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May 3, 2006

Iraq, Afghanistan Among Top Ten Failed States

by Jim Lobe

Despite receiving some $8 billion a month in economic aid and military support over the past year, Iraq and Afghanistan rank among the world's 10 weakest states, along with much of Central Africa, according to the "Failed States Index" for 2006 released here Tuesday.

Iraq ranks number four – the same rating it received in the 2005 index – behind the top-ranked country, Sudan; the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); and Cote D'Ivoire, according to the new index, which was released by the Washington-based Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine.

But the index's assessments were concluded before the latest escalation in sectarian violence that followed the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra two months ago and that many observers believe has brought Iraq to the verge of all-out civil war.

Afghanistan, which ranked 11 in last year's index, moved up to number 10 this year, just behind its U.S.-backed next door neighbor, Pakistan, and Haiti, a third country that has been both occupied by U.S.-led forces and the recipient of large amounts of U.S. aid in the last two years.

In the five through seven slots between Iraq and Haiti, the index placed three sub-Saharan nations – Zimbabwe, which ranked 15 last year; Chad, whose government is currently threatened by a military rebellion and incursions by Sudan-backed Arab militias; and Somalia, which still lacks a functioning central government some 12 years after UN peacekeeping forces withdrew.

Six of the 10 most vulnerable states and 11 of the top 20 "critical" states are found in sub-Saharan Africa. With the exception of Haiti, the rest are scattered around the periphery of Eurasia – Iraq and Yemen in the Middle East; Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Burma in South Asia; and North Korea in East Asia.

The index, which is based on a dozen social, economic, and political indicators, is designed in part to provide early warnings to the international community of states at risk of failure – if they haven't, as in the case of Somalia, already collapsed.

For each indicator, countries are given a numerical score of between one (for best performance) and 10 (for worst performance). Sudan, for example, received a 7.5 score on its economic growth, but received more than 9.0 on each of the other criteria, giving it a total of 112.3.

This year's index covered 148 states. The 40 most vulnerable states were divided into two equal categories – "critical" and "in danger." The largest single group, covering much of the Third World, as well as Russia and China, was assessed as "borderline," while the rest was divided into "stable" and "most stable."

In a perhaps unexpected finding, the United States and much of Europe were placed in the "stable" category on a par with Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa, Oman, South Korea, and Mongolia.

The relatively poor U.S. and European performance was based primarily on the existence of "pockets of failure" within their territories, as demonstrated by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the "world's superpower left thousands of its citizens stranded for days" and the riots that roiled immigrant communities in France last fall, according to an analysis of the index published in Foreign Policy.

"Most secure" countries included Canada, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the four Scandinavian nations.

The index defined a "failed state" as one in "which the government does not have effective control of its territory, is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population, does not provide domestic security or basic public services to its citizens, and lacks a monopoly on the use of force."

It is designed to measure risk of violent conflict or other forms of state collapse, rather than actual failure.

The latest index appears to raise serious questions about basic tenet of U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush – that democratic elections necessarily bolster state stability. Despite "successful" elections carried out in both Iraq and Afghanistan, stability appears to have deteriorated in both countries, according to the Foreign Policy analysis.

As in Sri Lanka last November, elections in Iraq appear to have exacerbated sectarian tensions, the analysis noted, although it stressed that major reasons for its poor performance last year were the decline of the country's professional class, as well as the intensification of sectarian conflict. Overall, Iraq scored 109.0 this year, significantly worse than the 103.2 last year.

The countries with the biggest numerical changes between the two years included Zimbabwe, whose performance worsened by 14 points, moving it from 15th to fifth place, and Pakistan, which went from 34th to 15th place due primarily to the impact of last November's earthquake and "simmering ethnic tensions in Baluchistan and the inability of the government to control tribal areas along the Afghan border."

Among more stable countries, increases in civil conflict in Nigeria and China accounted for 10-point increases for them both, moving them higher up the scale. Nigeria, which was ranked 54 last year, moved up to 22 and near the top of the "in-danger" category this year. China, which ranked 75 out of 76 last year, moved up to 57, primarily due to the growing gap between rich and poor and the tensions that have arisen as a result.

On the more positive side of the equation, the greatest progress towards stability was achieved by Venezuela, which moved from 22 and "in danger" in 2005 to well into the "borderline" category.

"Although President Hugo Chavez's economic policies may not have benefited the majority of Venezuelans, his scalding anti-American rhetoric combined with high oil prices have helped him solidify power and stabilize the country, at least in the short term," according to the analysis by Foreign Policy, which, significantly, is edited by former Venezuelan trade and industry minister and outspoken Chavez critic, Moises Naim.

Other countries that improved their performance markedly over the past year included the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Bosnia.

While Haiti fell into the "critical" zone, Colombia was the only Latin American country that was determined to be "in danger." Nonetheless, it, too improved its standing: last year, it was ranked 14; this year, it moved up to 27.

Besides Colombia, Bosnia and Nigeria, other "in-danger" countries included Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia in South and Southeast Asia; Egypt and Syria in the Arab world; Angola, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso in West Africa; and Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda in East Africa.

Social indicators used by the index included statistics regarding population density relative to life-sustaining resources; the forced displacement or flight of large sections of the population; and the existence, intensity, and legacy of communal divisions.

Economic indicators included the rate of per capita growth (or decline) and the inequality among different groups in benefiting from that growth.

Political indicators included good-governance criteria, such as the existence and extent of corruption; efficiency in the delivery of public services; the rule of law; the fragmentation of ruling elites along group lines; civilian control over the security forces; and the intervention of foreign states or other forces.

(Inter Press Service)


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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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