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

Friday, March 26, 2010

State-sponsored and stateless insurgencies, during and after the Cold War

For lack of time to do something more research-intensive, I will just stop by here to once again recommend Vanda Felbab-Brown's pretty good book, Shooting up. I have finally got down to reading the non-Afghan case studies in it, too, and Peru's example made me pause to ponder an interesting aspect of the story of the Shining Path, well known by its Spanish name Sendero Luminoso... Here is why I found it interesting, first.
So often one hears the narrative that the Cold War made the world a more easily calculable place. A few extremist-orientated go so far as to (without basis) claim that the Cold War was a joint "US/SU" venture in world control, because in some aspects, structurally speaking, it tended to work more or less like that. Ironically, there are also a few who view something similar as a benevolent phenomenon: one having made state failure and similar large-scale disorder seemingly more avoidable - even avoided, as some believe. An argument connected to this is that you supposedly could not, during the Cold War, finance taking on a government for long without orienting yourself towards powerful enough external backers. This had to mean the bloc opposing to the one the government was aligned with, by default Cold War logic. Globalisation is then presented as the process that turned this on the head, making it possible for non-state actors to develop sufficient autonomy for messing with states on their own, messing up the interstate system, questioning its fundamental tenets... After so many superpower-supported Cold War insurgencies, globalisation in the post-Cold-War period is said to have brought us insurgencies feeding on/high on all things illicit... It is oft pointed out how Operation Cyclone was needed to energise the insurgencies of the mujahedeen factions, while today the Taliban are stateless narco-terrorists etc.
But of course these views are at least partly mistaken. Not only are the Taliban no narco-terrorists and not purely (or even largely) "statelessly financed" in fact, but even the view of the Cold War is flawed. Spectacular counterexamples can be offered regarding it: there were, even then, insurgencies supporting/sustaining themselves, without a critical level of external backing and manipulation... These may have been integrated into the illicit transnational economy as the Sendero Luminoso were (who were thus able to do without Soviet/Cuban assistance)... Or they may have been feeding on arms supplied earlier on by one of the parties eventually fought during the ensuing conflict - as in Malaya where some of the insurgency consisted of elements originally nurtured by Britain, against the occupying Japanese (during World War Two). Needless to say, this kind of "shooting in one's own feet" was/is one aspect of the highly complex Afghan case, too.
Moreover, and this brings us closer to the discussion of the current insurgencies in Afghanistan, even Sendero Luminoso, much as they profited from the trade of drugs, could not be beaten by equating counternarcotics with counterinsurgency. To the contrary. And that is why it is a shame, I feel, that an otherwise brilliant book as the Antonio Giustozzi-edited Decoding the New Taliban did not start with a chapter by Felbab-Brown instead of one by Gretchen Peters. The reader may end up further from "decoding" in that case, as a result. Not to say Peters' work is not informative, but Felbab-Brown's work is just much more considerate regarding long-term, complex consequences... Whereas Peters just doesn't see the "wood" because of that single "tree" she keeps focusing on... "Uff!" I spoke.

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