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  • State Failure 2.0

    Posted by Zenpundit on January 27th, 2007 (All posts by )

    In the esoteric world of defense intellectuals, one of the sharpest points of contention between Thomas P.M. Barnett and John Robb is over the feasibility of Tom’s System Administration concept. This issue has been the topic of numerous posts and the occasional rhetorical jab between the two strategic theorists. This pattern repeats itself, in my view, for a number of reasons. First, even friendly professional rivalry causes a natural bumping of heads; secondly, Robb looks at a system and thinks how it can be made to fall apart while Barnett looks at the same system and imagines how the pieces can be reintegrated. Third, no one really has all the answers yet on why some states fail relatively easily while others prove resilient in the face of horrific stress.

    Robb contends that Global Guerillas can potentially keep a state in permanent failure, despite the best efforts of System Administration intervention to the contrary. A new level of systemic collapse, call it State Failure 2.0, where failure constitutes a self-sustaining dynamic. Broadly defined, you would chalk up ” wins” for Robb’s point of view in Somalia, Iraq and the Congo. In Dr. Barnett’s column you would find Germany, Japan, Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone in evidence for the efficacy of Sys Admin work. Lebanon and Afghanistan perhaps could be described as a nation-building draw at this point in time.

    Why permanent failure in some cases but not others ? This is something that long puzzled me. Then today, I read an intriguing pair of posts at Paul Hartzog’s blog - ” Ernesto Laclau and the Persistence of Panarchy” and ” Complexity and Collapse“. An excerpt from the first post:

    Ernesto Laclau was here @ UMich and gave a delightful talk that gave me some key insights into the long-term stability of panarchy.

    …However, with the new heterogeneity of global social movements, Laclau makes the point that as the state-system declines, there is no possibility of the emergence of a new state-like form because the diverse multitude possesses no single criterion of difference around which a new state could crystallize.

    Thus, there is no possibility of a state which could satisfy the heterogenous values of the diverse multitude. What is significant here is that according to this logic, once panarchy arrives, it can never coalesce into some new stable unified entity.

    In other words, panarchy is autopoietic as is. As new criteria of difference emerge and vanish, the complex un-whole that is panarchy will never rigidify into something that can be opposed, i.e. it will never become a new hegemony. “

    While I think Paul is incorrect on the ultimate conclusion – that panarchy is a steady-state system for society – I think he has accurately described why a state may remain ” stuck” in failure for a considerable period of time as we reckon it. Moreover, it was a familiar scenario to me, being reminiscient of the permanent failure experienced by the global economy during the Great Depression. Yet some states pulled themselves out of the Depression, locally and temporarily, with extreme state intervention while the system itself did not recover until after WWII with the opposite policy – steady liberalization of international trade and de-regulation of markets that became known as globalization.

    The lesson from that economic analogy might be that reviving completely failed states might first require a ” clearing of the board” of local opposition – defeated Germany and Japan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero. Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors as a countervailing force.

    System Administration as a cure for helping connect Gap states might be akin to government fiscal and monetary policy intervention in the economy; it may work best with the easiest and the worst-off cases where there is either a functional and legitimate local government to act as a partner or where there is no government to get in the way and the warring factions are exhausted.

    The dangerous middle ground of partially failed states is the real sticking point.

    Cross-posted at Zenpundit

     

    20 Responses to “State Failure 2.0”

    1. Dan tdaxp Says:

      (Cross posted at ZenPundit).

      The lesson from that economic analogy might be that reviving completely failed states might first require a ” clearing of the board” of local opposition – defeated Germany and Japan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero. Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors in their resistance.

      This reminds me of some old posts on lakotization / family liberation. The US Army successfully used the same strategy in the northern plain: disrupt the cultures of rebel tribes such that they were unable to oppose US operations.

    2. david foster Says:

      “In other words, panarchy is autopoietic as is”..why would someone write a sentence like this? Is the objective to communicate or to signal membership in some in-group? Does “autopoietic” mean something that can’t be communicated in ordinary language?

    3. Lex Says:

      Autopoiesis.

      This is just “in group” language for some gang of sociologists.

      To answer David’s question: No.

      Mark kindly translated it as “steady-state system”.

      Sociology is far too important to be left to the sociologists.

      Thank heavens we amateurs in the peanut gallery are around to translate the occasional useful idea these guys generate into plain American English.

    4. mark safranski Says:

      This is a totally irreverent comment but I looked at Lex’s Wikipedia link and saw “…A vivid example of such a non-equilibrium structure is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, which is essentially a gigantic whirlpool of gases” and thought that we could excise the Jovian component and insert “the U.S. Senate” and the example might work just as well.

