A Blog on The 2009 ‘Failed States’ Index[1]


Since 2005, this index has been issued by ‘The Fund for Peace’ and Foreign Policy magazine. The index weighs 12 political, economic and social factors used to calculate a nation’s instability and thus help to focus world attention where support is needed.

The Social factors are: (i) Mounting Demographic Pressures; (ii) Massive Movement of Refugees or Internally Displaced Persons; (iii) Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievances or Group Paranoia; and (iv) Chronic & Sustained Human Flight (Emigration). The Economic factors are: (v) Uneven Development along Group Lines; and (vi) Sharp &/or Severe Economic Decline. The Political factors are: (vii) Criminalization &/or Delegitimization of the State; (viii) Progressive Deterioration of Public Services; (ix) Suspension of the Rule of Law and Widespread Violations of Human Rights; (x) Fragmented Security or ‘Security Apparatus operating as a State Within a State’; (xi) Rise of Factionalized Elites; and (xii) Intervention of Other States or Externalized Political ‘Actors’. Each of these factors or indices is given a score of up to 10, making a maximum possible of 120.

In Africa, with a regional average of about 87, the top 5 failing states are Somalia (115)[2], followed by Zimbabwe (114), Sudan (112), Chad (112) and the Dem. Rep of Congo (109). Mauritius is the ‘best’ African performer with a score of 45.

In Asia, with a regional average of about 82, Afghanistan scores 108, then Pakistan (104), Myanmar (Burma) (101), North Korea (98) and Bangladesh (98): the best Asian scorer is Japan with a score of 31.

In the Middle East, with a regional average of 77, the 5 high scoring ‘failed states’ are Iraq (109), Yemen (98), Lebanon (94), Iran & Syria, with the best being Oman (47).

In the Americas, with a regional average of about 68, Haiti clearly tops the list (102), followed by Columbia (89), Bolivia (86), Nicaragua (83), and Equador (81); with the best being Canada (28).

In Australia & Oceania, with an average of about 64, the Solomon Islands score 90, followed by Papua New Guinea (84), Fiji Islands (79), Micronesia (72) and Samoa (71), with New Zealand scoring best (22).

In Europe, Moldova scores 85; followed by Bosnia Herzegovenia (83), Belarus (82), Russia (81), Serbia (79) and best is Norway (18). The UK scores 34.

A world map with different colours shows a swath across Africa and then a number of other ‘red’ (failed) patches elsewhere.

Over 1 billion people live in countries in danger of collapse; unstable states are dangers not just to themselves, but to others, as they incubate terrorism, criminal organisations, political extremism, and also use a lot of external resources like NATO or UN peace-keeping forces, refugee support, food aid, World Bank funding, etc.

Countries with poor resources like Chad and Somalia have little to fall back on; countries with rich resources, such as the Congo, abundant oil or diamonds can encourage competition amongst the elite for lucrative and corrupt control of these assets. Furthermore, “the colonial drawing of arbitrary boundaries across ethnic and even topographical lines created artificial states”.

The FAQ about the Failed States Index on the Fund for Peace website[3] presents an essential diagnosis of the problem … “the first step in devising strategies for strengthening weak and failing states. The more reliably that policymakers can anticipate, monitor, and measure problems, the more they can act to prevent violent breakdowns, protect civilians caught in the crossfire, and promote recovery. At the same time, policymakers must focus on building the institutional capacity of weak states, particularly the "core five" institutions: military, police, civil service, the system of justice, and leadership. Policies should be tailored to the needs of each state, monitored and evaluated intensively, and changed, as necessary, if recovery is not occurring as intended. Continuous monitoring of the measures, using the same assessment methodology, can inform decision making on strategies and programs.”

However – also from the FAQ on the Fund for Peace website – in answer to the question, ‘Are there examples of states that have pulled back from the brink of failure?’ The somewhat outdated answer given is: The most dramatic ones are those that did it without outside military or administrative intervention. In the 1970s, analysts predicted dire consequences, including mass famine and internal violence in India, citing rapid population growth, economic mismanagement, and extensive poverty and corruption. Today, India has turned itself around. It is the world's largest democracy, with a competitive economy and a representative political system.

Similarly, South Africa appeared headed for a violent race war in the 1980s, but it pulled back from the brink in a negotiated settlement that ushered in a new era of majority rule, a liberal constitution, and the destruction of its nuclear weapons program.

