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Two Cheers for the State?

An excellent post from Adam Elkus – strongly recommended!

The State Problem In National Security Policy

….The report makes a lot of comments about the rise of individual autonomy, the empowering of regional network-cities, and technology’s acceleration of the power of non-state actors. Wired interpreted part of this as signaling a decline of the statewhich has been a popular theme since Martin van Creveld’s work on theTransformation of War. I think that is an accurate characterization of the parts of the 2030 report that talk about the empowerment of non-state actors and the rise of international networks. I’m less interested in the report, though, than in the general narrative of state decline in national security policy discourse.

We’ve heard that states are in decline, and both benign and malign networks and private actors are on the rise. This isn’t a new theme—if you look back a few decades the rise of multinational corporations and the multilaterals prompted a similar debate about sovereignty and power in the modern world. The state-centric defense practitioner is enjoined to move beyond caring about states and embrace a new reality.

…. What we have been dealing with, however, is an unfortunate tendency to write the non-state actor and transnational network out of the last few centuries of history. But he (or she) stubbornly refuses to go away. We can talk about some of the reasons why this might be the case in the international environment but it is also worth talking about why we often assume much more coherence and cohesion in our domestic environment than reality may justify.

….In Charles Tilly’s book Democracy, he argues that four processes are necessary to create and sustain a democratic state: the growth of state capacity by suppressing alternative sources of power, the reduction of categorical inequalities, and the integration of strong tie-based trust networks into public life. Warlords and kingpins that predate make it difficult for rights to be guaranteed. Categorical inequality lessens the ability of the people to meaningfully control their own destiny. And strong trust networks that cannot express themselves in political and social life also have the potential for predation and the erosion of state authority. Tilly casts these processes as never-ending in scope, and states are capable of backsliding on any one of them.

Very rich food for thought.

Trust networks are an interesting way to look at broader social networks and discern, at times, the presence of modularity (and therefore specialized skills, capacities, knowledge etc.) within a looser network structure (weak ties and links vs. highly interconnected sets of hubs with strong ties). We tend to graph these things in simple diagrams, like concentric circles with “al Qaida hard core” in the center, but really, they are more akin to clumping or clotting or uneven aggregation within a less dense field of connections.

Adam is also right that the irregular, the illegal, the tribal, the secret society, the rebellious peasant was largely ignored by nationalistic  historians in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century – and when they came back in vogue in the 1960’s with revisionist, labor, social, cultural etc. schools of historians, they tended to groan under the heavy yoke of dogmatic Marxist class analysis and then later the radical academic obsessions with race, gender and sexual orientation “oppression”. Too seldom, were these people and their doings found to be interesting in themselves so much as puppets for a very tortured, abstract passion play to exorcise demons and pursue petty grudges against other scholars.

In any event, Adam is worth reading in full.


10 Responses to “Two Cheers for the State?”

  1. Madhu Says:

    I don’t understand the “state is in decline” arguments. Often, they come in tandem with “Asian countries, especially China” is rising or “It’s Africa’s turn now that we’ve had two decades of Asia hyping” from the professional pundit class. Are the two not at odds?
    Also, many state actors live off of state power, its sometimes support (via the international proxy-war meddling), and its technological developments in a parasitic way. How do non-state actors “cross” time and space if not for the very technological networks that states put in place? I mean, aren’t both rising, it’s just that there is more spam, so to speak?

  2. Madhu Says:

    Off Topic, in a way: The NK missile launch.
    Hard to believe the Indians don’t trust the State Department or Western nuclear proliferation types and their weird “the Indians are irresponsible” line, all while being the biggest boosters for funding (directly or indirectly_), the China-Pak-NK proliferation, state/non-state actor alliance?
    There is a Anne-Marie Slaughter YouTube video – the Fareed Zakaria show, ugh – that HAS to be seen to be believed. Her body language and her facial expressions! She’s only a diplomat by training and it’s not like people in other countries watch that show or anything. Okay, that’s not fair on my part, but man, what to think about that particular class of people? “We marvelous scientists and diplomats of a particular stripe in the West wish to stop proliferation but, gosh, I mean, only in the ways we were taught at Princeton or Yale in 1978 or maybe 1983. What? It’s 2012? I’m not sure I understand your point. Does my hair look okay for television?”
    Hilarious. I mean, it’s not funny really…. 

