American Enterprise Online
July 3, 2006
By Alan W. Dowd

The Fund for Peace recently released its second report on countries at risk of devolving into anarchy, civil war, chaos and collapse. Dubbed the “Failed States Index,” the listing rates more than 140 countries based on 12 key indicators. The first edition of the FSI was released last summer in partnership with Foreign Policy magazine. Although it garnered little fanfare in major US media outlets, Americans should take notice of the countries that find themselves at the top—or bottom—of the FSI. After all, this is where much of America’s blood and treasure is being spent.

The FSI’s 12-part formula for failure includes evidence of:

-Mounting Demographic Pressures
-Massive Movement of Refugees and internally displaced persons
-Legacy of Vengeance
-Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
-Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
-Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline            
-Criminalization or De-legitimization of the State
-Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
-Widespread Violation of Human Rights
-Security Apparatus as “State within a State”
-Rise of Factionalized Elites
-Intervention of Other States or External Actors

Put it all together, and according to the authors of the index, the result is a profile of “new world disorder”—disorder that American troops and taxpayers are often called upon to repair. Indeed, we can virtually plot US intervention around the globe by glancing at this year’s “bottom twenty.”  

By my count, the United States has engaged in military operations in just about half of these failing states over the past 15 years, including Sudan (which has the unhappy distinction of topping the list), Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Liberia. Plus, as The Washington Post has reported, US forces recently have been deployed to Chad (6th on the FSI) as part of the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative, which aims to assist indigenous armies in the blocking the jihadist push into Africa. And the US is still technically at war with yet another member of this miserable group—North Korea. Given recent events, it may not be a technicality for long. (By the way, the US ranks 128th on the FSI, with the left-leaning Fund for Peace raising warnings about the country’s “uneven economic development” and immigration problems. Norway is rated last, making it the most successful state, one is left to presume.) 

Other countries of interest following close behind the “bottom twenty” include US drug-war ally Colombia (27th), US client Egypt (31st) and US semi-protectorate Bosnia (35th). In fact, five countries that just missed the “bottom twenty”—Bosnia, Nigeria, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan—have hosted US forces in recent years (or are still hosting US forces). And the US has played a supportive role in other “bottom twenty” states— helping allies such as the UK, France and Canada intervene in Congo and Ivory Coast; underwriting a myriad of UN and African Union operations; and deploying advisors into places like Nigeria on “training operations.”  

Predictably, some US troops have been called upon to do far more than training. Indeed, literally thousands of Americans have died in these failing states over the last several years—to feed the hungry in Somalia, to uproot tyranny and plant democracy in Haiti and Iraq, to hunt for mass-murderers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to promote stability Yemen, to protect oil flowing from the barren Middle East.  

Of course, the cost is not only paid in blood. It’s also paid in treasure. In 2004-05, American taxpayers poured more than $25 billion in foreign-aid assistance into the FSI’s bottom 31 countries. And that doesn’t include the billions spent on military operations. 

It is ironic that the one thing that once made these countries so irrelevant to the US—namely, their weakness—is the very thing that ultimately threatens the US. Indeed, we overlook failed and failing states at our own peril: After the defeat of the Soviet army, a crumbling Afghanistan was considered unimportant to most Americans—that is, until September 11, 2001.