Thursday, 9 December 2010

Under what conditions does war assist with state and nation building?


Good wars make strong states stronger and bad wars make weak states weaker. This essay highlights that a preferable backdrop for starting to outline the conditions under which war favours state and nation building is an extension of Tilly’s thesis that firstly is less generic and secondly more conditional on the type of state or nation and war. ‘Good’ wars here refer to the implied Clausewitzian view of total war requiring “utmost use of force” to “disarm the enemy” by “utmost exertion of power” (Clausewitz, 1997, pp. 6-8). The use of the term ‘Bad’ wars here concurs Stathis Kalyvas when he critiques versions that distinguish new civil wars as criminal, depoliticized, private and predatory and old civil wars as ideological, political and collective (Kalyvas, 2001). The distinction is in the impact meaning good builds and bad disintegrates. War here is identified as a catalyst to state formation and not causal. Samuel Huntingdon notes that “war was the great stimulus to state building” (Huntingdon, 1968, p. 123). Miguel Centeno agrees when he says “... wars help build the institutional basis of modern states by requiring a degree of modern organisation and efficiency that any new structures could provide; they are a great stimulus for state building” (Centeno, 2002, p. 102). He also notes that “there is a causal ambiguity in Tilly’s famous aphorism: which came first, state or wars?” (Centeno, 2002, p. 106). In this account, the state system, strong or weak, in which war takes place, to build or weaken, already exists.

This essay encompasses three main parts. Firstly, the comprehension of war, states and nations is significant in determining the extent and conditions under which war aids state and nation building. It provides a context for this argument by defining the terms whilst unravelling the interdependent relationship between a state and nation assessing if they are two sides of the same coin. This framework is completed by highlighting the relevance of various authors’ comparative analysis of the impact of wars in European and Third World state formation (Herbst, 1990; Ayoob, 1991; Centeno, 2003; Desch, 1996). Secondly, the statement ‘Good war makes strong states stronger and bad war makes weak states weaker’ is assessed to determine if war acts only as a catalyst to state formation or is more pivotal. Mentioning briefly a wide range of empirical instances highlights some contradictions that imply it is flawed to draw generic conclusions on what explicitly makes war assist in state building. Thirdly, the essay draws on and explains a broad spectrum of arguments for war assisting state formation. It discusses the complex relationship between power, economy, war and state formation by looking at monopoly of the legitimate use of violence and the changing economic system in the contemporary world. How the changing international context and political norms under which war operate affect state building is important. Historical events such as decolonisation and the cold war and trends such as the proliferation of ‘new’ wars and nationalism and their effect on state building is discussed. For each of these, to accentuate the complexity, empirical examples on both sides of the state building and weakening fence are revealed. The relationship means state formation and disintegration occur in parallel and this becomes evident by assessing the causal nature of war in each scenario.

State and Nation building: Two sides of the same coin?

The state is pivotal to the study of international relations and likely to be so for some time. States are a common unit of analysis in theories of international relations being fundamental to realism (Waltz, 1979) and neoliberal institutionalism (Keohane, 1984) and many constructivist and English School theories (Bull, 1977; Rues-Smit, 1999; Wendt, 1999). States decide to go to war. Invariably extensive research exists about the conditions under which war assists state building. Some contend that contemporary states especially in the third world are replicating European State making through warfare though this is being hindered by colonial legacies by dependent development, humanitarian intervention and arbitrary boundaries (Ayoob, 1991). Others consider the ‘Un-Making’ of States results from contemporary state building taking place in a globalised context with decentralization of coercion and capital leading to dismantled administrations and politics becoming more civilian (Leander, 2004). A vast majority of these have taken the approach of a critique of Charles Tilly’s historical work outlining the link between patterns of state formation in Europe and war. As a result ‘War made the State, and the State made War’ (Tilly, 1985) remains undoubtedly the most famous dictum used as a starting basis for such analyses.

