The Annual Failed States Report, published by Foreign Policy (2008) and the Fund for Peace (2005-2008), rates the instability of the world's nations according to the following criteria:

• demographic pressures,

• movement of refugees and displaced persons,

• legacy of grievance groups,

• chronic and sustained human flight,

• uneven group economic development,

• sharp economic decline,

• challenges to legitimacy of government,

• deterioration of public services,

• failure of rule of law and human rights,

• lack of control over security apparatus,

• the presence of factionalized elites, and

• intervention of other states.

The 2007 report found a strong correlation between political stability and environmental sustainability, described as a country's ability to avoid environmental disaster and deterioration. That means that in poorly performing states, including Bangladesh, Egypt, and Indonesia, the risks of flooding, drought, and deforestation have little chance of being properly managed. A consistent result of the index is that between six and eight out of the ten worst performers are located in Africa, which more than ever is the focus of intense international competition for mineral resources among industrial and industrializing nations.

In a specific study of the impact of state failure on natural resource management, Deacon (1994) compared the political attributes of countries exhibiting high and low deforestation rates. These attributes were of two kinds: those associated with instability and general lawlessness, including occurrence of guerrilla warfare, revolutions, major government and constitutional crises, and those associated with rule by specific elites and dominant individuals rather than by laws and anonymous institutions. All of the measures of government instability were higher in countries with high deforestation.

At the other end of the materials flow path, there is a significant international trade in waste—invariably in one direction as material that is expensive to dispose of in HDCs finds its way to LDCs where labor costs, health and safety standards, and environmental regulations are either lower or less stringently enforced than in the exporting country (e.g., Asante-Duah et al. 1992). Indeed, it may be recalled that in his role as a World Bank Vice President, Larry Summers created a fierce controversy in December 1991 with the release of a memo praising the Pareto efficiency of such exports. Although the extent of a hazardous and toxic waste export crisis was soon contested (Montgomery 1995), concern persists, especially with regard to waste electrical and electronics (WEE) and ship breaking. The existence and effective enforcement of waste export regulation in exporting countries is as much of an institutional issue as the willingness and capacity of importing countries to restrict or regulate the handling and disposal of imports. Clearly the condition of the state commands our attention in considering the sustainable management of materials stocks and flows.

States that are characterized by general lawlessness lack the capacity to establish any kind of reliable inventory of whatever natural resources they possess. They are also unattractive to legitimate foreign investors who might be interested in materials extraction. Whatever resources are known to be present are likely to be exploited opportunistically and unsustainably by local warlords under the kind of scenario that Cantor et al. (1992) describe as "the wasteland." States that are not in the throes of civil disorder, but which are captured by elites, who are able to operate without regard to democratic controls, might be more likely to catalog and exploit resources systematically. The extent to which they are likely to do so sustainably would seem to depend strongly on the behavior of their trading partners and the effectiveness of international regimes and treaties, such as those governing trade in endangered species and fissile nuclear materials, the production of certain substances (e.g., those that deplete the ozone layer), or protection of certain ecosystems, such as the Mediterranean Sea.

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