In 1994, in response to a request by senior U.S. policy makers, the State Failure (now Political Instability) Task Force was established to design and carry out a data-driven study of the preconditions of state failure. "Failure" was defined to include ethnic and revolutionary wars, adverse or disruptive regime transitions, and genocides and politicides.
In 1998, in response to President Clinton's policy initiative on genocide early warning and prevention, Barbara Harff, a senior consultant with the Task Force, was asked to design and carry out a study that would use her own and other data sources to establish an empirically and theoretically-grounded, data-based system for risk assessment of genocidal violence. The results of this effort have been described in detail in various Task Force reports and in Barbara Harff's article, "No Lessons Learned from the Holocaust? Assessing Risks of Genocide and Political Mass Murder since 1955," American Political Science Reivew, vol. 97, no. 1 (February 2003), pp. 57-73. The six factors identified in the initial structural model made it possible to distinguish with a high degree of accuracy between countries in failure at any time between 1955 and 1997 that had genocides or politicides and those that did not.
The model was used in the above article to identify and rank the risks of genocide and politicide in countries with armed conflict in 2001. The risk list has been updated for subsequent years using new data on the risk factors. The 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and the 2015 updates are posted on this website. They use somewhat different procedures for weighing the data and assessing risks, as explained in the notes to each list. The US government continues to employ the original and modified statistical models to prepare more precise risk assessments for government use only.