Monday, May 02, 2005

Non-State Belligerents

The bombing of a Baghdad ice cream parlor reminded George Will (hat tip: Donald Sensing) of a similar scene in Franco Solina's the Battle of Algiers (scene 65). In the late 1950s the Algerian FLN drove the French out of Algeria through a successful campaign of terror. George Will believes that similar methods will not work in Iraq because the Iraqi insurgency "does not have a fighting faith" of the FLN. While the Algerian insurgency "was fueled by the most potent 'ism' of a century of isms -- nationalism ... one of the strange, almost surreal, aspects of the Iraqi insurgency is its lack of ideological content."

Professor Max Manwaring of US Army War College (hat tip: Austin Bay) argues that it is precisely for that reason -- the lack of ideological content -- that modern insurgencies are so dangerous. The FLN was an insurgency aspiring to become a state; whereas many modern insurgencies are "nonstate belligerents" without such ambitions and they comprise most of the security threats in the world today. 

While some international boundary disputes remain alive such as the Bolivian desire to regain access to the Pacific Ocean, and the chronic problems between India and Pakistan, the Koreas, and Ethiopia/Eritrea only a relatively few conventional formations of enemy soldiers are massing and preparing to invade the territory of a neighbor. What we see instead are numerous nonstate and transnational actors, including gangs, actively engaged in internal disruption and destabilization efforts.

Manwaring argues that security threats in the 21st century are less likely to come from invading armies than Osama Bin Laden's terrorists, cults, warlords, transnational criminal organizations, institutionalized West African crime and powerful street gangs.  "Rather than directly competing with a nation-state" these Third Generation gangs "can use a mix of complicity, indifference, corruption, and violent intimidation to co-opt and seize control of a state or a portion of a nationstate quietly and indirectly" so that they can go about their rackets. From Central America, to Afghanistan and the Middle East, nation-states are being stalked by organizations which require chaos to thrive. Like terrorists in Iraq but unlike the FLN in Algeria, most of these "Third Generation Gangs" care nothing about traditional nationalism except as a public relations cover to justify their self-serving acts. For them "fighting faith" is not a creed but a talking-point.

In examining warlordism in Afghanistan LTC Raymond Millen of the US Army War College notes that the disintegration of the Afghan permitted the archetypical nonstate belligerent, the Al Qaeda/Taliban, to arise. Now having expelled the Taliban, America faces not a challenging army in Afghanistan, but a succession of gangs and gang alliances seeking to fill the vacuum.

Over 2 decades of incessant warfare destroyed Afghanistan as a functioning state ... In the maelstrom of incessant internecine fighting in the 1990s, the Taliban clawed its way to power and installed a medieval regime, providing stability through brutality. The Taliban regime likely would have ... continued its rule had Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda not provoked the United States into a war ... The swift expulsion of the Taliban and al Qaeda militants resulted in yet another regime change, but it did not ameliorate the fundamental malaise afflicting Afghanistan warlordism. Because of their power and wealth, Afghan warlords and their militias represent the greatest challenge to Afghanistan’s rehabilitation as a functioning state ...

In the western hemisphere, Central American gangs have by corruption and intimidation taken over large parts of their country's state apparatus. Manwaring cites among many examples the fact that "Guatemala’s Vice Minister of Defense, was operating a drug smuggling and robbery ring in conjunction with Colombia’s Cali cartel" and drily notes that the pupils have surpassed their teachers.

As a result, crime rates have increased dramatically to the point where the Honduran annual murder rate ... is double that of Colombia’s ... important because Colombia, with its ongoing internal conflict, is widely considered to be the most violent society in Latin America. ... A majority of those murders took place in public, in broad daylight, and many of the mutilated bodies were left as grisly reminders of the gangs’ prowess.

For this reason Manwaring terms such organizations "the new urban insurgency". He warns that waiting to for Third Generation Gangs to exhibit classic motivations such as 'nationalism' before regarding them as national security threats constitutes a dangerous failure of perception. Nonstate belligerents he says, will stick at nothing, including acquiring WMDs.

Thus, we reiterate that if third generation gangs look like ducks, walk like ducks, and act like ducks they indeed are insurgent-type ducks. ... Nonstate war involves criminal and terrorist actors who thrive among and within various host countries. This type of conflict is often called “guerrilla war,” “asymmetric war,” and also “complex emergencies.” 

Manwaring's central insight is brilliant: he knows that Al Qaeda is as much about amassing money and power as about any tenet of the Islamic faith. It's is as much about private ambitions as ideology. It's not personal: it's business. George Will, on the other hand, persists in trying to understand the insurgency through nation-state theory. He compare the Iraqi insurgency to the FLN and wonders what they are about.

Iraq's insurgents are degenerate Hobbesians promiscuously dispensing death, thereby creating the chaos of a Hobbesian state of nature, the insurgents hope to delegitimize the Iraqi government for its failure to provide the primary social good: freedom from fear of violent death. ... To escape such horrors, people would make a rational, if stark, social contract. They would consent to surrender their natural rights to empower a severely strong government that would at least release them from fear of violent death.

What they are about is local, private fiefdoms. Rather than a strong central government, the strategic goal of the Iraqi insurgency may in fact be chaos; the endpoint not a nation-state but warlord-power in an atmosphere congenial to criminal activity. The War College monograph Strategic Implications of Intercommunal Warfare in Iraq by Andrew Terrill points out that the major danger facing Iraq isn't that the insurgency will somehow defeat and expel the US Armed Forces, however devoutly the Left may wish that. The real danger is that the insurgency will ignite a civil war in the years after the US withdrawal.

Immediately following Saddam’s ouster, the U.S. leadership hoped that militias would not take root in the Iraqi political system ... this hope has now proven illusory, and senior U.S. officials acknowledge the need to tolerate some militia activity....  Senior U.S. policymakers currently suggest that militias will become unnecessary as legitimate governmental security institutions are strengthened, and militias are replaced or absorbed by national and regional governmental security forces. Most major Iraqi militias are associated with religious and ethnic political parties, although some are also tribal. As such, these militias would be expected to fight in the interests of their sectarian or ethnic communities, should relations among Iraqi communities decline or collapse.

But an collapse of Iraqi civil society might simply be one among many such failures worldwide. More than a few countries in Central and Latin America, the former Soviet Republics, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East are becoming or have become failed states. From their festering carcasses will crawl not armies but transnational criminal and terrorist organizations of the most vicious kind. The kinds of transformations operational necessity has imposed on US government institutions may hint at what is to come. The emphasis on homeland security, border control, tracking criminal funds flows, developing intelligence databases and the reworking of the Armed Forces so that it can fight mini-engagements in living rooms and alleyways suggest that it is unconsciously evolving to meet this new kind of enemy. But we continue to see the bombing of the Al Riadhy ice cream parlor in Baghdad through the prism of the fictional Cafeteria Rue Michelet in in the Battle of Algiers, the conscious part of the public mind lingering in the era before the challenge to the nation-state had emerged. Solutions to international security problems will continue to be sought through the ambassadors, ministers and representatives of states long after they have lost internal sovereignty; and the United Nations considered all the more important in proportion to its irrelevancy. The darkness will flow onward while we wonder in perplexity what has blotted out the stars.