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Taking Development (Im)balance Seriously: Using New Approaches to Measure and Model State Fragility

The Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures

This project resulted in two reports, "The Future is a Moving Target: Predicting Political Instability" and "Structural pressures and political instability: trajectories for sub-Saharan Africa."

The Future is a Moving Target: Predicting Political Instability: Previous research by Goldstone et al. (2010) generated a highly accurate predictive model of state-level political instability. Notably, this model identifies political institutions – and partial democracy with factionalism, specifically – as the most compelling factors explaining when and where instability events are likely to occur. This article reassesses the model’s explanatory power and makes three related points: (1) the model’s predictive power varies substantially over time; (2) its predictive power peaked in the period used for out-of-sample validation (1995–2004) in the original study and (3) the model performs relatively poorly in the more recent period. The authors find that this decline is not simply due to the Arab Uprisings, instability events that occurred in autocracies. Similar issues are found with attempts to predict nonviolent uprisings (Chenoweth and Ulfelder 2017) and armed conflict onset and continuation (Hegre et al. 2013). These results inform two conclusions: (1) the drivers of instability are not constant over time and (2) care must be exercised in interpreting prediction exercises as evidence in favor or dispositive of theoretical mechanisms.

Structural pressures and political instability: trajectories for sub-Saharan Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa faces many structural pressures that increase the risk of political instability and violent conflict. Understanding the nature and trajectories of structural pressures is key for conflict prevention, development and peacebuilding. Using five models of instability and the International Futures system, this report finds that the risk from demographics and poor development has eased and will reduce further. Anocratic regimes pose the greatest challenge to stability, and horizontal inequalities are likely to continue to fuel grievances.