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John Hoffmire: Measuring a nation’s stability

Published: Monday, Aug. 18 2014 9:53 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, Aug. 18 2014 9:53 p.m. MDT

From left, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Secretary of State John Kerry, President Ismail Omar Gulleh of Djibouti, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, meet with reporters to make a statement about the violence in South Sudan, during the US-Africa Summit at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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What is a nation? This simple question has been at the heart of political philosophy and historical debate for hundreds of years. Is a nation the sum of its actions or an entity defined by those who make up that nation? And when exactly does a nation qualify to emerge on the world stage to be compared against other established players? While several answers have been put forward throughout the years, measuring the success of each state, individually and comparatively, continues to be a challenge.

Despite this inherent difficulty, one group that has shown consistent success in this arena is Fund for Peace (FFP). According to their website, it is “an independent, nonpartisan … nonprofit research and educational organization” with goals to “prevent violent conflict and promote sustainable security.” Fund for Peace provides a means to reach these goals through research, training and education and by working with major players in private as well as public sectors worldwide. Most well-known though is its Fragile States Index (FSI), a publication released annually for the last 10 years.

The Fragile State Index is derived using a copyrighted platform called the Conflict Assessment System Tool (CAST). CAST searches through millions of documents made available to the Fund for Peace through its global network. The search focuses on 12 specific social, economic and political indicators developed by the FFP that leverage social science and current political research to identify what factors contribute to a nation’s stability. These 12 indicators are themselves summaries of minor indicators considered by CAST to paint the most accurate stability assessment possible.

After scores are developed for each indicator from the CAST platform, the Fund for Peace further refines and corroborates figures in the index. For example, the Group Grievance category includes issues that are difficult to measure, such as discrimination and powerlessness. The vetting process attempts to account for these where simple raw numbers do not suffice.

In the most recent release, five countries qualified as “Very High Alert”: South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Congo (D.R.), and Sudan. These five scored an average of 111.5 out of the maximum possible 120 points, each category being assigned a score out of 10 with 10 as the most fragile and 1 the least. The United States currently ranks as “Very Stable”, scoring a 35.4 out of 100. The honor of most stable country in the world in 2014, according to the Fund for Peace, goes to Finland, scoring a paltry 18.7.

This does, however, beg the question, “So what?” Beyond a simple relative ranking of one’s own country, what does the average individual stand to gain from reviewing the FSI? One answer is problem identification. Anybody can sit back, observe a situation, and see that it needs to be improved. The real challenge is not only in objectively identifying the problem with data from FFP, but in finding the first steps toward an eventual solution. The data provided by the Fund for Peace allows actionable items to begin to take shape where only problems used to exist.

A second answer is abstract but has potential for nation building. Viewed from the role of a policymaker, decisions about human rights, law or public services are no longer about appropriations and re-election campaigns. Instead, they become efforts to stabilize a nation. Businesses that hire new employees are no longer filling positions, but helping fight poverty and economic decline. By making decisions in the context of building a nation, even the simple tasks take on great meaning.

John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development. Ben Young, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.

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