Failed States Index 2012: Change is the Only Constant

Published June 20, 2012
By J. J. Messner
Failed States Index 2012
Upon first glance, it could be easy to assume that there is very little new to be found in the 2012 Failed States Index. After all, Finland has managed to win back-to-back best-place on the Index and Somalia now has the ignominious distinction of five-straight worst-place finishes. Nine of the worst ten in 2012 are the same as in 2011; meanwhile, the “best ten” at the sustainable end of the index are the same ten countries as in 2011. So, nothing has really changed, right?
Though a quick glance of the 2012 Failed States Index could suggest business as usual, the Index actually saw some of the most dramatic shifts in the eight-year history of the Index, which was first published in 2005. In those eight years, three of the four most significant “worsenings” occurred in 2012. Prior to this year’s Index, the most significant decline had been Lebanon in 2007 – which worsened by 11.9 points – coinciding with the conflict with neighboring Israel. This year, two countries managed to beat that record, and both for very different reasons.


Unsurprisingly, the greatest worsening was that of Libya (a 16.2 point year-on-year rise from 2011), as the country endured a civil war, sustained NATO bombing and the overthrow and assassination of its reviled leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. After finishing 111th on the 2011 Index, Libya now finds itself at 50th.
When we think of state fragility and susceptibility to collapse, we often think of poor and/or embattled countries, those with corrupt, undemocratic leaders. It therefore is somewhat surprising that 2012’s second-most dramatic drop (and, coincidentally the second-largest drop in the history of the Index) was the world’s third-largest economy and a democratic state at that: Japan. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the country on March 11 and the resultant catastrophic meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor overwhelmed the government, undermining its ability to adequately respond to the natural disaster and its effects. This was somewhat reminiscent of the shock felt by many Americans at the response of their government to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though Japan is absolutely in no danger of state failure – indeed, it still ranks 151st, only a single point outside of the “Sustainable” range of the Index – it nevertheless demonstrates that no country, however advanced, wealthy and democratic – can consider itself immune from pressure and significant shocks.
Among the ten most significant “worsenings” in 2012, six were experienced by Arab countries – Libya, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain – as a result of the turmoil of the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, D.R. Congo worsened as a result of continued conflict in several parts of that vast country and in particular due to violence and uncertainty surrounding tight and hotly disputed presidential elections in November.
Three Western countries were also among the ten most-worsened for 2012. Aside from Japan, both Norway and Greece found themselves in this group. The bombing and mass shooting by Anders Breivik in Norway demonstrated how a single, nationally traumatic event can negatively impact an otherwise highly stable country. Norway, which held best position on the Index for the first six years, now finds itself behind four other countries (though still within the Sustainable bracket). Greece, somewhat unsurprisingly, rounds out the top ten most worsened for 2012. The epicenter of much of the European economic crisis, Greece has hit new heights on the Index, the result of a long-term trend of continual worsening in six out of the last seven years.
However grim this may seem, there are some bright spots to be found in this year’s Index. In 2011, Kyrgyzstan was the second-most worsened country, when it fell by 3.4 points as a result of the mid-2010 revolution and the fall of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. In 2012 however, Kyrgyzstan not only rebounded from that drop, but actually registered its best score since 2006. This improvement came largely as a result of the rapid reform program of Interim President Roza Otunbayeva and the generally free and fair elections that ensued.
The second-most improved country for 2012, Cuba, experienced a 3.5 point improvement due in part to the continued – but, albeit glacially paced – reform program that has seen many internal economic restrictions eased. The third-most improved country, Haiti, continues to languish at 7th place, however this is a significant improvement over its 5th-placed finish in 2011 as a result of the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake. Though Haiti improved by a solid 3.1 points in 2012, this should be interpreted merely as a partial return to pre-earthquake levels, recognizing the harsh conditions experienced by Haitians even when there is not the added calamity of natural disasters. Though Haiti did improve in 2012, we should not forget that Haiti was the most-worsened country for 2011.
Though much has changed for individual countries in the 2012 Failed States Index, many major problem areas have not changed. The Failed States Index color coded map of the world, where green represents sustainable nations and red represents quite the opposite, appears near identical in 2012 as it did in 2011 and every preceding year. Much of the red is still concentrated in Central Africa and South Asia, while much of the green is to be found in Western Europe along with Australia, Canada and New Zealand. As individual countries move – even sometimes quite dramatically – within the Index’s Alert, Warning, Moderate and Sustainable bands, it is sadly rare that countries, or regions for that matter, break free from those overall trends.
At the worst end of the Index, Somalia continues to endure widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, abysmal development and rampant piracy. Indeed, beyond continuing to occupy the top spot on the Index, Somalia actually managed to score more poorly than last year, registering a 1.5 point increase to 114.9. This represents Somalia’s worst-ever score, eclipsing the 114.7 it scored in 2009. The score of 114.9 also represents the highest score in the history of the Index. For those among us who view Somalia and think that it could not possibly get worse; the 2012 Index demonstrates that, yes, actually it can, and did, get worse.
At the sustainable end of the Index, Finland has again claimed best place after displacing Norway for the first time in 2011. Furthermore, Scandinavia as a region has continued an unbroken streak of claiming the best three places, although for the first time that this triumvirate does not include Norway, which fell out of the best three places for the first time (to fifth), displaced by its Scandinavian cousin, Denmark.
Notably, the best 18 nations are members of the OECD and 16 of the top 20 are Western European (the exceptions being Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States). Japan, Singapore and South Korea continue to be the lone Asian representatives in the successful end of the Index, with the next best, resource-rich Mongolia, finishing far behind at 129th. Meanwhile, Latin American success stories Chile and Uruguay continue to lead the region, even though both countries failed to move forward in 2012.
Special mention should also be made of South Sudan, which has joined the Failed States Index for the first time. However, it should be noted that although South Sudan received a score this year (108.4), it has not been formally ranked as the data sample period consisted of only a partial year, by virtue of the fact that it was an independent nation for only half the year and met our criteria of UN membership for only four months. Nevertheless, if South Sudan had have been formally ranked this year, it would have entered the Index at 4th, only slightly better than its northern neighbor and estranged parent, Sudan. It has hardly been an auspicious entrance for the world’s newest nation.
Looking towards the 2013 Failed States Index, and given the events of 2012 so far, it is fairly safe to assume that Syria and Yemen will have worsened significantly, much in the way that Libya did in this year’s Index. Furthermore, the coup in Mali is also likely to negatively impact that country’s performance in 2013. On the other hand, one can likely expect rebounds from Japan and Norway, both otherwise stable countries that experienced sharp shocks during 2011. The Failed States Index illustrates once again that every country, no matter how developed, is subject to pressure in multiple forms and to many degrees – in essence, continued pressure on states is what is constant.