Posted by: hobbesonafob | July 7, 2009

And by the way, #%$! your virtual online bank!

In my personal life I have been known to show contempt for people who invest more time and energy in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, than the “real world” (i.e. when friends don’t return their calls because they’re trying to upgrade their mage). If only there were a way to show my contempt through actions. Well, somebody else has been able to reveal their true colours to an online game called Eve Online: the online bank for the game was robbed by one of the bank’s own controllers. Here is the BBC article on it:

In the BBC’s words:

The theft was carried out by EBank’s chief executive, a player known as Ricdic, now known to be a 27-year-old Australian who works in the technology industry. His full identity has not been revealed save that his first name is Richard.

And what does one do with stolen e-money? Trade it for real money of course and use the cash in the real world:

It has now emerged that Ricdic used the cash to put down a deposit on a house and to pay medical bills.

And here’s Richard’s comments on his actions:

“I’m not proud of it at all, that’s why I didn’t brag about it,” Ricdic told Reuters. “But you know, if I had to do it again, I probably would’ve chosen the same path based on the same situation.”

I love how he has no regrets over this – not unlike those working in the real banking world who have made off with more than their share.

What I find interesting about this, is that Richard’s real world needs outweighed his online needs (ranging from social status or whatever Richard found fulfilling from his time in Eve). If there are others who have a greater incentive to plunder virtual banks (I’m thinking Prisoner’s Dilemma without repeated games), then one would expect more e-looting to come. As well, depending on the demographics who play these games and how the financial crises/recession affects them, there could be a rise in players selling off online assets and e-looting.

Perhaps, we can expect to see e-Bernie Madoffs in World of Warcraft or Second Life…

Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 26, 2009

Insurgencies and COIN as Social Engineering?

Narcosaints are far more dashing than your run-of-the-mill Catholic saint...

Narcosaints are far more dashing than your run-of-the-mill Catholic saint...

Another beer-laced conversation with a friend a few days ago gave way to a few interesting thoughts, one of which I will briefly elaborate on. It seems to me that COIN could be viewed as a form of social engineering.

First, I want to begin with the following disclaimer: this is not about America exercising cultural hegemony and “americanizing” societies or anything like that. I think that it would be more beneficial to look at social engineering in a more nuanced way. We can look at the occupying force (e.g. a predominantly Western coalition) as trying to nation-build, which I believe is a form of social engineering. But, I believe we can also look at the “insurgents” or other contentious and coercive nonstate actors (CCNAs) as social organizations engaging in social engineering. This is not to say that all CCNAs engage in social engineering, but there are some that do.

I will bring up Migdal’s notion of “social control” and apply it to the drug cartels in Mexico.

The importance of being able to mobilize a population is shown in Migdal’s description of social control: “Social control is the currency over which organizations in an environment of conflict battle one another” (1). For him, social control is divided into three levels:

COMPLIANCE: “conformance to its demands by the population. Compliance often first comes with the use of the most basic of sanctions, force.”

PARTICIPATION: “to gain strength by organizing the population for specialized tasks in the institutional components of the state organizations.”

LEGITIMATION: the “acceptance, even approbation, of the state’s rules of the game, its social control, as true and right” (2).

The ability for a CCNA to exercise social control provides an incredible resource from which to draw. Social, mental, and even emotional capital can be drawn from those who change their primary loyalty from the state to a CCNA and begin to comply, participate, and accept the CCNA as a legitimate party.

Events in Mexico have revealed the increasing power of Mexican drug cartels. If one compares the situation in Mexico to Migdal’s examination of state power, one will notice that the cartels are exercising increasing social control. The Mexican cartels have been able to coerce Mexico’s population and state officials into compliance with the cartels’ demands. The police chief of Jaurez, Robert Orduna stepped down from his position after the cartels threatened to kill at least one police officer every two days. After a police officer and a guard were killed, Robert Orduna resigned. The mayor of Jaurez believed that Mr. Orduna’s resignation was the only way to keep police officers safe from the violence; this example relates to Migdal’s concept of “Compliance.” As well, the recent anti-army protests in Mexico may be a sign that drug cartels have been able to organize populations to perform in specialized actions — as per Migdal’s notion of “Participation.” The BBC claims that these protests were initiated and directed by the cartels. One of the four cartels, the Gulf Cartel’s enforcement arm, known as Los Zetas, are deserters from the Mexican army special forces (3). Again, much like the former loggers in B.C., the cartel has been able to employ the skills of soldiers trained by the state (an example of capitalizing off the investments made by the state) and using individuals to actively participate in the CCNA’s organization. The amount of participation in the cartels is quite extraordinary. According to the U.S. Defense Department, two of Mexico’s drug cartels are able to field more than 100,000 “foot soldiers,” if they were to combine their forces. This rivals the Mexican army which currently has approximately 130,000 soldiers. There is no doubt that the Mexican drug cartels have been able to effectively force compliance on selected agents of the state and the population, as well as being able to have the citizenry participate in specialized activities.

