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The fallacies of state fragility indices, is there a fragility trap?

Khan, M. Z. I. (2017) The fallacies of state fragility indices, is there a fragility trap? In: 66th Annual International Conference of Political studies Association (PSA), 21-23 Mar 2016, Brighton, UK.

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The concept of state fragility remains elusive despite being in widespread use since early 1990’s and expressed by a growing trend of indexing sovereign states according to their performances. Different fragility indices with varied orientations have emerged shaping our perceptions about states populating the international system. Dominated by domestic drivers of fragility, these indices have played an important role to universalize the under theorized concept. However, the conceptual ambiguity and the underlying narrative surrounding these indices demand a critical look at the real world issue of state fragility and ask : What do these indices actually tell us about the future trajectories of ‘fragile states’? How long will it take for these states to come out of ‘fragility’ or are they doomed in a ‘fragility trap’? And if so, is there a more valid analytical framework to investigate and understand state fragility? Framing the issue in a broader perspective, this paper takes an ‘outside-in’ approach to expose the fallacy of state fragility indices by revealing the ‘fragility trap’ and suggests an alternative framework to investigate and explain the fragile state problematique. It views the world consisting of Centre and Peripheral sates, where fragility is concentrated mostly in the later; each nation in turn has its own centre and periphery. The first part of the paper critically examines four oft-cited state fragility indices (i.e. Bertelsmann Transformation Index, Country Indicator for Foreign Policy Fragility Index, Fragile State Index, and World Governance Indicator’s Political Stability and Absence of Violence Index) to identify inadequacies in their conceptualization and operationalizing of state fragility. Using the fragility scores of different states from the four indices, the paper estimates the duration the fragile states would take to emerge out of fragility. The result reveals that, within the conceptual boundaries of these four indices, 23–34% states will require over 100 years to reach the ‘top’/ ‘sustainable’ status while a staggering 43- 53% states will take more than 50 years to reach the same threshold and emerge out of fragility if they continue to maintain their historic trajectories of progress. The findings tend to confirm the existence of ‘fragility trap’. Introducing the Centre- Periphery model in the second part, the paper contends that, conceptualizing state only as a functional entity devoid of historicity, power relations, strategic significance can obscure our understanding on state fragility. The nature of interaction between and within the Centre and Peripheral state remains the crucial determinant of state fragility. The paper hypothesizes the propensity of state fragility with four possible variants of interactions within and between the Centre and Peripheral states. It concludes that a convergence of interest and goals between the developed Centre and the developing Peripheral states is essential to effectively address state fragility and ensure a ‘good life’ for the ‘bottom billions’ living in fragile situations. Failing to do that would make the phenomenon of fragile state a rather inevitable feature of the international system.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:70681

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