The Failed States Index
July 29, 2005 1:26 PM   Subscribe

About 2 billion people live in countries that are in danger of collapse. In the first annual Failed States Index, Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace rank the countries about to go over the brink.
The Failed States Index Map and the Failed State Index.
posted by y2karl (23 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I love how the map doesn't even show the US, not that the US is failing (at least not in quite this way, there are some troubling economic indicators), but to not even show N. America seems kind of strange, an occlusion that clearly telegraphs the purpose of this map. I was sorry that the accompanying article didn't have any historical context. Given the set of conditions analysed here, how many states have been in this condition since WW2, during the '30s, in the 19th century. The stakes may be different now, I don't know, but it would be interesting to have that kind of information.
posted by OmieWise at 1:40 PM on July 29, 2005

It doesn't show Antarctica either. Or anything East of Russia. Maybe they wanted to give more room to the actual failed states?
posted by Artw at 1:55 PM on July 29, 2005

I'm surprised Columbia was so high. It has an intact democracy, at least.

OmieWise writes "an occlusion that clearly telegraphs the purpose of this map"

That purpose being to show states in danger of failing, none of which are in North America? New Zealand isn't on there either; what purpose does this occlusion telegraph?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:59 PM on July 29, 2005

I'm truly surprised that Turkmenistan isn't on here.
posted by the_bone at 2:05 PM on July 29, 2005

Another surprise: no Sri Lanka. Given their methodology (focusing on states with a history of internal conflict and/or repression), this kind of baffles me. That war is far from settled....
posted by mr_roboto at 2:07 PM on July 29, 2005

I don't have much to add except I hope someone starts a band called Occlusion Telegraph.

Oh yeah, thanks y2karl. This is both illuminating and sobering.
posted by fenriq at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2005

Fascinating resource! As for the issue of Sri Lanka; the country has a decent economic and political system, the fact that it has been at war for more then a decade hasn't brought it near collapse in the same way Northern Ireland has also been chugging along. The lack of Turkmenistan is a bit baffling, although it seems to moving on fine with oil money and its dictatorship.
posted by Vaska at 2:41 PM on July 29, 2005

Very nice, y2Karl. Much appreciated. Most of the countries I want to visit appear to be failing. Perhaps I should adjust my timetable(s).
posted by shoepal at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2005

It's a cute graphic, but it's all based on previous UN data and research, as far as I know -- all FP and this company did was to attach some numbers to things and draw a prettier map.

This map (PDF) is more interesting in some ways, but it's very slightly out of date.

In any case, it's good that "Failed State" has become such a buzzword -- I just wonder if that will be translated into real action at some point. Or maybe the environment should take priority. I dunno.
posted by blacklite at 3:06 PM on July 29, 2005

I'm with OmieWise, though maybe a bit more cynical.

This is more Foreign Policy claptrap. Conventional wisdom and old-fashioned prejudice and ignorance clothed in legitimacy by statistics and "methodology."

The lack of context is precisely the point. The impression you leave with is that these "failed states" exist in some vaccuum, as if they've failed on their own because of some innate flaw. God forbid U.S. & multilateral organization policies and European imperialism had anything to do with it.

Context is everything, particularly understanding.
posted by enakaja at 3:13 PM on July 29, 2005

Yeah but the point wasn't context-- FP provides context every month, and quite a bit of it. The point was just to give some information on where failed states are and what they are.

And the US was on there, both of its current sattelite states Iraq and Afghanistan made the top 10.
posted by chaz at 3:32 PM on July 29, 2005

They don't give a very clear definition of "failed states."

How do you know a failed state when you see one? Of course, a government that has lost control of its territory or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force has earned the label. But there can be more subtle attributes of failure. Some regimes, for example, lack the authority to make collective decisions or the capacity to deliver public services. In other countries, the populace may rely entirely on the black market, fail to pay taxes, or engage in large-scale civil disobedience. Outside intervention can be both a symptom of and a trigger for state collapse. A failed state may be subject to involuntary restrictions of its sovereignty, such as political or economic sanctions, the presence of foreign military forces on its soil, or other military constraints, such as a no-fly zone.

Wasn't the U.S. born of a "failed" state?

Was Iraq a "failed" state before the U.S. toppled it?

I think there's a danger in seeing any population that we can't control, either directly or subversively, as a "failed" state. And if we're controlling it, isn't that a sign of its failure as a state?
posted by MonkeyC at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2005

bolivia isn't on there? was an active civil society one of the measures?
posted by eustatic at 4:23 PM on July 29, 2005

Heh, I had to re-check after it was mentioned above..
No small text of content from the links.
Had to make sure Y2Karl really posted this.

Pretty informative. How many of these countries are slated for democratic re-organization in the "Struggle Against Terror"? Just the easy pickings?
posted by Balisong at 4:26 PM on July 29, 2005

it seems strange that bolivia isn't on there, when it's one of the poorest / most indebted countries, and supposedly receiving some forms of aid from venezuela and cuba, which are failing states?

and paraguay, more unstable than bolivia? is that because the us is moving military advisors there?

the second map is much more informative and makes much more sense, there's kashmir and chiapas and bouganville...
posted by eustatic at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2005

i wish the reservations in the US could be displayed as 'self-governing,' after all, sovereignity means that the first nations are sovereign. the second map is also senstitive to the small border conflicts between mexico and the us.
posted by eustatic at 4:56 PM on July 29, 2005

They don't give a very clear definition of "failed states."

