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Book Review – Haiti: The Aftershocks Of History

November 12, 2012 by and tagged , , , , ,

Laurent Dubois‘s excellent Haiti: The Aftershocks of History is a must-read for anyone interested in the social construction of race and race formation, as well as colonialism and its legacy. The book provides the longue durée context for the current situation of Haiti, especially when the devastating earthquake a few years back, and the current damages inflicted by hurricane Sandy.

If we were to consider Haiti a failed state, then it would be a failed state by design. From reading Dubois’s book, one would be tempted to think that no one ever wanted Haiti to succeed on its own terms ever since the slaves rebelled against their French colonizers.

The book is overall a highly readable and very well-written political history of the country from the end of French colony of Saint-Domingue (as it was called under French rule), dominated by a slavery-based plantation economy (especially sugar canes) to the present although the Duvalier II era to now is a bit short.

Indeed, Dubois describes the 19th century in great details, so, by the time the reader gets to the rise of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, it feels like the book is rushing to the end and one is left with many questions regarding the contemporary period (especially the second ousting of Aristide and beyond).

There is also no doubt that Dubois loves Haiti and roots for its success. As a result, you will find a lot of Amazon reviews decrying the lack of objectivity of the book. That did not bothered me all that much because Dubois is not shy about exposing the structural factors that have resulted in so much political instability in Haiti (the urban / rural divide as well as the dominance of a light-skinned, mulatto elite versus their darker skinned compatriots). Dubois actually presents these lines of division as central to Haiti’s persistent problems. Similarly, one can find at the very beginning of the book another major factor in Haiti’s political instability (Kindle locations):

“Haiti is often described as a “failed state.” In fact, though, Haiti’s state has been quite successful at doing what it was set up to do: preserve power for a small group. The constitutional structures established in the nineteenth century made it very difficult to vote the country’s leaders out of office, leaving insurrection as the only means of effecting political change.” (Loc. 126)

That lock on power and the lack of proper constitutional and institutional mechanisms for political alternatives are at the heart of the multiple rebellions and coups. These are the internal factors. There is no doubt that the French never forgave their former slave colony for rebelling and forcing them out. Indeed, the financial compensation that France demanded (and obtained) from Haiti (in order to reimburse plantation owners for the loss of their property… land and slaves… what is the French word for chutzpah? Quel culot, as we French would say) strangled the country financially so badly that it had to go into debt very quickly. This indebtedness was used, a century later, by the US to invade the country and rule it by force for 20 years. In both case, this was brutal expropriation either of direct monies for France, or exploitation of land and labor for the US.

In both cases, there was a clash of economic models. From the independence on, there has been, in Haiti, a strong rejection of the plantation model, so associated with slavery. So, the rural population has tried to develop alternative modes of agricultural production based on subsistence agriculture (rather than cash crops for export) in small cooperatives. These competing models have been a source of conflicts between the urban / port elites and foreign investors and the rural population. In a way, Haiti was constantly pressure to agree to structural adjustment programs before those even existed, especially from the US. And, big surprise, these neoliberal measures avant la lettre worked no better there than they did anywhere in the late 20th century. They explain the persistent stratification between the cities and the rural areas, forcing a lot of peasants to leave the land and flock to city slums.

“As more and more U.S. agricultural companies entered Haiti, they deprived peasants of their land. The result was that, for the first time in its history, large numbers of Haitians left the country, looking for work in nearby Caribbean islands and beyond. Others moved to the capital of Port-au-Prince, which the United States had made into Haiti’s center of trade at the expense of the regional ports. In the decades that followed, the capital’s growth continued, uncontrolled and ultimately disastrous, while the countryside suffered increasing immiseration.” (Loc. 157)

These unpopular policies were supported by the US, who also (along with France), supported the various authoritarian governments, especially the dreadful Duvalier dictatorship (father and son) in all their atrocities at the same time that the US denied Haitian refugees political asylum.

The end result?

“Ever since popular president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was violently overthrown in 2004, Haiti has been policed largely by foreign troops under U.N. command. Haiti’s proud independence has been eroded, too, by the thousands of foreign organizations that have flocked to the country over the years with projects for improvement and reform. For all their work, though, hunger, poverty, and disease still stalk much of the population. In the cities, the last decades have seen an increase in violent crime, including drug trafficking and kidnapping, while the situation in rural Haiti, where the majority of the population still lives, is increasingly desperate. The soil is severely depleted; generations of intensive agriculture and deforestation have taken their toll. As the population has grown and parcels of land have been divided into smaller and smaller bits, the social and agricultural strategies that worked well for Haitian peasants into the early decades of the twentieth century have become increasingly unsustainable. At the same time, the solutions prescribed by foreign powers and international organizations have largely turned out to be ineffective, or worse.” (Loc. 172)

But the theme that Dubois delineates throughout the book, and the source of his obvious affection for Haitians and hopes for Haiti are as such:

““Haiti disturbs,” sociologist Jean Casimir likes to say. It disturbs, of course, because of its poverty and its suffering. But it also disturbs because, throughout its history, Haiti’s people have repeatedly turned away from social and political institutions designed to achieve profits and economic growth, choosing to maintain their autonomy instead. The Haitian population has been told for two centuries, as it is told today, that it must change, adapt, modernize. No doubt some change is needed; but what has largely been offered to Haiti’s population in the guise of foreign advice is simply a precarious place at the bottom of the global order.

Haitians have consistently refused such offers.” (Loc. 192)

And, of course, White racism has been the source of much violence inflicted upon Haitians, first through the slavery system and later during the US occupation. The first country of free blacks has been depicted by the Western press and seen by Western political classes as a bunch of cannibalistic, voodoo-practicing savages. For instance, Dubois uses the example Marcus Rainsford’s drawings:

The one on the left, much reproduced, portrays the hanging of white officers by Maroons, the one on the right, much omitted, depicts a French officer throwing Haitians overboard to drown them, as if brutality was one-sided.

Similarly, racism was at the root of the constant religious persecution, especially against voodoo, seen as both superstitious paganism as well as somewhat scary.

As I was reading the book, especially regarding the repression of voodoo, and especially the figure of Baron Samedi, I was reminded of the persistence of stereotype and underlying racism that one can find in popular culture. Take a look at these two representations of Baron Samedi:

And remember this guy?