An important consideration is the conditions under which war impacts both states and nations. It’s important to juxtapose a definition of the state as "a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" (Weber, 1919) with reference to nations as “imagined communities” (Anderson, 1991). Whilst States are tangible physical manifestations evident in the existence of a government and their institutions, borders, finance, economy and military, a nation has intangible characteristics and is identified by entities such as culture, race, identity, communities, a sense of belonging and allegiance. Despite nations needing states and vice versa, assuming the existence of one means the existence of the other is too simplistic. Nations need states as a protective apparatus to defend nation's existence as a distinct political community and states need nations as it is easier to rule from consent rather than coercion also helping to legitimize the state control. The conditions under which war helps nation building are not by default those that also accelerate state building. Nationalism is a catalyst to state building for majority of cases and so the scope here addresses conditions for which war has a similar impact on nations and states despite exceptions, like Palestine, where one exists without the other - nation without a state.

“State formation refers to the building of institutions for territorial control, and the process by which one constellation of societal interests achieve state power and international recognition rather than another” (Wendt & Barnett, 1993, p. 322). The modern state is regulative and intrusive by restricting the freedoms of its citizens. It is extractive using various instruments to get resources from its people such as taxation and coercive, enacting legislation to punish citizens that don’t comply with its wishes taking advantage of its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. These characteristics often apply to both strong and weak states but when some scholars debate the difference between European and third world state creation in an attempt to critique Tilly's aphorism they fail to clarify this difference.

How relevant is European and Third World Comparative Analysis?

The essence of Tilly’s analysis is encapsulated in three factors that he felt contributed to state formation in Europe namely the monopoly on violence within the state, a system of bureaucracy mainly through taxation and building a sense of nation. In short, coercion works and connects war and state formation in the four stage process: war, followed by extraction, then repression and finally state formation. The security required for effective taxation in led eventually to state control of the means to violence throughout its territory (Tilly, 1990). Despite Tilly’s work being comprehensive, the shortcoming of using it as the basis of any critical analysis is its broad generalization and failure to properly put war and the state in its proper context recognizing the complex myriad and dependency on the nature of war and type of state or nation being addressed.

Some authors have attempted to address this shortcoming by a critique of the Eurocentric nature of Tilly’s work, preferring to contrast the developing world with European state making and contrasting with state formation in the third world (Sorenson, 2001; Herbst, 1990; Taylor & Botea, 2008) highlighting empirical examples that connect weak states in the developing world with the wrong type of war and the formation of stronger states to the right type of war presenting an existential threat. The relevance of such comparative analysis is the contradictions it exposes. Jeffrey Herbst makes the observation that the few interstate wars that have occurred in the third world are pushed to the forefront and obscure the fact that the vast majority of conflicts especially in Africa have not been “wars of conquest that threatened the existence of other states.” (Herbst, 1990, p. 123). He highlights that wars like India-Pakistan, Iran-Iraq, China-Vietnam and existential threats faced by Israel, South Korea or Taiwan often dominate analysis. By contrast Tanzania’s invasion of Uganda, the Western Sahara colonial question, Somalia’s attempt to invade Ethiopia, South African attempts to destabilize Lesotho and Swaziland, Libya’s war against Chad all lacked any real territorial ambitions. William Reno is also sceptical of bellicose viewpoint that suggests Africa might trace the same path as Europe (Reno, 1998). He illustrates his point with weak states such as Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone and it’s quite easy to see that these states, in warlord politics, lack a monopoly of the use of violence needed for state formation in the Tillian model. The point worth emphasizing here is that for every example given that supports Tilly’s thesis, there is an exception that doesn’t. Taylor and Botea highlight this very well when comparing Vietnam and Afghanistan, two nations with similar war experiences but very different result in the strength of the resulting state (Taylor & Botea, 2008). The impact of conditions recognized as influencing state building namely raising money, building armies and making nations are shown to have different outcomes. The only logical conclusion seems to be that war alone cannot be responsible and the combination with revolution and existence of a core ethnic group are put forward in this case.

