Whether it is an unexpected food crisis or a devastating hurricane, the world’s weakest states are the most exposed when crisis strikes. In the fourth annual Failed States Index, FOREIGN POLICY and The Fund for Peace rank the countries where state collapse may be just one disaster away.
When troops opened fire in the streets of Mogadishu in early May, it was a tragically familiar scene in war-torn Somalia. Except on this day, soldiers weren’t fighting Islamist militias or warlords. They were combating a mob of tens of thousands rioting over soaring food prices.
On top of the country’s already colossal challenges, a food crisis seems an especially cruel turn for a place like Somalia. But it is a test that dozens of weak states are being forced to confront this year, with escalating prices threatening to undo years of poverty-alleviation and development efforts. The unrest in Mogadishu echoes food riots that have erupted on nearly every continent in the past year. Tens of thousands of Mexicans protested when the price of corn flour jumped 400 percent in early 2007. Thousands of Russian pensioners took to the streets in November to call for a return to price controls on milk and bread. In Egypt, the army was ordered to bake more loaves at military-run bakeries after riots broke out across the country. Kabul, Port-au-Prince, and Jakarta experienced angry protests over spikes in the price of staples.
But if few foretold the hunger and hardship that have followed the uptick in prices, the events of 2007 revealed that unexpected shocks can play a decisive role in the stability of an increasing number of vulnerable states. Primary among last year’s shocks was the implosion of the U.S. subprime market, which burst housing bubbles worldwide, slowed trade, and sent currencies into tailspins. A contested election in Kenya in December swiftly shredded any semblance of ethnic peace in a country that many had considered an African success story. And though Benazir Bhutto feared her own assassination upon returning to Pakistan, her murder reverberated in a country already contending with the challenges of ambitious mullahs, suicide bombers, and an all-powerful military.
These shocks are the sparks of state failure, events that further corrode the integrity of weak states and push those on the edge closer to combustion. As the food crisis has shown, these political and economic setbacks are not unique to the world’s most vulnerable countries. But weak states are weak precisely because they lack the resiliency to cope with unwelcome—and unpleasant—surprises. When a global economic downturn pinches the main export base, an election goes awry, or a natural disaster wipes out villages, the cracks of vulnerability open wider.
Because it is crucial to closely monitor weak states—their progress, their deterioration, and their ability to withstand challenges—the Fund for Peace, an independent research organization, and FOREIGN POLICY present the fourth annual Failed States Index. Using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, we ranked 177 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration. To do so, we examined more than 30,000 publicly available sources, collected from May to December 2007, to form the basis of the index’s scores. The 60 most vulnerable states are listed in the rankings, and the full results are available at ForeignPolicy.com and fundforpeace.org.