Failed States

States of Change

Which countries gained and declined the most in this year's Failed States Index?

In the seven years of the Failed States Index, Somalia has had the ignominious distinction of occupying the worst spot for the past four years straight. Even with a relatively functional and pretty much autonomous "statelet" in the north, Somaliland, the country as a whole still manages to score badly enough to make up for that glimmer of unrecognized hope.

Worse still, Somalia is in no danger of losing its position anytime soon. A combination of widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, abysmal development, and a penchant for inconveniencing the rest of the world by taking merchant vessels hostage has given the country a score that -- much as they seem to try -- neither Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can hope to match.

At first glance, the map tells a broader story of stagnation. A few outposts of relative order -- Western Europe, the north and south extremes of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, along with Japan and South Korea -- represent the world's hubs of sustainability and relative stability. But between those areas of green and yellow is an awful lot of red and orange, representing different degrees of danger. With some exceptions, the deepest shades of red can be found in South Asia and across Africa's middle, where conflict is frequent and human suffering all too common. Sadly, the colors have not changed much over the years.

But it would be wrong to assume that one year's Failed States Index map is a carbon copy of its predecessors. This year, Mother Nature was to blame for some of the most significant worsening. Haiti, which saw a devastating earthquake in January 2010, suffered the most, climbing to the fifth spot on the index. Another massive temblor shook Chile in February, killing as many as 500 people and destroying buildings and infrastructure. Deadly floods in Benin, the worst since 1963, displaced nearly 700,000 people and led to significant outbreaks of cholera. Drought and poor harvests led to a food crisis in Niger. Although natural disasters affecting major population centers will almost always have a significant impact on countries, the state's capacity to adequately respond makes the difference between a manageable crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Elsewhere in Africa, ethnic violence in northern Liberia and renewed separatist troubles in Senegal's Casamance region led to setbacks in both countries' progress. In Rwanda, the increasing authoritarianism of President Paul Kagame, including further restrictions on the media and opposition groups, did no favors for the country's score card. But the picture in Africa is not all bad, with three of the top 10 most improved countries for 2011. Sudan and Chad improved their scores slightly largely due to minor abatements of existing conflicts in both countries; Algeria also improved substantially, in no small part due to the government's more effective combating of regional terrorist groups.

Surprisingly, two of the 10 most significant declines came in Western Europe: by Ireland, a victim of severe economic woes and recipient of an EU bailout, and Belgium, where even the threat of senior politicians' wives abstaining from connubial duties failed to inspire the formation of a government. Ireland's score worsened by 2.9 points, the fourth-worst year-on-year performance of any country, and Belgium's score worsened by 2.1 points, representing the tenth-greatest decline. (In a historic shift, Finland upended Norway as the best-performing country on this year's index.)

After Haiti, the second-most significant worsening was experienced by Kyrgyzstan, whose 2010 uprising, marred by ethnic and regional violence, has largely been forgotten as the world's attention has been diverted to the upheavals of the Arab Spring. (Stability is slowly returning under the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva.) Another of the largest deteriorations recorded was actually by Tunisia, the one Arab country whose revolution began within the index's data collection period.

There are, thankfully, some good news stories from this year's index. Although only three years ago the world looked on as Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, the small Black Sea country experienced the largest improvement of any state in the 2011 index, though much of it was recovered ground following the devastating war that uprooted thousands. Georgia has profited from significant government reforms to the security apparatus, including greater transparency and accountability, as well as a clampdown on endemic corruption. Both policies have led to a substantial reduction in organized crime and thus greater internal stability.

Serbia's score improved the second-most, helped by more arrests of war-crimes suspects and a continued path toward European integration. The Fund for Peace's decision to remove Kosovo from Serbia's calculations, and thus relieve Serbia of what had become -- statistically, at least -- somewhat of a millstone around its neck, also contributed to the country's improvement. Nevertheless, like Georgia, Serbia's progress is still painfully slow.

