The Fragile States Index



We confess to a fascination with global indices, even though they often don’t have much real value. And after a while, it seems almost churlish to point out that North Korea falls near the bottom of nearly everything (most recently on maritime safety, and—in one of my favorites—on the desirability of its passport). 

Most recently, though, Foreign Policy released its 2016 Fragile States Index and it invites a somewhat more extended speculation on the fragility of these indices. The index is made up of a 1-10 judgment on twelve factors (listed below) and simply totaled into a country score. North Korea ranks as the 30th most fragile state, sitting between Mali and the Republic of the Congo. The basis for its low score: highly negative assessments (>8) on poverty and economic decline, legitimacy, public services, human rights, the security apparatus, the factionalization of elites, and external intervention. The country did marginally better on demographic pressures and uneven development (7.9 and 7.7) and better still on refugees and IDPs (4.6) and human flight (4.1).

Reflection suggests the limits on such coding schemes. On the one hand, North Korea is clearly not a fragile state in the sense of those at the very bottom, most of which are examples of state failure driven by civil war (the bottom five are Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sudan and Yemen, with Syria coming in at 6th). This is in part because of the state’s unusual institutional capacity, calling into question the FP rankings on the security apparatus and factionalization of the elites and perhaps even on the legitimacy of the state (on which it scores a 10). But on the other hand, the country’s vulnerability might hinge precisely on refugees and human flight which have not yet occurred but could were a crisis to develop.

The upshot: data is generally a good thing, but we should not kid ourselves that such exercises are a substitute for models of what might drive instability or fragility—again, whatever that means—in different political systems.

Components of the Fragile State Index

  • Demographic Pressures: Concerns related to population, such as food scarcity, population growth, and mortality rates;
  • Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: Concerns associated with population displacement and refugees;
  • Group Grievance: Tensions and violence among groups within the state;
  • Human Flight and Brain Drain: Levels of migration out of the country including, but not limited to, the flight of refugees and educated individuals;
  • Uneven Economic Development: Disparities in development among different ethnic and religious groups and among regions within the state;
  • Poverty and Economic Decline: Poverty rates and economic performance;
  • State Legitimacy: Corruption and other measures of democratic capacity, such as government performance and electoral process;
  • Public Services: Provision of education, health care, sanitation, and other services;
  • Human Rights and Rule of Law: The protection and promotion of human rights;
  • Security Apparatus: Internal conflict and the proliferation of nonstate armed groups;
  • Factionalized Elites: Conflict and competition among local and national leaders;
  • External Intervention: Levels of foreign assistance as well as imposed interventions, such as sanctions or military invasion.

More From

Related Topics