Growing attention on fragile or failed states as threats to international security has stimulated much interest in the development of new frameworks that identify and analyze the sources of state fragility and conflict. On March 7, 2007, the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity and the Environmental Change and Security Program brought together two of the foremost analysts of quantitative conflict data, Jack Goldstone and Monty Marshall, for a discussion on the creation of a new Fragility Matrix at an event entitled Global Report on Conflict, Governance and State Fragility 2007: Gauging Countries' Performance in the Era of Globalization. The Global Report was published by Cambridge University Press in Volume 17 of the Spring 2007 Foreign Policy Bulletin. It is available for purchase at http://journals.cambridge.org.
Monty Marshall examined the socio-political context surrounding the creation of the Fragility Matrix. He explained that the matrix constitutes a new measure of state fragility that combines security, political, economic and social indicators for the world's major states. The new Fragility Matrix was conceived out of several existing systems of analysis including the Global and Regional Societal Systems Analysis, George Mason University's Political Instability Task Force and USAID's Initiative on State Fragility. Marshall explained that the new matrix serves as the culmination of these existing frameworks by identifying the key systemic trends and risk factors that predict state fragility, or alternatively, state capacity in the "global era."
Marshall outlined the most recent data on conflict, governance and development available in the Fragility Matrix. Data was compiled for 162 states with populations over 500,000. According to Marshall's examination of the matrix, Western Europe, the United States and South America have fairly positive regional profiles characterized by a high degree of income equality and system integration. By contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Muslim countries score poorly on the matrix as a result of a high degree of income inequality and poor integration. Utilizing the country profiles, the new Fragility Matrix seeks to identify the different elements of development, governance and conflict, and track them over time. Marshall concluded that the new matrix does not predict conflict, instead it provides important insights into the strengths and weaknesses of individual states and regions, thus allowing for more targeted assistance in the areas of political and economic development.
Jack Goldstone explained the impetus for developing a new set of fragility indicators by providing a comparative analysis of existing data sets. According to Goldstone, existing scales focus overwhelmingly on governance and civil liberties making it increasingly difficult, particularly in the post-Cold War era, to describe regimes that do not fit the profile of the best and worst democracy or dictatorship. The most fragile states, asserted Goldstone, are generally those that fall in the middle. In addition, he explained that these scales are highly uncertain in tracking small movement over time. Goldstone criticized the reliance of existing scales on expert opinion which often tends to converge to the mean and mirror past experiences, thus failing to accurately forecast an event. The new matrix, he emphasized, is based on objective scales that ensure that resulting data is more robust and transparent. Furthermore, researchers attempting to guarantee that scales are comprehensive will try to include as many indicators as possible. As an unintended result, it is often unclear which variable has brought about a particular change. Analyzing the performance of states within four primary categories – security, politics, economy and delivery of services – Goldstone asserted that the new Fragility Matrix departs from the tendency of its predecessors to dilute the scales with an overabundance of potential variables.
Goldstone stated that the intention of the new Fragility Matrix is to determine what makes a political system resilient, in other words, what determines loyalties to the government and what creates fissures. In order to answer these questions, Goldstone explained that each of the four primary categories was assessed on two qualities: efficacy, how effective the state is in each one of these categories; and legitimacy, the extent of inclusion or discrimination in each category. Scores on each dimension were added up, but not weighted, to create a profile which served to identify if a state appeared highly fragile and where this fragility came from. The subsequent profile identified what Goldstone called four "highlighted factors": 1) the degree of armed conflict; 2) regime type; 3) whether the state is an oil producer or oil consumer; and 4) the regional effects. The decision to streamline the system of measurement in such a way, argued Goldstone, generates a more comprehensive, coherent and transparent regional profile. As the first such empirical instrument to distinguish between effectiveness and legitimacy deficits in fragile states, the Fragility Matrix can be a useful tool to inform policy makers on the challenges of globalization and opportunities for change.