Yup, that’s right. When depicting Doctor Facilier, Disney designers tapped into the stereotypes of Haitian culture and voodoo for their main villain:

So, if you want to explore the roots of all this, then, Dubois’s book is what you want. It is full of rich details about 19th and early 20th century Haiti. As I mentioned before, it rushes a bit to the end, but Dubois seeks to highlight the origins of our views of Haiti, its persistent challenges, poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and natural disaster and its constant harassment by outsiders, from France, to the US, to the UN and a multiplicity of NGOs. It is also a great expose of cultural and structural racism and its consequences, as well as the fight for a non-market driven model of development.

Absolute must-read.

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Development, Economy, Failed States, Institutional Racism, Mass Violence, Militarism, Neo-Colonialism, Power, Structural Violence | No Comments »

What is Sociology For? Doom, Gloom And Despair

January 19, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , , ,

Apparently, as beautifully demonstrated by Edgar Morin and William I. Robinson in separate publications. Both sociologists have a very bleak outlook as the current global state of affairs.

First Edgar Morin in Le Monde. To paraphrase, the op-ed and roughly translate the gist of it, 2010 continued disturbing trends that show no sign of abating. What are these trends, according to Morin? First and foremost the continuing unregulated financial globalization, which he sees are related to ethnic, nationalist and religious “closures” (something reminiscent of McWorld versus Jihad). Both are major sources of social dislocations and conflicts. Both lead to reduced freedoms (economic, social and political) and fanaticism (both economic and political). They have replaced the totalitarian forms of the 20th century. And both lead to increased inequalities, themselves sources of conflict. So, far from creating a harmonious global village (do people believe it might / would / could?) or planetary humanism, globalization has led to financial and neoliberal cosmopolitanism (without the global social covenant called for by David Held, I might add) and a return to particularism.

And so, everywhere, capital is the decision-maker, and speculation and financial capitalism have triumphed (despite their obvious massive failure). Banks have been saved and preserved, as governing ideologies have integrated the notion of global financial capital as inevitable and uncontrollable force (all the while taking very real action to save it, ironically). In this state of ideological hegemony, there is no room for alternative thinking, dismissed as non-serious discourse by media elites. And the trends in education, where encompassing critical thinking should be taught, are on segmented bits of knowledge supposed to be of immediate use to get disappearing jobs.

No wonder, according to Morin, political thinking is so poor and unable to deal with fundamental global issues. I would add that this is all by design. It is the same categories of people in power who have no interest in dealing with such global issues, who also want to transform education into McDonaldized job training. Morin notes, as I have noted before, that the knowledge society is actually an ignorance society. The more segmented the forms of knowledge, the more atomized the masses will be.

Morin sees some optimistic signs in forms of resistance that have recently emerged, such as libertarian developments such as Wikileaks. These forms of resistance are decentered, dispersed, yet loosely connected. It is no wonder that these forms of resistance are the targets of state repression. State have no interests in reining in the excesses of capital and financial speculation but they sure work hard to control protests forms and movements through dismantling of civil liberties apparatus. Most likely, they will fail, for Morin.

I have made no secret that William I. Robinson is one of the most interesting sociologists on globalization. I wish he joined the socblogging crowd. In this interview, he examines what is happening in Mexico to identify some general trends as well. Now, you must click on the link and read the whole thing over there because Robinson is hard to quote, as he tends to pack a lot of stuff in a few words.

So, what is going on in Mexico (this is based on a phone conversation)?

“One level of course is in an age of global capitalism, and unbridled inequalities, and massive polarization between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have nots, the social fabric breaks down and the state can no longer try and juggle multiple interests, it can’t even attempt to do so.

“So you have a breakdown of social order, and the breakdown of social order is more general, worldwide we’re seeing that, whole pockets and whole countries where social order and the ability of political authorities to manage these contradictions generated by massive inequalities and by global capitalism is breaking down. And so in part that’s what’s going on in Mexico, the central state really can’t hold the system together.

“Another part of the story is that the drug trafficking is wildly profitable, but in Mexico what’s also happened is that increasingly, a portion of the population has become dependent on drug trafficking.

“There’s massive unemployment in Mexico, there’s what we call los sin sin, those without work, and without school. So there’s a whole generation of youth that are not studying, they don’t have the opportunity to because the economy is in total crisis and because of massive inequality, and they have no work, because there is massive unemployment and underemployment.

“Drug trafficking has become a source of income, including petty income. It used to be you know the top level there were drug traffickers which were, if they weren’t interfered with they only fought against each other, you know, cartels for control of the drug trade. Now right down to each neighborhood people who are unemployed and young people who are unemployed have been swept up into drug trafficking, and they’re fighting each other literally, in some cities, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, for control over the pettiest level of making some money off of drug trafficking.”

And the state’s response has been to militarize the Mexican society by deploying roughly half of the Mexican military already, and the rest come be deployed later. And this seems to be the uniform response to social issues: militarization, repression, and curtailment of civil liberties all in the name of security, as defined as under threat by either, criminals and traffickers or terrorists, depending on the social context. Again, nothing gets done on the social issues, poverty and social inequalities because the states have divested themselves of the will and ability to deal with those. Repression is all that is left as major state function, and protection of capital.

What this leads to, for Robinson, is 21st century fascism:

““I don’t want to fall into too much cynicism and pessimism, I haven’t lost my optimism, but I want to be realistic, and what I see taking place is in the face of this global crisis, which is a deep structural crisis, very close to a systemic crisis, and so I see that there are different responses to the crisis and a very quick polarization between a response on the one side, which is resistance, from poor people, from below, from poor peoples’ movements and the resurgence of the left, and attempts to create 21st century socialism in South America, and these mass protests and you know general strike in France and in Greece, and all around the world, we can follow the rise of progressive resistance, radical resistance, leftist resistance, and a new awakening of masses of people.

“But then this polarization around this response to the crisis, the other side of that is the rise of what I call 21st century fascism, these different, it doesn’t look like 20th century fascism because everything has changed, but the force which is most insurgent right now in the United States is the right. The rise of the fascist right.

“They’re organized in the Tea Party, and the right wing of the Republican party, the Minute Men, White power movements, and so forth. And so you see the rise of a fascist movement in the United States.

“But a rise of the fascist right we see it all around the world as well. We see it in Europe, all of the European countries, we see it in the Latin American countries, there was just a meeting, Uno América, these bring together the fascist Latin American right, the Latin American right that used to be happy when there were military dictatorships, and authoritarian regimes.

“Colombia is really a model of 21st century fascism: a democratic façade, a polyarchic political system, and beneath that there’s total social control, total domination by elites and by capital, and if you resist you’re massacred, and four million people have been displaced from the countryside.

“Yes, there’s major cracks and that opens up space for both the fascist right and the resurgence of the left. And I don’t know what the outcome of that is… We’re entering into a very dangerous period of uncertainty.”

