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Nations on the brink
While critics of the FSI deride the reliability of its data and assumptions, it is a useful tool for understanding and monitoring the condition of “failed states”

FSI 2013 has ranked India 79th, which puts it in the category between “stable” and “warning”

The concept of Failed States Index, published and promoted by the American journal and think tank Foreign Policy, in collaboration with Funds for Peace, an independent research and educational organisation based in Washington DC, is gradually gaining currency even though it is also being criticised as a tool for extending American interests by playing on the vulnerability of smaller and weaker nations. The Index puts forward a total of 12 criteria extending to social, economic and political arenas for a nation to be deemed a failed state.

The Failed States Index was published for the first time in 2005. Since then it has come out every year. As per the availability of data, 178 states have been included and ranked in the Failed States Index 2013, which comprises a color-coded list of countries by rank and sustainability. A high rank indicates a high level of sustainability, a low rank indicates a low level of sustainability. The Index lists countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and Chad as the top five most vulnerable and unstable nations in the world. The first 20 countries in the Index are regarded as ‘failed’ states. For the sixth consecutive year, Somalia topped the ranking. On the other hand, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark are named as the top-most sustainable countries in the world. The United States is ranked 159th on the list, and is considered as a stable nation, while India is ranked 79th on the list and is in the category between ‘stable’ and ‘warning.’

The problem with the Index is that many of its parameters appear to be based on subjective evaluation rather than on hard facts. In many cases the data that goes into the making of certain parameters can’t be authenticated and often the sources are non other than the American agencies themselves, which cast doubt on the reliability of the figures. This has triggered debates and angst in some quarters. Many are left wondering how far the FSI and its analysis should be counted in judging the level of failure (or success) of a nation. Like most indices of this nature, the Index arrives at its conclusions based on the initial assumptions underlying each parameter. But it is these underlying assumptions that can distort value judgments, and which have so often been responsible for engendering controversies in the process. For instance, the most sustainable nation on the earth, Finland, has an above average suicide rate.
Some experts nullify the significance of FSI by saying that “The concept of the failed state is meaningless. It has always been a way of constructing a rationale for imposing US interests on less powerful nations.” The obvious methodological weaknesses in the compilation of the Failed States Index also make it unable to capture the important differences between state collapse, state failure and state fragility, leading to an unhelpful ossification of the three into the unhelpful binary of failed or not failed states. The American linguist, historian and activist Noam Chomsky, in his famous book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006) argues that the US itself was becoming a ‘failed state’ and therefore a danger to its people.”

Measuring the degree of weakness and failure of any state is undoubtedly a difficult task and the FSI is not without its flaws. But it is a useful tool for understanding and monitoring the condition of “failed states” to tackle the underlying challenges. Today, weak and failing states are seen as posing a grave challenge to international security and world order besides becoming a major hurdle in spreading the fruits of economic globalization and prosperity to the more blighted parts of the world. However, it would be preferable if an index such as the FSI is formulated and prepared by a more credible and neutral body like the United Nations or World Bank with access to reliable data and appropriate techniques. That kind of initiative would be most welcome and more universally accepted.

By:- Amir Hossain

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