In the debate surrounding state formation in Africa, some argue that all that is needed is more time - European state formation took time and Africa and the rest of the Third worked needs the same amount of time. It’s anybody’s guess how long is needed. Georg Sorenson notes that the core processes of European State formation took much less than 400 years and contrasts with the fact that state building in post colonial Taiwan and South Korea can take place in five decades (Sorenson, 2001). He further compares Kenya with Korea who both started at similar levels but are now miles apart in terms of development. Most Sub Saharan African nations have made little progress in the last 50 years. Why would more time make a difference? The Democratic Republic of Congo has had a wrong type of prolonged war for 10 years which has only made this weak state weaker and the same applies in Afghanistan which has been at war for three decades. Stein Eriksen notes that the wars in the D.R.C. differ from conventional wars, since they are not about territory: “The invaders do not seek to change existing borders or to question the territorial sovereignty of the states they invade” (Eriksen, 2005).

Is war causal or just a catalyst for state building?

Using Latin America, where there has been very little change in boundaries since 1840 compared to other continents, Miguel Centeno modifies Tilly by outlining pre-requisites for successful state building (Centeno, 2002). He suggests that an existing dominant elite making hard decisions which in the past even lead to genocide and population displacement and a ‘protostate’ providing a base to build upon were important. He emphasises the idea of a nation showing that states without nations, fragmented identities, appeared at the same time with a similar economic dynamic meaning no competing threat with neighbouring states unlike in Europe where some states were stronger than others. Because they were fiscally fragile and failed to monopolize internal violence, the states remained weak and in some cases weakened. These ‘limited wars’ in contrast to ‘total wars’ were essentially over small geographical areas by small mercenary armies or even where they were interstate occurring between nations of similar ideology. Strong nation states require an already emerging nation which war then strengthens. Many states in Latin America emerged from the collapse of the Spanish Empire rather than any form of grassroots dissent leaving a gap of national movements – in other words no ‘foundational’ state on which war could build on, strengthen and develop. Michael Desch refers to “State Deformation” theories which maintain that changed international security environment, in our case war (or indeed the lack of it), makes the continued broad scope or status quo of states doubtful (Desch, 1996). This argument balances on assuming war influences the expansion of state scope and the lack of the appropriate kind of war, its collapse. Desch points out that the distinction however between strong and weak states can be quite vague and ‘scope’ (minimal and maximal) and ‘cohesion’ (divided and unified) provide less vague categorizations. In this context his statement “Strong states are highly cohesive and tend to be maximal, weak states are divided and tend to be minimal” is in line with the argument put here of the catalyzing role of war making strong states stronger and weak states weaker.

Power, Economics, War and State Formation: What’s the link?

The state having the legitimate monopoly over violence and the economic factors inherent in war that aid state making are often addressed separately. The connection between them is missed though central to the argument that states are strengthened by war. To build a state, economic funds are essential and rulers require power monopoly to sustain this. Even though it is the moments in warfare which are useful for centralizing power, not war as a continuum, war still create incentives and the means to create and centralize power. The monopoly over power leads to monopoly over taxes, a key source of revenue for war. War as an existential threat to the state aids state building by giving the ruler reasons to consolidate and accumulate his power as citizens become willing to work harder, contribute more and even make the ultimate sacrifice – their lives. Cyclically, the ability to deal with external war threat can then be used to maintain control over the population including monopoly of taxes and finances giving funds necessary to raise and maintain an army consolidating ruler power. Notably there are different sources of revenue for war - rent, taxes on commercial transactions and land. Where the taxes are already too high and cannot meet the cost of war, states borrow from capitalists hoping the 'spoils of war' can be used as an additional source of revenue. In a chicken and egg analogy this recurring pattern of the ability to maintain control and accumulate revenue for war, conduct war and subsequently consolidate state power further. The flip side where inadequate power and economics leads to the wrong type of war makes weak states even weaker. Alexander Wendt and Michael Barnett mention that “analyses inspired by dependency theory continue to offer a systematic framework for thinking about the impact of the world economy on Third World state formation” (Wendt & Barnett, 1993, p. 330). Even in the European context, the disintegration of Yugoslavia has been linked to the shock-therapy program of economic reform. According to Susan Woodward, these reforms “ask for political suicide: they require governments to reduce their own powers” (Woodward, 1995, p. 17). Caution should be applied in acquiescing with ‘conventional wisdom’ that war in Yugoslavia arose out of Balkan hatreds or Serbian aggression. Dejan Jovic also outlines the ‘economic argument’ as one of seven he identifies in recent literature as reasons for the collapse of Yugoslavia (Jovic, 2001, p. 101). In this account, the widening gap between the developed regions (such as Slovenia and Croatia) and under developed republics and provinces (such as Kosovo) encouraged independence seeking for developmental reasons. This has the propensity to develop into Civil War, further weakening already weak states.

