by: Pham Thuy Tien
It was good to start the first session of the first day of the first Willy Brandt Summer School with a brainstorming activity combined with an introduction of each participant. The topic was about labeling countries in different levels of fragility in which the participants’ countries of origin should be included. Thanks to the variety of us, and thanks to our wide knowledge about international contexts, we could figure out groups of countries ranked from the “least fragile” (labeled in green) to the “most fragile” (red) ones, without a specific given definition about fragility. The “fragile countries”, of course, were in between and were categorized in yellow cards.
It could be drawn out that countries in green were mostly from the West like European countries and the US, Japan was also counted in. They were generally viewed as stable societies owning effective institutions and high level of democracy, where people could find their “happiness”. Actually, from the very personal perspective, I assume that happiness is an interesting indicator to identify the fragility of a country/society. As long as citizens are happy and pleased with their government or its governance, the country may rarely be hurt by internal pressures, especially those coming from the mass public. But it is certainly not all to assess a country’s fragility (or the country’s governance). Meanwhile, countries in conflicts and underdevelopment such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and so on were named in red which could be easily understood. They have been suffering from clashes, poverty, instability and nobody knows what will happen to them tomorrow. For countries in between which were fragile, it was a wide range of suggestions but in general, they were developing countries or those which had just overcome conflicts and were on their way to develop the countries, to enhance their legitimate institutions and to build up a good governance. It was, however, hard to define criteria to categorize fragility of countries. For example, some put Mexico in green and some placed it in yellow. In addition, Greece is quite weak in terms of its state but this is not the case with the Greek society (Prof. Hoffmann’s idea). So should it be assessed as a fragile country or highly fragile country? It pretty much depends on the perception/definition of each individual.
As such, although not giving out a precise definition of fragility, people seem to have all had the concept of it, as well as its performance and affected factors. Then thanks to the new insights provided by Prof. Richter, I was pleased to learn that there had been no set common definition of fragility, but three main aspects within this concept should be noted, which were (i) gaps in authority; (ii) gaps in legitimacy; and (iii) gaps in capacity. Besides, it was also good to know that fragility can actually spread out to neighboring countries and create a “fragile context”. In this sense, establishing good governance and democracy (which are closely interlinked) to reduce fragility is not only the priority of conflict/post-conflict countries but also necessary for surrounding countries in order to build up a “secured” environment for themselves. One related question was “Is there any chance for good governance without democratic reforms?”, which closed the session but did open a door for further studies with following classes, I believe.