A failed state is a
Common characteristics of a failing state include a central government so weak or ineffective that it has an inability to raise taxes or other support, and has little practical control over much of its territory and hence there is a non-provision of public services. When this happens, widespread corruption and criminality, the intervention of
The level of government control required to avoid being considered a failed state varies considerably amongst authorities.
 Furthermore, the declaration that a state has "failed" is generally controversial and, when made authoritatively, may carry significant
According to the political theories of
Typically, the term means that the state has been rendered ineffective and is not able to enforce its laws uniformly or provide basic goods and services to its citizens because of (variously) high crime rates,
There is no real consensus on the definition of a "failed state"; the subjective nature of indicators that are used to measure state failure have led to an ambiguous understanding of the term.
 Some scholars focus on the capacity and effectiveness of the government to determine if a state is failed or not.
 Other indices such as the Fund for Peace’s
As part of the debate about the state failure definition, Charles T. Call (2010) attempts to abandon the concept of state failure altogether; as, he argues, it promotes an unclear understanding of what state failure means.  Indeed, one of the main contributions to the theorization of the "failed-state" is the "gap framework" developed by Call (2010). This framework builds on his previous (2008) criticisms of ‘state failure’, as a concept used as a catch-all term for diverse states with varying problems and as a base and explanation for universal policy prescriptions.  It unpacks the concept of "state failure" focusing on three gaps that the state is not able to provide when it is in the process of failure: capacity, when state institutions lack the ability to effectively deliver basic goods and services to its population; security, when the state is unable to provide security to its population under the threat of armed groups; and legitimacy, when a "significant portion of its political elites and society reject the rules regulating power and the accumulation and distribution of wealth."  The "gap framework" seems to be more useful than other definitions. Instead of attempting to quantify the degree of failure of a state, the gap framework provides a three-dimensional scope useful to analyse the interplay between the government and the society in states in a more analytical way. Call does not necessarily suggest that states that suffer from the challenges of the three gaps should be identified as failed states; but instead, presents the gap idea as an alternative to the state failure concept as a whole.  Although Call recognizes that the gap concept in itself has limits, since often states face two or more of the gap challenges, his conceptual proposition presents a useful way for more precisely identifying the challenges within a society and the policy prescriptions that are more likely to be effective for external and international actors to implement.
A relevant contribution to the field of failed states and its attributes was made by J. Goldstone in his paper "Pathways to State Failure". What differs him from other definitions is the fact that to him, a state is failed if it lost both its effectiveness and legitimacy. Effectiveness means the capability to carry out state functions such as providing security or levying taxes. Legitimacy means the support of important groups of the population, it is dissociated from democracy as a government/leader can be legitimate in the eyes of his people without being elected. Goldstone coupled pathways to state failure to his conception of a lack of both effectiveness and legitimacy. A state that retains one of the two aspects is not failed as such; however it is in great danger of failing soon if nothing is being done. Five possible pathways to state failure are:
1. Escalation of communal group (ethnic or religious) conflicts. Examples: Syria, Somalia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Liberia, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan
2. State predation (corrupt or crony corralling of resources at the expense of other groups). Examples: Russia, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil, Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, South Africa, North Korea, Saudi Arabia
3. Regional or guerrilla rebellion. Examples: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Turkey, Congo, Colombia, Vietnam
4. Democratic collapse (leading to civil war or coup d’etat). Examples: Nigeria, Madagascar, Nepal
5. Succession or reform crisis in authoritarian states. Examples: Indonesia under Suharto, Iran under the Shah, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev
Although Goldstone identifies pathways to state failure he is quick to warn about simplifying the issue. Often (re)-building either legitimacy or effectiveness implies a trade off with the other aspect of the state. Since these states are missing one of the two pillars to stability, it is dangerous to initiate such a trade off as it takes time to rebuild trust from the population. Although state failure has been studied for decades by numerous scholars, it remains a contested concept vulnerable to political, ideological and economical agendas.