Fragile States Index

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Fragile States according to the "Fragile States Index", 2005–2013
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The Fragile States Index (FSI; formerly the Failed States Index) is an annual report published by the United States think tank the Fund for Peace and the American magazine Foreign Policy since 2005. The list aims to assess states' vulnerability to conflict or collapse, ranking all sovereign states with membership in the United Nations where there is enough data available for analysis.[1] Taiwan, the Palestinian Territories, Northern Cyprus, Kosovo and Western Sahara are not ranked, despite being recognised as sovereign by one or more other nations. Ranking is based on the sum of scores for 12 indicators (see below). Each indicator is scored on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest intensity (most stable) and 10 being the highest intensity (least stable), creating a scale spanning 0−120.[1]


The index's ranks are based on twelve indicators of state vulnerability, grouped by category: Cohesion, Economic, Political, Social.[2]

Scores are obtained via a process involving content analysis, quantitative data, and qualitative review. In the content analysis phase, millions of documents from over 100,000 English-language or translated sources (social media are excluded)[3] are scanned and filtered through the Fund for Peace's Conflict Assessment Systems Tool (CAST), which utilizes specific filters and search parameters to sort data based on Boolean[disambiguation needed] phrases linked to indicators, and assigns scores based on algorithms.[4] Following CAST analysis, quantitative data from sources such as the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), World Factbook, Transparency International, World Bank, and Freedom House are incorporated, which then leads to the final phase of qualitative reviews of each indicator for each country.[3]

Considered together in the index, the indicators are a way of assessing a state's vulnerability to collapse or conflict, ranking states on a spectrum of categories labeled sustainable, stable, warning, and alert. Within each bracket, scores are also subdivided by severity. The score breakdown[5] is as follows:

Category FSI score* Brackets (2016) 2015–2016 color 2005–2014 color
Alert 90.0–120.0 Very high: 110+

High: 100–109.9

Alert: 90–99.9

Red Red
Warning 60.0–89.9 High: 80–89.9

Warning: 70–79.9

Low: 60–69.9

Yellow-Orange Orange
Stable 30.0–59.9 Less stable: 50–59.9

Stable: 40–49.9

More stable: 30–39.9

Green Yellow
Sustainable 0.0–29.9 Sustainable: 20–29.9

Very sustainable: 0–19.9

Blue Green
Not assessed N/A Light gray Light gray

All countries in the top three categories display features that make their societies and institutions vulnerable to failure. However, the FSI is not intended as a tool to predict when states may experience violence or collapse, as it does not measure direction or pace of change. It is possible for a state sorted into the 'stable' zone to be deteriorating at a faster rate than those in the more fragile 'warning' or 'alert' zones, and could experience violence sooner. Conversely, states in the red zone, though fragile, may exhibit positive signs of recovery or be deteriorating slowly, giving them time to adopt mitigating strategies.[5]


The FSI scores, detailed above, are sums of scores for 12 separate indicators related to various aspects of state stability and strength. Each is scored between 0 and 10, with a higher number indicating a higher level of fragility. Indicators are divided into four categories - cohesion, social, economic, and political.[6]

Social indicators[edit]

  • Demographic pressures: Pressures deriving from high volume population density relative to food supply and other life-sustaining resources, which make it difficult for governments to protect citizens. Pressures include those stemming from disease, natural disasters, population growth, infant mortality, and environmental hazards. Governmental capacity and will to respond to such pressures are considered in the score.
  • Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs): Pressures linked to population displacement, which can strain public resources and threaten security. This indicator concerns displacement in both directions: those leaving and those entering a state. Measures include the presence of refugee/IDP camps, refugees/IDPs per capita, absorption capacity, relief efforts, and targeted violence and repression.
  • Group grievance: Existence of tension or violence between groups, which can undermine the state's provision of security. Pressures related to discrimination, ethnic violence, communal violence, sectarian violence, and religious violence are included alongside atrocities committed with impunity against groups singled out by state authorities or dominant groups for persecution or repression, and institutionalized political exclusion.[7]
  • Human flight and brain drain: Measures related to migration per capita, particularly emigration of the educated population, which often occurs pre- or mid-conflict. Remittances and growth of exile and expatriate communities are also used as measurements.[7]

Economic indicators[edit]

  • Uneven economic development: Group-based inequality, or perceived inequality, in education, jobs, and economic status can create uneven commitments to the social contract within a state. Measurements include group-based poverty and education levels, existence of slums, and fairness of housing and hiring practices.
  • Poverty and economic decline: Progressive economic decline of the society as a whole (measurements: per capita income, GNP, economic deficit, unemployment, poverty levels, business failures, and inflation) strains a state's ability to provide for its citizens, and can create inter-group friction. Also includes failure of the state to pay salaries of government employees and armed forces, or to meet other financial obligations to its citizens, such as pension payments.[7]

Political indicators[edit]

