The Fragile State Index in 2016

July 12, 2016
The Fragile State Index in 2016
Leah Sherwood
Leah Sherwood Deputy Director of Research


The Fragile State Index (FSI) for 2016 has just been released by the Fund for Peace (FFP). It is their twelfth annual report. The FSI shows a colour coated global map indicating state stability. The overall impression one would get looking at this year’s map is that the majority of the world’s states are yellow, orange and red, indicating various stages of instability and state fragility or outright failure. The states declared to be failed include: Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is an alarming list. Much of the Middle East and South Asia are considered to be unstable and vulnerable. Indeed, compared to a decade ago, the global situation has deteriorated. Why do we need to care about this?

In today’s world, with a highly globalized economy, information systems and interwoven security, pressures, one fragile state can have serious repercussions beyond that state’s neighbours or even region. To adapt the adage of Martin Luther King, what happens anywhere affects us everywhere. Most conflicts today occur inside states, often the world’s poorest. Failed states generate enormous pressures on relief organizations and create refugee crises. The EU has faced a serious challenge to its unity due to the influx of refugees over the last 2 years and Brexit is a consequence of that, in part. This is an illustration the reverberation of the consequences caused by weak and failing states.

The definition and the very concept of ‘failed states’ is controversial. The notion of ‘fragile states’ was introduced to address the gap between ‘functional’ and ‘failed.’ Certainly, the occurrence of state failure (or fragile states) predates the Cold War, but the use of the term has proliferated since it ended. This is due to the number of states experiencing internal conflict. The crises range from ethnic confrontations, to civil war and even revolutions. Conflicts stem from social, economic, and political stresses. Fault lines emerge between identity groups, defined by language, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, class, caste, clan or area of origin. Many result in complex humanitarian emergencies and require nation building and peace building efforts, which are increasing under-funded, under-resourced missions.

Tensions can turn into conflict in many ways, whether there is competition over critical resources such as food or water, oppressive or fractured political leadership, rampant corruption, or unsettled group grievances. The reasons for state weakness and failure are complex. However, perceiving weakness and forecasting state failure is entirely feasible.   It is critically important that the conditions which create weak and failed states are well understood by policy-makers and international organizations. Equally important is a capacity to closely monitor events and changes to state (and by extension often regional) stability. The combination of knowing what to look for and doing it leads to a capacity to take early action to address issues that amplify or exemplify weakness.

The FFP says that in order to have meaningful early warning and effective policy responses, strategic assessments must go beyond specialized area knowledge, narrative case studies and anecdotal evidence to identify and grasp broad social and political trends. An interdisciplinary combination of qualitative research and quantitative methodologies is needed to establish patterns and acquire predictive capability. Without the right data, it is impossible to identify problems that may be festering ‘below the radar.’ Decision-makers need access to this kind of information to implement effective policies. The FFP has developed one such model.

Fragile States Index Methodology

The Fragile States Index (FSI), which used to be called the Failed States Index, is methodologically based upon the CAST (Conflict Assessment System Tool) analytical platform. Dr. Pauline Baker developed the approach during the 1990s when she was at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, before she became President of the FFP. The framework was developed in collaboration with the U S Army Peacekeeping Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. CAST is a methodology to assessing the vulnerability of states to collapse. The power of the FSI lays in the ability to communicate an immense volume of data simply. How does it do this? Each day, the FFP collects information from around the world, numbering thousands of reports which outline current social, economic and political stresses in all of the 178 countries that they evaluate.

The CAST rests on social science methodology. Data from three primary sources is triangulated and then critically reviewed to obtain final scores for the FSI. By applying highly specialized search parameters, scores are assigned for each state based on twelve key political, social and economic indicators, which are then broken down further into more than 100 sub-indicators. This qualitative effort requires expertise in social science research. The FFP’s CAST software does content analysis on the information contained in the report collected and collated. Through sophisticated algorithms searching words, the CAST software disentangles irrelevant data from that which is useful. The CAST program converts its flagged data into a score representative of the significance of each country’s pressures. The content analysis is further triangulated with two other key aspects of the overall assessment process: quantitative analysis and qualitative inputs based on major events in each of the countries examined. The scores produced by CAST software are then compared with a comprehensive set of vital statistics—as well as human analysis—to ensure that the software has not misinterpreted the raw data. The FSI measures state vulnerability according to three categories: pre-conflict, active conflict and post-conflict. Both qualitative and quantitative indicators are used. Though the data underpinning the FSI is public source information, it is not systematically integrated, which is of course its main strength. The FSI has assorted applications for governments, international organizations, private corporations, humanitarian organizations, the military, academic scholars and the media by making political risk assessment and early warning of conflict easily accessible to policy-makers and the public.

Twelve conflict risk indicators measure the ‘health’ of a state at any given moment. Thus, the indicators only give a snapshot of the state at that period of time, but they can be measured against other snapshots to show progress, regress or no change. The strength of the approach lays in the ability to monitor where conditions are improving or worsening. It is notable that the recently released 2016 Index, we have the opportunity to look back on a decade of trends, which reveals a very general pattern of worsening conditions. Globally more states are more fragile in 2016 than in 2007. This is a worrying trend, indeed.

