Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft
International Politics and Society 2/2003


About this edition

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 lead them.

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 for booty.

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.

Whether 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.

The 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?

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | net edition malte.michel | 3/2003