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Failed States

Failed States

Countries where the government is no longer in control become failed states. Failed state status indicates the lowest possible condition a state can fall into. That status, however, is not necessarily a death sentence for a country or state, as it can be reversed with considerable effort from the governing body. Any country can become a failed state, although it usually does not happen overnight and its decline can be clearly seen.

Definition of failed states

A territory is organised under a government. However, sometimes this political and/or economic structure becomes so weak that the government is no longer in control. This will result in what we call a 'failed state'. Such a failed state can no longer function, certainly not with its people's best interest at heart.

There are several characteristics of a failed state:

  1. The government cannot project its authority over the people and the territory
  2. It is unable to protect its boundaries resulting in a loss of territory
  3. Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
  4. The inability to provide public services
  5. The inability to implement public policies
  6. Civil liberties and human rights are no longer protected
  7. The residents of a failed state will have no physical security and no stable political and economic systems in place
  8. The inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

There are several reasons why a state would fail, such as predatory and corrupt government, civil wars, genocide, and ethnic violence.

Other contributing factors for a state to fail are:

  • insurgency
  • high crime rates
  • overly bureaucratic processes
  • judicial incompetence
  • military interference in politics

Failed states tend to suffer from civil violence, crime, internal corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and a crumbling infrastructure.

It is worth remembering that a failed state is reversible, although it takes enormous effort from the governing body in question. This principle goes for any country, as a stable country can become a failed state.

Fragile States Index

Each year, the Fund for Peace will release the 'Fragile States Index' (FSI), previously called the 'Failed States Index, showing the fragility of 179 countries. They look at 12 metrics to determine the fragility of a state.

Fragile State Index 12 metrics
Metric
Explanation
"Security Apparatus considers security threats to a state, such as bombings, coups, and terrorism
Factionalised Elites considers the fragmentation of state institutions along ethnic, class, clan, racial or religious lines, the brinkmanship and gridlock between ruling elites, and the use of nationalistic political rhetoric by the ruling elite, such as nationalism
Group Grievance focuses on divisions and schisms between different groups in society, particularly political divisions
Economic Decline

considers the economic decline and possibly related poverty of a state

Uneven Economic Development considers economic inequality, regardless of the actual performance of an economy
Human Flight and Brain Drain considers the economic impact of human displacement and its consequences on a state's development
State Legitimacy considers the representativeness and openness of government and its relationship with its citizens
Public Services an indicator that refers to the presence of basic state functions that serve the people
Human Rights and the Rule of Law considers the relationship between the state and its population insofar as fundamental human rights are protected, and freedoms are observed and respected
Demographic Pressures considerers the pressure upon the state deriving from the population itself or the government around it
Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) measures the pressure upon states caused by the forced displacement of large communities as a result of social, political, environmental or other causes
External Intervention considers the influence and impact of external factors in the functioning, particularly security and economic, of a state."
Table 1: 12 metrics of the Fragile State Index(1)

179 countries are reviewed each year; however, only recognised sovereign states based on UN membership are included in this review. The exception is Palestine, as it is included in the assessment of Israel.

The higher the score, the worse the state of that country is, and each indicator counts for 10 points.

The status of 179 countries is reviewed every year by the Fragile States Index.

Failed States Countries according to the Fragile State Index StudySmarterFig. 1 - Map showing countries ranked according to the Fragile State Index in 2020.

Examples of failed states

Several countries have been considered the worst of the failed states over the last few years.

Here are a few examples.

Examples of failed states: Eritrea

This is a small country in the Horn of Africa. Ever since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, dictators have ruled it. Many Eritreans have suffered due to military clashes and failed governments over the years. This country scores poorly on human rights, demographic pressures, and the state's legitimacy.

Syria as an example of failed states

more than 100,000 lives have been lost during 2 years of civil wars, and there is no end in sight yet. Syria has a near-bottom score for Security Apparatus.

Zimbabwe as an example of failed states

this country suffered massively when ruled by one of the world's worst dictators, Robert Mugabe. Though he helped decolonise the country, he was accused of serious human rights abuses and corruption. Zimbabwe has more than 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and the inflation is terrible.

