Failed States Index Trends Over Time

Published June 20, 2012
By Nate Haken
The Failed States Index
Shocks and stresses rocked the international system over the last five years. A food crisis swept the globe in 2008 sparking violence and political turmoil from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia. This was followed in 2009 by the worst global economic downturn since World War II. Then, with the earthquake in Haiti and the flooding in Pakistan, 2010 was the second most deadly year since the 1980s for natural disasters. If 2010 was among the most deadly, 2011 was the most costly ever recorded, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Then, also in 2011, a contagion of democracy and civil war was unleashed across North Africa and the Middle East, inspiring populist movements all over the world.

People experience instability locally. The Failed States Index looks at each country as a unit. But the truth of the matter is that the pressures measured in the 12 social, economic, and political/military indicators are often exacerbated by external or transnational factors, highlighting the reality that this index should not be used in and of itself as an indictment of any particular government. Rather, it is an evaluation of the pressures, both internal and external, that can undermine stability and which must be addressed and managed by the state for a more peaceful and prosperous citizenry.

Perhaps the last five years have been among the most convulsive in recent memory. By grouping the individual states by region, the Failed States Index can provide some insight into the patterns of pressure as they rippled across the world between 2007 and 2011. As measured by the average of the change in the total FSI score, the region that most worsened over the last five years was Western Europe. Western European countries are still on the “good” end of the index, but as a region, they’ve had a significant increase in both economic and political pressures that have yet to be brought back to baseline.

Within the Social Indicators, the region that underwent the most worsening of pressure was Southern Africa. Between 2007 and 2011, Mozambique experienced violent protests over rising food prices. In 2008 Mozambique and Zambia experienced devastating floods. In South Africa, as the economy tanked, xenophobic violence broke out against migrants in the townships causing thousands to flee home to the neighboring countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. HIV/AIDs continues to ravage the populations of most countries in the region.

Within the Economic Indicators two regions tied for the most increase in pressure: Western Europe and Southern Africa. Western Europe is in the throes of a debt crisis that not even the euro, the single currency representative of a larger political union meant to bring prosperity and equality, has been able to withstand. In Southern Africa, the two largest economies, Angola and South Africa slowed down, especially in 2009, when South Africa’s economy went into recession for the first time since 1992. In South Africa, frustrations over inequality in the distribution of basic services boiled over into violence against foreigners as xenophobia took hold. Angola’s economic growth rate dropped from a nosebleed high of 22% in 2007 — driven mainly by oil production — to 2.3% in 2010, speaking to the need for a diversification of the Angolan economy.

Within the Political and Military Indicators, the region that had the most increase in pressure was the Middle East and North Africa with the Arab Spring. Economic and democratic populism drove millions into the streets overturning regimes, triggering insurrections and violent crackdowns. Beyond the Arab world, protesters were inspired by the model in places as far-flung as Russia and the United States.

Natural disasters, disease, drought, financial collapse, and populism do not stop at the border. These issues, and others, flow in an interconnected world. The risk posed by state failure is not just about terrorism. And although it is true that the most failed of the failed states may not pose the greatest direct threat to U.S. national interest, state failure matters. Because at the end of the day, if states can’t manage and control these pressures, who will?