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Thursday, December 4

Major shift in U.S. approach to warfare. Will U.S. foreign policy keep up? (UPDATED 12:40 PM ET)

Just in time for the 26/11 era, which over three days of horror in Mumbai superceded the 9/11 era, the Pentagon has approved a major policy directive that elevates irregular warfare to an equal footing with traditional combat.

From the Washington Post report today (H/T Iraq Slogger):
[...] The directive, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on Monday, requires the Pentagon to step up its capabilities across the board to fight unconventionally, such as by working with foreign security forces, surrogates and indigenous resistance movements to shore up fragile states, extend the reach of U.S. forces into denied areas or battle hostile regimes.

The policy, a result of more than a year of debate in the defense establishment, is part of a broader overhaul of the U.S. military's role as the threat of large-scale combat against other nations' armies has waned and new dangers have arisen from shadowy non-state actors, such as terrorists that target civilian populations.

"The U.S. has considerable overmatch in traditional capabilities . . . and more and more adversaries have realized it's better to take us on in an asymmetric fashion," said Michael G. Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, and a chief architect of the policy.

Designed to institutionalize lessons the U.S. military has learned -- often painfully -- in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, the policy aims to prepare the military for the most likely future conflicts and to prevent the type of mistakes made in the post-Vietnam War era, when hard-won skills in counterinsurgency atrophied.

The new, 12-page directive states that irregular warfare "is as strategically important as traditional warfare."

Defined as "a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s)," irregular warfare "favors indirect and asymmetric approaches . . . to erode an adversary's power, influence, and will," the directive states.

A major thrust of the policy is for U.S. troops to do less of the fighting themselves and instead build the capabilities of foreign militaries and security forces.

Indeed, Vickers said he envisions that the Pentagon's primary vehicle for carrying out irregular warfare operations will be a global network -- already underway -- made up of the U.S. and foreign militaries and other government personnel in scores of countries with which the United States is not at war. The network is designed to wage "steady state" counterterrorism operations. The directive also requires the Pentagon to develop capabilities to conduct larger-scale irregular campaigns, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The goal of the network, Vickers said in a recent speech, is ambitious: "to create a persistent, ubiquitous presence against our adversaries . . . and essentially to smother them over time." [...]
On paper, the shift in policy is inarguable. I'm just a concerned that unless U.S. foreign policy thinking undergoes a similarly radical change, the new military approach will be the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

In what I think is the best overview of the security challenges in the modern era (H/T John Robb), Nils Gilman writes:
[...] The underlying political process associated with deviant ["black-market"] globalization is the disaggregation of the "sovereignty bundle" of powers associated with the high modernist liberal state. In many places the state is no longer (if, indeed it ever was) the de facto governing authority, in the sense that it does not control the delivery of fundamental political goods, such as security, infrastructure, education, and health care.

Different pieces of that bundle are being parceled out to (or, more commonly, grabbed by) a variety of actors: tribal leaders, gangsters, NGOs, religious leaders, transnational and local corporations, mercenaries, ethnic militias, and so on. The particular combinations vary from place to place, and there is a great deal of path dependency.

In many places, the same actors who control the resource flows associated with deviant globalization are also de facto providers of "state-like services" such as security or infrastructure. And naturally enough, the common people who rely on these providers tend to align their political loyalties accordingly.

What's new in this situation is that in many cases these "political actors" have no interest in actually becoming a state or taking over an existing state. They’re happy to wield state-like authority and power, while enriching themselves via dubious business operations. [...]

As this new class of post-state political actors takes over functions formerly monopolized by states, they and their constituents lose interest in the state. From a political perspective, therefore, deviant globalization leads to (and also is facilitated by) the proliferation of jurisdictionally ambiguous spaces where sovereignty as it has traditionally been conceived simply no longer exists. It’s a self-reinforcing dynamic.

Western pundits and politicians like to describe these sorts of spaces with highly misleading terms such as "failing states" or "undergoverned zones." The implication of such terminology is that the people living there want to be just like us, but that somehow they're unable to get there. But such a belief is, if I may be blunt, a narcissistic delusion masquerading as political science.

