This edition of International Politics and Society draws
attention to the fragile foundations of our civility.
It is not an edition about particular problem countries
– Sierra Leone, Congo, Afghanistan, and Bosnia – but about
the dynamics of social regression and the brutal normality
of a violence-governed society.
The Hobbesian pre-Leviathan world,
always rather an abstract-theoretical figure of thought,
appears to be becoming reality (again). Robert Kaplan’s
article “The Coming Anarchy”, which created a stir in
early 1994, when our worldview was still formed by the
experiences of the twentieth century, also comes to mind.
In that murderous period the all-overshadowing threat
proceeded from the great, bold blueprints of a new social
order and from the machinery of state power created in
their name. It was the century of totalitarianism and
of terrible wars as only highly organized states could
While discourse in the “civilized world”
is still largely determined by worries about “too much
state”, in other parts of the world the problem of privatized
violence is increasingly gaining in significance. Stefan
Mair’s contribution provides a systematic overview
of the phenomenon. The rise of privatized violence is
mirrored by the declining power of the state, that over-arching
regulative institution to which modern society assigns
the monopoly over the use of violence as the ultimate
sanction. But the worrying processes which we observe
in various parts of the world – not only in Africa – are
only inadequately captured by the term “state collapse”.
The state remains almost everywhere the reference point
of social action. Into the foreground, however, steps
the struggle for power in the state, or, more accurately,
for the resources controlled by the state and available
to those who control the state. The state is both part
of the booty being contested and a rival in the struggle
Who fights whom? Not, as in the original
Hobbesian idea, “all against all”. In the struggle for
opportunities for enrichment and survival (they go hand
in hand) success requires coordinated collective action.
The basic model is that of the leader and his followers,
whom he (significantly, there are virtually no women in
this category) needs for the struggle for power and who
expect rewards from him in return. This is the basic model
which also marks out clientistic politics in peacetime.
Stephen Ellis points to this central structural
link in his essay on Africa’s violent conflicts.
or not it comes to actual violent conflicts, Ellis
also stresses, depends in individual cases on specific
political circumstances, but often also on coincidences.
However, economic atrophy with no prospect of positive-sum
games is almost always a prerequisite – a situation which
raises predation into the basic economic logic. What we
have termed state collapse is also due to the fact
that these countries are cut off from world-wide economic
growth but at the same time are integrated in global economic
structures. In fact, the few lucrative links to
the world economy are a central part of the booty which
the new violent conflicts are about. The stagnating post-colonial
periphery-economy has found its social counterpart in
the clientistic society of violence.
activation of ethnic ties fits the clientistic zero-sum
logic which has no reward for a multi-ethnic national
affiliation. This becomes particularly clear in the contributions
by William Reno and David Keen on the civil
war in Sierra Leone and in Michael Ehrke’s analysis
of the post-civil war economy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But
the diagnosis of a, supposedly pathological, return to
pre-national forms of social organization is too simple.
What is at issue is an understanding of history which
naively extrapolates European experiences and regards
the formation of nations as part of a universal civilisational
development process, but neglects its economic foundations.
If “failing states” are in fact not
accidents but rather the result of the slow victory of
a misunderstood reality over a – admittedly extremely
powerful – normative idea, then the “civilized world”
stands before a number of challenges, which it is only
beginning to sense. The task of restabilizing collapsing
states, which after 11 September 2001 came onto the agenda
of the great powers as an important component of a successful
anti-terror strategy (and which Hanns Maul in his
contribution to our 2/2002 edition presented as central
to the establishment of a new world order) demands of
the community of nations perhaps more than it is capable
of achieving. Daniel Stroux, William Reno,
and David Keen in their contributions suggest that
only massive and long-sustained external intervention
can cancel the self-reinforcing dynamic of the economy
of violence. Michael Ehrke shows in the case of
Bosnia the obstacles which sabotage the intended re-construction
but in which intervention of this kind almost inevitably
gets entangled. What Gilles Dorronsoro reports
about the dismal political failure of the American victory
in Afghanistan rounds off the picture. It seems that North–South
politics will in future have to be “writ large” in foreign
policy agendas and, moreover, be thoroughly reconceived.
Europe, according to Michael Ehrke,
will at long last succeed in Bosnia because the political
imperative is sufficiently strong to overcome all difficulties.
Winfried Veit considers a solution for the Middle
East conflict which likewise requires the deployment of
European resources. A godparent-model – but how many “godchildren”
will the godparent be able to manage?