Ten countries on the brink of failure

Somalia, still No. 1, proved so lawless that even Al Qaeda complained.

Foreign Policy magazine released its annual failed states index Tuesday morning.

There were few surprises at the top of the list – Somalia topped it for the second year running, with Zimbabwe and Sudan nipping at its heels. The complete top 10 (or bottom 10, depending how you see it) were:

1. Somalia
2. Zimbabwe
3. Sudan
4. Chad
5. Democratic Republic of the Congo
6. Iraq
7. Afghanistan
8. Central African Republic
9. Guinea
10. Pakistan

The rankings were accompanied by intriguing analysis about which countries are growing more vulnerable and why, when it comes to threats to global stability, not all troubled states are created equal.

Economic crisis heightens risk

The magazine argues that the global economic crisis could push a number of weak states into outright failure and says that if that happens, world leaders will pick and choose who gets helped, and who gets left behind.

Now more than ever, failed-state triage could become a grim necessity for world leaders…which puts a fine point on an old and uncomfortable dilemma: Whom do you help when so many need it?”
It is also a harsh fact that a greater risk of failure is not always synonymous with greater consequences of failure. For example, Zimbabwe (No. 2 on the index) is technically failing more than Iraq (6), but the geopolitical implications of state failure in Iraq would be far greater than in Zimbabwe. It’s why we worry more about Pakistan (10) than Guinea (9), and North Korea (17) more than the Ivory Coast (11).

Who were the big movers? Yemen – which "many worry ... is the next Afghanistan: a global problem wrapped in a failed state” and where a “perfect storm of state failure is now brewing” – jumped four spots to No. 18 on the list.

Iran leapt 11 spots to 38 as the magazine punished it for a macroeconomic mismanagement (inflation was 30 percent there last year) and Georgia rose 23 places to 33 “due to a substantial spike in that elusive indicator, ‘Invaded by Russia.’ ”

Flawed methodology, critics say

Not everyone is buying FP’s methodology, however. The magazine also carries a critical essay by Robert Rotberg, director of the conflict resolution program at the Kennedy School of Government, who says the fact that Zimbabwe is ranked No. 2 on the list, points to flaws. Zimbabwe’s “government does prey harshly on any opposition, but the Zimbabwean state has not lost its monopoly control of violence and should therefore not be considered failed.”

Somalia: Too lawless even for Al Qaeda

Hardly anyone disagrees with Somalia at No. 1, however, a country suffering so badly that it challenges the conventional wisdom that failed states are Al Qaeda’s favorite havens.

A 2007 analysis of captured Al Qaeda documents by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, after all, found that Osama bin Laden’s operatives were exasperated by operational conditions while based there in the 1990s.

"The country's lawlessness and isolation-which many cite as ideal for al-Qa'ida's efforts-were seen by the group as constraining their ability to create a secure base for operations."

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