The final requirement for Migdal’s concept of social control is “Legitimation” — the acceptance or the approbation, of a CCNAs actions as being “true and right” (4). This is harder to evaluate empirically without conducting surveys, however, a few qualitative observations may provide some information. Writing for Foreign Policy, Sam Quinones writes that during his time in Mexico during 2008, he spied what locals called narcomantas: “drug banners” (5). The banners were placed by a cartel accusing a rival cartel of working hand-in-hand with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The intended effect of the banner is two-fold: delegitimize the Mexican state and cast aspersions on the rival gang.

Another social development is that of “narcosaints,” which are figurines of a “Mexican version of Robin Hood” named Malverde, who is considered the patron saint of drug traffickers in Culiacán, Sinaloa (6). Not only do these new cultural artifacts play off of what Mexicans hold sacred, but it also adds to the drug traffickers’ social narrative. Another medium used to propagate this narrative is found in corridos (ballads) that have been part of Mexican tradition for the past 100 years. Usually used to glamorize figures during the Mexican Revolution, corridos have been increasingly about drug traffickers. These ballads are known as narcocorridos, and they are based on the exploits of drug traffickers and drug cartels (7). The presence of narcomantas, narcosaints, and narcocorridos reveal an emerging legitimization of the actions of the drug cartels, or at the least, an attempt by the cartels to legitimize their actions. This cultural shift in northern Mexico is described by Quinones in the following excerpt:

A narcoculture has evolved there, venerating smugglers and their swaggering hillbilly style, called buchon. Hicks became heroes. They moved into wealthy neighborhoods and fired guns in the air at parties. Bands sing their exploits; college kids know how they died. Sinaloa is that rare place where townies emulate hayseeds, and youths yearn to join their ranks (8).

Anthropologist, Marc W.D. Tyrrell would classify this cultural shift in Mexico as an example of successful social engineering, exemplifying the “the desired end form of the social engineering” because it “already fits into the cultural matrix” (9). These social changes have not convinced the entirety of the population of the cartels’ legitimacy. The formation of vigilante groups issuing death threats to the drug cartels have proven that the whole of Mexico’s population has not accepted the drug violence. There is some doubt as to whether or not all of these citizens’ militias are genuinely grassroots, or if some of them have been fronts for competing drug cartels (10). To make matters more complicated, another group called the Armed Movement of the North, has pledged to begin fighting “the aggressions of foreign capital” and “the abuse and injustices of the current government” (11).

If one accepts Migdal’s view on social control as being “the currency over which organizations in an environment of conflict battle one another,” (12) then the increase of the social control by Mexico’s drug cartels may have serious consequences for the Mexican state. The appearance of vigilante groups has undertones of a new form of social contract between individuals in the face of the Hobbesian WARRE that transpires in Mexico. If these groups begin to invest into social control, it will only be a matter of time when both the drug cartels, rebel groups, and militias begin to engage in “independent classificatory exercise[s]” (13). It is at this point where:

the names get changed and how the people and things are rejigged to fit the new categories. First the people are tempted out of their niches by new possibilities of exercising or evading control. Then they make new kinds of institutions, and the institutions make new labels, and the label makes new kinds of people” (14).

At this level of social control, the CCNAs will be able to label individuals as “traitors” and “enemies” and this becomes problematic not only for those who are perceived as traitors or enemies, but for the state when it itself becomes the enemy. The failure of the Mexican state to curb violence and provide legitimate economic growth for its population has created an opportunity of which drug cartels have only recently begun to take advantage. The situation in Mexico is an example of what can occur when CCNAs begin investing in and obtaining social control.

I would argue that AQ/the Taliban also demonstrates some forms of social control. Whether it be marrying into different tribal/family groups, or assassinating key leaders in the NWFP, AQ/the Taliban has shown its willingness to modify societies for its own ends.

Due to other commitments, I won’t be posting for a whole week. An exam just after Canada Day (how lame…), report deadlines, and plans for a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, will be eating up most of my time.

