30 September, 2020

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Failed State Index Fails Sri Lanka

By Kaushalya Ariyathilaka

Kaushalya Ariyathilaka

Sri Lanka has slipped down to the 28th position in the 9th Failed States Index (FSI), published annually by Washington DC based The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine. Sri Lanka had the 29th position in the 2012 Index. This year’s drop owes to Sri Lanka’s poor performance in seven of the categories: Group Grievance, rise of Poverty and Economic Decline, Delegitimization of the state, Human Rights and Rule of Law, Fractionalized Elite and External Intervention.

Accordingly, Sri Lanka is in poor company, along with eighteen other countries including North Korea and Syria, and is designated to the “Alert” category. Sri Lanka’s South Asian neighbors have fared better than Sri Lanka in the Index, except for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

FSI ranking indicates how policymakers still find the ‘failed state’ concept to be important, despite being widely rejected by scholars. Policymakers find it convenient to have at least a rough empirical estimate at a global level to group countries into categories according to their performance as states. Supposedly FSI is to be a guideline for policymakers that are concerned about state failure; yet FSI fails insofar as it is applied for this purpose.

FSI attempts to measure 12 social, political and economic indicators from somewhat empirically measurable demographic pressure, human rights and external intervention to highly abstract and subjective measures such as group grievances and state legitimacy. Thus begins the manifold methodological flaws of the Index at its very conceptual level. While there is an lack of agreement over the very definition of state failure among the scholars, the Fund for Peace defines state failure as loss of physical control over territory or the monopoly on coercive forces; erosion of legitimate authority in making collective decisions; inability to provide public service; lack of international recognition as a state.

One of its conceptual flaws is the failure to distinguish between ‘state’ and ‘government.’ Data collected for FSI may indicate that a government is failing to provide basic public services, yet that does not necessarily translate into a failure of the state, for the state is much more than politics and economics. One cannot attempt to create a false dichotomy between ‘failed’ and ‘not failed.’ States are complex and spatially diverse political units. Just as one can find pockets of strong governance in so called failed states, zones of failure can be found in stronger states. The current Sri Lankan government has indeed performed poorly in the last year across a variety of sectors that adds into the FSI categories. Nonetheless, has the Sri Lankan state being delegitimized just because the current government has underperformed?  The ordinary Sri Lankan still feels and recognizes a strong state, even with the economic decline and weak Rule of Law, making it imprudent to group Sri Lanka with the likes of Syria.

Another flaw is the Index confuses between the causes and the end results. Lack of law and order, weak central state and the inability to provide public service are end results of what the Index attempts to conceptualize as failure rather than the causes for that failure. Consequently, the Index is marred in tautology. If FSI identifies a strong sense of group grievances and delegitimization of the state in Sri Lanka, can the Index predict what lies ahead in the Sri Lankan political climate? Given FSI’s failure to even come closer to predict the Arab Spring, one would think this is too much for FSI to handle.

What matters the most is a country’s performance given its history and the political legacy and not much of its individual position in an Index. In its only in text mention of Sri Lanka, the Index compares the progress made by Japan after its 2011 triple crisis of the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown with Sri Lanka’s reconstruction progress after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Japan had a per capita GDP of $36,100 and was one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the world when it faced the triple crisis. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had a per capita GDP of $1063 and was engulfed in a disastrous civil war. Does the practicality of the FSI boil down to comparing Sri Lanka’s and Japan’s post disaster management, when several other factors makes the point of comparison absurd?

Does North Korea, one of Sri Lanka’s ‘Alert fellows,’ suffer from similar ailments as Burundi, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? Yes, Sri Lanka has underperformed in many economic and socio political sectors, but has it done worse than Bangladesh where bitter political rivalries and incompetent public institutions scar everyday life of ordinary citizens? This is not to imply that Sri Lanka has not experienced a weakening of upholding the Rule of Law or has not experienced economic decline or does not have continuing ethnic and religious tensions. Sri Lanka indeed has many weak institutions that need genuine performance boosters.

There is nothing empirical or objective about the FSI. Un-failed states may demonstrate similar kinds of stories and evidences, yet ‘failed states’ are failed in their own individual ways. The Index fails to contextualize underlying historical causes for states’ inability to or weaknesses in performing in a certain category, and to comprehend the nuances of governance within a state. The only derivable utility of the Index is to serve as a guide to those policy makers that are waiting to construct a rationale for saving those who are failing.