    5. John Says:

      Dang it, Zenpundit, I need to get some stuff done around the house, and you keep giving me post ideas.

      “Broadly defined, you would chalk up ” wins” for Robb’s point of view in Somalia, Iraq and the Congo.”

      I’d chalk up a partial win for this column in the USSR of roughly 1964 – 1991. The period the Soviets called “the stagnation”. When I was there there was a five-way power struggle between the old guard Commies such as Yazov, the semi-progressive forces in the security organs that have become Putin’s base, the non-communist reformers who became Yeltsin’s base, Gorbachev’s reform-minded Commies, and the out-and out Mafia, who had also infiltrated into the other progressive camps. That pretty much was the state of affairs from 1985 to 1991. The thing is that those systems can only stay that way for a finite period of time, although that period might last generations.

      The idea you shook out of me was that of metastable states – where a system hits a small energy minimum as it is rolling down an energy gradient – I think of it as an outcropping of rock on a mountain slope. A ball rolling downwill might stick on the outcropping for a while, but eventually wind or rain will wash it downhill. While it’s stuck it’s in a meta-stable energy state.

      I think that perhaps both camps are not looking at things on the proper timescale, and a Hegelian synthesis might be in order. Societies have an inertia to them, just as physical systems do, leading to metastable states. A social structure can hang around looking stable on the outside for a long time while the termites eat at the weight bearing members. Then some strong wind comes along and the whole thing collapses. Panarchy depends on material success and physical security, or at least satisfaction with what level of material progress and security exists, otherwise, when material wealth begins to collapse or security is threatened, the panarchy will re-coalesce into a smaller set of interest groups focused on a desire for material progress and / or survival, especially if some group comes to power who looks as if it will make things even worse. A state will re-emerge, and a Sys Admin has to either intervene or be created. That’s a lot of what happened in August 1991.

    6. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “panarchy is autopoietic”

      Is that English?

    7. A. Greek Says:

      What’s wrong with logopoiesis?

    8. zenpundit Says:

      “The idea you shook out of me was that of metastable states – where a system hits a small energy minimum as it is rolling down an energy gradient – I think of it as an outcropping of rock on a mountain slope. A ball rolling downwill might stick on the outcropping for a while, but eventually wind or rain will wash it downhill. While it’s stuck it’s in a meta-stable energy state”

      “I think that perhaps both camps are not looking at things on the proper timescale, and a Hegelian synthesis might be in order. Societies have an inertia to them, just as physical systems do, leading to metastable states

      I like that a lot, John. As long as we don’t become too rigid with the application, physics analogies work fairly well given that human societies is a complex adaptive system, subject to feedback loops as well as external forces. It would also lead to a discussion about a particular state’s ” momentum”, something we often have ” feel” for when watching, say the Bush administration after 9/11 vs. after Katrina, but can’t really quantify.

    9. zenpundit Says:

      *Ahem* should read ” societies are” :o)

    10. joseangel Says:

      Your article has led me to investigate further analysis into political events in Mexico recently, as you know we also have guerrilla movements in the south, although I wouldn’t really consider them a real tangible threat to our state and I actually believe them to be in a dead end path, more trying to get public support than fighting at all.
      Following on the Robb link you provided I found out he dedicates some of his thoughts to what happens in Mexico today. I intend on participating in his blog and learning more from him and others there.

      Thanks.

    11. Pacific Empire Says:

      (crossposted from ZenPundit…)

      I don’t know as much about the situation in Cambodia and Sierra Leone, I do know about East Timor, and it is about as far from a victory for the “sysadmin” as you can get short of all-out war.

      I suppose being completely devastated and having to start over might produce some political stability, but this is not the case for East Timor, which throws some doubt on your hypothesis. Timor was thoroughly defeated in conventional terms in 1975, yet the insurgency lasted nearly 25 years despite massacres, reprisals, high-tech equipment and population transfer. It was a clear victory for 4GW Timor’s infrastructure was afterwards wiped out by militia attacks, but I think the effect of that is deceptive in terms of stability – the poverty and lack of infrastructure means infighting is less effective and less deadly. But the government, rebels and gangs face that problem equally, and all have difficulties in using force as a result, and none of them want to kick out the peacekeepers.

      East Timor today is incredibly poor, unstable, rebels and gangs operate freely, and the government is torn by infighting between ex-rebels and ex-collaborators (not to mention, different tribes). The only reason it looks like a success is because foreign forces restrain the worst of the violence, and the poverty and lack of infrastructure limits the successful mobilisation of large numbers on any side. It’s certainly not a reason to be optimistic about nation-building, even though it is an example of relatively successful foreign intervention.

