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Fragile States Index: Five Issues to Watch in 2018

In our preliminary assessment of the 2018 Fragile State Index, these five findings caught our eye, and we’ll be closely monitoring developments in the coming weeks.

Written by Hashem Osseiran, Natalie Sikorski Published on Read time Approx. 6 minutes
Protesters are seen in Warsaw, Poland on 10 April 2018 Obywatele RP organization members and other anti-govermental opposition activists protest in the 8th anniversary of Presidental plane crash against appropriation of public space by the Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his supporters who march every month under the strong police escort.Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A deep dive into the data behind this year’s Fragile State Index, created by the Fund for Peace, reveals five important trends for world peace in 2018. As part of News Deeply’s partnership with the Fund for Peace, we will take a hard look at the below trends in the coming months.

After Battle Against ISIS, Iraq Takes Slow Steps to Stability

Chart: Hashem Osseiran & Alessandria Masi. Source: Fragile States Index – Created with Datawrapper

Iraq ended 2017 by declaring victory over the so-called Islamic State, a militant group that had controlled large swaths of its territory since 2014. Though the war-ravaged country still has a long road to stability, the Fragile State Index has found that Iraq is the second most-improved country in this year’s index.

Iraq is ranked the 11th most fragile state, up one spot from 2017. However, it still faces multiple challenges, including unstable governance, sectarian violence, Kurdish separatist goals, and a poor economy. But the FSI has noted some areas of progress that can be credited to ISIS’s diminishing role in the country.

Iraq’s biggest improvement across the 12 indicators used by FSI was in the country’s Security Apparatus, which includes state security threats such as bombings, attacks, and terrorism. With ISIS on its heels in the country, the group has had a diminished ability to carry out attacks with the same intensity and frequency compared to previous years.

The FSI has also noted an improvement in the State Legitimacy indicator, which deals with a population’s confidence in the government and the presence of terrorist groups. Kurdish aims for autonomy and the presence of non-state militias still hamper attempts to consolidate government legitimacy. However, by defeating ISIS, the central government has been able to retake territory it had previously lost, inspiring increasing confidence from segments of the population. However, much improvement is still needed with regards to state building and the creation of an inclusive and transparent government.

The defeat of ISIS has also contributed to a decline in communal violence and religious persecutions, especially for Yazidis, Shiites and other groups often targeted by hardline Sunni militants. This likely contributed to Iraq’s decreased score for Group Grievances in 2018. However, sectarianism continues to be a prominent problem. For example, tensions between Kurdish groups and the government remain an issue, as Baghdad continues to block their goal of autonomy, and many among the country’s Sunni community still feel marginalized by Iraq’s Shiite ruling elite.

A Potential Positive Trend in Mexico

Chart: Natalie Sikorski & Alessandria Masi. Source: Fund for Peace – Created with Datawrapper

Among the most surprising findings in this year’s FSI relates to Mexico, which made it onto the top 10 most improved list compared to the previous year.

However, a brief look at what happened in Mexico throughout 2017 paints a very different picture. Nearly 30,000 people were murdered – a record high. The state passed legislation allowing the Mexican military to act as law enforcement, and corruption was rampant across the nation. Natural disasters, including two deadly earthquakes, destroyed infrastructure and left thousands displaced from their homes.

However, in spite of these challenges, Mexico’s scores have improved nearly across all indicators. Among the potential reasons for these minor improvements that we will continue to explore include Mexican President Peña Nieto’s strong stance against U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as community rebuilding in the aftermath of 2017’s natural disasters.

The July 1 presidential election may determine whether Mexico is really on the upswing. Other developments that will likely test Mexico’s stability this year include the U.S. decisions regarding NAFTA, as well as continued migration from Central American countries through Mexico.

Poland Moves to the Far-Right

Chart: Natalie Sikorski & Alessandria Masi. Source: Fund for Peace – Created with Datawrapper

Poland has steadily become a more fragile state in recent years. Poland jumped five spots on the FSI to the position of 148th most fragile country, with the biggest changes in stability seen in the Human Rights indicator, the Group Grievance indicator, and the State Legitimacy indicators.

In the global ranking, Poland is still among the least fragile states. However, a look at the FSI’s historical data indicates that there has been a significant shift since the 2015 elections, where the far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS) won a parliamentary majority with 37.5 percent of the vote. Since its rise to power, PiS has threatened rule of law and democratic processes through policy reforms that aimed to weaken the Polish Judiciary, threaten Polish media and cultural institutes that speak against the party, and politicize the role of the civil service.

PiS leaders have also made incendiary statements about the current influx of refugees and migrants into the Europe. The party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, even claimed migrants would cause the rapid spread of diseases because they carry “various parasites and protozoa, which don’t affect their organisms, but could be dangerous here,” and that Muslim refugees in Sweden have installed Sharia law there.

The PiS has seen an increase in popularity and is enjoying strong support from its voter base, partially due to the party’s stance on immigration. The refugee crisis in Europe has fomented anti-migrant and xenophobic sentiment and strengthened PiS’s mandate.

Worsening Cohesion and Group Grievance in the U.S.

Chart: Natalie Sikorski & Alessandria Masi. Source: Fund For Peace – Created with Datawrapper

The United States’ Cohesion and Group Grievance indicator scores have declined considerably over a five-year and 10-year trend. While it remains one of the most stable countries in the world, the trends that have developed over the past few years demand further investigation.

The Factionalized Elites and Group Grievance indicators have steadily increased, and indicators such as Demographic Pressure and State Legitimacy have climbed rapidly. While the country’s overall score has been unpredictable over the past 10 years, the election of Trump has sent the U.S. into steady decline on the Fragility Index. Over the past year, questions about Trump’s legitimacy, ability to rule and several scandals have weakened the government’s influence, both domestically and abroad. Even with control of the House and the Senate, the Trump administration has had few significant legislative victories.

Key campaign promises remain unfulfilled. Trump has repeatedly tried and failed to implement a travel ban on citizens of countries deemed security threats, he has also had little success in receiving funding for the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. With deep political divides becoming even more contentious, the United States has also seen an increase in political violence. Hate crimes against minority groups have increased, with perpetrators feeling emboldened by a president they feel supports their cause. The Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, turned violent as rally attendees and counter-protesters clashed, and police were forced to de-escalate the situation.

Crisis in Yemen

Yemen has become increasingly unstable over the past year, bringing its rank to the third most fragile country, compared to fourth in 2017, topped only by South Sudan and Somalia, according to the FSI. The situation in Yemen does not look likely to improve in the coming year, but whether or not improvements are possible depends largely on international action and intervention.

Tension and fighting between the Houthis, as well as other armed rebel groups, and the government, is ongoing. What’s more, foreign intervention in the Yemeni conflict includes the United States and Saudi Arabia, as well as unofficial involvement in the form of training and weapons from Iran.

Yemen already suffered from water scarcity prior to the beginning of the conflict, and is dangerously close to running out. Groundwater levels have decreased dramatically, and Yemen uses far more water than can be replenished. The country’s largest desalination plant was destroyed in 2016 and since then, over 1 million people have had unreliable access to clean water.

Lack of water has also lead to a sanitation and health emergency, and cases of cholera are increasing into 2018. Poor sanitation and an increasingly unreliable sewage system also contribute to the rapid spread of cholera in the country.

Yemen has been on the brink of famine for some time now, and in December 2017, the U.N. announced that over 8 million people in the country were “a step away” from starvation. Agriculture has suffered in the country, and the blockades of the ports have lead to increasingly limited supplies of food, fuel and medicine.

Alessandria Masi contributed to this report.

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