So, is sociology the depressing science? I would say yes. And I would add that this is a good thing. In the context of a popular culture where “positive thinking” is not the antidote to negative thinking but the antidote to critical thinking, there is a need for negative (that is, critically-based and grounded in reality) thinking. Moreover, positive thinking is not the bearer of all sorts of benefits as popular psychology would have you believe. Actually, we could use more negative thinking. When all is said and done, positive thinking is an ideological construct to ban some topics and ways of discussing issues, from polite discussion (hence, these equally exclusionary calls to civility).

So, yes, let sociology be the bearer of bad news. We have been clamoring for decades that increasing social inequalities were bad for society as a whole and we were right.

Let sociology especially be the bearer of bad new when it comes to questioning previously unquestioned mechanisms of power and dominance.

I would only disagree with the despair part. What was that Gramsci quote? Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. I would argue that sociologists have done well on the first part, but not nearly enough on the second part.

Posted in Corporatism, Failed States, Globalization, Ideologies, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Religious Fundamentalism, Social Movements, Sociology | 1 Comment »

Book Review – Murder City

December 18, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last book review of the year!

I have been looking for some solid analysis regarding the mass killings of Ciudad Juarez, so, naturally, I downloaded Charles Bowden‘s Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and The Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.

This book is not Juarez 101. It is not a journalistic or analytical account of what happens there. It is more a personal journey, with lots of stream of consciousness writing. The narrative, if there is one, is not linear but disjointed (although there is a “death calendar” appendix, that lists the dead over a one-year period). There is a lot about the writer himself, what he felt, his own reactions, etc. That is the part of the book that I did not like. It made me want to shout “dude, this is not about YOU!”

As much as I understand that extreme violence at that depicted in the book has to take a toll on one’s sanity, he was still in the privileged position of being able to cross the border back in the US and rejoin his comfortable life at any time, as opposed to the people stuck in that non-stop violent world. So, no, I did not care one bit about his feelings.

That being said, the book is far from a complete waste of time. Once you skip through the first-person stuff, you get to the real story and the people I was really interested in: the people of Juarez, those who live and survive in the midst in continuous and increasing violence from all parts.

One thing that the book does well is to show how the mainstream reporting on Juarez violence explains nothing and covers up much. What goes on there is not government versus drug cartels, or drug cartels versus drug cartels. There are many layers of corruption and violence converging on Juarez: the drug cartels, of course,, bu the federal and state military accounts for enormous violence as well, along with the local police.

Often, police and military officers also work for the cartels, and military hotshots benefit from the drug trafficking. And much the conflict is funded by the US, either in the form of training Mexican soldiers (who then also work for the cartels), or direct money to the federal government in the name of the War on Drugs (is there any way in which that idea is not completely bankrupt?). The cartels bribe DEA and Border Patrol so they can ship the drug to the US without problems.

“In 1953, a flying school in Culiacan was closed to placate the United States, and yet by the late 1960s at least six hundred secret airfields flourished in northern Mexico (the beat goes on—in 2007, the Mexican army claimed to close two secret narco-airports a day). More recently, a series of agencies have tackled drugs. Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), trained by the CIA, was supposed to eliminate drug merchants and radicals in the early 1970s. By the 1980s, its staff either worked for or led cartels, including the one in Juárez. In the mid-1990s, a new force under a Mexican drug czar flourished, until it was discovered that the czar worked for the Juárez cartel and so did many of his agents. It was dissolved. Under President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), a new incorruptible force, Fiscalía Especializada en Atención de Delitos contra la Salud (FEADS), was created. One part deserted, became the Zetas, and functionally took over the Gulf cartel.” (Loc. 1918)

In 1997, an organized crime unit was formed to tackle the cartels, and at the same moment in Mexico City, the agents of yet an earlier squad assigned to fight drugs were found dead in a car trunk. FEADS was finally dissolved in 2003 when it was found to be hopelessly corrupt. Under President Felipe Calderón, yet a new federal mutation emerged—AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigación). Its head was murdered in the spring of 2008. His dying words to his killer were, “Who sent you?” The government later determined the hit was done by the Sinaloa cartel, with the killers led by a former officer in the agency.” (Loc. 1926)

And the US government pretends that the Mexican government is the democratic wonder that fights the bad criminal organizations. That pretense and its maintenance has devastating consequences as the US media never reports the wrongdoings of the Mexican military and its responsibility in much of the killings as well as its involvement in the trafficking.

That attitude ruins lives. Take the case of a Mexican journalist – Emilio – who made the “mistake” of reporting on the wrongdoings of the military:

“The woman and Emilio collect his son. They stop by his house to get some clothes and then flee to a small ranch about six miles west of Ascensión, where he can hide. He is terrified. Later that night, a friend takes him back to his house once again. He wears a big straw hat, slips low in the seat. He sneaks into his house and gets vital documents. A friend delivers a small black car out at the ranch. All day Sunday, he tries to think of a way to save his life. He comes up with only one answer: flight. No matter where he goes in Mexico, he will have to find a job and use his identity cards and the army will track him down. He now knows they will never forget his story from 2005, that he cannot be redeemed.

He tells his boy, “We are not going back to our house. The soldiers may kill me, and I don’t want to leave you alone.” Monday morning, he drives north very fast. He takes all his legal papers so that he can prove who he is. He expects asylum from the government of the United States when he crosses at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. What he gets is this: He is immediately jailed, as is his son. They are separated. It is a common practice to break up families to crush the will—often jailing men and tossing the women and children back over the fence. He is denied bond, and no hearing is scheduled to handle his case. He is taken to El Paso and placed in a private prison. Had he entered the United States illegally and then asked for asylum, he would have been almost immediately bonded out. But since he entered legally by declaring his identity and legal status at a port of entry and applied for asylum, he is placed in prison because Homeland Security declares that Emilio has failed to prove that “he does not represent a threat to the community.”

It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don’t think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the U.S. government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight a war on drugs. But then, the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels.

(…)

This was part of the Bush administration’s ‘Guantanamization’ of the refugee process. By locking people up, especially Mexican asylum applicants, and making them, through a war of attrition, give up their claims there at the camp. I’ve represented ten cops seeking asylum, and not one of them lasted longer than two months. Emilio lasted seven months. On the basis of he had his son and he knew he was going to be killed. There was nowhere that he could go and practice his profession.” There are forty reporters in El Paso—print, radio, and television. Only one or two tiny reports are published by any of them. And the matter of the Mexican army killing innocent Mexicans is not mentioned at all. Like the U.S. government, they apparently believe the Mexican army is some force of light in the darkness of Mexico.” (Loc. 3514 – 86)

And when such journalists try to tell their stories to the US media, they are ignored (as if we needed more evidence of the uselessness of that institution) because no one should destroy the myth of the Mexican government as faithful ally in the War on Drugs. There is so much money at stake in the drug business that everyone wants in, and not just criminal organizations. And Emilio is not allowed to live in the US as a refugee.

