State Failure 2.0

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

Whatever Hits the Fan is Never Evenly Distributed

Consider a bullet. I had one sitting on my dresser as a kid – a Civil War Minnie Ball. Toss it into the air. It tumbles. It hovers, for a split microsecond, pointing at you as it falls. Consider that same bullet in 1862 (I found it on a farm near Antietam). Consider standing in front of the line of Blue (it was clearly a Yankee bullet) with your fellow Virginians. Consider that same bullet again. Fired from a Springfield, heading your way. Take a split microsecond, same length of time as before, and focus in on only the bullet. The situations are almost indistinguishable if looked at on a short enough time scale. The 1862 bullet points at you in the same way the modern one does. In that split microsecond, an observer who happened to just drop in and observe only the bullet would be hard pressed to decide which situation he or she’d rather be in. Practically the same mass of metal. Same shape. But look closer. The 1862 bullet should be warm – evidence of the kinetic energy stored in it. The present bullet should have a coat of oxidation. But there were bullets fired in 1862 that had been dropped in the crick the month before they were fired, and the modern bullet might have been sitting in the sun for a while. There’s always something for the naysayer to latch on to. But take another snapshot a couple of milliseconds later, and the difference between the two situations is instantly clear – the bullet in 1862 has traveled a lot further – and in a much straighter line than the arc of the falling bullet tossed from your hand. Now which situation would our hypothetical observer rather be in?

    

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Anarchy Boomtime

In Newsweek, Silvia Spring marvels that the Iraqi economy appears to be booming even while the country remains mired in violence.

People are often surprised that economies can thrive without a high degree of politically enforced social order, but history tends to show that too much government is more likely to cause economic stagnation than too little. Most 3rd-world business people face the worst of both worlds. The government does a very poor job of providing physical security and a fair judiciary (important to enforce contracts), yet it imposes strangling taxes, jealously guards its prerogatives to decide who can and cannot engage in any particular economic activity, and individual government agents usually extort vast sums. As a result, the descent of a country into mild anarchy usually improves the situation. The actual security situation may not be that much worse, but all the parasitic government activity disappears. The situation turns into a net gain. It is quite common to read reports from 3rd-world countries during a civil war that shops and other businesses seem more full and busy than they did in time of “peace.”

The legendary economy of Hong Kong from 1945 to 1999 arose in large part due to the laissez-faire approach that the British government blundered into as a result of geopolitical concerns. The British needed to keep Hong Kong as a full colony to protect it, but that meant they could not allow a full fledged local democracy with the moral authority to impose a welfare and regulatory state. So they ended up with just a bare-bones government appointed by Britain that never tried to lay its hand too strongly on the people of Hong Kong.

Business people in Iraq find themselves in something of the same environment. The occupation government did not wish to get involved in potentially contentious economic policy, and the same lack of experience and consensus that keeps the newly elected Iraqi government from wiping out the insurgency also prevents it from implementing destructive economic policies. Left to their own devices and with huge pent up demand the Iraqi people are driving their economy strongly forward.

Discuss this post at the Chicago Boyz Forum.

Why They Hate Us

Personal choices reveal our assumptions about human nature and how we see the great historical cycles. Or perhaps this is just how I see it, since our culture has benefited from an internalization of values & sense of personal responsibility. We see these as the mark of maturity – both in a man and in a civilization. Of course, temptations are constant from such a perspective, but this also gives us empowering choices.

Ray Fishman and Edward Miguel’s “Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets” give us a clue to analyzing whether a nation has internalized its respect for property and the rule of law. I suspect it mainly reveals whether the world is viewed in tribal terms (us & them, those entitled & those not). Those entitled, of course, are not expected to observe the customs of other countries.

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The Allende Myth, by Vladimir Dorta

My friend Val Dorta originally published this outstanding historical essay on his blog in 2003. With the death of Augusto Pinochet, much attention is again being given to the Allende period, the military coup and the dictatorship that followed. I wanted to link again to Val’s essay but, unfortunately, his blog is no longer online. However, Val has graciously allowed me to republish his essay here, and I am honored to do so. – Jonathan

UPDATE: Google’s cached version of Val’s original post, with comments. (Thanks to the commenter who provided this link.)

UPDATE 2 (12/28/2014): The Google-cached version has disappeared from the Web, but Val’s original post is available via archive.org here.

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The Allende Myth

Vladimir Dorta

07/21/2003

The failed and tragic attempt by Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity at creating socialism in Chile in 1970-1973 has become a myth for the world left, presented as the possibility of a peaceful and democratic transition to socialism that was destroyed only because the almighty CIA acted as master puppeteer of the Chilean reaction. The myth reinforces itself; while the Cold War context is never mentioned, neither is the fact that the CIA’s workings are well documented whereas the Cuban and Soviet interventions are still mostly unknown. The Allende myth may be good for keeping the socialist faith alive, but it evidently contradicts the historical facts.

While Augusto Pinochet’s brutal post-coup repression and terrorism cannot be justified, it is essential to explain what led him and the Chilean armed forces to the fateful coup d’état, outside of the fantasy that had him bursting onto the democratic Chilean political scene on September 11, 1973 with readymade CIA orders to stop a beautiful, pacific and liberating socialist dream. For I have no doubts that if the Chilean Marxist experiment had ended in civil war, as it appeared to most observers at the time, it would have been an even greater tragedy or, had it ended as the totalitarian society it pointed to, it would have lasted much longer and would have brought Chileans much more suffering than Pinochet’s ugly but temporary dictatorship.

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