In the past year, since the 2005 index, several countries that were teetering on the edge improved measurably. Indonesia, after experiencing years of internal crises, has made steady progress due in large part to President Susilo Banbamg Yudhoyono's dedication to military and political reform. The Dominican Republic, which was devastated by a 2004 hurricane and tested by refugee flows from neighboring Haiti, also managed to make steady progress in 2005. Bosnia, which for years stagnated, has also begun to recover slowly, thanks in part to significant efforts by the European Union to stabilize the country and revive its economy. 

Gratifying as it is to hear of these few albeit dramatic successes, of those mentioned India currently scores 78; South Africa 67; Indonesia 84; Dominican Republic 78; Haiti is still at 102 and Bosnia, as mentioned, is at 83.

What is potentially frightening is that in 2005 there were only 75 countries included in the ‘failed states index’ and now there are 177; although much of this increase in numbers is due to better information gathering techniques and more countries therefore being included. More detailed and up-to-date comparisons between the 2005 index and the 2009 index show that many of the states in the top 25 in 2005 are still there in 2009; depressingly some have moved into a worse position. These are Somalia 5th to 1st with a score increase from 102 to 115; Zimbabwe from 15th to 2nd with an increase from 95 to 114; Chad from 7th to 4th with a change from 109 to 112; Guinea from 16th to 9th and Burma from 23rd to 13th. No great surprises there given what we see in the news!

However a closer looks shows that many of the position changes downward are due to additions to the list of states, with extra states coming in above, rather than substantive movements on behalf of factors within the states. For example, Rwanda has moved from 12th topmost down to 45th, but Rwanda’s score has only improved from 97 to 89; ditto Columbia moved from 14th to 41st, but only improved from a score of 95 to 89; Liberia moved from 9th to 34th with an improvement only from 100 to 92; and Bosnia from 22nd to 63rd with a change from 93 to 83. The two most dramatic positive changes between 2005 and 2009 were Venezuela from 21st to 77th with an improvement of 94 to 79, and the Dominican Republic from 19th to 88th with an improvement from 99 to 78.

But what is not clear in all of this is what causes a state to be able to improve. What can some of these ‘failed states’ try to ensure that they do to improve their scores. This is a catalogue of ‘failure’ rather than indicating where to go in order to succeed. How can the more fortunate states, only 22 (out of 177) of which have scores below 36 (i.e. scoring and average 3 or less on each indicator): these are (in order of success) Norway, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Canada, Iceland (before its financial crash), Japan, Portugal, Belgium, UK, Singapore, USA, France, Germany and Slovenia. Political stability and the absence of internal conflict and/or external wars for an extended period of time are obviously fairly crucial. But even if one considers the next tranche (to a halfway score of 60), one is only adding another 24 states: that is to say only 26% score less than 60 points. One could say that the world is therefore failing. And this is before we start to tackle anything really serious like global warming; freedom from hunger; eradication of major diseases; ‘world peace’; or the universal provision of clean water, housing and education for all people.

In 2008, the USA supplied weapons (armament sales) worth $37.8 billion, which was 68.4% of total business in the global arms market: i.e. the total amount the world spends on arms annually is about $55 billion.[4]

How much does amount that add to the ‘failed states’ index and how much improvement could be made with that amount of money spent instead on the provision – and exportation – of things that people really need? Do we – as a world – need that amount of annual arms sales? Perhaps, like we need a hole in the head - literally!

In contrast, halving the number of people world-wide without sustainable access to improved water supply and sanitation would cost (only) around $11.3 billion annually: providing everybody, world wide, with improved water and sanitation services would therefore cost around $23 billion per annum: less than half (40%) of the amount spent on arms. It also has been estimated that $1 so invested would bring a return of between $3 and $34, depending on the region.[5] This is a return on an investment, rather than the money going up (literally?) in smoke.

What is it going to take for us – as a world – in forums such as the G8, or G20, or the United Nations even, to wise up and start doing something globally constructive? Or is there some sort of tacit agreement not to talk about this, or not to rock the boat, or not to counteract the Big Boys’ vested interests, or not to act humanely towards each other?



"The day will come when the progress of nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength, nor by the splendour of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their peoples: by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labours; by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties; by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children."

(The Progress of Nations, UNICEF, 1995)

[1] ‘Why things fall apart’, National Geographic, September 2009, pp. 98-99.

[2] Figures have been rounded to the nearest whole number for the purposes of simplicity.

[3] http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php

[4] New York Times: 26th September 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/07/world/07weapons.html

[5] WHO 2004 report on sanitation and health: WHO/SDE/WSH/04.04 http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/wsh0404summary/en/index.html