Failed States Index 2009: “You suck at life”

Guest blogger Vicki Boykis talks about the Failed States Index for 2009. Thankfully, none of the Central Asian republics have the dubious distinction of being in the top 20, but they are in the top 40. In fact, some of have improved…

Image by Flickr user Dunechaser (CC-usage)

Image by Flickr user Dunechaser (CC-usage)

Editor’s note: This is a post by guest blogger Vicki Boykis.

Nothing says, “You suck at life,” quite like landing at the top of the Failed States Index, compiled by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace (which sounds like something George Costanza would have come up with), except for possibly joining a Ron Paul dating website.

I was very interested in these rankings because A)I am immensely interested in international affairs B) The most failed states are a former part of the Great USSR or in the Middle East, my two particular areas of focus and C) I am  a proud former denizen of one of the countries that is rising on the failed states index, Russia.  I sure know how to party.

You can find an interactive map of the index here.  I wanted to find out more about how they compiled it, so I perused the methodology section, which states:

The 12 indicators are: Demographic Pressures, Refugees/IDPs, Group Grievance, Human Flight, Uneven Development, Economic Decline, Delegitimization of the State, Public Services, Human Rights, Security Apparatus, Factionalized Elites, and External Intervention. Click here for more information.

A state that is failing has several attributes. One of the most common is the loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other attributes of state failure include the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. The 12 indicators cover a wide range of elements of the risk of state failure, such as 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, institutionalized persecution or discrimination, severe demographic pressures, brain drain, and environmental decay. States can fail at varying rates through explosion, implosion, erosion, or invasion over different time periods.

What this tells me is that there is a crystal ball involved somewhere.

But, what I thought was really cool was that they take into account reading hundreds of thousands of articles over a 10-month period to really gauge the tempo of a particular country.  However, given how biased the press can be, I hope they take press clippings with a mountain of salt.  Here are some of the results they’ve come up with :

  • Iraq and Afghanistan are in the top 10 (naturally).
  • Bangladesh and North Korea are in the top 20, which is rounded out by small and violent East Timor.
  • Israel (listed with the designation “Israel/West Bank”) is pretty high up on the list, at number 58.   Obviously this is surprising for me, because, even though I often write about how Israel is one big bowl of crazy, I can’t imagine the Middle East’s only democracy and one that seems to be surviving the global recession as a failed state.

Regarding Eurasia, the news doesn’t look so good, either.  While none of the Eurasian states are in the top twenty, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran show up in the top 40. Other than their ranks, there is little mention of any of the Eurasian states in Foreign Policy’s analysis of the situation.  In fact, Uzbekistan’s rank has improved, from rank 28, to 31 over the past year.  So has Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

The hotspots, predictability, continue to be Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.  The only two countries with a borderline stable rating were tiny Armenia and Kazakhstan, which is surprising, given the crisis in Kazakhstan’s banking sector.

I could play around with this index forever, but anyway, go look for yourself.  There’s interesting data and implications there, paritcularly if you analyze year-over-year growth rates in the index.

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