Contrary to what the bien-pensants claim, most so-called failing states don't want to get fixed. In many of these zones, the local powers that be are quite content with these novel, informal political arrangements. It allows them to make fabulous amounts of money running globe-spanning commercial empires, while being recognized as the "big men" within the communities that they care about. They have no desire to attain the West's ideal of an inclusive, welfare-providing modern state.

These guys are "postmodern" in the sense that they realize that the West's form of modernity will never include them, and they're charting an entirely different path. It's very different from the classic revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.[...]
So, put another way, my concern is that the "smothering" approach to dealing with adversaries tends to view them as rogue actors or dictators, whereas in fact they're viewed by those in their regions as chieftains. Unless U.S. foreign policy, and in particular development policy, recognizes this, waging "irregular" warfare as a means of nullifying non-state actors is at best an exercise in lopping off a hydra's head.

***************************************************
UPDATE 12:40 PM ET

I've received permission from Nils Gilman to crosspost the entire analysis I quote from above. The analysis is actually excerpts from an interview. I can't emphasize enough the importance of his observations. See also his observations in the comment section accompanying his post on the interview.

Saturday, August 16, 2008
The Politics of Deviant Globalization

I'm speaking in a couple of months at the European Futurists' Conference on the topic of "deviant globalization." I just did an interview with them regarding the contents of my talk, the best parts of which I excerpt below:

Compared to the legal economy, the illicit economy has grown at twice the rate. What factors explain this fast growth?

Smuggling, trafficking, and transnational criminal organizations have always existed. But with the exception of narcotics—which for reasons of plant biology and economics has long been the world's most globalized industry—many of these illicit economies were local or regional in scope until quite recently. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a rapid integration of markets, for both political reasons (structural adjustment programs, the end of Soviet socialism, the Washington Consensus) and technical reasons (the Internet, mobile telephony, improved transportation infrastructure). Just as these changes have helped many legal businesses to go global, they have also enabled former street corner thugs to become global gangsters.

The withdrawal of states from their commanding role in many economies and the declining capacity and authority of many states (including states in the so-called developed world) have opened up operational spaces for what I call "deviant globalization"—human trafficking, drug dealing, gun running, cross-border waste disposal, organ trading, sex tourism, money laundering, transnational gangs, piracy (both intellectual and physical), and so on.

The structure of the current global economy is not designed for equitable, plodding growth; it's designed to reward opportunistic, risk-seeking innovators. It follows logically that illicit industries (which will naturally be led by opportunistic, risk-seeking entrepreneurs) form a particularly high-growth sector. Were one to construct an investment portfolio of illicit businesses, it would no doubt outperform Wall Street.

Globalization tears down traditional national structures and opens doors to illicit actors who fill the void. What can be done to stop this process?

The first step is for governments to realize that the growth of the illicit economy is neither a minor irritant, nor something that can be eliminated. Rather, it is a permanent feature of the contemporary global order, which needs to be actively managed. There are two main ways that governments and nonprofits typically go wrong in dealing with deviant globalization. The first is by more or less ignoring it, or downplaying its significance. The second is by thinking that the deviant manifestations of globalization can somehow be eliminated or separated from the legal manifestations. (This latter fallacy is what leads, for example to the fruitless, demoralizing campaigns like the war on drugs. The street price of narcotics has steadily fallen on the streets of almost every country for the last three decades, which tells you that supply has been growing even faster than demand—a telling indicator of the effectiveness of the war on drugs.)

As long as we continue to combine massive disparities of wealth and power, with a desire to control or stop the flows of certain goods and services, there will continue to be a nearly endless supply of people willing to move goods, people, and services at a premium price. The challenges of deviant globalization are best dealt with in a regulatory framework, not via law enforcement. Of course, such an approach flies in the face of moralizing about these issues.

Is this trend worldwide or more prone to affect certain countries or regions?

This is a global trend, but one affects different regions in different ways. Countries prone to deviant globalization tend to share certain family resemblances: a weak or fragmented central state; long, poorly guarded borders; and a large supply of or demand for goods with dubious moral properties—drugs, antiquities, valuable minerals, exotic wildlife, human organs, sex, oil, highly enriched uranium, and so on. The traditional world leaders in deviant globalization have been probably Russia, Nigeria, Brazil, China and the United States—though today the most deviantly globalized place on earth may be Iraq.

