Improving Forecasts of State Failure


Gary King and Langche Zeng. 2001. “Improving Forecasts of State Failure.” World Politics, 53: 623–658. Copy at
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Improving Forecasts of State Failure


We offer the first independent scholarly evaluation of the claims, forecasts, and causal inferences of the State Failure Task Force and their efforts to forecast when states will fail. State failure refers to the collapse of the authority of the central government to impose order, as in civil wars, revolutionary wars, genocides, politicides, and adverse or disruptive regime transitions. This task force, set up at the behest of Vice President Gore in 1994, has been led by a group of distinguished academics working as consultants to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. State Failure Task Force reports and publications have received attention in the media, in academia, and from public policy decision-makers. In this article, we identify several methodological errors in the task force work that cause their reported forecast probabilities of conflict to be too large, their causal inferences to be biased in unpredictable directions, and their claims of forecasting performance to be exaggerated. However, we also find that the task force has amassed the best and most carefully collected data on state failure in existence, and the required corrections which we provide, although very large in effect, are easy to implement. We also reanalyze their data with better statistical procedures and demonstrate how to improve forecasting performance to levels significantly greater than even corrected versions of their models. Although still a highly uncertain endeavor, we are as a consequence able to offer the first accurate forecasts of state failure, along with procedures and results that may be of practical use in informing foreign policy decision making. We also describe a number of strong empirical regularities that may help in ascertaining the causes of state failure.

Last updated on 07/10/2013