The Modern State: Strong, Weak and Failed

739 words | 3 page(s)

The Foreign Policy index of Fragile States and the Index of State Weakness in the Developing World, produced by the Brookings Institute, incorporate distinctive methodologies and analysis so as to determine the strength or weakness of nation-states. In this regard, for both reports, what is immediately crucial is how strength or weakness of a nation-state is defined. For the Brookings Institute index, the strength/weakness of a state is measured according to four fundamental categories, economic, political, security and social welfare, such that a weak state is one that »lack the essential capacity and/or will to fulfill (the) four sets of critical government responsibilities.« (3) The Foreign Policy (2014) Index, in contrast, employs twelve categories: demographics, refugees and IDPs, group grievance, human flight, uneven deviation, poverty and economic decline, legitimacy of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, factionalized elites and external intervention, so as to rank 187 of the world’s countries.

When comparing the methodology of the two indices, and without reflecting on the degrees of subjectivity and internal bias in formulating these scores, it would appear in one sense that the Foreign Policy index is simply too diverse, from my understanding weighing all twelve categories equally, whereas the Brookings Institute applies a much more robust index. That is to say, on an intuitive level it would appear that the fragility of a state is in the first instance determined by the sense in which the state is able to function, for better or for worse, or as the Brookings Index indicates, whether the country has the »ability to effectively control substantial portions of their territory.« (15) Thus, we can imagine a state where the security apparatus and control is achieved, but it fails in other regards: however, the state could still be considered strong from this perspective, in so far as the government is stable and is the clear hegemonic power in the country. However, even with this concern, both indexes appear to address this point, in so far as in the FI index, North Korea receives a higher score than expected, while in both indices, Somalia, with a lack of a central government, features on top and at the very top of the respective lists.

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In this regard, when we consider states like Somalia, without strong central governments that fail to control the country, such high rankings appear entirely accurate, since what is being measured is the effectiveness of a state. However, one problem with such a list, in one sense, is that it views the various nation-states as essentially autonomous actors, each either effectively performing a function as a state or failing to do so. What such a methodology overlooks, in other words, is the imbalance of power and how stronger and more stable states may in fact promote and cause failed states through interventions. The classic example here is the United States and literature could be cited and a further research question structured according to precisely this thesis, namely, that if one looks at countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya in the Foreign Policy report, they are all rated in the top 15. On the other hand, in the Brookings Institute Report, Syria is ranked in the mid-50s, but this report is from 2008. The United States’ policy has been to support rebel groups and opposition fighters, associated with Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Syria, thus turning Syria into a failed state. When considering the allies the U.S. has made in Syria, this can only be considered a desire from a world hegemon to create failed states, namely, the creation of failed states as a foreign policy decision, a strategy that is advocated by theories such as Fourth Generation Warfare.

Thus, when considering which countries should be ranked higher and lower, we must also reflect on the sense in which lower countries’ ratings are the direct result of foreign intervention, above all that of the United States, to deliberately create failed states and power vacuums, so as to fulfill specific foreign policy objectives. In this respect, the error of such lists is precisely that they overlook the dimension of international relations and foreign policy, and instead present a naive view of nation-states as sovereign political actors entirely responsible for their own fates.

  • Foreign Policy. Failed States Index. Foreign Policy, 2014. Retrieved September 30, 2016 at http://foreignpolicy.com/fragile-states-2014/
  • Rice, Susan E. & Patrick Stewart. Index of State Weakness in the Developing World. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, 2008.

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