  3. Madhu Says:

    Is that test a real kinda deal or is it hyped? I no longer trust the breathless nature of a lot of national security reporting.
    Sorry, zen, but it kinda fits the topic. 

  4. Madhu Says:

    New thinking needed from the states?
    Ward Wilson, author of “The Myth of Deterrence” is visiting theCentre for Science & Security Studies at King’s to discuss his radical approach to nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons and the prospects for disarmament.
    We shall see how various arguments play out.
    Er, sorry again for hijacking thread (not sorry really but you knew that already….) 

  5. Wednesday Morning Linkage Riffing » Duck of Minerva Says:

    […] on to more bipartisan subjects, Mark Safranski really likes Adam Elkus’ “The State Problem in National Security.” It does read like one of […]

  6. zen Says:

    Hi doc Madhu,
    Hmmm….let me try to address your comments:
    1. the “decline of the state” thesis was pushed forcefully by Martin van Creveld, not just in Transformation of War mentioned by Adam, but more explicitly in The Rise and Decline of the State.
     I know Dr. Nexon has effective criticisms of MvC here, having himself written a specialist’s book on the early modern European Westphalian period, but Rise and Decline is still worth the time to read. When Adam says “we don’t understand how states form” what he really means is we don’t have a good, explanatory, theoretical IR model that covers different cases and times – historians know quite well how speciific states formed – the Petrine revolution in Russia, the rise of the Prussian state or the Meiji Restoration or the details of the triumph of specific “national monarchies” under enlightened absolutism has been pretty well covered. It is finding the general rule to satisfy poli sci scholars that is unsatisfactory (and is likely to remain so). maybe if I can find time, I will write a longer commentary on this part of Adam’s post – not a rebuttal so much as a different academic perspective on the question (historian vs. IR/strategic studies/poli sci).
    2. I have only really read some of Slaughter’s R2P thinking, which I disagreed with and blogged about and her twitter comments, plus a few blog type articles. My impression is that she is sharp but way too breezy in her analysis. Though to be fair, I have not read 99% of her academic work – maybe that is more cautious.
    3. Re- India
    I am not up t speed on present Indian nuclear capabilities.
    I will say this: India needs to shake free of Nehru-Indira G.’s poisonous geopolitical legacy and anachronistic “nonalignment” mentality lest it find herself unduly isolated one day with Chinese carrier groups cruising the Indian ocean with bases in Burma, Pakistan and Sri lanka. in the long term, India’s friends are likely to be Australia, Japan, ROK and the US with Indonesia possibly going into the Chinese camp if neglected by the West and the Rest of the Pacific Rim community

  7. Madhu Says:

    Zen, thank you.
    I can’t believe you did such a nice job responding to my scattered comments.
    On your last point regarding India and non-alignment, I think the Indian foreign policy establishment hasn’t really been non-aligned in that historical sense for ages. What I mean is that a lot of non-alignment behavior is really lack of trust in the US as a security partner given our behavior with China and Pakistan and given that these are the two countries with which borders are unsettled and support for internal insurgencies is documented.
    Because the United States wishes to have so many alliances and military-to-military relationships, we cannot offer the partnerships we way we are offering. We may believe it, but no one else done. It cannot be any other way in execution.. Hedging one’s bets is the only logical way for anyone to respond to a nation with as many varied and at odds security relationships as the United States has.
    As an American, I’d like very much for this understanding to sink in so that we aren’t dragged into nonsense but I have little hope that this will be so for the near future. We shall see….

