Sunday, June 10, 2007
From these, you would gather that there has been a rapid drop in warfare of all kinds since 1992, and that wars are a risk principally in poor countries without liberal institutions. On that basis, you might concur with the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit that, while the risks of war will resurge in context-specific settings, 'globalisation' is slowly guiding us toward a more stable (and less impoverished) future. In this view, the role of stable liberal capitalist states is to manage the occasional crises as societies graduate toward fuller integration into the global economy with liberal institutions and guaranteed property rights. The 'old battles' of left and right thus dispatched, it will be a relatively simple matter to maintain perpetual peace and remove the means of coercion to the background of human societies. This is the kind of doctrine that the former diplomat Robert Cooper promulgates: "there are pre-modern states - often former colonies - whose failures have led to a Hobbesian war of all against all: countries such as Somalia and, until recently, Afghanistan. Second, there are post-imperial, postmodern states which no longer think of security primarily in terms of conquest. A third kind are the traditional 'modern' states such as India, Pakistan or China which behave as states always have, following interest, power and raison d'état." It goes without saying, which is why he doesn't say it, that liberal European and North American capitalist states are the 'postmodern' ones who never think about things such as conquest (but should, in his view).
It is not quite so simple, according to Christopher Cramer's book Civil War Is Not A Stupid Thing. For instance, consider another set of figures devised through a different lens. The Uppsala Conflict Database provides an invaluable amount of free data on the level, range and types of global conflict. Here are couple of charts from their site (click to enlarge):
The trend in the rate of conflicts is the same for both high and low-intensity warfare. While it is clear that the rates of warfare did decline after 1992, the drop is nowhere near as sharp, and it remains at roughly the level it was before the highest point of conflict during the 1980s. The number of interstate wars declines, while the number of 'internal' wars increases. As Cramer observes, these analytical frames are not merely descriptive: to describe a war as 'internal' is to direct the focus to a particular aspect of conflict and away from others. If a war is largely fought within a given terrain, largely by actors indigenous to it or nearby, this does not mean that international forces are not powerfully involved: consider the 'civil war' in Nicaragua throughout the 1980s, or indeed any number of conflicts in which the US, UK and France in particular have intervened in or stimulated, or orchestrated. Their armies may not be involved, and increasingly we rely on private mercenaries (as per Sandline International or Blackwater USA). Yet they are directly involved. There are also wars waged by states against non-state movements, and in the past these would have been classified as 'extra-systemic' (anti-colonial wars in particular). This category has disappeared largely as imperial territories acquired the character of nation-states. Yet what if Chechnya were to win its war for independence? What is now considered a civil war within Russia would be an extra-systemic one. When did war begin, and when did it end, in Iraq? The US had been rapidly escalating a campaign of systematic bombing coupled with sanctions throughout the 1990s, arguably a state of de facto low-level, highly asymmetrical war, with Iraq's luckless inhabitants as hostages. There are forms of mass state-led orchestrations of violence, such as Gujarat in 1992 and 2002, which are not classified as civil war because they are directed against civilians and pose no threat to the state at any stage. Additionally, some wars that originate as civil wars progress into genocide rapidly, as in Rwanda. A further observation is that the extraordinary peak of conflict during the 1980s and at the end of the Cold War doesn't represent a sharp increase in the outbreak of wars so much as an accumulation of them over fifty years, which suggests that these wars have been extremely difficult to end once initiated. In other words, the two perceptions that war is becoming less frequent and less intense, and that war is limited to areas with weak states and 'underdeveloped' economies, are fundamentally unsound. Cramer adds there are too few observable trends to make many useful generalisations about what we might expect in the future. The variety of wars characterised as civil wars is far too broad in terms of origins, casualties, battle intensity, social actors involved, causes etc to produce secure categories.
