Thursday, June 24, 2010

Failed States


No, this is not a post about Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. This week the Fund for Peace released their 6th annual Failed States Index. The part that scared me most was that, by their very sensible standards, there were only 13 "sustainable" countries-- and the U.S. wasn't one of them. Neither was Britain, Japan, or France, though they came closer than the U.S. They use 12 indicators to come up with overall scores for that are at work destabilizing each country: demographic pressures, refugee disasters (including internal displaced persons + chronic and sustained human flight), legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance or group paranoia, uneven economic development along group lines (if you guess that the U.S. scores badly here, you've been paying attention), sharp and/or severe economic decline, criminalization and/or delegitimization of the state, progressive deterioration of public services, suspension or arbitrary application of the rule of law and widespread violation of human rights, security apparatus operates as a "state within a state," rise of factionalized elites, and intervention of other states or external political actors.

Overall, the 10 states with the highest scores, from bad to worse, are nuclear-armed Pakistan, Guinea, Central African Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, Somalia. Some of the other countries in the worst category include Lebanon, Iran, Uganda, North Korea, Ethiopia, Burma, Yemen, Nigeria and Haiti.

But when you take out countries that have been disintegrating-- like all of the ones mentioned above-- and you just focus on the relatively prosperous and stable developed nations, the U.S. looks like it has some real problems-- even over and above making problems for other countries. China, Israel, Russia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil all score significantly worse than the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. score (35.3) is closer to countries beginning to totter, like Greece (45.9), Italy (45.7) and Spain (43.5) than it is to top performers like Norway (18.7), Finland (19.3) and Sweden (20.9).

The Fund For Peace analysis of the U.S. data is very generous and makes no mention of the problems being caused by teabaggers, plutocrats and other conservative malcontents at all. Of the 5 core state institutions-- leadership, military (although this was written before General Stanley McCrystal's outrageous insubordination and Obama's inability to deal with it appropriately), police, judiciary and civil service-- everything is rated "excellent" except the judiciary (rated "good").
The U.S. has very highly developed state institutions, which give the state legitimacy rather than legitimacy resting with individual leaders or administrations. Except for incidents of disputed electoral counts which can be highly controversial (e.g., 2000 presidential election dispute in Florida), elections are largely viewed as free and fair, and citizens usually trust their elected representatives to make and vote for policies that will benefit them. Dissatisfaction with particular leaders can be expressed through regular elections with political figures limited to fixed terms and other electoral mechanisms: recalls, referenda, local and state elections; the press which is lively and free; and constitutional checks and balances among the three branches of government.

The U.S. military is strong. Military expenditures equal 4.06% of the GDP. The President is the chief of state and the commander-in-chief; thus, the military is under civilian control and generally accountable to the people. The military budget must be approved by Congress.

The police force is also widely viewed as protecting the people. There is no central police; state and local governments control their own forces. Police are accountable for their actions and police brutality is investigated and punished.

The judiciary is independent and federalized. Defendants have a right to legal counsel and a jury of their peers. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life by the President, but must be approved by the Senate. There are accusations that African-Americans and other minorities do not get equal justice, however, and the prisons are disproportionally filled with minority offenders. Capital punishment is legal and controlled by the states. Controversy also exists over new legal procedures applied to suspected terrorists, who are not subject to either the civilian or military systems of justice. This represents a parallel justice system created for reasons of national security. In addition, Congress has investigated partisan firing of federal attorneys, undermining the morale and structure of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The civil service is professional, and jobs are based on merit-based tests, well compensated, and offer good benefits.

The U.S. has a strong economy, though it is vulnerable to downturns at times. Its state institutions are sound and supported by constitutional foundations widely accepted by its citizens. However, the U.S. should work to decrease its national debt and create more jobs and better job security. The U.S. should also implement policies that decrease income inequality and uneven access to social services, such as health care.  Its human rights policies in the fight against terrorism are controversial and have raised questions about the country’s adherence to international norms, treaties policies it helped create. However, while there is a domestic debate on civic rights issues, the general public has not felt that their liberties have been violated or compromised much by government measures taken in the name of national security.



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