Works Cited/Footnotes

1. Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988),, 32.

2. Migdal, 32-33.

3. BBC, “Q&A: Mexico’s drug-fuelled violence,” March 24, 2009.

4. Migdal, 32-33.

5.  Sam Quinones, “State of War,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2009, 77.

6. Foreign Policy, “Photo Essay: Spring Break Gone Wrong?” June 2, 2008.

7. Chris Summer and Dominic Bailey, “Mexico’s forbidden songs,” October 3, 2004.

8. Quinones, 78.

9. Marc W.D. Tyrrell, “What to Know Before you Go: 10 Questions to ask before, and during, a mission” in Stability Operations and State Building: Continuities and Contingencies. ed. Greg Kauffman (Strategic Studies Institute, 2008), 124. Available at

10. Ioan Grillo, “As Crime Mounts, Mexicans Turn to Vigilante Justice,” Time, February 21, 2009.,8599,1880450,00.html.

11. Alfredo Corchado, “Mexico downplays rebels’ threat, but some see reason for worry,” Dallas News, February 12, 2009.

12. Migdal, 32.

13. Douglas, 99.

14. Ibid., 108.

Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 18, 2009

Unspoken Implications Should be Addressed

My last entry “Ungoverned Areas” did not sit perfectly well with me because of the possible conclusions one may draw from it. During my brief time in school, I’ve learned that one’s material could be misinterpreted or misread (e.g. Darwin) and then used for unethical purposes (e.g. justifying sterilization campaigns) quite easily. After reading an article (“Human Terrain in Oaxaca”) I felt it necessary to clarify what I meant by “ungoverned areas” (the article was written by Dustin M. Wax a cultural anthropologist). The piece highlights some of the studies taken by a team of geographers in Mexico:

From 2005-2007, a team of geographers led by Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy of the University of Kansas worked with local trainees to map land ownership and claims on collective lands in indigenous communities in Oaxaca and San Luis Potosi. Called “México Indigena” and partially funded by the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), the project was a pilot program for the American Geographic Society’s Bowman Expeditions, which intends to create maps of the “cultural terrain” of poor and indigenous communities throughout the world.

Long story short (again, I recommend reading the article in its entirety especially if you’re a budding academic thinking about engaging in fieldwork at some point) the project has suspected ties with the US Army and this has, of course, moral implications for some researchers.

Now, what caught my eye in this article is a quote from FMSO’s IberoAmerican researcher Lt. Col. Geoffrey B. Demarest, who authored a book, Geoproperty: Foreign Affairs, National Security, and Property Rights. According to Wax, the basic argument in Demarest’s work is the following:

[I]nformal property ownership in either rural or urban settings is the breeding ground for criminal or insurrectionary activity…. He specifically cites concerns about the criminality of large areas of the dispossessed, as they become separately governed autonomous zones….

Demarest asserts that the privatization of property is the key to stability, prosperity, progress, and security in Latin America, and that formal land titling leads to effective government control [and] existing property of real value must be made secure… through a phenomenon he describes as the “architecture of control” (Sedillo 2009).

And this is when I have to clarify my position on Mos-Eisley-ish regions and their difference from indigenous ways to mobilize resources (excuse the wording, I’m studying a economics this summer). Now I am not an expert on indigenous forms/ways of living, but the idea that privatizing of property is the key to stability, prosperity, and progress runs contrary to my outlook (I may have to read Demarest’s book so I can articulate my argument a bit more, but for now I’ll just be analytical with my “gut” – Colbert stylez).

I would define the  Mos-Eisleys of the world as ungoverned or poorly governed regions that have individuals willing to and capable of committing crime. Now, I imagine that there are places in the world that are poorly governed by the state or are ungoverned, but have ways to organize and use resources that do not use principles of privatization and could not be labeled as wretched hives of scum and villainy.

One could make the argument that in some ungoverned areas the scum and villainy are the ones who are trying to change indigenous societies. For example, the militants in the Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur selective assassinations as used to weaken the traditional tribal structures in these territories and, in turn, empower CCNAs in the region. In 2006 alone, 120 tribal elders were assassinated by militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (1).

Privatizing property does help promote the most efficient use of resources (and that’s good if your goal is to use up as much and many resources as possible), but I would like to think that there are other reasons why an area is dominated by a CCNA. Again, I would have to read Demarest’s book to  see if his arguments are being misrepresented or not, but I just wanted to elucidate my own position:

ungoverned areas ≠ wretched hives of scum and villainy

There are other factors that are needed for an ungoverned area to be considered a “terrorist haven” or whatever the buzzword is for that.

