The World's Weakest StatesForeign Policy and the Fund For Peace
The 2007 Foreign Policy Failed States Index is out, and the results are in: Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Chad are this year’s worst. The fact that “sectarian carnage in one state can sway stock markets on the other side of the planet” shows that distance does not matter, and the third annual report shows new winners and losers to keep track of among the worst. Lebanon had the biggest plunge in the rankings, caused by a newly inflamed civil war and attacks from Israel in 2006 that destroyed vital infrastructure. In Somalia, last year’s number one amongst the failed, the situation worsened.
The problems that send failed states to the top of the Foreign Policy index are all too predictable: rampant corruption, predatory elites who have long monopolized power, an absence of the rule of law, and severe ethnic or religious divisions. But this year’s report showed some encouraging signs. Giants Russia and China moved out of the top 60, and the progress of Liberia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo showed that free democratic elections clearly improve the state of affairs. Although 14,000 U.N. peacekeepers remain in Liberia, its economy is growing at 7 percent, militias have been demobilized, and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has led efforts to combat widespread corruption, including the arrests of high-ranking government officials for graft.
The examples of Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Chad demonstrate the unfortunate converse of this theory. Each of their executives—Al-Bashir, Mugabe and Deby—has held office for over 17 years and consequentially bears a great responsibility for his state’s position on the index. Political repression is often linked to another failed state indicator: religious discrimination. The case of Zimbabwe shows that such persecution can be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle the country’s civil society, as the recent brutal suppression of bishops there shows.
The Failed States Index also takes into account environmental issues. Severe threats to groundwater, agriculture, and ecosystems have the power to unravel political and economic gains. With global warming becoming an ever more certain phenomenon, these natural dangers have been compounded by the increased incidence of weather-related natural catastrophes.
Another common feature of failed states is their claim to another state inside their territory: the Index shows up to 60 countries affected. Georgia faces the Russian-backed autonomous territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The civil war in Ivory Coast erupted in 2002 because the south aimed to retake the rebel-held northern half. As a result of the conflict, the country was split in two, blunting its otherwise impressive economic growth. But some countries start to prosper as separate entities, as the Slovakia/Czech Republic and Montenegro/Serbia separations demonstrate.
Yet borders can also represent yet another vulnerability when a neighboring country is unstable. Because of high cultural and ethnic similarities, these border regions are extremely vulnerable. As the cases of Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan make obvious, Internal conflicts can easily spread across borders, into the adjacent country’s backyard.
Most importantly, the need to keep tabs on failing states becomes even more apparent when the countries in question possess nuclear weapons. North Korea and Pakistan are among the 15 most unstable nations in the world—and the newest members of the nuclear club.
The summary above was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from a report by The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine.
Prepared by Thomas Haelsig
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