Different ways of raising funds can lead to different legacies and extent to which the state economy is monetized making a difference on the impact of war in state building. In a state where there are lots of commercial transactions, a fiscal system is generally already in place to adapt to the needs of warfare and there is only a need for control of key locations e.g. border posts making it easier to raise funds. Historically the Netherlands represented a much monetized economy but Russia and Spain not very monetised and therefore needed to extract funds laboriously whilst monitoring its citizens. Good control over this power and economy relationship assists state building.

International ‘Context’ and Political Norms

The norm of sovereignty includes the acts of non-intervention and destruction meaning states cannot simply be extinguished. Within a sovereign territory, an ordered, universal and obligatory system of rule exists for the state allowing it to function under conditions that strengthen it such as monopoly over means of violence (Giddens, 1987). Third world states cannot and could not when they were created be extinguished and as such didn’t face the same threat of extinction to make them strong. Africa in the post 1914 era lacked the wars of conquest that Europe faced when their states were being created. The anti-colonial conflicts in Africa were too brief and insufficient to create an identity.

Some argue that modern developing states are essentially replicating the experiences of their early modern European counterparts, particularly with regard to the effects of external and internal competitors on extraction efforts. Some argue that developing states are engaged in exactly the same types of struggles their European predecessors went through to centralize power (Cohen, Brown, & Organski, 1981). They suggest that while many look upon the internal conflicts in the developing world as evidence of political decay, in fact, out of such conflict will arise a new political order through the centralization of power. They further suggest that "increasing central state claims for resources-for the material means of state-making and domination-intrude into and compete with pre-existing structures of rights and obligations which tie those resources to sub national collectivises and/or 'polities,' " (Cohen, Brown, & Organski, 1981, p. 902) resulting in conflict much the same as in early modern Europe. In keeping with predatory state theory, they argue that the main driving force behind the increased extractive activities in addition to state making was war making. Lustick concludes that "international norms and great power policies have been responsible for blocking the emergence of a great power in the Middle East by deterring or preventing state-building wars from being fought to successful conclusions across existing Middle Eastern boundaries" (Lustick, 1997)

Considering the power and subsequent economic factors against the backdrop of decolonization and its aftermath, the way revenue is extracted creates different types of empires since the economic institutions are left as a legacy to the state. In the developing world, colonized nations reflect the systems in the metropolis. War, having induced a change in the fiscal apparatus, then leads to permanence as the newly created state departments stay self interested enough to fight being dismantled post war. The sources of capital in the European context came from within the empire. Post colonial states existed on Independence Day and the legacies left behind (economic, political and administrative) remains a key determinant of their strengthening.