  • State legitimacy: Corruption and lack of representativeness undermine the social contract, as citizens lose confidence in state institutions and processes. Measurements include corruption or profiteering by ruling elites, resistance to transparency, level of democracy, illicit economy, and protests and demonstrations
  • Public services: Disappearance, or lack of, basic state functions indicate a state's inability to perform one of its key roles. Measurements include essential services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation, public transportation, police, and infrastructure. Also examined is the use of the state apparatus for agencies that serve ruling elites, such as security forces, executive staff, central bank, diplomatic service, customs and collection agencies.
  • Human rights and rule of law: The violation or uneven protection of basic rights mark a failure of a state to execute its primary responsibility. Measurements include press freedom and civil liberties, as well as any widespread abuse of legal, political and social rights against individuals, groups, or cultural institutions (e.g., harassment of the press, politicization of the judiciary, internal use of police and military for political purposes, arbitrary application of law, public repression of political opponents, show trials, religious or cultural persecution).[7]
  • Security apparatus: An emergence of elite or secret police that operate with impunity challenges the security apparatus's legitimate monopoly on the use of force, weakening the social contract. Measurements include internal conflict, riots and protests, military coups, rebel activity, and the emergence of state-sponsored or state-supported private militias that terrorize political opponents or civilians seen to be sympathetic to the opposition.
  • Factionalised elites: A fragmentation of ruling elites and state institutions along group lines undermines public confidence. Measurements include elite power struggles, flawed or sham elections, and use of aggressive nationalistic rhetoric.
  • External intervention: Intervention by external actors into a state's affairs signals a state's failure to meet domestic or international obligations. Measurements include level of foreign assistance, presence of peacekeepers or UN missions, foreign military intervention, sanctions, and credit ratings. Intervention by donors, especially if there is a tendency towards over-dependence on foreign aid or peacekeeping missions, is also considered.[7]

Fragile states list[edit]

See List of countries by Fragile States Index for rank of countries in different year.



Years of controversy over the "failed state" terminology in the index's name contributed to change in 2014, with a shift from the Failed States Index to the Fragile States Index. Critics had argued that the term established a false binary division, or false dichotomy, between states that were salvageable and those that were beyond recovery.[8][9] Krista Hendry, FFP's executive director, explained the change in part as a reaction to the debate the term failed state had generated, noting that "the name was negatively impacting our ability to get the right kind of attention for the FSI".[10]


Several academics and journalists have also criticised the FSI for a lack of utility and its measurement criteria. Authors writing for The National Interest and The Washington Post have argued that the FSI sends a message that the solution to problems in the developing world is "more state-building",[11][12] when in fact state-building could be viewed as a cause of instability or fragility. Claire Leigh, writing for The Guardian in 2012, condemned the index as a "useless policy tool" which focused only on the symptoms of struggling states, ignoring causes or potential cures.[8]


Critics have also identified flaws with the FSI's measurement criteria, as well as the lack of transparency surrounding its base data analysis.[11][13] For example, indicators related to refugees and human flight have allowed North Korea's score to improve as human emigration has declined;[14] while this may indicate a stronger security apparatus in the state, it should not necessarily be recognised as an improvement.[13] Additionally, analysis of the indicators has led several commentators to conclude that a combination of too many categories and a failure to distinguish between "government" and "state" (sometimes allowing political moves, such as Iran agreeing to negotiations with the West, to positively impact a score) complicates efforts to utilise findings.[11][15][16] Several have argued for greater transparency in scoring methods,[8][11] a reworking of the criteria to give the index predictive value,[11] and a consolidation of indicators into umbrella groups for easier comparison.[16]

Related indices[edit]

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has based its annual Fragile States Report, now named ‘States of Fragility,’[17] on the FSI, as well as on data from the World Bank (which publishes its own lists of fragile states[18]), since 2005.[19]

On a monthly basis, International Crisis Group (ICG), a transnational non-governmental organization (NGO), publishes CrisisWatch, a bulletin designed to inform readers about the development of state-based conflict across the globe. The reports indicate whether or not situations have improved, deteriorated, or remained unchanged from the previous month, and seek to highlight where there may be risks of new/escalated (or opportunities for resolution of) conflicts in the coming month.[20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Failed States FAQ". the Fund for Peace. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  2. ^ "Failed States list 2007". Foreign Policy magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-06-20. Retrieved 2007-06-19.
  3. ^ a b "What Methodology Was Used for the Ratings? | The Fund for Peace". Retrieved 2017-09-02.
  4. ^ "Methodology | The Fund for Peace". Retrieved 2017-09-02.
  5. ^ a b "What do the Colors and Categories in the Index and on the Map Signify? | The Fund for Peace". Retrieved 2017-09-02.
  6. ^ "Indicators | The Fund for Peace". Archived from the original on 2016-01-13. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  7. ^ a b c d e "CAST Conflict Assessment Framework Manual | The Fund for Peace". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  8. ^ a b c Leigh, Claire (2012-07-02). "Failed States Index belongs in the policy dustbin". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  9. ^ "The Failure of the Failed States Index | World Policy Institute". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  10. ^ "From Failed to Fragile: Renaming the Index". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  11. ^ a b c d e Beehner, Lionel; Young, Joseph (2014-07-14). "Is ranking failed or fragile states a futile business?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  12. ^ Evers, Miles M. "The Fatally Flawed Fragile States Index". The National Interest. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  13. ^ a b "Fragile is the New Failure". Political Violence @ a Glance. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  14. ^ "North Korea | The Fund for Peace". Archived from the original on 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  15. ^ "Why the Failed State Index is a fail". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  16. ^ a b "2009 Failed States Index – Disorder in the Ranks". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  17. ^ "States of Fragility 2015 - Meeting Post-2015 Ambitions - en - OECD". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  18. ^ "Fragility, Conflict and Violence". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  19. ^ "States of Fragility Report - OECD". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  20. ^ "CrisisWatch - International Crisis Group". Archived from the original on 2016-01-12. Retrieved 2016-01-20.