Yet, one such category has proven to be rather popular with a certain kind of post-Cold War liberal - people like Mary Kaldor, Martin Shaw and Hans Magnus Enzenburger, who had been Leftists while there remained a Soviet Union - and that is the 'new war'. In this view, wars are unpolitical, usually organised around 'identity' rather than a clear programme of social change, brutal beyond any limit that might be imposed by international law or political norms - essentially a form of extended criminal activity, leeching off global financial and commodity networks in what is ominously described as 'black globalisation'. The theorists of 'new wars' also look to a post-military age, even if they are slightly less willing to accept overt empire than people like Robert Cooper. However, the empirical basis of their claims has been comprehensively undermined, as discussed here. The rate of civil wars was certainly not increasing during the period of the 'new wars'; their barbarity was on the whole a little bit less intense than Cold War ventures; the prominence of 'identity' politics wasn't absent in the Cold War period and was then, as it is now, intermingled with other political programmes (the Anglo-French axis in African politics has long outlived the colonial era and the Cold War, while the secessionism of Croatian leaders was not more important than the secessionism of Moise Tshombe in the Congo); and transnational financial and commodity flows were at least as important if not more so than during the Cold War ('conflict diamonds' being an analogue of 'conflict heroin').
Cramer has an interesting approach, which is to regard these wars on a continuum of violence that extends right into liberal democratic polities, from outright civil war in Mozambique, in which the establishment of property rights was every bit as conflictual as it was in Cromwell's Ireland, to sustained low-level class violence in Brazil, with perpetual clashes with the MST and favelas for instance, to sporadic clashes between strikers and the army in South Africa and ongoing forms of social violence in Europe and the United States. Social peace is maintained in advanced capitalist societies by organised violence that is usually extruded from the explicit theatre of politics. Yet there are examples of extreme domestic state violence, usually where population groups are seen to disrespect the fundamental (until then, apparently harmless) boundaries of property-based societies. The attacks on Waco or on the MOVE organisation in the US are two such instances. But the most violent periods in the history of modern liberal polities has been in the prolonged transition to capitalism: the enclosures, the revolts, the enslavement and colonisation, the class warfare, the mass hangings, the genocides and so on. Contempory conflict in 'developing' nations can thus be understood as part of the process of the "primitive accumulation" of capital. The 1975-1992 Mozambican civil war, mentioned before, is thus seen as being driven by a conflict over the accumulation of land and the establishment of conditions for successful capitalist agriculture. Aside from the specific business of acquiring and converting property into capital, the overal process of transition produces turmoil. Karl Polanyi observed that without the intervention of Tudor and Stuart states, the conversion to a market society, the enclosures, the transformation of humanity and land into capital, would have been a disaster sufficient to wipe out most of Europe's human beings.
Several new phases in this so-called "primitive accumulation" have been opened up in recent years: the clean sweep in Russia and Eastern Europe; the neoliberalisation in India and Latin America; the reconstitution of private capitalist class power in China; the rapid acceptance of neoliberalism by nominally leftist parties in most advanced capitalist states etc. The aggressive programmes of the happily defunct Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and similar initiatives by the World Trade Organisation, seek to extend this process. These policies don't necessarily cause wars in and of themselves any more than they cause the process of "primitive accumulation", but they have the capacity to aggravate an already existing set of conditions, or interact with other elements (such as arms and commodities markets, financial flows, 'ethnic' or identitarian tensions etc). Cramer's argument thus rebukes both the liberal view of violence as something surpassed by (post)modern states, and the liberal view of development as something that is technical, and can be achieved with a careful management of pain and consequences by very knowledgeable graduates from Oxford or MIT. Development is a deeply political process with powerful motors toward violent conflict, and capitalist development is not less so than any other kind despite the formal disavowal of political violence in capitalist ideology. The process of transition, it should be said, is not one with a determinate end. At no point is every form of commons enclosed and privatised, and nor could it be: there remain struggles over who will possess how much, what will belong to all and what will belong to a few, what conditions will apply to the labour force and how oppressed groups will be treated within the social hierarchy. And, as it is a crisis-ridden system, managed and sustained in large part by the projection of extreme force, the fantasy of perpetual peace and a post-military society is (at least this side of the socialist revolution) a dense revisionist palimpsest that papers over centuries of historical reality.