Failed States Index 2010 – Same same, but different!?

Finally, I take the issuance of this year’s Failed States Index as an opportune occasion to start writing again.

To have a short-cut introduction, for different reasons I did not manage to write earlier on this blog. First, I felt somewhat exhausted after all the reporting from my work in Haiti during January, February and March. Secondly, after all those stories, I did not really have the impression that anything happening here in Germany would be of similar importance to dedicate the time and the space to it. Thirdly, I had a lot of other stuff to do of course. Searching for new tasks, doing academic work and – not least – coming back to normal life and enjoying time with family and friends.

But now back to the failed states. Seems, this will be one of the more important phenomena in this 21st century. Six years ago, Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace started this kind of monitoring initiative. Looking into the academic and journalistic discourse, we will find that people talk about failed, weak or collapsed states since more or less 30 years (though the first years have been very pioneer years). So the debate is to some extent tied to a period in which new paradigms emerged – some like “fall of the Iron Curtain”, “peace dividend”, “new wars” and “accelerated globalization”. Later then they were followed by “human security”, “responsibility to protect”, “network(ed) security”, stronger notions of human rights and all sorts of other political premises.

I will not go into detail concerning the actual results of the index. Anyway, they are more or less the same as in the previous years. One may be happy about countries like Liberia or Sierra Leone, improving a lot these days or sad (like me) in the case of Haiti, that unfortunately lost some freshly achieved minimum of stability due to the January 12th earthquake. Other candidates simply remain where we used to see them (Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo…).
Neither I have the idea to discuss this index as a such. It is just one more index, providing data, like Transparency International’s CPI or UNDP’s HDI. Researchers can be happy that indices like that are being produced by the respective organisms – after all they provide some sort of comparative data corpus. On the other side there is a question worth to ask: What do you actually draw from this data? Is the DR Congo the 5th state nearest to total breakdown in the year 2010? Is this any information we may work with? Well, that might identify the basic problem we have with those indices. Nevertheless, I would never opt for abandoning the option to use them as a supplementary source of knowledge. I am a big fan of the Failed States Index, although I know, that it cannot tell me, which state is actually nearer to failure than another.

Opening another debate… how to fix them? How to prevent that humanitarian disasters happen again and again? There are different levels of decision, interaction and operation that matter in the context of state failure and (internal, transborder or regional) conflict. Maybe one can divide them into a field of international diplomacy and foreign policy of on-involved actors, a field of borders (physically and virtually) where actors are operating either through border or within an area they are not naturally part of and a third field of domestic dynamics. The latter is the genuine examination ground of classical statehood research, whereas the first is a substantial part of international relations. The remaining is more difficult to classify. It encompasses involved states, in situ diplomacy, economic actors, military actors, GOs, NGOs, INGOs and sometimes more actors. All of them have certain tasks and aims – all of them produce intended results, unintended ones and failures. The challenge of identifying causal mechanisms in this meddling of conflict is one of the challenges that the academic community faces in the new born 21st century. Of course, certain highly important contributions have already been made, let us just cite people like Paul Collier or Jean-François Bayart whom I would like to mention representatively for research on economic causes of civil wars and political culture in Africa, respectively. But other field are still quite fallow and empty. One example is the field of aid (effectiveness), where some insular research has been done in the past 10 years and a lot of work is still to be done (in both ways, concerning development AND conflict research, because the variables in the two areas could differ remarkably).

In the months to come, this blog is supposed to contribute some opinion – partly academic, partly journalistic – to this rather new discourse.

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