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Georgia Wins “Biggest Mover” Award in FP’s Annual Failed States Index

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The 2009 Failed States Index has just been released, a fifth annual collaboration between Foreign Policy Magazine and the Fund for Peace, ranking 177 countries according to a range of economic, political and social indicators. Considering the ease with which some people tend to throw this term around, I am compelled to open the discussion here with some attempt at agreeing on just what it means for a state to be “failed”. Robert I. Rotberg, director of the Kennedy School of Government’s program on intrastate conflict and conflict resolution and president of the World Peace Foundation, offers this summary of what qualifies:

“Failed states have two defining criteria: They deliver very low quantities and qualities of political goods to their citizens, and they have lost their monopoly on violence.”

I’ve spent a couple of days looking through the guts of this study, in part for the Latin America side of this blog and have also reordered the rankings to zero in on C.I.S. countries. Pop out the box at the right to see the sample of countries in question or go to FP’s website for the entire survey. More discussion of Georgia and Russia after the jump.

First, on a scale of 1 to 177 with 1 being Somalia and 177 being Norway, Georgia is ranked 33, making it the second worst among the C.I.S. countries. At least equally as significant, Georgia ranked 56 in the 2008 index. It shouldn’t surprise us that this move of 23 places in the survey rankings is the biggest move within C.I.S. countries. What is more striking, however, is that Georgia was the biggest mover – up or down – of THE ENTIRE WORLD as well.

Among the 12 indicators that make up each country’s composite score, Georgia’s decline in the rankings is largely attributed to the following three:

1. Refugees : Massive Movement of Refugees or Internally Displaced Persons creating Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. The survey qualifies this indicator as such:

  • Forced uprooting of large communities as a result of random or targeted violence and/or repression, causing food shortages, disease, lack of clean water, land competition, and turmoil that can spiral into larger humanitarian and security problems, both within and between countries.

2. Human Rights : Suspension or Arbitrary Application of the Rule of Law and Widespread Violation of Human Rights. This indicator is most responsible for Georgia’s fall down the rankings. The survey breaks this out into four parts:

  • Emergence of authoritarian, dictatorial or military rule in which constitutional and democratic institutions and processes are suspended or manipulated
  • Outbreak of politically inspired (as opposed to criminal) violence against innocent civilians
  • Rising number of political prisoners or dissidents who are denied due process consistent with international norms and practices
  • Widespread abuse of legal, political and social rights, including those of individuals, groups or cultural institutions (e.g., harassment of the press, politicization of the judiciary, internal use of military for political ends, public repression of political opponents, religious or cultural persecution)

3. External Intervention : Intervention of Other States or External Political Actors. This is clearly the most obvious change in Georgia’s situation. The survey has a twofold definition of this indicator:

  • Military or Para-military engagement in the internal affairs of the state at risk by outside armies, states, identity groups or entities that affect the internal balance of power or resolution of the conflict
  • Intervention by donors, especially if there is a tendency towards over-dependence on foreign aid or peacekeeping missions

Russia, by comparison, comes in ranked at 71, not much different from its ranking of 72 last year and a slight improvement over its 2007 ranking of 62. The fact that its composite score has hardly changed across the three years I suppose tells us that other similarly-oriented countries worsened relative to Russia during this period. Looking at how Russia scores across the individual social, political and economic indicators, it appears the biggest risk it faces is macroeconomic shock, but of course it isn’t the only country with this problem.

The index does not seek to assign blame for the increase or decrease in these various risks, presumably because the survey researchers know deep down that such a task is better left to the comment boards of blogs such as this one. But before signing off here to leave the debate in the capable hands of our dear readers, I would just like to point out one more item from the index’s findings that should make everyone, regardless of of political orientation, suspicious of the survey: Honduras, who just had a coup last week, is ranked at – wait for it – 90, down from 94 in each of the previous two years (further discussion of the Latin America situation available here). Which countries rank worse than Honduras? Apart from the obvious (Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Zimbabwe), we also have China…Turkey…Jordan…Philippines…

No government appreciates having its country called a failed state. But whenever the phrase comes up it’s an indicator of something not quite right and the perception alone is a problem for everyone involved, regardless of what the truth is.

How much should we trust this index?