Nonetheless, Sri Lanka is at least not alone in its misery. According to the FSI half the world is failing.

*Kaushalya Ruwanthika Ariyathilaka graduated summa cum laude from the Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh in May 2013, with a major in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). During her undergraduate years, Kaushalya has worked as a staff writer and a student journalist for Dispatches International, Canada. Her research articles have been published in Bangladesh, Canada and the US. She is currently a Research Intern at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) in Colombo. Her research interests include ethnic conflict and civil war, humanitarian actions and the Responsibility to Protect. 

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Latest comments

  • 0
    1

    The index cannot measure the main thing: The lack of personal integrity that allows processes to be subverted so that systems collapse and institutions fall apart. That is how states fail and that is what has happened in Sri Lanka. In short. People are liars, crooks and cunning cheats. No system can survive with such people in charge.

    • 1
      0

      Well that is rich – the CHOGM and Commonwealth of Clowns oops Commonwealth of Nations is going to be headed and hosted by a failed state!

  • 0
    0

    People leaving the country is a good indication whether it has failed its people. The percentage difference between migration and departure will give a good signal.

    • 0
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      People leaving Sri Lanka this have to be a joke no one will leave a country with best preforming economy in the planet Billions of dollars are coming to the country for investment a premier tourist destination, Biggest deep see ports Colombo & Hambantota, Best Air Port at Mthtala, Super fast expressways, country is swimming in oil gas & minerals, Soon to be taking over from Vegas & Macau as the Casino capital no small thanks to fat man Packer form down-under. Asia’s number one hub for Education, Fishing, Financial & galloping towards to be number one in the planet. Per capita income just ear shot of western countries. People will be made to leave Sri Lanka. My information source is Daily Good News from Lake house most trusted new paper in the planet. Now in case some one want to have dig at me just remember I believe Tooth Fairy alive & well. Grease Yakka is working for CEYPETCO

      • 0
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        I think our progress in the Index of Failed States is too slow. Going up one digit a year is indeed poor. It is my ardent wish that we beat Zimbabwe during our lifetime.

  • 0
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    Ruwanthika, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who was elected for the seventh term in office amid claims of electoral fraud this month, Offers ”Magna Cum Laude” to our almighty M R for this performance and promises to endow M R with a”Summa Cum Laude” when he finally brings Sri Lanka and her people to their knees in front of the world like the way he (Mugabe) does it to Zmbabwe for more than three decades.

    • 0
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      Sorry….mind you Ruwanthi…..a pound of bread in Zimbabwe costs a million Zimbabwe Dollar …!! What an achievement by the name of Nationality eha !!??

    • 0
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      Devil….hahahahaa…….

  • 0
    0

    The author is to be congratulated on a substantive analysis of the “failed states” (more correctly, “likely-to-become-failed” states) index and Sri Lanka’s place in it. As she correctly states, decision makers take these indices seriously, and it is important that we engage with them.

    A few years back, I did some analyses and shared it with the people who publish the index, but then stopped because there was no modification resulting from my criticism. The 2007 piece (with a link to 2006) is at http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/news/is-sri-lanka-running-in-place-or-falling-behind/1035382420.

    • 0
      0

      Didn’t you contribute to the failed state ?

      You held some high profile Government jobs under different regimes and generally made a nuisance of yourself didn’t you ?

  • 0
    0

    Dear Kaushalya Ariyathilaka,

    “Sri Lanka has slipped down to the 28th position in the 9th Failed States Index (FSI), published annually by Washington DC based The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine.”

    1. Failed state for Serfs, the people, the slaves.

    2. Successful state for those in power and maintain the Monk-Ruler Hegemony. The serfs, the people exist to serve the masters, the Monk-Ruler hegemony. They are promised the myths of Nirvana, Heaven and afterlife etc.

    3. There are many other states. Tibet was a failed state with the Monk Hegemony until it was cleaned up by the Red Army. There are many other examples.

    See the Tibetan example.

