A number of African and other Developing World states can be portrayed by some commentators as soft states. In commenting on these, political geographer Richard Muir (1997: 204) notes that “while their boundaries may still define the state in de jure terms, they delimit a hollow shell which central authority is unable to fill”. States that had been looked on as ‘soft’ in late 1980s became collapsed with the end of the Cold War and the removal of military support from the USA or Soviet Union.This concept of a collapsed state, where the state’s authority implodes, leaving a ‘black hole of power’, has become a characteristic part of the political landscape in parts of the Developing World and some of these states can thus cease to function as states e.g. Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo. Governments in these collapsed or failed states effectively are not in a position to exert their authority of the totality of the state territory – in many cases, the authority of the state is challenged by internal factions resulting in bloody civil conflicts and a scenario wherein the effective control of different parts of the state territory lies in the hands of different regional warring factions.
These scenarios are often further fueled by the presence of valuable environmental resources within the state territory – control over the territories containing such resources can prove a key source of conflict between the different factions while – especially in cases where these resources are easily mined and exported – income from the sale of such resources will be used by the different factions to purchase arms and effectively prolong the conflict. Collapsed states may be looked on as ‘rogue states’ by Western powers, as the profound instability of such states may allow international terrorist organisations to operate out of their borders, while piracy has become a serious issue once more off the north-east coast of Africa arising from the failed state status of Somalia. As such, the use of the failed state term can prove to be politically contentious one, as the ability to portray states as failed states can be be used to suggest that the normal United Nations rules involving the rights of states no longer applies in their case and thus certain political actions can be justified on this basis. This was the case in 2003, when the USA and United Kingdom portrayed Iraq as a failed state in order to claim political legitimacy for the invasion of that country.
The 2013 Failed States Index has recently been published by The Fund For Peace Organisation. This index measures, and ranks, states based on how they range in a continuum between states that are especially prone to failed and states that are highly sustainable and secure. This index is calculated on the basis of ten indicators measuring the degree to which states may be prone to state failure (with a score of between 1 and 10 being awarded for these) including:
- Mounting demographic pressures
- Massive movement of refugees
- Group grievances
- Chronic and sustained human flight
- Uneven economic development
- Poverty or severe economic decline
- The legitimacy of the state
- Progressive deterioration of state services
- Violation of human rights
- A weak security apparatus
- The rise of factionalised elites
The scores for these individual indices are then added up to determined a state’s overall score and its rank on the Failed State Index.
Even more so than the afore-discussed 2013 Global Peace Index, rankings on the Failed States Index largely mirrors patterns of global economic development and underdevelopment with states in the Developing World, many of which were colonies up to a few decades ago, tending to dominated the top positions on the index. Somalia is the country that occupied the top position on the index for 2013, as has also been the case in the five previous years, with other African countries filling out the rest of the top five positions – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and Chad. Two other African countries also are found in the remaining top ten positions on this year’s index, with the other countries occupying these remaining ranks including Afghanistan, Yemen and Haiti.
The “most successful” states, termed as “sustainable” or “very sustained” are all from the Global North, with an especial preponderance of north-western European countries in these lower positions of the Failed State Index. Finland is viewed as the most sustainable state in the globe at present, based on this index, just ahead of Sweden, with three other European countries filling out the remaining bottom five positions on this index – Norway, Switzerland and Denmark. Ireland currently occupies the ninth-lowest position on the Failed State Index ranking, which points to Ireland being viewed as one of the most sustainable and secure states on the planet based on this analysis, although Ireland’s ranking has disimproved notably over the past five years (it occupied the fourth-lowest ranking in the 2008 Failed State Index) as a knock-on effect of the economic recession.