  8. Madhu Says:

    Or, to put it another way, an excerpt from Pundita:
    “This is nothing against hawks — or humming birds. But when a raptor takes on the qualities of a humming bird, which sustains itself by flitting from flower to flower, this is a problem and in one sentence this is the problem with Washington’s approach to war. The wide scope of the Cold War bred a defense establishment in Washington that while ostensibly hawkish in outlook is incapable of concentrating on any one task. Thus the bizarre mutation, the humming hawk.And thus the Afghanistan War has dragged on for close to a decade as increasingly perplexed Afghans note that the Taliban are easy for the U.S. military to dispatch. The American war journalist Ann Marlowe reported last week to John Batchelor’s audience that U.S. failure to achieve victory over the Taliban had caused many Afghans to suspect Americans have ulterior motives for being in the country. The Afghans can stand in line with their complaint. Consider:> There cannot be rapprochement between North and South Korea not because there’s no route to reunification but because a united Korea would mean the U.S. would lose a foothold on the Korean Peninsula, and that can’t happen because the humming hawks want troops there in case of a flare-up between Taiwan and China. However, the U.S. is deeply in debt to China and must factor that into every defense posture toward the country.> While it’s been clear for many months that the Mexican government’s military approach to dealing with the drug cartels has failed, the humming hawks continue to back the approach with weapons and training because of their concerns that Venezuela is a growing threat to Mexico and the United States. However, the U.S. continues to purchase oil from Venezuela because the humming hawks are concerned that shutting off that means of revenue will further destabilize the country.> After years snubbing Russia’s offers of help in Afghanistan because they wanted to trim Russia’s sails in Eastern Europe, the humming hawks have finally turned to Russia for help. This was after admitting that Pakistan is not their friend in Afghanistan. However, they don’t want to let go of Pakistan because they refuse to accept they bought a lemon and so they keep trying to find a use for it — if not against Russia, then maybe against Iran or maybe China, or maybe as a counterbalance to India in case India gets cozy with Iran. > However, India and Iran could be a useful wedge against Pakistan’s military, although on the other hand, the U.S. getting too close to India could alarm China more than humming hawks want at this time. And cooperating with Iran any more than the U.S. is already doing with drug shipment interdictions would alarm Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states and interfere with the U.S. defense posture against Iran.I’ll halt the litany before you reach for the Dramamine but the above is just the short list. Laid end to end, the instances of Washington’s inability to focus on a task at hand would surely circle the globe.” 
    You don’t have to agree with the particulars of that post to see that the general point might have some validity.

  9. joey Says:

    Free Market Capitalism has always been inhibited by a democracy based on Tillys formula.  Since to eradicate alternative centers of power, inequality, and increase trust based ties it has often ment one has control the flows of capital within a society.  It was the confusion of Democracy and Capitalism as interchangeable that lead directly to the rise in inequality in certain western countries, notably the US and UK.  There was a deliberate exercise in state power which attempted to create laissez-faire capitalist economies in the US and the UK.  This lead to the opposite of what was expected to happen, apart from in one metric, growth.  Inequality, alternative sources of power (multinational corporations, hedgefunds ect) all increased.  
    This fundamental confusion can be traced to the ideological struggle between communism and capitalism.
    Since communism was a totalitarian system, in its political outlook and in its economic organisation there was a tendency to turn democracy and capitalism into a monolithic whole as a simple counterpart to communism.
    This created lead to the belief that capitalism could only exist in a democratic country.  And that an increase in freemarkets would lead to an increase in democratic freedoms. 
    China and many other emerging world countries have managed to build capitalist economies with in a host of different political regimes.  We now have the chance to separate how we define our political organisation from our economic.
    During this period it was fashionable to talk of the decline of the state, without realizing that the state had created the economic and political reality that existed.  
    That talk has evaporated since it was only the exercise of massive state power that averted the advent of a second global depression.  
    Laissez-faire markets have huge creative and destructive energies, and for me the constitute the single greatest threat to democracy, greater than any external foe.  We must always be watchful least we abandon our freedoms for a economic doctrine. 

  10. Purpleslog Says:

    Nicely put:

    ““This is nothing against hawks — or humming birds. But when a raptor takes on the qualities of a humming bird, which sustains itself by flitting from flower to flower, this is a problem and in one sentence this is the problem with Washington’s approach to war. The wide scope of the Cold War bred a defense establishment in Washington that while ostensibly hawkish in outlook is incapable of concentrating on any one task. Thus the bizarre mutation, the humming hawk.And thus the Afghanistan War has dragged on for close to a decade as increasingly perplexed Afghans note that the Taliban are easy for the U.S. military to dispatch.”

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