By Raymond C. Offenheiser
It may seem obvious: A government that cannot provide security for its citizens will soon find itself running a weak or failed state. But recognizing the problem doesn't make combating it much easier. From Chad to Colombia, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the absence of trustworthy security forces has inspired illicit armed groups to protect themselves and settle disputes through whatever means possible. The presence of such militias practically guarantees that a state will have difficulty expressing its authority and advancing development. Strengthening the police and military forces, however, is only half the battle; the easy flow of weapons exacerbates the proliferation of well-armed groups. Unscrupulous arms dealers are experts at exploiting the underregulated global arms trade, to deadly result. At least 95 percent of Africa's most commonly used conflict weapons, for example, come from outside the continent. So, until governments take real steps to curb arms flows, few troubled states are likely to emerge from weakness or failure.
Raymond C. Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America.
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