    12. randy Says:

      You wrote:
      being reminiscient of the permanent failure experienced by the global economy during the Great Depression. Yet some states pulled themselves out of the Depression, locally and temporarily, with extreme state intervention while the system itself did not recover until after WWII with the opposite policy – steady liberalization of international trade and de-regulation of markets that became known as globalization.

      There is a misunderstanding here. The Great Depression was _prolonged_ much further in the US than in other countries by government policy. It was exacerbated worldwide by trade barriers.

    13. zenpundit Says:

      “There is a misunderstanding here. The Great Depression was _prolonged_ much further in the US than in other countries by government policy. It was exacerbated worldwide by trade barriers.”

      No misunderstanding. I was thinking of Germany’s massive state intervention under the Nazi rearmament program, which pulled Germany out of the Depression, locally and temprarily ( though inflation and serious economic dislocations were begining to manifest by 1938).

      The New Deal I would agree, did not end the Depression in the U.S. and may have prevented the natural market clearing function from occurring. Hawley-Smoot, of course, earlier in 1930, was a terrible policy. Germany’s statism though, was far more aggressive than was FDR’s New Deal and with a different purpose in mind.

      I had contemplated a much longer section on the economic analogy with bits on Keynes and Rothbard, but cut it as it might have been digressive. Sorry for the confusion.

    14. Phil Fraering Says:

      OK, let’s go down the list:

      * “Defeated Germany and Japan…”

      Neither of these were “failed states” per se. They maintained enough cohesiveness to kill millions of civilians in other nations until they were forcibly conquered.

      * “Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero.”

      Cambodia suffered not from “anarchy” but from tyranny; the Khmer Rouge overthrew the government with the support of China, and after being displaced in turn by the Vietnamese (who used a lot of ex-Khmer Rouge in their puppet regime) after the Vietnamese had fallen out with China, still had support from China in disrupting the government and society there. East Timor basically suffered from Indonesian occupation, I thought, and that most of the bad problems that happened there happened on Indonesia’s watch.

      And Sierra Leone… from what I’ve read, the situation there had stabilized, for a while, thanks to a mercenary corporation operating out of South Africa called Executive Outcomes.

      (This is the main link I’ve been able to find on the subject: http://www.crimesofwar.org/thebook/mercenaries.html)

      TO make a long story short, they not only stabilized the situation, they did so with an absurdly low number of troops for the apparent size of the crisis, but apparently using a bunch of South African mercenaries to restore peace is a lot less politically correct with the “international community” than letting people continue to get their limbs cut off by guerillas, so steps were made to stop the operation and to keep it from happening again.

      (I started reading up on this sort of thing in the wake of all the proposals to hire some mercenaries to stop the bloodshed in Darfur; my final conclusion was that it was gonna cost a lot more than the proponents thought it would, and it would be easier to do with an existing military than building one from scratch. Logistics would be a problem as well. AND… you’d still have politics to deal with; who writes the ROE, what do you do when the bad guys start using human shields, what happens if you wind up in conflict with Sudan’s actual military or their allies, etc…)

      * “Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors as a countervailing force.”

      Somalia has significant foreign support for the Islamic Courts faction in the current war there, from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc., the usual suspects. I would hesitate to call the groups in operation here subnational; maybe “supernational” would be a better word? Oh, and the money is transferred, probably, through the various Persian Gulf Emirates who are probably one of the more “connected” regions on the planet.

      Afghanistan… the state actor in this case is Pakistan, which provides funding and safe haven; that safe haven and money will be there no matter what NATO does on the Afghan side of the border.

      I think there’s a case to be made for some sort of “Sysadmin” force, operating in parallel with a conventional military, but I think that case is not served by pretending that all these countries’ problems stop at their borders.

      I think a lot more of our problems are coming from “the core” than we care to admit.

    15. Phil Fraering Says:

      We’re looking at a lot of these cases of state failure in terms of wondering why they’re jumping off the cliff and ignoring the possibility that they’re being pushed.

    16. James A Pacella Says:

      I think the biggest threat to the nation-state right now is the antipathy many native-Euro people in many European countries feel about thier own nations and culture, simultaneously you have in each European capital city a fast growing number of Muslim immigrants who feel their first allegiance is to the Umma and probably down around 9th or 10th place maybe is their host country.

      The Muslim community in the UK has been very brazen in its English-language statements about its intentions on creating a “state within a state” following some master plan of colonialization and conquest from within.

      If this ever were to occur, what would a national border mean to such future people?

      I think this is the primary problem in Central Asia , especially the Afghan-Paki border.

      When people feel their primary identity is anything other than the country they are in, then the borders of that country dont mean anything to them.

