Political Instability Task Force

Political Instability Task Force

Internal Wars and Failures of Governance, 1955-Most Recent Year


What is the Political Instability Task Force?

The Political Instability Task Force (PITF) is a panel of scholars and methodologists that was originally formed in 1994 at the request of senior policymakers in the United States Government. The composition of the core group of scholars numbers from ten to fifteen and represents several of the country’s leading research institutions; current Task Force members come from Arizona State, Columbia, George Mason, Harvard, Maryland, Minnesota, Stanford, and Texas universities. Its original, assigned task was to assess and explain the vulnerability of states around the world to political instability and state failure. Over the eleven-year course of its work, the Task Force has broadened its attention from the kind of extreme state failure that befell Somalia and the former Zaire in the early 1990s to include onsets of general political instability defined by outbreaks of revolutionary or ethnic war, adverse regime change, and genocide. More recently, the Task Force has explored matters of governance raised by our earlier research through projects that measure state capacity and model democratic transitions. In the wake of September 11, we also turned our attention to relationships between states and international terrorist groups. Even as the scope of the panel’s research program has grown, however, the central objective has remained the same: using open-source data, the Task Force seeks to develop statistical models that can accurately assess countries’ prospects for major political change and can identify key risk factors of interest to US policymakers.

The PITF is funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. The PITF website is hosted by the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University and is provided as a public service. The views expressed herein are those of the Task Force and its individual members, and do not represent the views of the University or the US Government.

State failure is a label that encompasses a range of severe political conflicts and regime crises exemplified by macro-societal events such as those that occurred in Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) in the 1990s. This web site lists comparative information on cases of total and partial state failure (i.e., periods of political instability) that began between 1955 and 2006 in independent countries with populations greater than 500,000. The four types of events included are revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, adverse regime changes, and genocides and politicides. The accompanying codebook provides definitions of each type of event and describes the scales used to estimate magnitudes of each type (click on the “Code Book” button above). The list of state failure events (i.e., the PITF/State Failure “problem set”) has been compiled from multiple sources and is updated annually by researchers at the Center for Global Policy, George Mason University; it is regularly reviewed and revised with input from area and subject-matter specialists. The “problem set” information is presented in two forms: (1) a description of consolidated cases in tabular form and (2) a series of four separate datasets, based on type of event, with estimates of annual magnitudes for each of the events that were used in compiling the table. The list of consolidated cases is provided in Word document format and the four, event-type data sets are provided in Excel spreadsheet format. These resource files can be downloaded and viewed or imported/integrated into statistical software. In addition to the list(s) of state failure events, this Web site houses other important Political Instability Task Force (PITF) resources, including electronic copies of the several Task Force Research Reports, the PITF Public Data Dictionary (identifying all open source data collected and compiled by the Task Force in its Global Database), and selected PITF Replication Datasets comprising variables used in the several models described in Task Force reports.

Who and Why
A list of state failures was originally prepared in 1994 by a research team directed by Ted Robert Gurr of the University of Maryland and (for genocides and politicides) Barbara Harff of the U.S. Naval Academy. The information was compiled as part of an unclassified study that was commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence in response to a request from senior US policy makers to design and carry out a data-driven study on the correlates of state failure since the mid-1950s. The study was carried out by a Task Force consisting of academic experts, data collection and management specialists from the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), and analytic methods professionals from Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). It must be noted that, although the work of the Task Force was funded by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, none of the information contained in this Web site, associated data resources, or Task Force reports is based on intelligence reporting or classified material. Neither does the information presented represent the official view of the U.S. Government, the U.S. Intelligence Community, or the Central Intelligence Agency, but, rather, the views of the individual authors and researchers themselves.

The original global data-driven studies conducted by the originally-named State Failure Task Force used the “consolidated,” or “complex,” case as the unit of analysis (i.e., the dependent variable). Subsequent analyses have examined various subsets of the global dataset (e.g., Sub-Saharan Africa countries and Muslim countries) and specific types of political instability or state failure events (e.g., democratic transitions, genocides and politicides, ethnic wars, internal wars).