And so, the killing continues, more massive than ever. And it’s not just the young women who work in the Maquiladoras (although they are victims). Because the lines are so blurred between Federal / State military, local police and cartel killers, one can never know who killed whom. So, arrests are not made. Actually, it is even lucky if police officers leave their offices to go to killing sites because they are targets. Killings and kidnappings are not reported. And in a kind of collective amnesia, once the bodies are removed, the dead disappear from memory and are no longer mentioned (same goes for the kidnappings).

“The violence has crossed class lines. The violence is everywhere. The violence is greater. And the violence has no apparent and simple source. It is like the dust in the air, part of life itself.” (Loc. 484)

As are drugs, something Bowden calls “narcotecture.”

And yes, this has something to do with NAFTA:

“A recent study found over twenty thousand retail drug outlets in Tijuana, mainly cocaine and heroin. In Juárez, there are at least as many such venues. The peddlers earn three hundred dollars a week, there tend to be three shifts, so let’s posit for Juárez twenty-five thousand outlets (a conservative estimate) and figure a payroll of seventy-five thousand retailers. This amounts to a bigger payroll than that earned by the two hundred thousand factory workers earning on average seventy-five dollars a week. And of course, the real money is not in the retail peddlers but in the organizations that control them and import and package their products. This is the economy of the city. This is supply-side economics flooring the killing ground.

(…)

When Amado Carrillo was running a cartel that hauled in $250 million a week in the mid-1990s, Juárez was barely a speck in the mind of the American government or media. When he used the same private banker at Citigroup in New York as the then-president of Mexico, this, too, was of no interest. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed and went plowing into the lives of millions like a greed-seeking missile in the early 1990s, this city that pioneered using cheap labor to bust unions and steal American jobs continued to be ignored. Only brief flickers of interest in the dead women of Juárez captures any American audience.

(…)

In Juárez, the payroll for the employees in the drug industry exceeds the payroll for all the factories in the city, and Juárez has the most factories and is said to boast the lowest unemployment in Mexico. There is not a family in the city that does not have a family member in the drug industry, nor is there anyone in the city who cannot point out narcos and their fine houses, or who has any difficulty taking you to fine new churches built of narco-dollars. The entire fabric of Juárez society rests on drug money. It is the only possible hope for the poor, the valiant, and the doomed.” (Loc. 884 – 1030)

The drug trafficking cannot be separated from the Maquiladoras economy. So, the mass violence is the story of structural breakdown and hollowing of the state, where the only legal jobs keep one in poverty, barely at survival level or illegal immigration to the US. So, killing and drugs are legitimate career choices for young men. Killing is not deviance. It is where the incentives are.

If Bowden is right and Juarez is the future, it’s not pretty.

Posted in Book Reviews, Corruption, Economy, Failed States, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Militarism, Organized Crime, Poverty, Risk Society, Structural Violence, Trafficking | No Comments »

Book Review – Brave New War

October 8, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BNW John Robb ‘s Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and The End of Globalization (Global Guerrillas Blog) adds a few concepts to the topic of new wars and the changing nature of warfare. At the same time, for those of us who have studied the changing nature of warfare and are familiar with the writings of people like Mary Kaldor or Herfried Munkler, there is a lot that is neither new nor original.

At the same time, John Robb’s perspective is different Kaldor’s or Munkler’s because he has worked in intelligence and counterinsurgency. His first hand experience in this field provides interesting insights as well as some issues.

Let me get out of the way the things I did not really like in the book. I think the author has a tendency to latch on to easily on all the fashionable concepts of the day: black swans, long tails, etc. And the author’s contention regarding resilient communities (the author’s idea of empowered communities able to resist oppression and terrorism) smells a bit too much of the fetishism of the local for my taste. Again, the local is not an automatic equivalent to empowered autonomy and resistance.

Things get a lot more interesting when we delve into the changing nature of terrorism and conflict in the global context. Specifically, Robb argues that one of the strengths of insurgent groups, such as the ones in Iraq is their open-source networked nature that lacks a clear center for greater flexibility. This has allowed for smooth and flexible connections between terrorist groups and organized criminal networks and these connections permeate the global economy.

According to Robb, the Iraq insurgency is the future of insurgency and terrorism with a new method: systems disruption: the disruption of basic services that are essential to smooth societal functioning and whose disruption damages the legitimacy of governments and nation-states. One problem here: this is not new. This used to be the tactic adopted by white African groups (the Executive Outcomes type) again newly independent African nations. To attack power plants and water treatment centers repeatedly would force these new governments to spend enormous resources rebuilding them. And if it led to government failure, then, it would prove that Africans were unable to govern themselves.

However, one can clearly see, as the author argues, the rise of “virtual states” in the sense of “superempowered groups” who can challenge national governments (and, I would say, especially, failed states) and connect to other groups and criminal organizations through ICTs. Which is why many peripheral conflicts are not fought between states but between a mix of sub-national actors dedicated to system disruption.

“This new method of warfare offers clear improvement (for our enemies) over traditional terrorism and military insurgency. It offers guerrillas the means to bring a modern nation’s economy to its knees and thereby undermine the legitimacy of the state sworn to protect it. Furthermore, it can derail the key drivers of economic globalization: the flow of resources, investment, people, and security. The perpetrators of this new form of warfare, however, aren’t really terrorists, because they no longer have terror as their goal or method. A better term might be global guerrillas, because they represent a broad-based threat that far exceeds that offered by terrorists or the guerrillas of our past.” (14-5)

But global guerrillas are not only distinctive because of system disruption. Their organizing structure – the decentralized network – is also a specificity, as opposed to hierarchies. These global guerrillas are main actors in what Robb calls fourth generation warfare (4GW), the first three being

  • Mass warfare: use of massive firepower on clear conflict fields, such as the Napoleonic wars or the US Civil War.
  • Industrial warfare: wearing down of the opposing state through greater mobilization and firepower, such as World War I.
  • Blitzkrieg: taking down of an enemy army and state through maneuvers, deep penetration and disruption, such as World War II (I would argue that WWII was also industrial warfare).