Examples of failed states: Congo

There is a very high prevalence of AIDS, as well as horrible malnutrition, pollution and disease. Congo got the worst score for Demographic Pressure. Several hundreds of thousands of people are killed in internal conflicts every year, and an estimated 400,000 women were raped during the civil war 2006-2007.

The map below shows more examples of failed states over the last few years.

Failed States examples of failed states over the past few years StudySmarterFig. 2 - Examples of failed states over the past few years.2

Remember that a failed state can recover. While these are some extreme examples of failed states, some may recover soon.

Failed states 2020

To determine the failed states of 2020, we will be looking at the data from the FSI from 2020. Considering that there is no specific answer to what score constitutes a failed state, we will list the countries that fall under 'alert'. The map below shows 9 countries that fall under 'alert'.

Failed States countries under alert StudySmarterFig. 3 - Countries under 'alert'.2

Fragile states

Apart from failed states, there are also fragile states, sometimes also called 'vulnerable states'. States classified as fragile would need to undertake action otherwise, they will become a failed state. The map below will show all the countries listed as 'fragile' as of 2021 based on the FSI of 2021.

Failed States countries marked as fragile as of 2021 StudySmarterFig. 4 - Countries marked as 'fragile' as of 2021.2

No specific indicator, score, or rank defines when a fragile state becomes a failed state.

Once again, remember that the status of any country can change for better or worse. Sometimes countries that we perceive as powerful can become fragile states. China is an example. When you look at the map in figure 1, you can see that China is yellow, indicating a warning. While China may not be a full-on fragile state, if it does not take the necessary precautions, it will certainly become a fragile state.

Criticism

While there are statistics when it comes to indicating a failed or fragile state, some caution is needed as there is no official consensus on the definition of a 'failed state'. The nature of the indicators is subjective.

The Fragile States Index does receive criticism for the following reasons:

  • The Human Development Index to reach the final score is not included. Instead, it focuses on institutions to measure what are often also considered human aspects of development
  • FSI draws parallels between the fragility of a state with underdevelopment. This leads to the assumption that (economic) underdevelopment leads to fragility and therefore leads to the assumption that a developed state is stable or sustainable
  • FSI measures the failure (or success) of a state without including progress made outside of the 12 metrics. Therefore important measures such as child mortality rates and access to clean water are not taken into account

So, while the FSI is a good indicator of failed or fragile states, it is worth remembering that it still has its limitations.

Failed States - Key takeaways

  • A failed state, in simple terms, is: a territory organised under 1 government. However, sometimes this political structure is not working. This will result in what we call a failed state
  • There are several characteristics of a failed state:
    1. The government cannot project its authority over the people and the territory
    2. It is unable to protect its boundaries, loss of territory
    3. Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
    4. The inability to provide public services
    5. The inability to implement public policies
    6. Civil liberties and human rights are no longer protected
    7. The residents of a failed state will have no physical security and no stable political and economic systems in place
    8. The inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community
  • There are several reasons why a state fails:- predatory and corrupt government- civil wards- genocide- ethnic violence- insurgency- high crime rate- overly bureaucratic processes- judicial incompetence- military interference in politics
  • Apart from failed states, there are also fragile states, sometimes also called 'vulnerable states'. States that are classified as fragile would need to undertake action; otherwise, they will become a failed state
  • Regardless of the status of a country or state, its status can change at any moment, for better or worse

References

  1. Fragile State Index Indicators. Fragile State Index.
  2. Maps for fig. 2, 3, and 4. were created using data from the Fragile State Index website.
  3. Fig. 1: Map showing countries ranked according to the Fragile State Index in 2020 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Countries_according_to_the_Fragile_States_Index.svg) by Randam (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Randam) Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 2, 3, and 4: Mapchart.net (https://www.mapchart.net/) Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Failed States

While China may not be a full-on fragile state yet, it is certainly on its way to becoming one if it does not take active measures.

