The UK and the Fragile States Index


The UK has not been doing very well over the past few years and feels a far more divided and fragile society. As someone who believes not only that Brexit is  a major mistake, but  that the execution of the policy by HMG has been strategically inept, it is difficult to feel optimistic. Gut feeling is all very well but one index in particular may be very useful in  determining the state of the UK. This is the Fragile States Index (FSI), produced by the Fund for Peace, who produce an annual measure of the stability of sovereign nations.The FSI should provide a more objective measure as to how the UK has been doing.

In the Fund for Peace’s own words:

For over 60 years, The Fund for Peace (FFP) has been a world leader in developing practical tools and approaches for reducing conflict. With a clear focus on the nexus of human security and economic development, FFP contributes to more peaceful and prosperous societies by engineering smarter methodologies and smarter partnerships. FFP empowers policy-makers, practitioners, and populations with context-specific, data-driven applications to diagnose risks and vulnerabilities and to develop solutions through collective dialogue.

One of their major annual outputs is the annual FSI report. The 2019 edition is available here.


The detailed methodology is explained in the FSI report (starting at p31), but a summary is given here. The FSI score is based on four types of indicators, each made up of three sub classes. This is referred in the report as the CAST framework. The four main classes are Cohesion, Economic, Political and Social and Cross-Cutting.


The Security Apparatus indicator considers the security threats to a state, such as bombings, attacks and battle-related deaths, rebel movements, mutinies, coups, or terrorism.

The Factionalized Elites indicator considers the fragmentation of state institutions along ethnic, class, clan, racial or religious lines, as well as brinksmanship and gridlock between ruling elites.

The Group Grievance indicator focuses on divisions and schisms between different groups in society –particularly divisions based on social or political characteristics –and their role in access to services or resources, and inclusion in the political process. Group Grievance may also have a historical component, where aggrieved communal groups cite injustices of the past, sometimes going back centuries, that influence and shape that group’s role in society and relationships with other groups.


The Economic Decline indicator considers factors related to economic decline within a country. For example, the indicator looks at patterns of progressive economic decline of the society as a whole as measured by per capita income, Gross National Product, unemployment rates, inflation, productivity, debt, poverty levels, or business failures.

The Uneven Economic Development indicator considers inequality within the economy, irrespective of the actual performance of an economy. For example, the Indicator looks at structural inequality that is based on group (such as racial, ethnic, religious, or other identity group) or based on education, economic status, or region (such as urban-rural divide).

The Human Flight and Brain Drain Indicator considers the economic impact of human displacement (for economic or political reasons) and the consequences this may have on a country’s development.


The State Legitimacy Indicator considers the representativeness and openness of government and its relationship with its citizenry. The Indicator looks at the population’s level of confidence in state institutions and processes, and assesses the effects where that confidence is absent, manifested through mass public demonstrations, sustained civil disobedience, or the rise of armed insurgencies.

The Public Services Indicator refers to the presence of basic state functions that serve the people.

The Human Rights and Rule of Law Indicator considers the relationship between the state and its population insofar as fundamental human rights are protected and freedoms are observed and respected.


The Demographic Pressures Indicator considers pressures upon the state deriving from the population itself or the environment around it.

The Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons Indicator measures the pressure upon states caused by the forced displacement of large communities as a result of social, political, environmental or other causes, measuring displacement within countries, as well as refugee flows into others.

The External Intervention Indicator considers the influence and impact of external actors in the functioning –particularly security and economic –of a state.

How the Indicators are merged to produce the final report

Three separate inputs are used: Content Analysis, Quantitative Data and a Qualitative Review.

Content Analysis: Each of the twelve indicators of the CAST framework are broken down into sub-indicators, and for each of these, hundreds of Boolean search phrases (explanation here) are applied to global media data to determine the level of saliency of issues for each of those sub-indicators in each country.

Quantitative Data: Pre-existing quantitative data sets, generally from international and multilateral statistical agencies (such as the United Nations, World Bank, and World Health Organization) are identified for their ability to statistically represent key aspects of the indicators.