And here, Robb was prescient:

“The use of systems disruption as a method of strategic warfare has the potential to cast the United States in the role that the Soviet Union held during the 1980s – a country driven to bankruptcy by a foe it couldn’t compete with economically. We are staring at a future where defeat isn’t experienced all at once, but through an inevitable withering away of military, economic, and political power and through wasting conflicts with minor foes.” (32)

As an aside, this is something Michael Mann had already written about in Incoherent Empire.

The issue I have then is the supposed big discovery of the changing nature of warfare (decentralization, networks, etc.) as if this were the first book about this. Seriously, Mary Kaldor is not even mentioned or referenced even though she wrote the book (literally) on New Wars. And P.W. Singer and others have also written quite extensively about the de-nationalization of warfare and the emergence of non-state actors and their prevalence in contemporary conflicts. And it has been long known that these global guerrillas and global criminal networks have been pretty savvy with ICTs.

Robb also argues that global guerrillas be distributed according to the long tail model (as opposed to Gaussian distribution).

There are several reasons for this:

(1) War is cheap. The barriers of entry due to costs have declined considerably and one can conduct warfare with AK-47s and child soldiers at really low costs (which create some incentives).

(2) Also, the decentralization of warfare and system disruption mean that small events can create massive costs for the injured party.

(3) Networking technologies allow for a “long shelf life” on ideas driving the guerrillas whose number don’t have to be large. Social networking allows like-minded people to easily find each other. Here, I would add that the strength of weak ties is also relevant as absolute consensus and strong ties are not necessary for a global guerrilla to be operational (and for someone so in love with concepts, I am surprised – disappointed – that Robb did not consider that one).

So, beyond the Iraq insurgency groups, who would count as a global guerrilla? Robb mentions the Chechen guerrilla as well as the Niger Delta movement or the Balochs in Pakistan. How do states fight back against guerrillas that are so adept at asymmetrical warfare? Robb mentions the use of paramilitaries including the US minutemen. And here is another source of annoyance for me:

“Armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weaponry and survival gear, this paramilitary force has formed organically to police the U.S.-Mexican border.

Though many Americans have lamented their existence, few have tried to explain it.” (87)

Really? I guess David Neiwert has not been writing about all this for years now, and showing how such movement has not arisen “organically”. And Robb displays a disturbing respect for these paramilitary groups (including those the US used in Central America) even as he acknowledged their corruption and human rights abuse. It is unconscionable to me to legitimize their use.

Also included in the global guerrillas category are what Robb calls third generation gangs (3GG).

  • First generation: turf protection, unsophisticated leadership, opportunistic petty crime.
  • Second generation: organized around business and financial gain; broader geographical footprint, violence used for intimidation of commercial competition and against government interference.
  • Third generation: global, sophisticated transnational operations, political control in failed government and state areas, high interference in state function.

“Third generation gangs fit the model of global guerrillas perfectly. They operate, coordinate, and expand globally. They communicate worldwide without state restriction, often via the Internet. They engage in transnational crime. They participate in fourth-generation warfare, and their activities disrupt national and international systems. Finally, they coerce, replace, or fail states that stand in their way. In all these categories, they parallel the development of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Like Al-Qaeda, these gangs are rivals of nation-states.” (93)

All these groups engage in system disruption as main tactic, targeting specifically (or trying to) what Robb calls Systempunkt, the crucial point in a system whose disruption can create system collapse. These may be economic or infrastructural. Anything whose disruption will trigger a collapse in global flows (Appadurai’s scapes) is such a Systempunkt. In the current context, one could argue that global guerrillas are not the only ones who can engage in such system disruption. “Legitimate” economic actors seem to do so as well.

For global guerrillas, then the structuring in scale-free, decentralized and flexible networks allows for capillary kinds of disruptions (Foucault’s micro-power) that can trigger cascading failures, as opposed to coordinated yet non-networked attacks of former generation terrorist groups.

Finally, the last characteristic of global guerrillas is open-source warfare (OSW):

“In OSW, the source code of warfare is available for anyone who is interested in both modifying and extending it. This means the tactics, weapons, strategies, target selection, planning, methods, and team dynamics are all open to community improvement. Global guerrillas can hack at the source of warfare to their heart’s content” (116)

As with open-source software, the main characteristics are as follows:

  • Early release and continuous updates
  • Constant problem solving through community sharing
  • Community members as allies and co-developers rather than competitors
  • Simplicity and easy adaptability of solutions

OSW is one big bazaar of warfare solutions.

I have already mentioned above and throughout this pose the issues I had with the book. I would add that there is too much conflation of security = protection of assets and defense of the capitalist system as it is (or whatever is left of it at this point). Too much defense of paramilitary seen as legitimate actors. And not enough recognition of the work done before on this topic. Some of the ideas in the book are useful in terms of conceptualization but there is too much grasping of fashionable concepts from a variety of fields.

That being said, the book is a quick an interesting read and I would recommend also bookmarking the blog (link above). But I would also say: go read Mary Kaldor first.

Posted in Book Reviews, Failed States, Global Guerrillas, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Networks, New Wars, Organized Crime, Religious Fundamentalism, Risk Society, Social Change, Technology, Terrorism | No Comments »

Crisis of Legitimacy and Hollowing of US States

June 24, 2010 by and tagged ,

A while back, I posted on John Robb’s distinction between failed states and hollow states. A reminder:

“A failed state is a complete breakdown in the delivery of political goods (security, law, health, education, infrastructure, etc.), the dissolution of most arms of the government (often what’s left is in absentia), and widespread chaos.  Think Somalia.

In contrast, these states are well on the road to becoming hollow states.  A hollow state is different from a failed state in that it continues to exist on the international stage.  It has all the standard edifices of governance although most are heavily corrupted and in thrall to global corporate/monied elites. It continues to deliver political goods (albeit to a vastly diminished group, usually around the capital) and maintains a military.  Further, in sections of the country, there is an appearance of normal life.

However, despite this facade, the hollow state has abdicated (either explicitly as in Lebanon’s case or de facto as in Mexico’s) vast sections of its territory to networked tribes (global guerrillas). Often, these groups maintain a semblance of order, as in rules of Sao Paulo’s militias or the Taliban’s application of sharia.  Despite the fact that these group control/manipulate explicit economic activity and dominate the use/application of violence at the local level, these groups often grow the local economy.  How?  By directly connecting it to global supply chains of illegal goods — from people smuggling to drugs to arms to copytheft to money laundering.”

In a more recent post, Robb argues that some US states are in effect hollow states based on this Global and Mail illustration:

As the article notes:

“California’s fiscal hole is now so large that the state would have to liberate 168,000 prison inmates and permanently shutter 240 university and community college campuses to balance its budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1.”