Continued economic growth saw the scores of China and Peru improve markedly, with respective annual growth rates of 10 and 8.7 percent. Even Sudan, Chad, and East Timor -- all of which continue to experience significant hardship -- made modest improvement. In the Arab world, two countries largely untouched by much of the recent uprisings, Algeria and Lebanon, also happened to be two of the most improved countries on the index.

Looking forward to 2012, and given the events of 2011 so far, it is fairly safe to assume that the likes of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen will probably be the source of much discussion in next year's index. And let's not forget that on July 9, it is widely expected that Southern Sudan will be recognized as an independent country and U.N. member state.

Although all states are subject to pressures, stable and successful ones demonstrate an ability to deal with them effectively, and especially through their capacity to absorb shocks such as economic crises, protests, and natural disasters. The sad reality is that continued failure or inability to deal effectively with their problems will keep countries like Somalia, Sudan, and the DRC firmly anchored at the top of the Failed States Index for years to come.

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Failed States

The Undeveloping World

The Eurozone's weakest have taken a hit in the latest Failed States Index.

Over the last three years, the world's blockbuster economic instability has been staged in some unlikely settings. Developed countries like Greece, Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, and now Spain -- hardly the usual suspects -- are now producing the most alarming headlines. And as a reminder that no country is immune to fragility, all these countries saw their performances on the Failed States Index worsen in the last couple of years, highlighting the fact that economic pressures on a state can be linked to political pressures -- and the combination can be destabilizing.

Economically, Ireland has shown the sharpest downward trend. One of the index's 12 indicators is an excellent proxy for just how bad things got: Ireland's score on Poverty and Economic Decline (PED) worsened by almost two full points on a 10-point scale over the past four years, jumping from 2.1 in the 2007 Failed States Index (which looks at the year 2006) to 3.9 in the 2011 index (which looks at the year 2010). Like Ireland, Greece's scores show a similar worsening trajectory beginning in 2006. That year, the country scored 3.5 for PED, with an unemployment rate of around 8.7 percent; today Greece has an unemployment rate of around 14 percent and a PED score of 5.1. Portugal's PED score also worsened by a full point. In each of these cases, the deterioration reflected rising unemployment and declining economic growth.

The FSI, however, is not so much a deep economic analysis as it is a broader overview of the linkages between economic, social, and political drivers of instability. Viewed through this lens, it becomes clear that the crisis in the eurozone is not just economic; it has had severe political ramifications as well. Countries across Europe have been compelled to implement austerity measures to cut government spending and relieve the burden on stretched state finances. Unsurprisingly, such measures are unpopular, which translates into frustration and political problems for governments.

Greece was the poorest performer on political indicators by far, reflecting a general lack of confidence in the government's ability to handle the crisis. In a recent poll, 77 percent of Greek respondents said they did not trust the prime minister to solve the problem; 80 percent said they did not trust the finance minister. Massive protests have at times turned violent. In one incident, several people were killed in clashes with police, during which protesters set fire to a bank in Athens. In Portugal, Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned in the midst of the crisis there.

Yet what is perhaps most alarming about the eurozone crises is that they have spread like wildfire, a contagion that also shows up in the Failed States Index. Spain, for example, which has not yet received a bailout, shows serious signals of decline. Its indicators for state legitimacy -- that is, the degree to which the population views the government as acting in its interest -- and economic performance have deteriorated since 2006, by 0.5 and 1.1 points, respectively. Unemployment has soared to 20 percent, and approval ratings of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero have plummeted. This May, thousands came out to protest the political and financial establishment, which they feel contributed to their economic troubles.

Europe's recent woes highlight the difficulties in shoring up the weaknesses in any state. Often, an attempt to address problems in one area, such as imposing austerity measures to improve the economy, can have a negative effect on another, such as state legitimacy. Strengthening state performance is thus often a two-steps-forward, one-step-back affair. Often long-term stability and prosperity require hard choices in the short term. But the Failed States Index makes clear that in the end, success requires understanding that there is no escaping the long run.

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