Again, in spirit of this web log, one of its purposes is to find other forms of political orders (e.g. hybrid states) and limiting ourselves by equating unprivatized regions with crime and insecurity is, well, limiting.

If resilient communities (if or when they are created) are based on different principles than privatization, I would not want to think that these communities become prone to criminalization.

Works Cited from Wax’s Article

Dobson, Jerome. 2009. AGS Bowman Expeditions. American Geographical Society Website. URL: (last accessed 4/18/09).

Mychalejko,Cyril and Ramor Ryan. 2009. U.S. Military Funded Mapping Project in Oaxaca: Geographers used to gather intelligence? Z Magazine 22(4). URL: (last accessed 4/18/09).

Sedillo, Simon. 2009. The Demarest Factor: The Ethics of U.S. Department of Defense Funding got Academic Research in Mexico. El Enemigo Común (website). URL: (last accessed 4/18/09).

Works Cited

1. Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 2008), 278.

"A wretched hive of scum and villainy" - Obi Wan on Ungoverned Areas

"A wretched hive of scum and villainy" - Obi Wan on Ungoverned Areas

I am not the first person to use a Mos Eisley references when it comes to describing environments that are hospitable to unsavory characters. Perhaps my favourite reference was made during the cantina scene in Team America (see here – 2:30 mins in). Joking aside, ungoverned spaces/failed states will prove to be a theme during the Long War. 

This thought came from the following New York Times article written by Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger

The article reports the following:  

American officials say they are seeing the first evidence that dozens of fighters with Al Qaeda, and a small handful of the terrorist group’s leaders, are moving to Somalia and Yemen from their principal haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The reason for this migration, aside from the drone attacks are also given in the article:

Chief among them is the growth of the jihadist campaigns in both Somalia and Yemen, which may now have some of the same appeal for militants that Iraq did after the American military invasion there in 2003.

This article addresses the problem with today’s dynamics in international security: “The fact is that the chief threats to us and to world order come today from weak, collapsed, or failed states” (Fukyama, 1). If the end of history is nigh, and the world has chosen its preferred method of governance, then implementing this vision throughout the world has become extremely difficult. With vast resources being invested into failed and failing states — with little to no return on the investment — the threat these failed states pose remains, and is directed at citizens of the developed world, and at the well-being of those residing in weak, collapsed, or failed states. The threat from weak, collapsed and failed states is also growing according to Robert I. Rotberg:

Weak states, even seemingly strong nation-states in the developing world, fail with increasing frequency. The decade plus since the end of the cold war has witnessed a cascading plethora of state failure…more and more state are at risk, exhibiting acute signs of weakness and/or the likelihood of outright failure (2).

According to this trajectory, it has been and will continue to be increasingly important to understand the dynamics that create failed states because this seems to be part of AQ’s (and other groups inspired/supported/sponsored by AQ) strategy. To borrow a term from John Robb, these groups are “superpower baiting.” And, according to Foreign Policy’s “Failed States Index” for 2008, there are many red, orange, and yellow countries that would be eligible to host scum and villainy. I also imagine that other groups unrelated to AQ can use the same strategy.

Personally, I do not believe that the international community has the will or resources to nation-build in ALL of these regions. Even if the resources were there (including the esoteric knowledge required for nation-building in the aforementioned areas), the effort would be characterized by massive opportunity costs. Again, John Robb has an excellent analysis on why reversing state failure is so bloody expensive.

It seems like this migration from Pakistan to other ungoverned areas is one of the results of an asymmetric conflict. Kinda like fighting puddles of water – you stomp on one really hard and then everyone else gets wet. 

Works Cited

1. Francis Fukuyama, “Nation-Building 101,” The Atlantic, January/February, 2004.

2. Robert I. Rotberg, “Nation-State Failure: a Recurring Phenomenon? National Intelligence Council, November 2003., 1.

Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 9, 2009

Dynamics between insurgents and populations…

Due to looming deadlines, I will only be able to offer a superficial analysis of the following two articles – by superficial I mean that I’ll just be posting the links. Once I begin studying organic defence forces this fall, I’ll be able to post something with some more depth. That being said, please free to post your thoughts on the subject.

Link #1:

This is an interesting development in the Upper Dir district in northern Pakistan. “Tribesmen” (however you would like to define that term) have begun fighting the Taliban (however you would like to define that group). According to this article, the fighting came shortly after a suicide bombing at a mosque. 