In late 2000 and early 2001, the State Failure Problem Set and the underlying methodology for identifying state failure cases was re-examined by the Task Force, following the lead of Monty G. Marshall, who took over management of the Problem Set in 1998. The re-examination and consequent revision of the Problem Set was conducted in order to improve the quality of the data, particularly the beginning and ending dates of the State Failure events, and thus enable finer-grained and more focused analyses of the data. The resulting revised Problem Set is substantially “stronger” and “tighter” than the version reported in the earlier phases of the research (Reports I and II, see below).

In mid-2002, an agreement was finalized that allowed the Integrated Network for Societal Conflict Research (INSCR) Program in the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM) at the University of Maryland to provide public access to State Failure Task Force research materials. In 2003, the name of the Task was changed to the Political Instability Task Force to reflect the ever-expanding scope of the Task Force’s work and to distance it from the more narrow, and more extreme, notion of complex, systemic failure and state collapse. In 2005 hosting of the Task Force public access Web site moved to the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University. The Task Force materials hosted on this Web site have been provided directly by the managers of the Task Force and have not been altered in any way by the INSCR or CGP hosts.

The several research phases of the State Failure project and their results are described in the citations below. Electronic copies of the first three biennial Task Force reports are available free of charge and are downloadable from this Web site; the Phase IV report is also available here by special request.

Daniel C. Esty, Jack Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, Pamela T. Surko, Alan N. Unger, and Robert Chen. “The State Failure Project: Early Warning Research for US Foreign Policy Planning,” chap. 3 in John L. Davies and Ted Robert Gurr (eds.), Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crisis Early Warning Systems (Boulder, CO and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998).

Phase I Report:
Daniel C. Esty, Jack A. Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Pamela T. Surko, and Alan N. Unger. Working Papers: State Failure Task Force Report. McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation, 30 November 1995.

Phase II Report:
Daniel C. Esty, Jack A. Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, Marc Levy, Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Pamela T. Surko, and Alan N. Unger. State Failure Task Force Report: Phase II Findings. McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation, 31 July 1998.

Also published as:
State Failure Task Force. “State Failure Task Force Report: Phase II Findings.” In Environmental Change and Security Project Report (Summer 1999). Washington, DC: The Woodrow Wilson Center.

Phase III Report:
Jack A. Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, Marc A. Levy, Monty G. Marshall, Robert H. Bates, David L. Epstein, Colin H. Kahl, Pamela T. Surko, John C. Ulfelder, and Alan N. Unger. In consultation with Matthew Christenson, Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Daniel C. Esty, and Thomas M. Parris. State Failure Task Force Report: Phase III Findings. McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation, 30 September 2000.

Phase IV Report:
Robert H.Bates, David L. Epstein, Jack A. Goldstone, Ted Robert Gurr, Barbara Harff, Colin H. Kahl, Kristen Knight, Marc A. Levy, Michael Lustik, Monty G. Marshall, Thomas M. Parris, Jay Ulfelder, and Mark R. Woodward. 2003. Political Instability Task Force Report: Phase IV Findings. McLean, VA: Science Applications International Corporation.

Phase V Reports:
A Global Forecasting Model of Political Instability
Jack A. Goldstone, Robert Bates, Ted Robert Gurr, Michael Lustik, Monty G. Marshall, Jay Ulfelder, and Mark Woodward
Forecasting Instability: Are Ethnic War and Muslim Country Models Different?
Ted Robert Gurr, Mark Woodward, and Monty G. Marshall
Modeling Transitions to and from Democracy
Jay Ulfelder and Michael Lustik

American Journal of Political Science 50.1; 190-208
A Global Model for Forecasting Political Instability
Jack A. Goldstone, Robert H. Bates, David L. Epstein, Ted Robert Gurr, Michael B. Lustik,
Monty G. Marshall, Jay Ulfelder, and Mark Woodward

We welcome your comments and inquiries concerning the State Failure Project or the list of internal wars and failures of governance. Please direct all correspondence to

Jack Goldstone
Virginia E. and John T. Hazel, Jr. Professor; Director, Center for Global Policy
School of Public Policy
George Mason University
3401 North Fairfax Drive, MS 3B1
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (703) 993-8177
Fax: (703) 993-8215
Email: jgoldsto@gmu.edu

For more information on the Center for Global Policy in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University, or to return to the CGP website, click here or on the “CGP” button in the button bars.

This website was last updated on June 20 , 2012.