Qualitative Review: Separately, a team of social science researchers independently reviews each of the 178 countries, providing assessments based on key events from that year, compared to the previous one.

These three inputs are integrated and triangulated and scores finalised and reviewed as in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Methodology.



The lower the FSI the more stable the country (Table 1), with states obtaining 20.0 or less considered very sustainable, countries obtaining 30.0 or less sustainable and countries 40.0 or less very stable. At the other end of the spectrum countries with 110.0 or more are considered very high alert.

Finland tops the table, with most of the Scandinavian countries  along with Australia, Switzerland and Canada making the top category.  Four countries: New Zealand, Sweden, Luxembourg and Ireland narrowly miss out – Ireland has a score of 20.6.

The UK at 36.7 is ranked as very stable, very similar to the US at 38.0. The worry is that things are deteriorating in both countries and indeed at the top end of the table, the only other country with a deteriorating score is Poland.

Table 1 Fragile State Index top end of the table.

At the bottom end of the table (Table 2) are those in very high alert   are the DRC, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. There are also more countries in decline for example: Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Venezuela.  Even here however, the vast majority of countries seem to be improving.

Table 2 FSI lower placed countries.


The UK

The report is pretty damning regarding the UK. It is worth quoting in full. The UK has been chosen to be one of the example countries in the 2019 report. The authors clearly do not “Believe in Brexit.” The report states (p10):

After scoring among the top 10 most worsened countries in the 2018 FSI, the United Kingdom is this year the fourth-most worsened country, The United Kingdom has again seen increases in its indicator scores for Group Grievance, Factionalized Elites, and State Legitimacy, among the same indicators that have been driving the country’s spiral over the past decade —indeed, more long-term, the United Kingdom is now ranked as the 15th most worsened country on the FSI since 2009.

Much of the current turmoil can be attributed to the country’s farcical efforts to make good on the 2016 referendum where, after a highly divisive —and arguably, disingenuous and even dishonest —campaign, a slim majority of Britons voted in favor of leaving the European Union. Given that the government’s efforts to execute “Brexit” have gone from bad to worse in the early months of 2019, it is likely that the United Kingdom’s score could easily have been much worse —and may well be in the 2020 FSI.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that Brexit is still a relatively new phenomenon, and much of the long-term worsening for the United Kingdom was in-train well before the Brexit referendum. Indeed, even before the Brexit referendum took place, the United Kingdom had the seventh-worst trend for the three indicators mentioned above. This suggests that the country’s ills are much more deeply-rooted and unlikely to be solved in the near-term, regardless of Brexit.

Not a lot to disagree with but the language is punchier than normally used. The last sentence is particularly telling and indeed chimes with many of the worries about the UK championed on Progressive Pulse since its inception. One further worry is the External Intervention Indicator in terms of vast amounts of dark money gowing towards the Brexit campaign and more recently the Brexit party. There have also been millions spent on dark ad and Facebook targeting. Whether this is ultimately Russian or ultra-right wing US money is as yet unclear.


This seems to be a very comprehensive Index, carefully put together and based on a very wide range of indicators. The overall trajectory of travel is good for the vast majority of countries. Unfortunately however, the UK is not one of them. The UK is still nonetheless regarded as a very stable country and has a long way to fall before civil war, for example, may break out. There is however increasing polarisation and rather than the country coming together it seems increasingly divided.


  1. Adrian Kent -

    France is on the up despite 7 months of people being blinded by rubber-bullets? Hmmmm…

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Adrian Good point.

      Hungary was the one I thought strange. Like all such indicators they should be used with caution.

  2. Sam Johnson -

    A few riots are not and never have been an existential threat to France. Nor were they to the UK at the time of the poll tax riots, nor was the worst of the conflict in NI which claimed a great many lives. Fragility implies possible to likely break-up, surely, not mere instability. If so, the UK is indeed a fragile state. I don’t expect its current constitutional arrangements will last much beyond the life of the present monarch.

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