollary to these theories became “state-building” or “state reconstruction,” endeavors that received practical application after the civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and then with far greater resources in Afghanistan and Iraq. Version of these approaches then also became apparent in the concept of “state fragility,” propagated in particular by the World Bank, and in the “stabilization” missions that the United Nations has embarked upon.

Over the course of the semester, we will explore the following questions:

• What are the defining characteristics of the state; and, what are its key functions?
• What is state ‘failure’; and, how is it different from state ‘weakness’?
• Why do states ‘fail’? And, what are the consequences of such failure, both domestically (for the people who live in failed states) and internationally?
• Do failed states pose a threat to international security? If so, how?
• How should the international community respond to the political challenges and humanitarian crises caused by failed or failing states? What policies or practices might help to prevent state failure?
• Can external actors be effective in promoting reconstruction?

The course will be taught synchronously.


In completing this course, students will develop an ability to:

• Describe and analyze the processes and conditions of state formation
• Analyze the causes of state break down and collapse
• Analyze the role of international organizations in post-conflict reconstruction
• Understand and analyze the challenges of building democratic institutions in post-conflict settings


  • Participation 20%
  • Reading Responses 20%
  • Group Presentation 30%
  • Essay 30%


Students will be required to submit their written assignments to Turnitin.com in order to receive credit for the assignments and for the course.

The School for International Studies strictly enforces the University's policies regarding plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. Information about these policies can be found at: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching.html.



Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the globalization of democracy, Francis Fukuyama


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html