Special Report

2009 Failed States Index - FAQ & Methodology

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.

Special Report

2009 Failed States Index - The Last Straw

The Last Straw

If you think these failed states look bad now, wait until the climate changes.


Hopelessly overcrowded, crippled by poverty, teeming with Islamist militancy, careless with its nukes—it sometimes seems as if Pakistan can’t get any more terrifying. But forget about the Taliban: The country's troubles today pale compared with what it might face 25 years from now. When it comes to the stability of one of the world's most volatile regions, it's the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night.

In the mountainous area of Kashmir along and around Pakistan's contested border with India lies what might become the epicenter of the problem. Since the separation of the two countries 62 years ago, the argument over whether Kashmir belongs to Muslim Pakistan or secular India has never ceased. Since 1998, when both countries tested nuclear weapons, the conflict has taken on the added risk of escalating into cataclysm. Another increasingly important factor will soon heighten the tension: Ninety percent of Pakistan's agricultural irrigation depends on rivers that originate in Kashmir. "This water issue between India and Pakistan is the key," Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, a parliamentarian from Kashmir, told me. "Much more than any other political or religious concern."

Until now, the two sides had been able to relegate the water issue to the back burner. In 1960, India and Pakistan agreed to divide the six tributaries that form the Indus River. India claimed the three eastern branches, which flow through Punjab. The water in the other three, which pass through Jammu and Kashmir, became Pakistan's. The countries set a cap on how much land Kashmir could irrigate and agreed to strict regulations on how and where water could be stored. The resulting Indus Waters Treaty has survived three wars and nearly 50 years. It's often cited as an example of how resource scarcity can lead to cooperation rather than conflict.

But the treaty's success depends on the maintenance of a status quo that will be disrupted as the world warms. Traditionally, Kashmir's waters have been naturally regulated by the glaciers in the Himalayas. Precipitation freezes during the coldest months and then melts during the agricultural season. But if global warming continues at its current rate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, the glaciers could be mostly gone from the mountains by 2035. Water that once flowed for the planting will flush away in winter floods.

Research by the global NGO ActionAid has found that the effects are already starting to be felt within Kashmir. In the valley, snow rarely falls and almost never sticks. The summertime levels of streams, rivers, springs, and ponds have dropped. In February 2007, melting snow combined with unseasonably heavy rainfall to undermine the mountain slopes; landslides buried the national highway—the region's only land connection with the rest of India—for 12 days.

Normally, countries control such cyclical water flows with dams, as the United States does with runoff from the Rocky Mountains. For Pakistan, however, that solution is not an option. The best damming sites are in Kashmir, where the Islamabad government has vigorously opposed Indian efforts to tinker with the rivers. The worry is that in times of conflict, India's leaders could cut back on water supplies or unleash a torrent into the country's fields. "In a warlike situation, India could use the project like a bomb," one Kashmiri journalist told me.

Water is already undermining Pakistan's stability. In recent years, recurring shortages have led to grain shortfalls. In 2008, flour became so scarce it turned into an election issue; the government deployed thousands of troops to guard its wheat stores. As the glaciers melt and the rivers dry, this issue will only become more critical. Pakistan—unstable, facing dramatic drops in water supplies, caged in by India's vastly superior conventional forces—will be forced to make one of three choices. It can let its people starve. It can cooperate with India in building dams and reservoirs, handing over control of its waters to the country it regards as the enemy. Or it can ramp up support for the insurgency, gambling that violence can bleed India's resolve without degenerating into full-fledged war. "The idea of ceding territory to India is anathema," says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University. "Suffering, particularly for the elite, is unacceptable. So what's the other option? Escalate."

"It's very bad news," he adds, referring to the melting glaciers. "It's extremely grim."