Sure they do:
> Q: How does the Fund for Peace define “state failure”?

A: A state is failing when its government is losing physical control of its territory or lacks a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other symptoms ... include the erosion of authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the loss of the capacity to interact ... with the international community. As suggested by the list of 12 indicators, extensive corruption and criminal behavior, inability to collect taxes or otherwise draw on citizen support, large-scale involuntary dislocation of the population, sharp economic decline, group-based inequality, and institutionalized persecution or discrimination are other hallmarks of state failure. States can fail at varying rates of decline through explosion, implosion, or erosion.

In regard to certain omissions, the site says Over the course of the next several months, the FFP will conduct rankings of all 191 U.N. member countries to complete the index. This study is very much the product of the Fund for Peace, not "Foreign Policy claptrap" (whatever that is); you can read about the fund's founders and judge for yourself where they're coming from. Whether the CAST methodology they developed is accurate or based on incorrect assumptions seems to be independent of the question of motive, here, and I believe the FFP is sincere.

Was Iraq a "failed" state before the U.S. toppled it?

As it happens, the front page of the Fund for Peace links to an updated article titled Iraq as a Failed State.

The initial report, covering the first six months of the post-war period ... concluded that the U.S.-led invasion precipitated the collapse of the Iraqi state, which had been deteriorating for years. The second report concluded that Iraq descended into ... failed state syndrome, a condition in which a number of trends reinforced each other to produce spiraling conflict that the country has little or no independent capacity to stop.

The current report [last year] ... concludes that this forecast has been fulfilled even more quickly than anticipated as violence grows significantly worse throughout the country. By the end of the period, all indicators were in "high alert" and the country was closer to civil conflict, like Lebanon in the 1980s, than ever before. The high conflict risk does not merely reflect the increased violence, but rather deeper trends that show the impact of that violence on society as a whole.

Wasn't the U.S. born of a "failed" state?

What, trolling? Neither the British Empire nor the early United States fits the model, although the Articles of Confederation period brought us perilously close to a dissolution of the federal state. Civil authority was always exercised locally and in large part continuity with Imperial institutions was complete; it was the colonial governments that entered into the Declaration of Independence, not a guerrilla rebellion.

I think there's a danger in seeing any population that we can't control, either directly or subversively, as a "failed" state. And if we're controlling it, isn't that a sign of its failure as a state?

Ah, the disease model of international polity. ;-) That's a cynical view, of course, but at a certain level you have to allow for interdependent institutions to develop a consensus. For instance, one could always say that piracy is good for the pirates. A cynical reading of US history (hey, see that Adbusters post!) would say that the US has, from the beginning, intervened militarily against the ravages of failed states, largely expressed as piracy, for which a modern word is "nationalization". ;-) But it's pretty clear that a place like North Korea is not only outside the boundaries of acceptable state behavior, but -- whatever else you can say about its internal politics -- it's failing to provide enough food for its own people. That's a crime which has international consequences, especially if they have nuclear weapons.
posted by dhartung at 9:02 PM on July 29, 2005

Ya know, if "the oil" were to dry up tomorrow, many of those failing states would be relatively fine while the US and Europe would most certainly fall into chaos.
posted by shoepal at 9:09 PM on July 29, 2005

How is Bhutan a failed state? Aren't they supposed to be, like, utopia or something?

Here is a readable version of the Index from the Fund For Peace.

According to the criteria of

The Twelve Indicators:

1 - Mounting Demographic Pressures
2 - Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs
3 - Legacy of Vengeance - Seeking Group Grievance
4 - Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
5 - Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
6 - Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline
7 - Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State
8 - Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
9 - Widespread Violation of Human Rights
10 - Security Apparatus as "State within a State"
11 - Rise of Factionalized Elites
12 - Intervention of Other States or External Actors

Bhutan scores thus:


ranking it high enough in the categories of Rise of Factionalized Elites, Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State, Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline, Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines, Chronic and Sustained Human Flight, Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs and Mounting Demographic Pressures to rank it #26 out of 60 and putting it in the amber In Danger category.

And then it is the only country to ban all public smoking.
posted by y2karl at 9:11 PM on July 29, 2005 should pick this up.
posted by stbalbach at 10:22 PM on July 29, 2005

Artw writes "It doesn't show Antarctica either."

Brilliant reposte. The next time Antarctica qualifies as a state I promise I'll give you a call.
posted by OmieWise at 10:46 PM on July 29, 2005

Like eustatic, I'm also surprised that Bolivia isn't there. Surely, of all Latin America, it is currently the country most at danger?
posted by Skeptic at 1:22 AM on July 30, 2005

And then it is the only country to ban all public smoking.

rather paternalistic if you ask me. i won't be visiting bhutan anytime soon.
posted by brandz at 8:00 PM on July 30, 2005

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