What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

State Failure Classics #2

At the beginning of last year I've joined the editorial board of Kül-Világ, a Hungarian foreign affairs journal, editor-in-chief of which is friend of mine Péter Wagner, whose Afghanistan blog (in Hungarian) I've quoted a number of times before. Since you may have suspicions, I have to clarify that Kül-Világ is not a periodical specifically on Afghanistan - we welcome studies concerning all sorts of issues beyond or outside the EU.
And I'm particularly proud of two studies that have just come out in Kül-Világ's latest (2007/3-4.) issue, penned by Viktor Friedmann and Márton Kasnyik, respectively. I'll link to these studies, although they are in Hungarian, and I'll briefly refer to what they are about. Both, I think, should be translated and submitted to some peer-reviewed journal so that a wider international audience may get to read them.
First I'll bring in a brief excerpt (my raw translation all the way) from Viktor's study, titled "New areas of conflict management: The regional, the inter- and the transnational dimensions of intra-state conflict", because it's important for a critical take even on my conceptualisation of negative spill-over effects. It's nice and useful to operationalise the notion of state failure through the concept of NSEs, but one has to remember that:
"Focusing on the global effects of conflict holds the threat that we may regard their occurrence as the appearance of a black hole in the fabric of space, as a mere anomaly, an alien body, that only has to be cut out in the interest of restoring order. Such thinking ignores that systemic factors and the international space itself reproduce these conflicts, and that their management or their 'resolution,' without a transformation of the structures that allowed their emergence and persistence in the first place, is a Sisyphean fight. Global threats arising from conflicts arise in a particular set of global conditions, and that recognition demands a search for new conflict resolution tools." (p. 76.)
Viktor then goes on to argue for a kind of structural conflict prevention. The whole thing would be worth 'quoting' here, all the way, but as I said, it should be read in the form of a peer-reviewed journal article in English, and definitely not in my rudimentary summary or as a blogpost.
The same goes for Márton's study, titled "State-building from an anthropological perspective." It should be compulsory reading to all those weblogifying their musings nowadays on Human Terrain Teams and related issues. I guess most readers are aware of these debates nowadays. Anthropologists are afraid they might be revisiting the discipline's colonial past by serving the U.S. military in Afghanistan or Iraq. Many today in the U.S. military, like John Nagl and others, see anthropology as a cure for initially flawed counterinsurgency tactics. Some others within U.S. military circles meanwhile discredit the whole effort in anthropologists' eyes by talking about how HTTs could "enable the global kill chain." Scholarly critics of the endeavour to bring in anthropology see it as the infiltration into official thinking of the worst kind of, almost racist, cultural relativism, resting on the assumption that culture is a static thing, a non-varying independent variable (check out this great piece by Dr Patrick Porter at KoW, pointing out - it has to be a surprise to some, I feel - that e.g. tribes in Anbar are in fact capable of acting rationally). Scholarly enthusiasts on the other hand seem not be satisfied with a recognition of the role of culture, and argue that it should be used not just to fine-tune tactics but to write a wholistic COIN strategy even. Abu Muqawama co-contributor Charlie seems enthusiastic of this as well.
As to what I think regarding all this... Well, if one is looking for an über-strategic interpretation of cultural relativism, there's this one book as an absolute must read (you may rightly have a feeling that I don't really endorse that sort of point of view). As to the tactical level, well, HTTs are cool with me (especially if they are professionally competent). But it's certainly an anti-political statement stemming from wishful thinking to speculate that a better understanding of local culture might make re-shaping local people's politics and economic circumstances better accepted by a critical degree (which is about wishing for instrumentalising local culture to ideally suit our interests). And it's also an ignorance of such obviously important factors as, just for instance, a lack of enough troops in Afghanistan to be able to keep to the principle of "clear, hold and build," which would really be the key to COIN there. (Insurgents are immersed in their own culture and that gives them an advantage? Give me a break if you're talking about the Taliban. Being immersed in fundamentalism, for those of them that really are, is another trade.)
As to Márton - he starts off noting how it's an embarrassingly narrow-sighted feature of the current discourse on anthropologists 'and their use,' that anthropologists are regarded as though they could only contribute to micro-managing affairs on the ground when in fact up-to-date anthropological insights could tell us much about the macro level: the state and state-building. And then he goes on to show that, comprehensively. Again, I can only say, more people should read his work.
If a journal editor surfs by per chance, just send me an e-mail - you find the address on the right flank, at the top - and I'd be happy to forward contact points and any specific invitation for submission.
All that's left for me to put down here is that it's a great pleasure for me to have partly fulfilled the mission statement of this blog today, having now been able to link in fresh and fine, state failure-related material from other authors from my country. (There's more in the pipe by the way, so if some readers are absolutely thrilled to learn about what's the talk here in Hungary, stay tuned. I guess it makes sense from a COIN perspective, too, to pick up input to all sorts of discourses from as many places as possible, doesn't it?)

No comments: