The uprising in the Capitol on January 6 blinded many in the United States and abroad. But that might not surprise the close readers of the Fragile States Index. Produced annually by the non-profit organization Fund for Peace, the index assesses the pressure on individual countries that could potentially destabilize them.
Over the last decade, many countries have become less fragile. The US, on the other hand, is becoming less volatile. Indeed, the country is among the 20 states that have seen the highest percentage increase in relative vulnerability over the past 10 years – a list that includes Syria, Venezuela and Great Britain.
Although the US is stable by several measures of economic, political, and social indexes, it has seen a sharp decline in what the index calls cohesion, an indicator reflecting internal division. Given the pandemic, recession, protests and political turmoil, the 2020 score, which has yet to be calculated, is likely to drop even further.
“I anticipate a significant deterioration in the US score, both at the individual and overall indicator level,” said Nate Haken, program director at the Fund for Peace. “In terms of fragility, it is the confluence of interdependent factors that really signals the flashing red light.”
However, the index does not capture characteristics that help a country withstand the pressures that threaten it. “You may have a state,” said Natalie Fiertz, program manager for the Fund for Peace, “which has a very high level of stress but also has sufficiently high resilience capacity to deal with it.”
It may be too early to say how resilient the United States will be.
The Fragile States Index is based on national-level assessments generated using data sets from international statistical agencies such as the United Nations, analysis of news articles and reports, and independent reviews by social science research teams. While the index ranks the vulnerability of a country to other countries, its main function is to measure trends in each state. The score is based on 12 main political, social and economic indicators which are grouped into the four categories below; Data for 2020 is not yet available.
Social and political cohesion
These indicators illustrate the social and political polarization that makes collective action difficult. Over the past decade, the US has seen increasing political and social divisions, as well as governance bottlenecks. The US cohesion score is projected to decline for 2020 due to election rhetoric, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the police response to the protests. Attacks on the Capitol by supporters of President Trump will have a devastating effect on the 2021 score.
This indicator describes the pressure on livelihoods and the opportunities for individuals and communities to develop economically. There are significant income inequalities in the US, but wage growth for the lowest-paid workers and greater availability of affordable health care have contributed to long-term improvements in this category. The US score is expected to fall in 2020 due to the pandemic-triggered recession.
Political stability and government effectiveness
This indicator describes the openness and effectiveness of the government, as well as its relationship with citizens. In recent years, US state legitimacy scores have declined due to major protests such as the Women’s March and poor response to several natural disasters. The public service score is expected to fall in 2020 due to national lockdowns, school closings and an overwhelmed health system.
Social and environmental pressures
This indicator describes the factors that can put pressure on the most vulnerable segments of society, including refugees and the very poor. Health, mortality, natural disasters, and population growth can undermine the ability of individuals and communities to cope with crises. The US has been successful on these indicators but has recently experienced increased demographic pressure arising from COVID-19 and natural disasters.