The Foreign Service Journal, November 2006

Making the Grade: Defining Failing States Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the resulting war on terrorism, the inter- national arena is no longer a stage for conflict among great powers. Prodded by the mounting concern over trans-state groups, such as al- Qaida, the focus has shifted to the problem of failed and failing states (the focus of this month’s Journal ). These vulnerable states have stum- bled into the spotlight as potential hotbeds for terrorist activity and re- cruitment. The term “failing states” refers to regions suffering from extreme pover- ty, weak governance and internal con- flict, conditions with high risks of global spillover effects, such as terror- ism and pandemics. As the July/ August issue of Foreign Policy aptly puts it, “World leaders once worried about who was amassing power; now they worry about the absence of it” ( cms.php?story_id=3098 ). While the potential threat from these countries is universally accepted, there is less agreement on what actu- ally constitutes a failing state and how the danger it poses can be mitigated. Several tests, reports and indices — each utilizing different definitions and indicators — have been created to identify fragile states and assess their implications globally. The Independent Evaluation Group, a division of the World Bank, recently published a report listing the world’s fragile states, known in Bretton Woods jargon as low-income countries under stress, or LICUS. (The Bank changed the term “low- income countries under stress” to “fragile states” this past January, after the work for this report had been done.) The list encompasses 26 states and territories, including Afghan- istan, Somalia and Haiti ( html ). Part of the World Bank’s broader initiative toward fragile states, the report categorizes failed states on the basis of per capita income and Country Policy and Institution Assess- ment ratings. The CPIA is a diagnos- tic tool consisting of 16 criteria reflecting the extent to which a coun- try’s policy and institutional frame- work support sustainable growth. The results so far look grim: pover- ty and conflict among these states seem to be worsening despite efforts by international organizations and donor countries. Since the last report was published in 2003, the number of fragile states has grown from 17 to 26. According to the IEG, eight of these states have dropped from “marginal” or “core” status to “severe,” indicating significant economic and social dete- rioration. Only five nations — Cam- eroon, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Kyrgyzstan and Yemen — have man- aged to shed their failed-country sta- tus, while 14 new territories have joined the list. The IEG report also assesses the efforts made thus far by the World Bank and the international communi- ty to economically engage and stimu- late these volatile regions. The report attempts to identify the obstacles faced in economic engagement, and seeks to provide possible solutions for improved assistance. In 2005, the Fund for Peace, a research organization dedicated to war prevention, published a “Failed States Index” in collaboration with Foreign Policy ( www.fundforpeace. org/programs/fsi/fsindex.php ). C YBERNOTES 10 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 6 50 Years Ago... There are many pros and cons on the merits of the ‘conference’ approach to diplomacy as opposed to the traditional, bilateral form of diplomatic relations, but it seems reasonable for us to expect that the U.N. type of diplomacy will be an important feature of international relations for the rest of our careers. — Editorial, “Multilateral Diplomacy and the Foreign Service,” FSJ , November 1956