This week, the Fund for Peace released its annual Failed States Index. A useful resource, this index identifies those countries they believe to be failed states as well as those fragile states on a perilous path towards failure.
Enough’s countries of focus sit literally at the top of the Index. (No huge surprise there, given the nature of our work…) Somalia had the highest score, with Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo following closely behind. This unfortunate reality highlights the necessity of international attention to these crises, many of which routinely get lost on the world stage.
The index uses a complex and comprehensive process to arrive at their figures. The authors identified twelve indicators divided into three baskets – political, economic, and social – they believe demonstrate state failure. Indicators include: steep economic decline, external intervention, and human rights abuses. Each of these indicators is assigned a score based on software that searches myriad news databases and makes sure to identify any nuances that might color countries’ status quo. The authors rightly note that state failure is a critical risk factor for violence. Therefore, identification of failed and failing states could lead to effective engagement that strengthens the rule of law and prevents violence.
The index and its accompanying analysis is not explicitly prescriptive, but purports to create debate and put forth the idea that state failure is a useful lens through which the international community can identify countries with which to engage. Importantly, however, the authors acknowledge the difficulty inherent in such decisions and are aware that they are wading into murky and complicated territory. The Fund for Peace is therefore open to the opinions of other experts, many of whom offer alternative visions of the best approach to country identification. Addendums to this year’s index take pains to highlight the tensions and confounding factors inside the Index’s results. Functioning regions in those states deemed “failed” are highlighted, and authorities from those countries at the top of the list are given a chance to plead their case. An essay by Harvard professor Robert Rotberg voices some of the primary points of contention noted by critiques of the Fund’s approach. In particular, Rotberg asks that the international community unpack the term “failed state” noting,
Rather than lumping countries together qualitatively, the title of failed state should surgically distinguish countries at risk. The term should tell us that the country in question demonstrates certain characteristics, rather than merely evoking an amorphous sense of dysfunction.
The value in the Index is emphasized by the fact that, despite the criticisms, Rotberg and others are quick to note the need for such products. Much more work must be done to effectively triage and categorize states currently in crisis and at risk of failure, but the Failed States Index continues to highlight those most acute crises that continue to burn without effective intervention from key players who could very well make a difference.
Photo: Makeshift village in Somalia