Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Index of State Weakness

The Brookings Institute has just published a survey of the developing world which categorizes states by their "weakness."

The study, by Stuart E. Patrick and Susan Rice defines state "weakness" according to four factors: 1) an environment conductive to economic growth; 2) legitimate, transparent, and accountable political institutions; 3) securing territory and population free from violence; 4) "meeting the basic human needs of their population."

The idea is to provide a tool by which to help the international community target any intervention more effectively.

The study's guiding vision bears similarity to the work of British scholar Paul Collier, author of "The Bottom Billion." Collier's main point was that the term "developing countries" obscures huge differences among developing nations. He thinks the world's poorest people -- the Bottom Billion -- should be targeted. And in providing assistance, the West ought to focus on helping these struggling nations build the capacity to help themselves (I blogged about Collier's important book here).

The authors of the present study write:
In some cases, weak states may not be receiving adequate focus or resources. Poverty alleviation should be given higher priority in U.S. policy, because poorer countries tend to be weaker ones, and the consequences of state weakness can be significant for U.S. national security.
Notable in the study is the emphasis on "security" as one of the four measures of state weakness. As Collier noted, without the foundation of peace and stability, efforts to improve social welfare, boost the economy, or -- as the chaos in Iraq suggests -- foster genuine democracy tend to be futile.

Because many readers of Jotman will be familiar with Southeast Asian and Thailand, in the above chart I pasted scores for Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, and Burma. The reader who brought this study to my attention observed:
Thailand is doing better than Russia, and much better than Colombia, but still worse than Kazakstan.
Malaysia's score seems surprisingly high to me -- especially considering recent developments. What is your reaction to the scores? To this approach in general?

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