Not only that but, according to Robb, hollow states do not simply abdicate their margins of maneuver, they have no choice:

“Fiscal insolvency leads to an endless reduction in services.

The more you cut, the worse it gets.  The worse it gets, the more you cut.  Don’t cut fast enough and the financial oligarchy whacks you with higher rates and onerous dictates.  In the end, there isn’t much left.”

It also means that corporations may get to use state power for their own interest:

“Last week, Drew Wheelan, the conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association, was filming himself across the street from the BP building/Deepwater Horizon response command in Houma, Louisiana. As he explained to me, he was standing in a field that did not belong to the oil company when a police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggest[ed]” that he get lost since “BP doesn’t want people filming”.

(…)

Here’s the key exchange:

Wheelan: ”Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: ”Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: ”Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: ”Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

Not really! Shortly thereafter, Wheelan got in his car and drove away but was soon pulled over.

It was the same cop, but this time he had company: Kenneth Thomas, whose badge, Wheelan told me, read “Chief BP Security.” The cop stood by as Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes, asking him who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana. He phoned Wheelan’s information in to someone. Wheelan says Thomas confiscated his Audubon volunteer badge (he’d recently attended an official Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training) and then wouldn’t give it back, which sounds like something only a bully in a bad movie would do. Eventually, Thomas let Wheelan go.”

And that is on top of unlimited funding for elections and a corporate-friendly US Supreme Court and Congress.

Limited capacity of action (sometimes through voluntary relinquishing of state power) due to financial hardship involves declining services and increased crisis of legitimacy and financial hardship brings about further cuts and threats of further major shedding (see: deficit commissions and discussion of “what to do about Social Security”).

So, Somalia may have pirates and militias, Afghanistan has warlords, and the US and some of its states as well as financially-strapped “rich” countries have the transnational capitalist class.

Also,

Posted in Failed States, Hollow States | No Comments »

A Sociology of Global Chaos?

February 16, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

The dominant mythical narrative of globalization (a la Tom Friedman) is one where the Global North is politically stable, economically prosperous and culturally modern as opposed to an overpopulated, politically corrupt, economically under-developed and socially chaotic Global South. As such, the Global North could dictate economic policies to the Global South through institutions of global governance such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. With the US and European-led recession and the collapse of Greece, it might be time to revise that narrative.

Will Hutton:

Immanuel Wallerstein:

Is it any wonder that the neoliberal state is largely a repressive and war-making state “thriving” in the global risk society.

Posted in Economic Sociology, Economy, Embeddedness, Failed States, Global Governance, Globalization, Risk Society | No Comments »

Bad Week For Afghanistan… When It Rains, It Pours

November 20, 2009 by and tagged , , ,

So, first, Afghanistan is declared the most corrupt country after Somalia (which barely qualifies as a country anyway), then, this:

What a shocking surprise that eight years of war have not improved the standard of living of the population, especially women and children.

Oh, and on a related topic, this was interesting:

Posted in Failed States, Health, Human Rights, New Wars | No Comments »

Re-post – When Corruption Sustains Institutions

November 18, 2009 by and tagged ,

In light of yesterday’s post on the publication of the latest Corruption Perception Index, and the sorry state of affairs in Afghanistan (which earned the next to last spot with only Somalia faring worse) as described in the BBC today. One notes three traits in corrupt practices in Afghanistan:

And the second one

And the third one

To broaden the discussion, let me re-post my summary of Keith Darden’s article:

Keith Darden has a pretty interesting article in Politics & Society (Vol. 36, No. 1, March 2008, 35-60), titled The Integrity of Corrupt States: Graft as an Informal State Institution (abstract).

In this article, Darden sets out to refute the common assumption that widespread corruption and graft are indicators of institutional breakdowns which result in ineffective states. While this assumption is not entirely untrue, Darden notes that there exists a fairly large set of states with widespread corruption AND functioning state institutions.

“I argue that graft often serves as a form of unofficial compensation that reinforces rather than undermines the formal institutions of the state and can provide leaders with additional means to control subordinate officials. In sum, despite the deleterious effect that graft may have on democracy and economic development, there are circumstances under which graft may reinforce the state’s administrative hierarchies.” (36)

In which case, Darden speaks of institutionalized graft.

In this article, Darden eschews the never-ending debate on the definition of the state by focusing on one specific aspect that the major schools of thought on the subject recognizes:

“The institutional mechanisms used to secure the loyalty and obedience of officials with the state’s administrative hierarchies.” (37)

Any state form needs to be able to extract compliance from state officials in order to fulfill such functions as tax collection or the maintenance of law and order in addition to the provision of other services. What is the role of graft in this? As Darden explains, the major support for the theory of graft as state-weakening comes from the agency theories of economics. In this perspective, graft is a violation of the basic contract between state leaders and state officials when the latter substitute personal financial enrichment for the fulfillment of their stately tasks against a salary. And officials do so especially when they know that the systems of surveillance and sanctions are defective. Hence the lack of effectiveness of the state.

For Darden, this is not an entirely false picture but it is not the entire story and it is based on a narrow conception of state institutional form: the Weberian bureaucracy with all its well-known characteristics, a model which works well for the established Western democracies but not beyond those.

“It is not difficult to find cases where (1) graft is allowed as part of an informal agreement or contract between leaders and their subordinates, or, (2) the state is not grounded in the rule of law and functions largely through informal institutions – stable rules that are not written down or codified as law. (…) Corrupt practices and other violations of the law may signal the absence of a Weberian bureaucracy but do not necessarily imply absence or weakness of administrative hierarchy. It is possible to achieve a stable administrative hierarchy without the law-based bureaucracy that Weber saw as typical of modern organization or the web of personal obligations of traditional rule.” (38)

For Darden, a fairly large number of countries fall into that category (widespread graft + robust state capacities and hierarchies) based on the 2003 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI 2008).

The CPI is considered one of the most reliable analytical measure of corruption at the global level. Countries are ranked based on a score between 0 and 10 where 0-3 is considered most corrupt and 7-10 least corrupt. Among such states with high corruption and high state capacity, we find Algeria, Kenya, Nicaragua, Romania, Russia, Papua New Guinea, and Ukraine.