The Kashmiri water conflict is just one of many climate-driven geopolitical crises on the horizon. These range from possible economic and treaty conflicts that will likely be resolved peacefully—the waters of the Rio Grande and Colorado River have long been a point of contention between the United States and Mexico, for instance—to possible outright wars. In 2007, the London-based NGO International Alert compiled a list of countries with a high risk of armed conflict due to climate change. They cited no fewer than 46 countries, or one in every four, including some of the world's most gravely unstable countries, such as Somalia, Nigeria, Iran, Colombia, Bolivia, Israel, Indonesia, Bosnia, Algeria, and Peru. Already, climate change might be behind the deep drought that contributed to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Rising global temperatures are putting the whole world under stress, and the first countries to succumb will be those, such as Sudan, that are least able to adapt. Compare the Netherlands and Bangladesh: Both are vulnerable to rises in sea levels, with large parts of their territory near or under the level of the waves. But the wealthy Dutch are building state-of-the-art flood-control systems and experimenting with floating houses. All the impoverished Bangladeshis can do is prepare to head for higher ground. "It's best not to get too bogged down in the physics of climate," says Nils Gilman, an analyst at Monitor Group and the author of a 2006 report on climate change and national security. "Rather, you should look at the social, physical, and political geography of regions that are impacted."

Indeed, with a population half that of the United States crammed into an area a little smaller than Louisiana, Bangladesh might be among the most imperiled countries on Earth. In a normal decade, the country experiences one major flood. In the last 11 years, its rivers have leapt their banks three times, most recently in 2007. That winter, Cyclone Sidr, a Category 5 storm, tore into the country's coast, flattening tin shacks, ripping through paddies, and plunging the capital into darkness. As many as 10,000 people may have died.

Bangladesh's troubles are likely to ripple across the region, where immigration flows have been historically accompanied by rising tensions. In India's northeastern state of Assam, for instance, rapidly changing demographics have led to riots, massacres, and the rise of an insurgency. As global warming tightens its squeeze on Bangladesh, these pressures will mount. And in a worst-case scenario, in which the country is struck by sudden, cataclysmic flooding, the international community will have to cope with a humanitarian emergency in which tens of millions of waterlogged refugees suddenly flee toward India, Burma, China, and Pakistan.

Indeed, the U.S. military has come to recognize that weakened states—the Bangladeshes and Pakistans of the world—are often breeding grounds for extremism, terrorism, and potentially destabilizing conflict. And as it has done so, it has increasingly deployed in response to natural disasters. Such missions often require a warlike scale of forces, if not warlike duration. During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for instance, the United States sent 15,000 military personnel, 25 ships, and 94 aircraft. "The military brings a tremendous capacity of command-and-control and communications," says retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of U.S. Central Command. "You have tremendous logistics capability, transportation, engineering, the ability to purify water."

As the world warms, more years could start to look like 2007, when the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced it had responded to a record number of droughts, floods, and storms. Of the 13 natural disasters it responded to, only one—an earthquake in Peru—was not related to the climate.

Worryingly, some analysts have suggested the United States might not fully grasp what it needs to respond to this challenge. The U.S. military has been required by law since 2008 to incorporate climate change into its planning, but though Pentagon strategic documents describe a climate-stressed future, there's little sign the Department of Defense is pivoting to meet it. "Most of the things that the military is requesting are still for a conventional war with a peer competitor," says Sharon Burke, an energy and climate change specialist at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. "They say they're going to have more humanitarian missions, but there's no discussion at all of ‘What do you need?'" The rate at which the war in Iraq has chewed through vehicles and equipment, for instance, has astonished military planners. "Is this a forewarning of what it's like to operate in harsher conditions?" Burke asks.

To be sure, some of the more severe consequences of climate change are expected to unfold over a relatively extended time frame. But so does military development, procurement, and planning. As global warming churns the world's weather, it's becoming increasingly clear that it's time to start thinking about the long term. In doing so, the West may need to adopt an even broader definition of what it takes to protect itself from danger. Dealing with the repercussions of its emissions might mean buttressing governments, deploying into disaster zones, or tamping down insurgencies. But the bulk of the West's effort might be better spent at home. If the rivers of Kashmir have the potential to plunge South Asia into chaos, the most effective response might be to do our best to ensure the glaciers never melt at all.

Stephan Faris is the author of Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley, from which reporting for this article is drawn.

Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images