Georg Sorenson identifies colonization as developing some of the administrative structures that are conducive to state building for example creating central institutions with power and monopoly over the means of violence being in the capital with the elite, police and military and clear borders and boundaries (Sorenson, 2001). However, the artificial borders created as a result and subsequently the rapid process of decolonization lead to ethnic conflict which formed the basis of the 'wrong’ type of wars. It’s convenient to put forward decolonization or the ‘Fall of Empires’ argument strictly from an African or Asian context and ignore European examples. Jovic tries to dismiss the disintegration of Yugoslavia, another exception, by calling it an “ideological empire” (Jovic, 2001). What he fails to expand on though is some descriptions of Tito’s Yugoslavia as a multiethnic empire similar to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. On decolonization and its economic impact, Wonik Kim looks at the origins of the developmental state in East Asia (Kim, 2009). Korea and Taiwan are often cited as economic miracles of Asia and states gaining their strength and bucking the trend of other developing nations coming out of the effects of colonization and war. Rightly, Wonik makes the key point that the impact of the reversal of colonial legacy is too often downplayed in favour of accentuating effective industrial policy. Attributing the wrong type of wars to already weak states in Africa as a catalyst for continued state failure may make sense on the one hand. However despite a general impact of colonial legacies on third world state, the link to war as causal is blurred. Decolonisation does have a link to the existence of an economic environment that isn’t conducive to state building which supports the argument that the effects cannot be attributed to war alone. When the source of the capital comes from outside it means there is a dependence on metropolitan states. In colonial times, the metropolis interest is primarily for its resources and thus the focus is one aspect of the colony and its economy, the rest is subsequently ignored and left to develop in its own way. This accentuates the growing of elite that doesn’t integrate with local workers. Following decolonisation bringing the elite into power, only one aspect of the ex-colony remains economically viable, leaving the state still very dependent on the metropolis which doesn’t aid state building. The growing norm of humanitarian intervention, or its economic equivalent - ‘shock therapy’, is the contemporary version of this phenomenon. This produces aid dependency and discourages state formation. The Chinese adage "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime" serves well as an analogy to explain state weakness and how weak states grow weaker. This analogy can be further stretched from dependency theory of Third world economic development to the link between dependent state formation and militarization. According to Wendt and Barnett "the hierarchical structure of the world system conditions the form of Third World military development via its impact on state formation” (Wendt & Barnett, 1993, p. 323). Intervention, humanitarian, economic or otherwise is a consequence of war and not a character of war, making it difficult to attribute its impact solely to war.

No other single ‘event’ of the twentieth century represents more clearly the state building capability of ‘war’ due to the existential threat it poses than the cold war. The further strengthening of strong states in this ‘good war’ to become global superpowers and the subsequent collapse post cold war of the former Soviet Union speaks volumes. During the “Great Game”, the superpowers exported their wars to the Third world which led to many ‘wrong type of war’ intra-state conflicts between divided ethnic groups (Ayoob, 1991; Thies, 2004). The breakup of the former Yugoslavia, an 'Independent' Communist State, is another case in point. During the cold war, it benefited from being able to reach to both eastern and western blocs. At end of cold war, this ends and the republic suffers economically and Structural Adjustment Programmes forced on it reduce the size of the state, making it even weaker. The central state was shrinking when ethnic rivalries started and maintaining order was a challenge. According to Susan Woodwards predominantly materialistic explanation, "the sense of community declines when governments narrow what they can provide" (Woodward, 1995). Racial hatred fuelled by the decline in economic provision. She further comments “Tensions along ethnic, racial, or historical fault lines can lead to civil violence” – the wrong type of war. It mustn’t be neglected to mention here that even in the case of Yugoslavia, state disintegration sits in parallel to state formation. The strength or lack of it of the newly created states like Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro is less the focus than their existence. Michael Desch suggests that after the cold war the "decline in the external threat environment may reduce the scope and cohesion of many states" (Desch, 1996, p. 237). According to him, since the end of the cold war, developing states for the most part have not experienced a threatening external environment, meaning their state structures are smaller, internally divided with political and economic instability. Those few developing states that have had threatening external environments, such as China, Cuba, Israel, and South Korea, have developed stronger states than their counterparts in the developing world. The lack of a threatening external environment that explains the lack of a great power also explains the lack of strong states generally in the region.

