Foreign Policy magazine (in conjunction with The Fund for Peace) has released “The Failed States Index 2007″, a sort of “worst dressed” list for the Global South. FP proclaims from its venerable pages that this ranking is important because it points out those places whose instability is endangering our ability to live in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed, and that the threats they pose “ripple far beyond their borders and endanger the development and security of nations that are their political and economic opposites.” In a disappointingly sophomoric fashion, the explanation goes on to blame states like Iraq, Zimbabwe, and “Public Enemy #1” Sudan for foisting their messes onto the already overburdened shoulders of the West. As if these “failed” states were the errant children of a wealthy family, crashing a posh dinner party, FP asks how dare these nuisance countries contaminate our sanguine world with their “conflict,” “uneven development,” and, god forbid, “non-democratic regimes.”
I don’t know what I find less productive about FP’s analysis. There’s the reckless scapegoating of South as well as blatant ignorance of the role the West, and specifically the US, plays in creating and sustaining the reality of these “failed” states (the most egregious example, of course being Iraq). What I find more disturbing is the refusal to acknowledge that the US experiences any, if not all of criteria for determining “failure.” We may not have “open-air arms bazaars” but it’s not exactly hard to buy illegal weapons; we may not be actively exterminating our native populations, but we have relegated them to reservations that exist in abject and inhumane poverty; we are privy to an brand of intensely uneven and unaccountable development; we invaded and occupy a sovereign nation; and during Katrina our poor infrastructure and what amounted to state abandonment led to the deaths thousands and created an internal refugee crisis.
Our failures may not be as obvious as, for example, Chad’s, but for the millions of Americans for whom living in the US is a tenuous, unjust, and even dangerous reality, this is moot. Instead of crunching numbers (and if things are as bad as FP would like us to belive, we should probably be asking how accuate the numbers really are) based on the same old “West: good/Global South: bad” assumptions, perhaps the world would benefit from a little more self-reflection and a little less finger pointing.
FP Failed State Index 2007: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3865