When it comes to graft, Darden distinguishes between three types of graft in relation to the state:

  1. State-weakening graft: graft that undermines administrative hierarchies.

    “Graft unconditionally weakens the administrative hierarchy when it serves to buy disobedience – when officials take “a remuneration for what you are not supposed to do.” (…) In such cases, the role of graft follows precisely the logic identified by agency theorists.” (41)

  2. State-benign graft: graft that has no effect on administrative hierarchies.

    “Some forms of graft may have little effect on the functioning of the administrative hierarchy – it plays little role in determining whether officials loyally perform their obligations. It is simply a form of theft. This is common in environments where bribery takes the form of a convention, and officials receive additional informal payment for tasks that they are obligated to perform anyway. If everyone knows that bribes must be paid for officials to perform their functions and everyone pays bribes as a result (assuming that all can afford to do so), then a graft-ridden state of this type differs from a functioning graft-free bureaucracy only in the way that private wealth is distributed (it is reallocated from citizens to officials). Graft is “benign” in these cases only in the sense that it neither enhances nor undermines loyalty in the administrative hierarchy of the state.” (41)

  3. State-strengthening graft: graft that reinforces administrative hierarchies

    “In such cases, administrative compliance is based on an informal contract between state leaders and their subordinates in which graft plays a critical role. In contrast to the benign case, state-reinforcing graft provides the basis, in whole or in part, for official loyalty and obedience. The illegal practices we identify as corruption reflect the fulfillment rather than the violation of an informal “contract.”" (41)

And he identifies two mechanisms related to state-strengthening graft as a means to obtain compliance.

  1. Graft can serve as an alternative mode of compensation or as a second salary. The proceeds of theft or embezzlement or bribery are distributed to carry out the duties of the state. It is graft that guarantees the effective functioning of the state.

  2. Graft provides state leaders with means of coercion over their subordinates. If the officials do not fulfill their end of the bargain (discharge their official state duties in an efficient manner), they risk losing not only the money they get from graft but potentially to be among the few prosecuted and incarcerated for corruption.

“State leaders must be able to monitor their subordinates (1) to ensure that they are complying with directives, (2) to guarantee that they take no more than the allotted amounts, and also (3) to maintain a complete record of their illegal activities in the event that sanctions should be required.” (43)

For Darden, it is important to note that such a state would still fit the Weberian characteristics of monopoly, hierarchy and impersonal authority. Such a state is able to function relatively effectively in terms of waging war, maintaining law and order, managing infrastructures and institutions, controlling political dissent, etc. Darden illustrates such state-effectiveness with the very enlightening (and entertaining) example of Ukraine under the rule of Leonid Kuchma. Such a study is made possible due to the fact that Kuchma’s interactions were recorded by a member of his security detail. These recordings allow access to the inner mechanisms of state-strengthening graft. Through them, we can see the different aspects of graft and its management in Ukraine.

In the case of Ukraine, the system of state-strengthening graft is accompanied by strict monitoring (to make sure that officials do not take more than their cut and adequately cover their tracks), intensive surveillance (another well-functioning state apparatus), and permits widespread intimidation and enforcement.

In the Ukrainian case, Darden identifies four types of officials:

  1. Criminal: those whose loyalty lies outside of the state structure, such as gang members.

  2. Selfish: those who are in it for personal enrichment and tend to take more than their share.

  3. Disloyal: those who secretly support political rivals.

  4. Compliant: those who conform to the state hierarchy.

The first three categories are those who can expect sanctions from the state as a result of extensive surveillance. The compliants reap the rewards of their loyalty but they are also subject to monitoring (precisely to ensure their compliance). Such extensive state-surveillance apparatus seems to be especially present in the former republics of the USSR, as legacy from that regime.

The massive use of surveillance for political repression and the mobilization of officials to “get the votes” when election time comes explains the stability and resilience of such states and regimes. Their weakness is that everyone knows what is going on and these regimes tend to be highly unpopular (see the Orange Revolution in late 2004 – 2005). Pakistan under Ali Bhutto and Peru under Fujimori are other good examples.

But the main point stands, there is no necessary negative correlation between graft and state capacity. As Darden concludes:

“This alternative view of the relationship between graft and the state may explain both the pervasiveness of graft and the objective stability of states that were hitherto classified as weak. If the pervasiveness of corrupt practices only signaled the breakdown of political authority, then political leaders would have clear incentives to overcome it, but if graft plays an important role in the informal institutions of state administration and political domination, then leaders have every incentive to sustain it.” (54)

Posted in Corruption, Failed States | No Comments »

Narco-Transnational Network, Failed States and Globalization

October 21, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

Global Post has a very interesting (albeit depressing) report on the emergence of West Africa, and especially Guinea-Bissau as transnational hub for narco-trafficking from South America to Europe. It is a perfect illustration of the globally networked nature of such trafficking.

The series of photographs is indeed impressive:

There is a video as well but I can’t find an embed code, so, just head on over there and watch the whole thing.

Posted in Failed States, Globalization, Networks, Organized Crime, Poverty, Trafficking | No Comments »

The End of An Era? US Failing State and Palliative Capitalism

September 28, 2009 by and tagged , , ,

In three easy steps. First, acknowledge what scholars of globalization have known for a while now, that the global era is marked by multi-polar power structures, marked by the declining star of the American economy and currency:

Again, Zoellick is behind the curve here. A quick look at the work of David Held and others over the years made that point. The issue of the weak dollar came to a head when the Euro was introduced a few years ago. So, it’s not exactly a prediction. Also, sociologist Michael Mann expanded on the US as declining power in Incoherent Empire. Actually, Mann makes the case that the US is losing ground on more than economic power, but on ideological, political and military power as well.

And speaking of political power, in Scientific American, Jeffrey Sachs basically tells us that the US is a failing state.

Sachs identifies four causes to this:

  1. Flawed privatization and lack of regulations
  2. Lack of government effectiveness in terms of planning
  3. Systemic underfunding of government services
  4. Lack of holistic approach to problem solving (technical specialties, government departments and public and private sectors)

What Sachs fails to not is that none of these four issues fell from the sky. They are all the product of deliberate neo-liberal policies that have prevailed from the past 30 years. “Starving the beast” was slogan and a reality. Sachs tend to be annoyingly unaware of power relations, exploitation and oppression. In this article as well, it is as if these things had just happened.

In any event, the final diagnosis is that of an ineffective state, a failing state.

Over at Paul Jorion’s blog, guest-poster François Leclerc tells us that we have entered the era of “palliative capitalism” whereby central banks are the palliative caregiver to banks and states.

Palliative capitalism is a system that no longer works on its own and more or less completely relies on palliative measures by the central banks to crab-walk and pretend that everything will be back to normal. But the signs of recovery are fictive. For Leclerc, the question is whether these palliative measures are sustainable and for how long. After all, the central banks have not provided clear criteria regarding the end of pumping capital into the system to fund a supposed credit recovery. And who can tell exactly where the bailout money has gone anyway.