A failed state is a state or country that is no longer working in its political structure. Failed states have lost its people's trust and the population tends to suffer from civil violence, crime, internal corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and a crumbling infrastructure. 

Examples of failed states include Eritrea, Syria, Zimbabwe, and Congo

A state that is fragile is a state/country that is not a failed state yet. However, any bad changes to the state/country in question can lead to a country to become a failed state.

In 2020, the following countries can be defined as failed states:

  1. Yemen
  2. Somalia
  3. South Sudan
  4. Syria
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo
  6. Central African Republic
  7. Chad
  8. Sudan
  9. Afghanistan

Final Failed States Quiz

Question

What is the definition of a failed state?

Show answer

Answer

When political and/or economic structure becomes so weak that the government is no longer in control. This will result in what we call a 'failed state'. Such a failed state can no longer function.

Show question

Question

What are the characteristics of a failed state?

Show answer

Answer

  1. The government cannot project its authority over the people and the territory
  2. It is unable to protect its boundaries, loss of territory
  3. Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
  4. The inability to provide public services
  5. The inability to implement public policies
  6. Civil liberties and human rights are no longer protected
  7. The residents of a failed state will have no physical security and no stable political and economic systems in place
  8. The inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

Show question

Question

What are reasons for the failure of a state?


Show answer

Answer

  • predatory and corrupt government
  • civil wars
  • genocide
  • ethnic violence

Show question

Question

What other contributing factors can lead to failed state?


Show answer

Answer

  • insurgency
  • high crime rates
  • overly bureaucratic processes
  • judicial incompetence 
  • military interference in politics

Show question

Question

What is the Fragile States Index?


Show answer

Answer

The FSI is an index that is released every year by the Fund For Peace organisation showing the fragility of 179 countries. These fragilities are based on 12 metrics, each worth 10 points. The higher the score, the worse off a country is.

Show question

Question

What are the 12 metrics of the Fragile States Index?


Show answer

Answer

  1. Security Apparatus
  2. Factionalised Elites
  3. Group Grievance
  4. Economic Decline
  5. Uneven Economic Development
  6. Human Flight and Brain Drain
  7. State Legitimacy
  8. Public Services
  9. Human Rights and the Rule of Law
  10. Demographic Pressures
  11. Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
  12. External Intervention

Show question

Question

Name a few countries that are considered the worst failed states over the last few years?


Show answer

Answer

  • Eritrea
  • Syria
  • Zimbabwe
  • Congo

Show question

Question

What are the 9 failed states of 2020?


Show answer

Answer

  1. Yemen
  2. Somalia
  3. South Sudan
  4. Syria
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo
  6. Central African Republic
  7. Chad
  8. Sudan
  9. Afghanistan

Show question

Question

True or False: there is a specific indicator, score or rank that defines the moment when a fragile state becomes a failed state?

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

What do we need to remember about a country's status?


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Answer

That the status of any country can change at any moment, for better or worse. 

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Question

What is some of the criticism that the Failed States Index has faced?


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Answer

  • The Human Development Index to reach the final score is not included. Instead, it focuses on institutions to measure what are often also considered human aspects for development
     
  • FSI draws parallels between the fragility of a state with underdevelopment. This leads to the assumption that (economic) underdevelopment leads to fragility and therefore leading to the assumption that a developed state is stable or sustainable
     
  • FSI measures the failure (or success) of a state without including progresses made outside of the 12 metrics. Therefore important measures such as child mortality rates and access to clean water, are not taken into account

Show question

Question

What is a fragile state?

Show answer

Answer

Apart from failed states, there are also fragile states, sometimes also called 'vulnerable states'. States that are classified as fragile would need to undertake action otherwise they will become a failed state. 

Show question

Question

Is China a failed state?

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Answer

No, but it may be in danger of becoming a failed state

Show question

Question

True of False: any state can become a failed state

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Answer

True, any state has the potential to become a failed state

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Question

How can a country's government prevent it from becoming a failed state?

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Answer

Investing in healthcare and education. Reduction in corruption, insecurity and poverty

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