    The Great Evil — Parts 1 and 2

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNOfTGSADdY

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clcs2PSze0I

  • 0
    0

    The author of this article can spin any way she likes, but the truth of the matter is “Sri Lanka is a FAILED STATE”. When monks supported by the government and military attack other religious institutions, military attacks people inside temples and churches, police watch when monks demolish mosques, media personnel are attacked by armed forces, media personnel are killed, presidential commissions never come up with any results, Chief Justice is removed even after the highest court confirmed that the body that investigated had no power to do that, Judiciary is part of the government and not independent, army is involved in civilian activities and actively participate in election activities, drug dealers are protected by politicians, unarmed civilians are shot at by the armed forces etc.. All these and more clearly show and prove Sri Lanka is a Failed State.

    • 0
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      Park,

      That is the standard definition of a Failed State.

      However, the definition of those in power and who have the hegemony over the people, it is successful state.

  • 0
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    Oh dear, I see the creation of a Dr. Dayan Jayatilake prodigy here. The girl is trying hard to discredit FSI hoping that will somehow invalidate the ranking Sri Lanka has received. Only reminds me of that bogus video “expert” the government hired to discredit war-crimes videos.

    So what is the purpose of this author to discredit an institute that gave a bad grade for the government, specially in the aftermath of Weliveriya, if this is not a 10 articles for $10 freelance job?

    Look at the paragraph before the last “Does North Korea…” and tell me if the girl is not shooting the whole argument of her article in the foot. In there she asks “but has it done worse than Bangladesh” where “incompetent public institutions scar everyday life of ordinary citizens?” Now you know this is a hired job.

  • 0
    0

    This comment is completely unrelated to the topic above. However I thought it is relevant in the present context. It was only the other day it was news tat Malaka Silva son of Minister Mervyn Silva had been assaulted at the car park at Odel. The story from the grapevine is that at a musical show where Rohitha Rajapaksa had been with his girl friend, Malaka had forcibly entered and had made himself a nuisance to one of the girls, a friend of Rohitha’s girlfriend. It was only after that Malaka had been accosted by two Defenders with about twelve Army guys, moved Malaka away from his body guards and severely assaulted. What can Mervyn do now?

    • 0
      0

      great stuff when the thugs turn on each other is when we can see some RESULTS !

  • 0
    0

    Come on Sri Lanka get Rajapaksa and his family out before the country ends up reaching the point of no return.

  • 0
    0

    Miss Kaushalya ?

    You have thought this Washington DC based what ever it is the Standard.

    You need to investigate more than that.

    Just Read Kalama suthra in Buddhism. Don’t believe any one because it came from a powerful country or anything else.

    All these things are there to support a particular vision. I mean the american vision.

    If you are a person who believes in you and not any one else, You understand one day what you have written is just BS.

    There are so many agencies just like FSI. They all have some objective and that is for their financial supporter. Generally that objective is what their financier wants. Because, the people who works in these institutions need an income. So, they do it, probably you too.

    You need to select an employment that goes with your heart. then you become a really happy in your heart and a – career – wise happy person.

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out]
    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.
    For more detail see our Comment policy
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  • 1
    0

    Well is it not due to LTTE. ? Why no blame this time.

  • 0
    0

    Its key to note that the literacy level in Sri Lanka is much higher than, say, Bangladesh. Still SL is in this list. That must tell us something…

    • 0
      0

      dis ok

  • 0
    0

    What is a failed State? A State that does not bow down neo-cons (US, UK, and other NATO bullies). Sri Lanka is well ahead of many States including India in HDI, GINI, literacy, health care, per capita etc yet listed in this Index. FSI is not a useful Index other than a tool for manipulation for neo-con agendas.

  • 0
    0

    World English Dictionary
    “failed state”
    — n
    “a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where the government has little or no control”

    Common characteristics of a failing state include a central government so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; and sharp economic decline.[1]
    (http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Failed_state.html)

    But there is no internationally agreed upon definition of what a “failed state” is, which makes it possible for powerful states to adapt R2P to their own interests.
    “Failed states can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty. Within this power vacuum, people fall victim to competing factions and crime, and sometimes the United Nations or neighboring states intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster. However, states fail not only because of internal factors. Foreign governments can also knowingly destabilize a state by fueling ethnic warfare or supporting rebel forces, causing it to collapse.”
    (http://www.globalpolicy.org/nations-a-states/failed-states.html)

    Is it necessary for SL to make note of an index prepared by an INGO on the basis of their own definition?

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