- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
FAQ & Methodology
How the Failed States Index is made.
Q: How many countries are included in the Failed States Index?
A: There are 177 states included in the 2008 index, the same number of states that were assessed in 2007 and 2008. In 2006, 148 countries were ranked, with 75 states ranked in 2005. A small handful of countries were not included because of a lack of data. The Fund for Peace (FfP) is working to improve data collection and analysis, and it is constantly adding additional sources.
Q: What methodology was used to generate the scores?
A: The Fund for Peace uses its Conflict Assessment System Tool (CAST), an original methodology it has developed and tested over the past decade. CAST is a flexible model that has the capability to employ a four-step trend-line analysis, consisting of (1) rating 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators; (2) assessing the capabilities of five core state institutions considered essential for sustaining security; (3) identifying idiosyncratic factors and surprises; and (4) placing countries on a conflict map that shows the risk history of countries being analyzed.
For the Failed States Index, the FfP focused solely on the first step, which provides snapshots of state vulnerability or risk of violence for one time period each year. The data used in each index are collected from May to December of the preceding year. The CAST software indexed and scanned more than 90,000 open-source articles and reports using Boolean logic, which consists of key phrases designed to capture the variables measured.
Full-text data are electronically gathered from a range of publicly available print, radio, television and Internet sources from all over the world, including international and local media reports, essays, interviews, polling and survey data, government documents, independent studies from think tanks, NGOs and universities, and even corporate financial filings. The software determines the salience of the 12 indicators as well as hundreds of sub-indicators by calculating the number of “hits” as a proportion of the sample for a given time period. Quantitative data is also included, when available. Subject-matter experts then review each score for every country and indicator, as well as consult the original documents, when necessary, to ensure accuracy.
Q: What are the 12 indicators of state vulnerability?
A: 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.
Q: What do the colors in the index and on the map signify?
A: The rank order of the states is based on the total scores of the 12 indicators. For each indicator, the ratings are placed on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest intensity (most stable) and 10 being the highest intensity (least stable). The total score is the sum of the 12 indicators and is on a scale of 0-120.
In the article, the 60 countries in the index are divided into two parts for easy reference: Critical (red), and In Danger (orange). On the index’s global map, additional countries that scored higher than 60 are colored yellow. Countries with scores between 30 and 59.9 are considered Stable (light green). Countries that have scores lower than 30 are categorized as Most Stable (dark green).
This coloring scheme differs slightly from the original FfP methodology, which it still employs in its reports and on its website for the entire 177 countries, as well as other products, such as the Iraq Reports and Country Profiles. FfP’s original methodology breaks the countries into four colored zones based on their aggregate scores. A country in the “Alert” zone has an aggregate score between 90 and 120. A country that is colored orange, the “Warning” zone, scores between 60 and 89.9. A country colored yellow, the “Monitoring” zone, has an aggregate score between 30 and 59.9. A country colored green, the “Sustainable” zone, has an aggregate score of 29.9 or less.
It is important to note that these ratings do not necessarily predict when states may experience violence or collapse. Rather, they measure vulnerability to collapse or conflict. All countries in the red, orange, or yellow categories display features that make significant parts of their societies and institutions vulnerable to failure. The pace and direction of change, either positive or negative, varies. Some in the yellow zone may be failing at a faster rate than those in the more dangerous orange or red zones, and therefore could experience violence sooner. Conversely, some in the red zone, though critical, may exhibit some positive signs of recovery or be deteriorating slowly, giving them time to adopt mitigating strategies. Taken over time, however, these scores yield trend lines which can suggest future directions.
Q: What does “state failure” mean?
A: 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.
Q: How has the methodology been critically reviewed, and how has it been applied?
A: During the past decade, the CAST methodology has been peer-reviewed in several different environments, including by independent scholars and experts as well as educational, government, and private-sector agencies and institutions that have evaluated it for alternative uses. In each application, CAST is refined and updated. Governments use it, among other things, for early warning and to design economic assistance strategies that can reduce the potential for conflict and promote development in fragile states. Militaries use it to strengthen situational awareness, enhance readiness, and apply strategic metrics to evaluate success in peace and stability operations and for training. The private sector uses it to calculate political risk for investment opportunities. Multinational organizations and a range of other entities find it useful for modeling and gaming, management of complex organizations, and for conflict-risk assessments. Educators use it to train students in analyzing war and peace issues by blending the techniques of information technology with social science. And the countries being rated use it for self-assessment to gauge their own stability and performance on objective criteria and seek ways to improve their scores.
Q: Who created the Failed States Index?
A: It was a team effort. In addition to outside experts who helped FfP develop the methodology during its years of testing and validation, the core FfP team consists of Pauline H. Baker (president of the FfP), Krista Hendry, Patricia Taft (senior associates), Nate Haken (associate), Mark Loucas, Joelle Burbank (research associates) and Shawn Rowley (senior software engineer). The article on the index in FOREIGN POLICY was done in collaboration with its editors.
Q: What can be done to avert further weakening of states at risk and to stimulate recovery?
A: The Failed States Index presents a diagnosis of the problem, the first step in devising strategies for strengthening weak and failing states. The more reliably 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 also 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.
Q: Are there examples of states that have pulled back from the brink of failure?
A: Yes. 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, several countries that have long been known for endemic instability made impressive gains. For the second year in a row, Liberia made notable progress, thanks in part to the resettlement of refugees and continued anticorruption efforts. A new peace agreement in the Ivory Coast has calmed violence that erupted after a flawed election in 2002. And Haiti has made moderate advances in reining in rampant gang violence. A common thread links these three countries: All host U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Q: Some studies suggest that wars are winding down. Your index suggests that there are a lot of conflicts in the making. Which is correct?
A: Both are correct, in different senses. In essence, scholars agree that interstate wars are declining but that internal conflicts have been increasing since the end of the Cold War. The frequency, duration, and intensity of these conflicts vary. The 2005 Peace and Conflict report produced by the University of Maryland argues that there has been “a decline in the global magnitude of armed conflict,” but it also states that “half of the world’s countries have serious weaknesses that call for international scrutiny and engagement.” The 2005 Human Security Report, published by Canada’s Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia, calculated that there has been a decline in the number of wars, genocides, and human rights abuses over the past decade due to international peace efforts since the Cold War-citing U.N. and other diplomatic initiatives, economic sanctions, peacekeeping missions, and civil society activism. The important point is that weak and failing states represent a new class of conflict, not isolated events. Approximately 2 billion people live in countries that run a significant risk of collapse. These insecure and unstable states are breeding grounds for terrorism, organized crime, weapons proliferation, humanitarian emergencies, environmental degradation, and political extremism-threats that will affect everyone.
Q: Does the public have access to the data in this index?
A: The raw data are from millions of news articles and reports. As a practical matter, it is not readily transferable without the methodology and the software. However, the index values can be downloaded for free from the Web sites of FfP and FOREIGN POLICY.
Q: What is the Fund for Peace?
A: Founded in 1957 by investment banker Randolph Compton, the FfP is an independent educational, research, and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to prevent war and alleviate the conditions that cause war. Since 1996, it has specialized primarily on reducing conflict stemming from weak and failing states. For more information, FfP invites you to visit its Web site.