Topping This Year's Failed States Index Is ... The public relations offices for a number of developing nations could go into "damage control" mode Monday, when Foreign Policy magazine releases its annual Failed States Index. The magazine ranks 60 countries in various stages of failure using 12 specific indicators generated by the Fund for Peace. Somalia tops the list for the second year in a row followed by Zimbabwe and Sudan.
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Topping This Year's Failed States Index Is ...

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Topping This Year's Failed States Index Is ...

Topping This Year's Failed States Index Is ...

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GUY RAZ, host:

Pakistan and a number of other developing nations may be about to send their public relations departments into damage control mode this week. Foreign Policy magazine releases its annual Index of Failed States tomorrow. The magazine ranks 60 countries, and at the top: Somalia, followed by Zimbabwe and Sudan.

Pakistan comes in at number 10. I asked managing editor Blake Hounshell what makes a state a failed state.

Mr. BLAKE HOUNSHELL (Managing Editor, Foreign Policy): Somalia is almost a textbook example of a government that barely controls Mogadishu, let alone the rest of the country, and provides little to no services to the population of Somalia.

RAZ: But your number two, Zimbabwe, is a country that does have very firm control over its border and a very, very strong, authoritarian government.

Mr. HOUNSHELL: That's right. There's a kind of a paradox there because Zimbabwe is a failed state almost because it's too strong, because Robert Mugabe is an extreme authoritarian dictator. He's launched these ambitious land reforms years ago that have led to the current economic disaster that we see in Zimbabwe today.

RAZ: What are your criteria for determining what makes a state a failed state?

Mr. HOUNSHELL: Well, we work very closely with an NGO called the Fund for Peace here in Washington, and they have developed this methodology where they look at more than 30,000 press reports and indicators over the course of the year. And they look at 12 different factors, and they give countries a score from one to 10 in each of these 12 factors.

RAZ: What are some of the factors?

Mr. HOUNSHELL: Refugees; human flight, which is brain drain, basically; uneven development, so pockets of extremely successful development like Khartoum is in Sudan where - and then you have poverty outside the capital.

RAZ: There are a lot of African countries on this list. I believe the majority of African countries land on this list at some point. It seems as if the criteria automatically puts African countries at a disadvantage.

Mr. HOUNSHELL: Well, I mean, there's no accident there. You know, Africans will tell you this themselves that there is a real problem with democratic governance, and you know, they have enormous problems with corruption.

RAZ: There are a few countries on the list that we wouldn't normally associate with being failed states, for example: Georgia, the former Soviet Republic; China; Israel.

Mr. HOUNSHELL: Well, we're not saying that all of these countries are failed states. It's a failed states index, but all these countries are fragile and then they have varying states of failure.

So a country like China is actually a very powerful state, but if you go outside Beijing, into the countryside, you get lots of governance problems. You have people rioting in large numbers, particularly over environmental issues. So all of these states have varying degrees of problems, and as you get toward the top of the index, toward a country like Somalia, that's when you really see outright failure.

RAZ: I mean, if this list is supposed to be a kind of a warning, right, for policy makers maybe in the United States and in the developed world, what's the prescription?

Mr. HOUNSHELL: I would say that if you were to look at the number one thing a lot of these countries could do, it would be to improve their democratic processes because countries that have the will of the people behind them are able to solve problems, and grievances get worked out on a political level. And that's what I think we're seeing a lot in Iran right now is people have felt like their needs aren't being met through the political process, and they're taking to the streets.

RAZ: Blake Hounshell is managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Looked for the magazine's Failed State Index on its Web site on Monday.

Mr. Hounshell, thanks for being with us.

Mr. HOUNSHELL: Thanks for having me.

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