For Leclerc, governments are faced with limited choices face with mounting debts:

  • Budget cuts and tax hikes
  • Inflation probably followed by stagflation

Neither are very attractive. What’s left?

  • Taxes on financial transactions (direct and derivative – kinda like the forever-discussed but never implemented Tobin tax)

It seems that Leclerc leans toward the third as long as it is more than symbolic but it goes against palliative capitalism where we continue to pretend that everything will go back to normal as long as palliative care is maintained.

Posted in Economy, Failed States, Global Governance, Globalization | No Comments »

Non-Human Victims of Human Conflicts

August 22, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

I have blogged about this before: we know that armed conflicts wreak havoc on the environment and wildlife. However, which wildlife we choose to pay attention to (in a fashion similar to that through which we select chosen conflicts and ignore stealth conflicts) depends on whether we can anthropomorphize them or how “cute” we have defined them to be. Cases in point:

Gorillas, which have been humanized through movies and documentaries:

The whole article is worth reading as it weaves together the multiple layers of this armed conflict and the industries that fuel it along with the issue of governance in a failed state where corruption rules, along with the regional connections that go back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

And then, there are the cute ones being slaughtered by groups taking advantage of the power vacuum following a coup in Madagascar:

I guess “gentle”, “delightful” and “unique” is what it takes for slaughter to be noticed. Too bad for the species that don’t fit that bill.

Posted in Biodiversity, Chosen Conflicts, Environment, Failed States, Mass Violence, New Wars, Resource Wars, Stealth Conflicts | No Comments »

The Global Fluidity of Cocaine Trafficking

July 1, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

A while back, Joseph Kirschke wrote a series of articles on the global reconfiguration of the cocaine trafficking as global flow whose fluidity allows it to reorganize itself when conditions require.

In this three-part series, he depicts a trafficking that is responsive to fluctuations in supply (as the Colombian cartels lost their absolute control over the traffic), distribution (as the US tightened its policies) and demand (which is soaring in Europe). All these conditions created the need for new routes for shipments to now go from Brazil and Venezuela to West African Gold Coast, and then on to Western Europe.

Additionally, the liquidity of this global traffic also adapts to changing economic conditions (for instance, as organized criminal groups switch from the US dollar to the Euro when it becomes more profitable to do so), racial profiling at border points (by switching from African mules – women – to white ones) and adapts to a variety of political realities in West Africa (by using failed states like Guinea-Bissau, recovering states like Sierra Leone or Liberia or mature democracies like Ghana).

The series also underlines the difficulties in establishing global governance in terms of trafficking as national considerations still largely prevail when it comes to law enforcement… and in places like Guinea-Bissau, law enforcement means corruption.

So, without further ado, part 1 lays out a general description of the changing nature of the traffic, focusing largely on the Gold Coast and especially Guinea-Bissau:

Part 2 gets into more specific instances of the impact of drug trafficking on the countries being now dragged into this global flow:

Part 3 focuses on Venezuela’s involvement in the traffic as Colombia’s cartels lost their grip on the business:

The whole thing is worth reading.

Posted in Corruption, Failed States, Global Governance, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Organized Crime, Trafficking | No Comments »

The US: Failed or Rogue State?

June 27, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

That is the question asked by Josh Harkinson over at the Blue Marble:

It’s an interesting notion indeed, also in light of the massive financial crisis. One could perfectly argue whether corporate money and corporate media played a part in the stimulus package as well as the Geithner plan where a central part of government action involved equating saving the economy with saving the banks and the bankers with limited action designed to significantly support homeowners or the unemployed. In effect, the Obama administration limited its own capacity for action and hollowed itself from significant reform thereby continuing years of economic policies designed to limite state’s actions in the face of global integration on neo-liberal terms.

Posted in Corporatism, Economy, Environment, Failed States, Hollow States, Sustainability | 4 Comments »

Somali Piracy and Global Networking

April 17, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

I would guess that this is a quick example of the type of reticular analysis that Yannick Rumpala has called for in his writings and on his blog. It is also a good illustration of the phenomenon that Roland Robertson (and after him George Ritzer) have called glocalization (the local consequences of global phenomena as well as the local influences on globalization):

The whole thing is enlightening.

Posted in Failed States, Global Governance, Global Guerrillas, Globalization, Networks, New Wars | No Comments »

When Nation-Building Ends With Failed States

April 15, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

Two items out of Afghanistan and Iraq reveal, many years after the fact, the perils of nation-building with no idea that any nation is an imaginary community and that there are layers of identity beneath the often-imposed national veneer that are powerful and hard to control forces once unleashed. These layers can be narrow ethnic membership or they can be religious fundamentalist groups. Either way, the results are not pretty.

First stop, Afghanistan where women decided to demonstrate against the new law, designed to appease the Taliban (as if appeasing religious fundamentalists ever worked) and that basically legalize rape.

By installing a weak government whose capacity is limited to the urban areas and who is seen as a Western puppet before dealing with the Taliban once and for all, the coalition of Western forces guaranteed their comeback especially by not dealing with their bases of support in Pakistan. Ultimately, it is the women who pay the price for this. Incapable of confronting religious fundamentalists that undermine its legitimacy, the government sees no other option but to accommodate and attempt to placate them by passing ultra-patriarchal legislations.

On Iraq, where ethnic divisions were masked by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and have now made a brutal comeback, we get this:

In the five years that have followed the invasion of Iraq, the number one cause of civilian death has been kidnapping followed by execution according to the Iraq Body Count NGO. According to its data, 19, 706 were kidnapped and subsequently killed, a significant numbers of such murders involved torture. And that is probably a conservative estimate based on the methodology used by IBC.

Both stories reveal problems tied to states with limited capacities, that is, unable to establish their legitimacy with the population through the delivery of services such as infrastructure and security. There is a double movement at work here. Religious fundamentalist or ethnic groups undermine the state and prevent it from providing services, therefore the population does not consider the state a legitimate entity and people turn to religious fundamentalist or ethnic groups for their security and basic necessities. The more people rely on these non-state actors, the less the state has a chance of establishing its legitimacy. The results are either accommodation of non-democratic groups, such as the Taliban, or persistent violence, as in Iraq.

For both countries, the future looks like failing or hollow states with non-democratic communautarian patriarchal rule with much violence involved.

Posted in Failed States, Gender, Hollow States, New Wars, Patriarchy, Sexism | 1 Comment »

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