If wars are a catalyst rather than causal to state building, a pertinent question is if ‘new wars’ present a more existential threat to states and thus affect state building more. Are there really new wars or have they always existed and just more common now? The changing international context of warfare and new actors challenges the extent to which Weber's understanding of the state as having the legitimate monopoly over the means of violence continues to have relevance (Weber, 1919). Whatever conclusion that debate produces doesn’t dilute the perspective that state building begins with the effort to monopolize the means of violence within a delimited territory. New wars, “a new type of organized violence” (Kaldor, 1999, p. 1) are often described as internal, civil, private, informal and low intensity conflicts. It is not as pertinent to understand them in the context of globalization (Kaldor, 1999) or if they are a consequence of the end of cold war discussed earlier. What is clear is as the argument goes; in most cases they aid state disintegration further. Kaldor says “The new wars arise in the context of the autonomy of the state and in some extreme cases the disintegration of the state. In particular, they occur in the context of the erosion of the monopoly of legitimized violence (Kaldor, 1999, p. 4). Essentially “new wars are part of a process which is more or less a reversal of the process through which modern states evolved” (Kaldor, 1999, p. 5). To simply state that ‘War makes states’ knowing the changing nature of war initiates this reversal is naive. Bad war that makes weak states grow weaker tend to lack purpose and are more disintegrating than creating (Kalyvas, 2001). It’s even more succinctly put by Miguel Centeno for the Latin American context, “Limited wars and Limited states” (Centeno, 2003). Taylor and Botea also mention that in Afghanistan, which had the 'right type of war' against a common enemy during Soviet occupation, did not actually rally the country or encourage the building of administrative structures (Taylor & Botea, 2008). Attempts at raising money or building armies were unsuccessful. It did not even encourage any form of nationalism or banding together and divided the people against each other. Because Afghanistan was weak before the conflict even began, it just made it weaker.

War does provide the right environment for nationalism, aiding nation building and as a consequence state building. War on its own does not make a state and there are additional influencing factors. For example Yugoslavia seemed to lack a core ethnic group to provide banded nationalism for state building (Taylor & Botea, 2008). On the contrary the ‘nationalism’ that existed amongst the three groups Serbs, Bosnians and Croats proved to be more of a disintegrating factor. Mass conscription and army building could actually lead to arming people against the government as well as the enemy. The number of military coups in the developing world could be cited as evidence of how the process of building armies could lead to state collapse or at least restrict state building. Wars help to define citizenship. In Africa though, a lack of identification by population with their state due to arbitrary borders restricted state consolidation. Jovic doesn’t agree that nationalism is state building when you look at the disintegration of Yugoslavia resulting from Serb nationalism if we take the ‘nationalism argument’ (Jovic, 2001).


The importance of extending Tilly’s ‘War makes States’ aphorism by making it less generic and more conditional on the type of state is essential in determining what conditions under which war assists state building. To further build a robust perspective for such an analysis it’s important to bear a couple of things in mind. Firstly, even though in majority of cases war, under similar conditions, build or weaken nations and states, they do not always reflect two sides of the same coin. Secondly, comparative analysis of war making and state building in Europe and the third world is relevant also because of the contradictions it can expose. In the contemporary state system, war is more of a catalyst in strengthening the state than causal in creating it.

The monopoly of the legitimate use of violence and its complex link with the changing economic system in the contemporary world is not always facilitative towards ‘good’ war and state building but can be disintegrating as well. War remains one factor for state building questioning the extent of its causal characteristic, heightened because of how changing International context and political norms produce different results. Decolonisation, the cold war, new types of war, nationalism, time all have their own state building (or weakening) capabilities that presents a more complex myriad than Tilly suggests. The relationship between state formation and state disintegration occurring side by side further blurs the causal nature of war in each scenario. The impact of conditions recognized as influencing state building namely raising money, building armies and making nations are empirically shown to have different outcomes. That way war alone cannot be seen to be solely responsible but as a catalyst for state formation (or indeed state weakening) rather than causal.


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