When Rufus Phillips III passed away in December 2021, America lost one of its most creative foreign policy thinkers. What made Phillips unique was his 60-year observation of state fragility, starting with his work alongside Edward Lansdale in the 1950s in the Philippines and Vietnam and continuing in El Salvador, Colombia, Iraq and Afghanistan. In all these conflicts, he insisted that there was no amount of force or funding that could supersede a lack of political will on the part of the supported state, and that U.S. efforts should start with helping to nurture that will, generally behind the scenes and at times by staying out of the way.
Phillips worked until his last days to argue for a new approach to failed and fragile states, believing strongly that the issue was crucial for a more stable and humane world order. His final book, “Stabilizing Fragile States: Why It Matters and What to Do About It,” was published posthumously in April.
The timing of the book’s publication coincided with the launch of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability — a U.S. government initiative meant to take the Global Fragility Act (GFA) to the next level. Phillips believed strongly in the GFA’s core premise that improving state stability is a vital national security interest of the United States, and his book offers a new approach to organizing and staffing to manage cases of state fragility and bring nations back to a place of societal and political vitality.
On May 10, USIP held a discussion of Phillips’ legacy, how insights from his final book can help inform the implementation of the GFA, and the future of U.S. efforts to address state fragility.
Take part in the conversation on Twitter with #PhillipsFragileStates.
Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Former U.S. National Security Advisor
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
David L. Pearson Distinguished Service Professor of Global Conflict Studies, University of Chicago
Keith Mines, moderator
Director, Latin America Program, U.S. Institute of Peace