But it would be a mistake to think of the geography of deviant globalization primarily in terms of states, for deviant globalization has a complex microgeography that largely ignores state boundaries: it spans the archipelago of slums that runs from the inner cities of the United States, to the favelas of Rio de Janiero, to the banlieus of France, to the almost continuous urban slum that girds the Gulf of Guinea from Abidjan to Lagos; it extends across the cocaine supply chain that links the mountains of Colombia, to the slums of São Paolo, to the waterways of West Africa, to the noses of tourists in the Netherlands; it traverses the mountains of toxic garbage that move from the dustbins of rich countries to the landfills of poor ones; and on and on. You will find manifestations of it in every city and in every household that has any connection to the global economy. It is inseparable from the global economy.

You consider the illicit actors a political force. In what way?

The underlying political process associated with deviant globalization is the disaggregation of the "sovereignty bundle" of powers associated with the high modernist liberal state. In many places the state is no longer (if, indeed it ever was) the de facto governing authority, in the sense that it does not control the delivery of fundamental political goods, such as security, infrastructure, education, and health care. Different pieces of that bundle are being parceled out to (or, more commonly, grabbed by) a variety of actors: tribal leaders, gangsters, NGOs, religious leaders, transnational and local corporations, mercenaries, ethnic militias, and so on. The particular combinations vary from place to place, and there is a great deal of path dependency. In many places, the same actors who control the resource flows associated with deviant globalization are also de facto providers of "state-like services" such as security or infrastructure. And naturally enough, the common people who rely on these providers tend to align their political loyalties accordingly.

What's new in this situation is that in many cases these "political actors" have no interest in actually becoming a state or taking over an existing state. They’re happy to wield state-like authority and power, while enriching themselves via dubious business operations. I’m thinking here of groups as various as the Mahdi Army in Iraq, the PCC in Brazil, the 'Ndrangheta in Italy, or Laurent Nkunda's crew in Congo. None of these organizations plan to declare sovereign independence and file for membership of the United Nations. What they want, simply, is to carve out a space where they can do their business and not have the state mess with them. This means that, unless a state confronts them, they're disinclined to challenge states directly—directly challenging the state is expensive, and generally bad for business. As this new class of post-state political actors takes over functions formerly monopolized by states, they and their constituents lose interest in the state. From a political perspective, therefore, deviant globalization leads to (and also is facilitated by) the proliferation of jurisdictionally ambiguous spaces where sovereignty as it has traditionally been conceived simply no longer exists. It’s a self-reinforcing dynamic.

Western pundits and politicians like to describe these sorts of spaces with highly misleading terms such as "failing states" or "undergoverned zones." The implication of such terminology is that the people living there want to be just like us, but that somehow they're unable to get there. But such a belief is, if I may be blunt, a narcissistic delusion masquerading as political science. Contrary to what the bien-pensants claim, most so-called failing states don't want to get fixed. In many of these zones, the local powers that be are quite content with these novel, informal political arrangements. It allows them to make fabulous amounts of money running globe-spanning commercial empires, while being recognized as the "big men" within the communities that they care about. They have no desire to attain the West's ideal of an inclusive, welfare-providing modern state. These guys are "postmodern" in the sense that they realize that the West's form of modernity will never include them, and they're charting an entirely different path. It's very different from the classic revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.

Apparently the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mob, earned 44 billion Euros last year and is bigger than the better known Mafia. What happens with all this money and how does it affect the future of – in this case – Italy?

The case of the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria—and perhaps even more, the Camorra around Naples—is illustrative of how the licit and illicit global economies are increasingly inseparable. The crucial point about these loose organizations is that they control not just the drug and flesh trades in their regions, but that they also own or control enormous portions of the licit economy—sweat shops, garbage disposal, ports, factories, construction, and so on. There’s virtually no business that has any presence in Italy that they don't have their hands on. The legal businesses get capital from the illicit business, and also serve to launder the illicit gains. Sometimes people talk about economic development as the "solution" to corruption in the Italian South; but the truth of the matter is that corruption IS development in the South of Italy.
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