Each of the twelve indicators is weighed on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being the most stable and 10 being the most at-risk of collapse and violence. The developers equated the scale measurements to health. A fever is high, a healthy temperate is lower. The colours used to indicate risk reflect this ‘hot’ concept.  The indicators are categorized into social, economic and political compartments to capture the added value of classification as a state could have improved economically, but worsened politically. Although the overall ‘scorecard’ may reveal a worsened situation (if the political corruption were especially evident and widespread), but understanding the gains is critical not only to policy intervention, but also for a holistic appreciation of the in-country reality.

The Indicators

Indicator What does it refer to? Includes pressures and measures related to:
Demographic Pressures Pressures on the population such as disease and natural disasters make it difficult for the government to protect its citizens or demonstrate a lack of capacity or will. Natural Disasters, Disease, Environment, Pollution, Food Scarcity, Malnutrition, Water Scarcity, Population Growth, Youth Bulge, Mortality
Refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) Pressures associated with population displacement. This strains public services and has the potential to pose a security threat. Displacement, Refugee Camps, IDP Camps, Disease related to Displacement, Refugees per capita, IDPs per capita, Capacity to absorb
Group Grievance When tension and violence exists between groups, the state’s ability to provide security is undermined and fear and further violence may ensue. Discrimination, Powerlessness, Ethnic Violence, Communal Violence, Sectarian Violence, Religious Violence
Human Flight and Brain Drain When there is little opportunity, people migrate, leaving a vacuum of human capital. Those with resources also often leave before, or just as, conflict erupts. Migration per capita, Human Capital, Emigration of Educated Citizens
Uneven Economic Development When there are ethnic, religious, or regional disparities, governments tend to be uneven in their commitment to the social contract. GINI Coefficient, Income Share of Highest 10%, Income Share of Lowest 10%, Rural v. Urban Distribution of Services, Improved Service Access,Slum Population
Poverty and Economic Decline Poverty and economic decline strain the ability of the state to provide for its citizens if they cannot provide for themselves and can create friction between “haves” and “have nots.” Economic Deficit, Government Debt, Unemployment, Youth Employment, Purchasing Power, GDP per capita, GDP Growth, Inflation
State Legitimacy Corruption and lack of representativeness in the government directly undermine social contract. State Legitimacy, Corruption, Government Effectiveness, Political Participation, Electoral Process, Level of Democracy,  Illicit Economy, Drug Trade, Protests and Demonstrations, Power Struggles
Public Services The provision of health, education, and sanitation services, among others, are key roles of the state. Public Services, Policing, Criminality, Education Provision, Literacy, Water & Sanitation, Infrastructure, Quality Healthcare, Telephony, Internet Access, Energy, Reliability, Roads
Human Rights and the Rule of Law When human rights are violated or unevenly protected, the state is failing in its ultimate responsibility. Press Freedom, Civil Liberties, Political Freedoms, Human Trafficking, Political Prisoners, Incarceration, Religious Persecution, Torture, Executions
Security Apparatus The security apparatus should have a monopoly on use of legitimate force. The social contract is weakened where affected by competing groups. Security Apparatus, Internal Conflict, Small Arms Proliferation, Riots and Protests, Fatalities from Conflict, Military Coups, Rebel Activity, Militancy, Bombings, Political Prisoners
Factionalized Elites When local and national leaders engage in deadlock and brinksmanship for political gain, this undermines the social contract. Factionalized Elites, Power Struggles, Defectors, Flawed Elections, Political Competition
External Intervention When the state fails to meet its international or domestic obligations, external actors may intervene to provide services or to manipulate internal affairs. Foreign Assistance, Presence of Peacekeepers, Presence of UN Missions, Foreign Military Intervention, Sanctions, Credit Rating

The ratings draw upon historical examples to guide understanding of the 1 to 10 scale.  For example, the inability of the Somali government to provide public services for its citizens would be reason to give it a score of 10 (high number are bad) for Indicator #8. Conversely, the Swedish government’s wide-ranging health, education and other public services would produce a 1 or 2 for the same indicator. In another instance, the US-led coalition presence in Iraq or a UN peacekeeping mission would garner a score of 10 for Indicator #12. In contrast, while Myanmar faces important destabilizing factors captured in the other indicators, its relative isolation from the international community and external influences would produce a much lower score of 2 or 3 in Indicator #12. It is important not to place an extreme amount of importance on small scoring differences. The larger trends and extensive data make the most valuable contribution to the overall assessment. Despite, the FSI offering only a one-dimensional metric scale to classify states, the final number is inclusive of a great deal of information sorted by variable and classified. In the end, with such an enormity of information and in recognition that there is no perfect methodology, the FFP has elected to sacrifice precision for parsimony. The results are valuable.