Monday, March 16, 2015

Rise and Decline of the State (Part 2)

Continued from part 1

Also incorporates some elements from The Transformation of War, which my friendly local library has so kindly lent me.

I was close to the mark in part 1 when I guessed that the argument van Creveld would make was that the state's ability to wage war outgrew its willingness via nuclear weapons.  He does place the turning point at the beginning of the Atomic Age, but changes due to nuclear weapons are only part of his thesis.  The argument he makes regarding warfare is that the availability of nuclear weapons made extinction a possible outcome of any major war between powerful states, and this has so far been deemed an unacceptable risk.  As a result, we've seen border and proxy wars, but the sort of deep strategic advances hundreds of miles into hostile territory are a thing of the past because if you put a nuclear state into a position where it has everything to lose, then so do you.  Likewise, large concentrations of conventional forces are convenient targets for nuclear weapons.

The interesting bit of the nuclear hypothesis that I didn't see coming was its effect on international law, namely the criminalization of wars of aggression and the end of territorial annexation.  This is a significant change from the established order, and one which is (I suppose) being tested in the Donbas, where two social mores are in conflict - on the one hand, it sure looks like Russia is waging something rather like an aggressive war for annexation of Crimea / Sevastopol, violating the no-annexation principle.  On the other hand, the Russian majority in the regions they're trying to annex supposedly voted to secede and join the Russian Federation (admittedly, possibly after the spetsnaz arrived), so there is an argument from self-determination, representative government, and such.  Interesting times to set a precedent.

(Nationalism, incidentally, is part of what has made victorious annexation impracticable these days.  Back when, if your province was conquered you paid taxes to your new rulers much as you paid them to your old rulers.  Now national identity enters into the question, and popular resistance follows.  The end of annexation has meant that one of the main motivating factors (from the perspective of the state) for waging was has disappeared.  Consequently, he argues, conventional military forces are basically obsolete)

The other technology-center that van Creveld addresses is information and logistical.  I saw part of this coming too, as regards the ability of non-state, nonbureaucratic organizations to utilize information technologies more flexibly than states.  Again, while I see the micro view, van Creveld looks at the macro view, where from the telegraph and railroad to the internet technology over the last century and a half has become networked.  One telegraph doesn't do you any good, and if you can't agree on standard protocols for how to telegraph with your neighbors they're not much help either.  States which ignore these technologies and don't standardize with other states run the risk of falling behind economically and socially, but those that standardize end up losing some of their power to international standards bodies.  Likewise, the international corporation has become the center for technological development and economic growth, outpacing most states.  Finally, if you wish to participate in international trade, you also end up losing some degree of liberty over your own currency.

So what is left for the state?  With conventional warfare and its economic sovereignty in decline, the state is left to supervising a nuclear arsenal, maintaining order, and providing welfare.  Van Creveld and I do not see eye-to-eye on the future of the welfare state; we both seem to be on the libertarian side of the fence, but while he (as of 2000) sees the welfare state in decline, I see it resurgent, driven by a new wave of youth born after the fall of communism unknowingly allied with a pragmatic elderly population.  While van Creveld sees the end of the welfare state as inevitable as a result of "loss of faith in government" and economics, I believe that faith in government is in a cyclical mode for the time being, and that the demands of a hungry population know no economic bounds.  Lest I be called a heartless bastard on the internet (I am, though, you know), I am curious for the potential for distributed, non-government welfare systems, rather like I hear things were done back in the Bad Old Days, when communities took care of their own rather than expecting the state to solve their problems, but organized and run in a modern (ie, networked, webscale) mode.

Anyway, enough politics.

Van Creveld also looks at guerilla warfare and terrorism as a consequence of the end of conventional warfare, and this leads nicely into The Transformation of War.  One point I found interesting here was the failure of the French and British to keep their colonies after the Second World War; I had a theory that the rise of terrorism these days was directly enabled by the proliferation of arms during the Cold War, and that armed resistance movements were inviable before then, but now I think that this is false.  The note that resistance fighters are now recognized under international law was interesting too (though as he also notes, every country does its best to have its own local, home-grown freedom fighters classified as terrorists instead).

Another interesting thing that is mentioned is that traditional strategy (since Napoleon at least, and probably earlier) relies on encirclement and cutting off the enemy force's lines of supply and communication.  This is part of why fighting guerillas is hard - they don't (usually) have organized geographic lines of supply which can be cut by physical encirclement (consider, for example, the futility of Russian operations in Afghanistan to cut lines of supply across the Pakistani border), and they typically have sufficient initiative and motivation to continue fighting independently if lines of communication are cut.  It seems to me that the way to achieve strategic victory over the guerilla, then, is to cut his lines of supply by driving a wedge between him and the community of local sympathizers on whom he relies for food, shelter, and cover.  This is, of course, much harder than mere encirclement, especially when fighting a cross-culture war, where most of your force doesn't share the enemy's language and traditions.  Field intel folks, psychological ops, and special forces seem a more natural fit for this sort of war than conventional "line" military forces.

I am not that far into Transformation of War yet, but so far it seems quite a critique of Clauswitz; I think the argument being made is that Clauswitz's model of war, which has become the standard for 'conventional' war, was predicated on war between states and on clear divisions between military and civilians, and that as that distinction is now disintegrating Clauswitz's theories are no longer applicable (also that Clauswitz's theory of war was incomplete at publication, as it failed to account for war in the pre-state era).  I'm not sure if a new constructive theory (beyond that expressed in RaDotS) is to follow or if this is primarily a critical work, but it is interesting nonetheless.

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