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Fragile States Becoming More Fragile

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Jun 21 2010 (IPS) - Some of the world’s weakest states are becoming ever more fragile, according to the 2010 edition of the annual “Failed States Index” (FSI) released here Monday by Foreign Policy magazine and the independent Fund for Peace (FFP).

The new index, which covers events and data accumulated in 2009, found that 15 countries – eight more than in 2005 – score more than 100 points out of a possible 120 points that would indicate total state collapse.

Ten of those countries – including seven of the top 10 – are in sub-Saharan Africa. The four others include Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Haiti, and Yemen in that order.

“The cluster of countries that are pushing at the top are getting more numerous, and those that are at the top, although they may be hovering around the same rank, are becoming more precarious,” said Fund president Pauline Baker, who has overseen the FSI since it was first launched five years ago.

“Collectively, the phenomenon of fragile states seems to be intensifying,” she added, noting that the appearance year after year of most of the same states in the index’s top 15 demonstrates that state failure “tends to be chronic and self-perpetuating”.

In the latest index, which covers events and data accumulated in 2009, Somalia was named the world’s weakest state for the third year in a row, followed by its neighbour, Chad, and Sudan, which may well break into two parts if a referendum scheduled for early next year in the southern part of the country is implemented.

Zimbabwe, which ranked second in last year’s survey but which formed a coalition government in February 2009, took the fourth position, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The other African states in the top 15 included Central African Republic (8) and Guinea (9), Cote D’Ivoire (12), Kenya (13), and the continent’s most populous country by far, Nigeria (14).

However, three governments in whose stability the United States has invested heavily over most of the past decade were also included among the top 10 candidates for state failure.

Afghanistan and Iraq, where Washington has deployed tens of thousands of troops and spent hundreds of billions of dollars in military and economic aid to bolster their governments over recent years, claimed the sixth and seventh positions, respectively – a reversal of their standings in the 2009 FSI.

And Pakistan, where the U.S. has spent more than 11 billion dollars – mostly on the country’s military – over the past decade ranked 10.

Since the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the problem of failed states has risen to the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda, in large part because transnational terrorist or criminal groups can thrive where governments cannot control their territory or borders or deliver basic services.

“Dealing with such fractured or failing states is, in many ways, the main security challenge of our time,” Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned in an article published last month in the influential Foreign Affairs journal.

While the administration of President George W. Bush dealt with the challenge primarily through military means, President Barack Obama has stressed more, at least rhetorically, the importance of social and economic development.

The index, which is used by, among others, private companies and banks and international financial institutions to assess political risk and make investment decisions, and by the tourism industry to rate safety, is based on some 200 variables that are grouped into 12 social, economic and political indicators, each of which is given a numerical score. It is designed to provide early warning to the international community about states that are at risk of failure or collapse.

The 12 indicators include, among other variables, the movement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs); evidence of demographic pressures and serious ethnic or sectarian grievances; gaps between rich and poor; economic growth or recession; performance of public services; corruption; the human rights situation and rule of law; and the intervention of other states or foreign non- state actors.

For each indicator, countries are given a numerical score of between one (for best performance) and 10 (for worst.) The index ranked a total of 177 countries this year.

While much attention is paid to country rankings on the index, scores are a more important measure of how close to collapse a given state may be.

In the 2005 Index, Cote d’Ivoire, then in the throes of a violent conflict before the mainly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north, had the highest score, at 106, followed by the DRC (105.3), Sudan (104.1), and Iraq (103.2).

The scores in the 2010 Index are significantly higher. Somalia received 114.3 points; Chad, 113.3; Sudan, 111.8; Zimbabwe, 110.2; DRC, (109.9); Afghanistan, 109.3; and Iraq, 107.3.

Altogether, 27 countries scored over 95, almost twice as many as the 14 who scored over 95 five years ago.

Thirty-seven countries scored over 90, the cut-off point for what the FFP consider red or “alert” status.

In an interview with IPS, Baker stressed that the index was not predictive but can be used prospectively “in the sense that, by looking at the trend line for each country going back some years, you can determine what the direction is”.

Indeed, Kyrgyzstan, which was wracked by unprecedented ethnic violence over the past week, ranked 45th in the new index with a score of 88.4. In the 2005 edition, the Central Asian nation ranked 65th, with an 80.4 score.

“With countries that are fragile, it’s very hard to predict what will be the spark that lights the fire,” said Baker.

Among the trends that are of particular concern for Washington – in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq – are two of the world’s most populous nations: Pakistan and Nigeria, which is also a major energy producer.

With a score of 89.4, Pakistan ranked 34 in the 2005 index. At number 10 for the 2010 edition, its score has risen sharply, to 102.5, although that marks an improvement over its score last year of 104.1.

In 2005, Nigeria ranked 54 with an 84.3 score. At 100.2, the country now ranks 14. A companion article to this year’s index warned that Nigeria could face a “worst-case scenario” that would include “renewed insurgency in the Niger Delta, more religious violence in the country’s center, and – in the most unlikely but still occasionally rumoured outcome – a military coup”.

“Regardless, life for the average Nigeria is getting worse, not better. After years of just muddling through, even that might no longer be an option for Nigeria.”

Another key U.S. ally in a highly unstable region, Ethiopia, has also seen a worrisome erosion in its stability as measured by the index. Its overall score has risen from 91.1 to 98.8 over the past five years and now ranks 17, up from 30 in 2005.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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