CRISE In Brief 5. An Operational Definition of 'Fragile States'


This In Brief aims to contribute to the operationalisation of the concept of 'fragile states' for use in development policy. Following a review of different definitions of 'fragile states', it proposes a three-pronged definition of fragility that broadly encompasses other classifications. Fragile states are defined as states that are failing, or in danger of failing, with respect to authority, comprehensive socioeconomic entitlements or governance legitimacy. We show that many states are fragile along one or two dimensions, but rather few are fragile along all three, despite causal connections among them - a lack of comprehensive data in the most fragile countries may partly account for this. A consideration of how fragility, as defined, relates to some other significant development approaches to vulnerable societies indicates that fragility in its various dimensions corresponds most closely to failures on particular Human Rights. Yet, the Human Rights approach applies to all countries and embodies a particular way of approaching development, whereas 'fragile' states form a specific subset of especially vulnerable countries and the concept as such does not imply a distinct approach to aid and development.


Oxford, UK: Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE). 4 pp.

CRISE In Brief 5. An Operational Definition of ‘Fragile States’

Published 1 January 2010