Friday, May 21, 2010

Failed States Index 2009

I have an interest in geopolitics. I am curious about why some countries fall apart and why the larger world doesn't care enough. The two countries that got me started in this thinking process are Burma (Myanmar) and Somalia. Both have been messed up (in the sense that the populace is routinely killed and tormented and neither country is a bastion of economic or journalistic freedom) to this day. Other similar countries today are DR Congo and Sudan. Past examples (that seem to have mostly resolved themselves) include Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Rwanda, etc. What has always gotten me curious is that billions are spent by the US on certain countries only because of political gain (Iraq and Israel today) or revenge (Afghanistan)... in fact, almost all interventions by the US in other countries has been when it "suited" the national interest. There are some good humanitarian examples too (Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia post-2004 Tsunami and Haiti post-2010 earthquake).

Anyway, I don't know enough to keep discussing the reasons why this is true... but I want to know. And the first step in understanding is to know what I am looking at: countries that are "broken" and people don't seem to care. Conversely, I'm also interested in situations when a de facto country exists but it is not recognized as independent: e.g., Taiwan and Somaliland today.

All countries work to a degree, in that people survive, reproduce, live, etc. in greater numbers than they die. Even in the worst war zone people live. Nevertheless, it would be nice if people didn't have to die or suffer needlessly.

Two regular sources I look to in order to try and understand the state of the world better, especially of those countries that seem to be failing, are: 1) the book "The World's Most Dangerous Places" by Robert Young Pelton and 2) the annual Failed States Index put out by the Institute for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. Unfortunately, the former hasn't been updated since I think 2004. Therefore, I'll only note the latter.

According to the 2009 Failed States Index (looking at categories such as Political: intervention of other states, factionalized elites, fragmented security, violation of human rights, deterioration of public services, delegitimization of the state; Economic: economic decline, uneven development; Social: chronic emigration, group vengeance or grievances, refugees or internally displaced persons, demographic pressures), in 2009 the most failed states per continent, in order from worst to 5th worst are:

* Africa: Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, DR Congo (most stable Mauritius)
* Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), DPR Korea (North Korea), Bangladesh (most stable Japan)
* Middle East: Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Iran, Syria (most stable Oman)
* Americas: Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador (most stable Canada)
* Australia / Oceania: Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Samoa (most stable New Zealand)
* Europe: Moldova, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belarus, Russia, Serbia (most stable Norway)

An idea I have is to visit all 36 countries listed above within a single year and try to learn "on the ground" what it is like for people living in failed states. Of course, the security situation in Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, DR Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan would preclude freedom of travel throughout those countries. Also, I'm not a journalist and not independently wealthy, so I can't afford security details to protect me, so in the "sketchy" countries listed, I'd have to restrict my movements to those areas of the countries that are relatively safe.

But anyway, this is a goal and one I hope to reach in the next few years.