25 March, 2009

State suicide

A long and fascinating post from Defense and the National Interest makes some important points, and raises some questions that need to be addressed.  The connection to current events is obvious, but the trend is much larger.  A relevant section:

The greatest threat facing states in the world today is not invasion by other states — although that may happen from time to time — but, as Bill Lind suggests, a crisis in the legitimacy of the state itself. This does not imply, however, that the focus should be placed on non-state actors such as narco-gangs, ethnic militias or ‘terrorists’.

Consider: if a person dies, their body will be consumed by maggots. However, healthy people cannot be infected by maggots. Trying to save lives by declaring war on maggots is a logical fallacy. By the same token, healthy states can easily deal with criminal elements using conventional police procedures. Non-state actors can only threaten a centralized state after the state has already crippled itself. Tactical brilliance in dealing with terrorists is ultimately as useless in maintaining the legitimacy of the state as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would be in combating drug gangs in Tijuana.

So how does the state kill itself? By the tried and true method of crushing the people into hopeless poverty so as to enrich the lords and princes at the top. When the average person can, without superhuman effort, live a reasonably decent life and raise a family with some degree of security, then the state has basically won. The people have a stake in the system, they have something important to lose should it fail, and they will, for the most part, play by the rules. But when people are crushed into the dirt, when they have no prospect for any kind of life at all, then the state has for them no legitimacy, and they will turn to gangs or ethnic militias in a quite understandable attempt to survive. Additionally, low-wage societies tend to be capital-starved and poor overall. This means that the security forces are underpaid, poorly equipped, and corrupt. An increasingly desperate and rebellious population coupled with increasingly ineffective and dishonest state forces is the typical death of states.

I can’t do the whole thing justice.  If you have the time, it’s worth a long and thoughtful look.

Defense and the National Interest » Fourth Generation War and the Death of the State: Suicide not Murder

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