Lionel Beehner: The Failure of the Failed States Index
Truman Fellow Lionel Beehner in World Policy Journal:
The annual release of Foreign Policy magazine and The Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index (FSI) has become a much-ballyhooed event among foreign policy wonks. But the list also comes under harsh criticism every year for its supposed bias, flawed metrics, and failure to predict important events, such as the Arab revolts. The answer is not to scrap the index, which could serve as a useful heuristic for both policymakers and political scientists alike, but rather to reform it. Only then will the list be more useful to scholars and better at predicting the global events. Otherwise, it will remain the foreign-policy equivalent of the US News & World Report’s college rankings–a meaningless index that generates annual buzz, but holds little empirical value.
While identifying states in danger is an important task for policymakers, the problem with the FSI is manifold. Conceptually, the list creates a false dichotomy between failed states and not failed states. But states are complex, spatially diverse political units. So-called failed states have pockets of governance, and even stronger states have zones of failure. The index masks this spatial variation and treats the state like an on/off switch.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Truman National Security Project or Educational Institute.