      Are we looking at the dissolution of civilization?

    17. Pacific Empire Says:

      Mark at Zenpundit (I’m replying on this thread)
      I appreciate the unvarnished criticisms of my weaker ” case study” examples ( nor had I, for that matter, considered Mozambique or Rwanda at all). You have pointed out superb caveats that can’t be ignored if our efforts are to improve in future cases.

      Looking at these states for “lessons learned” is vital as Sys Admin does face a terribly complex task; but the alternatives of doing nothing with crisis failed states have proven morally unpalatable and politically, intervention sometimes is driven anyway (Bosnia, Timor,Somalia) despite policy makers attempting to hew a non-interventionist course.

      Agreed. I’m not opposed to intervention as such, but I see the “SysAdmin” idea as potentially disastrous. Intervention in Timor saved many lives and furthered the interests of Australia and New Zealand, but I don’t hold out much hope for the Timorese state as such. The end of war shouldn’t be equated with the successful creation of a state, especially as the most violent civil wars tend to stop of their own accord when the participants become weary of fighting (even if it takes a generation).

      Phil Fraering, you make some excellent points. I have to say though, that we aren’t as I see it ignoring the possibilty of states being “pushed off the cliff” – John Robb’s Global Guerrillas, mentioned in the above post, are supposed to specialise in exactly that.

      As for the mercenaries in Sierra Leone – have you seen Cry Freetown? Nigerian soldiers were also able to restore some order, but the film shows them taking young boys from the street, whipping them and sometimes gunning them down. Executive Outcomes may have been just as brutal, according to eyewitness accounts. I don’t oppose the use of mercenaries, but I hope that there is some transparency. The Sandline affair in Papua New Guinea also illustrates some of the downsides of hiring mercenaries.

      Just some concluding thoughts: I think states should stick to their primary role of providing security, and that can mean intervening in failed states to save lives and stop things from getting worse. I think the private sector can play a much greater role in long-term development and be far more successful than government aid. I also think the tensions that lead to state collapse can often be identified in advance, and therefore preventing failure or collapse should have a higher priority.

    18. zenpundit Says:

      I agree with Pacific that Phil made some excellent points, which I would like to address:

      “Defeated Germany and Japan…Neither of these were “failed states” per se”

      True. But their state-building reconstruction has bearing on Sys Admin as an example.

      “Cambodia suffered not from “anarchy” but from tyranny”

      Definitely. Though by the time of the UN supervised elections and restoration of Sihanouk you could add anarchy ( not to mention the legacy of decades of war). The country was a mess.

      “And Sierra Leone… from what I’ve read, the situation there had stabilized, for a while, thanks to a mercenary corporation operating out of South Africa called Executive Outcomes”

      System Administration, in my view, is just as much an umbrella term for the sum total efforts of sovereign state, international, transnational, private, NGO entities, could they be organized to work together, as it would be for a hypothetical “Department of Everything Else” armed social workers corps.

      “Somalia has significant foreign support for the Islamic Courts faction in the current war there, from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc., the usual suspects. I would hesitate to call the groups in operation here subnational; maybe “supernational” would be a better word? “

      While I would agree that societally sponsored terrorism and Islamist militancy is rife in the Gulf states, I will wager that if we took a hard look at the Islamic Courts of Somalia, we would be able to map a network that heavily overlaps particular Somali clans and subclans -just as we would with the “warlords” ( who are hardly secularists themselves). The Jamestown Foundation a year or two ago published a report that indicated some 90% of Saudi “foreign fighters” captured in Iraq by Coalition forces hailed from just two tribes in the Hejaz region of KSA. Likewise, the Taliban is not ” the Pushtuns” but Pushtuns of certain clans and graduates of particular Deobandi madrasasas. There are violently anti-Taliban Pushtuns.

      As an aside, I do not have a problem with PMCs so long as they stay connected to a great power or several. A powerfully armed PMC ecoming a self-sustaining, totally independent, ” Free Company” though is not something that would bode well.

      “We’re looking at a lot of these cases of state failure in terms of wondering why they’re jumping off the cliff and ignoring the possibility that they’re being pushed”

      External aid to insurgencies is a key indicator of insurgency success, historically speaking.

    19. James A Pacella Says:

      “We’re looking at a lot of these cases of state failure in terms of wondering why they’re jumping off the cliff and ignoring the possibility that they’re being pushed”

      Want to see something interesting? Look up “State within a state” in google. Notice the disturbing pattern.

    20. Phil Fraering Says:

      I want to continue this conversation but I won’t be able to until the weekend. I’ll be back sometime Saturday, ok?