Link #2:

In Somalia the desecration and destruction of Sufi grave sites (I assume also they also play a role as shrines) has resulted in anger from the Sufi community. One of my favourite quotes from the article demonstrates the idea that al Shabab is espousing a form of Islam that is alien to communities in Somalia:

These people [he avoids mentioning al-Shabab by name] cannot teach us about Islam. Islam reached Brave and all the coastal areas when the religion arrived in East Africa 1,250 to 1,300 years ago.

“These radical groups shed Muslim blood every day and they dig out and desecrate our graves. They are funded from outside and their Wahhabi ideology is foreign and must be dealt with,” says the group’s spokesman Abdirasak Mohamed Al Ash’ari.

All interesting and both articles have implications for COIN strategies…

Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 8, 2009

Legitimacy and Nation-building

Unless the counterinsurgent is willing to employ the so-called Roman method of unrestrained violence to suppress rebellion, the only way to defeat an insurgency is to gain the loyalty of the population, thereby depriving insurgents of the support base they require to destabilize a government (1).

– John A. Nagl and Brian M. Burton

In regions where nation-building is occurring in a conflict zone, the importance of Migdal’s notion that social control is a form of “currency” that organizations compete against one another for is prominent. Striving for social control in a battlefield is one of the main tenets in counterinsurgency (2): “Successful counterinsurgency is a successful competition for the loyalty of the population; it implies the government is perceived as legitimate, and that it delivers security and other important services to the people” (130). Others have described population-centric COIN as the “the most critical, enduring maxim of classical theory: in counterinsurgency, it is the population that decides the outcome (3).

The population-centric perspective on COIN is congruent with the population-centric definition of political legitimacy. Simply put, political legitimacy can be accomplished by supporting the population. The banality of such a statement is actually imbued with subtle complexities when one takes into account culture and its dynamics. If legitimacy must be situated within the norms and values of a population, then the counterinsurgent must realize what social contract is being offered by the state, what social contract is being offered by CCNAs, and how these social contracts are regarded by the population (4) Attempting to force a social contract on an unwilling population is not only unsustainable for the counterinsurgent, but it is also counterproductive (5). Pushing a social contract that is incongruent with the norms and values of a population is a poor investment.

The importance of time and resources is reflected in one of the main tenets in nation-building in both Iraq and Afghanistan: capacity building. The “Afghanistanization” and “Iraqization” of the state and state agents (e.g. the army, police, and civil service) is the idea that Afghanis and Iraqis will be able to replace foreign nationals. Ignatieff refers to capacity building or the empowerment of local people as “the authentic vocabulary of the new imperialism,” but is quick to note that,

it isn’t as new as it sounds. The British called it ‘indirect rule.’ Local agents ran the day-to-day administration; local potentates exercised some power, while real decisions were made back in imperial capitals. Indirect rule is the pattern in Afghanistan: the illusion of self-government joined to the reality of imperial tutelage (6).

According to Ignatieff, the reason that the mission in Afghanistan and Iraq are part of a “new imperialism” is that they are part of a forced stability on these regions (7). The type of order that is supposed to prevail in these regions is a democratic system. This study has posited that political legitimacy is fostered when the legislation of a state coincides with the norms and values of a population; here, lies the rub: Western political legitimacy is not the same as Iraqi or Afghani political legitimacy.

In her study of institutions, British anthropologist, Mary Douglas utilized the work of Emile Durkheim, to describe instances in which solidarity and cooperation can work: before ideas can even be accurately communicated between groups, one must not “deny the social origins of individual thought” (8). This premise is important for the following reason:

Classifications, logical operations, and guiding metaphors are given to the individual by society. Above all, the a priori rightness of some ideas and the nonsensicality of others are handed out as part of the social environment. He [Durkheim] thought the reaction of outrage when entrenched judgments are challenged is a gut response directly due to commitment to a social group” (9)

Douglas is bringing attention to the idea that certain societies have inherently different values than other societies. This dynamic becomes apparent when one examines the Western societal values that America has attempted to introduce in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following section will highlight the discrepancies between Western perspectives of legitimacy and Afghan views on political legitimacy.

Olivier Roy points out a few fundamental differences between Western and Afghan views on political legitimacy. However, one should note that Roy’s stance is of a non-culturalist (10). That being noted, he does believe that political legitimacy differs between societies. Legitimacy must be “rooted only in the history and political culture of the country” (11). Contradicting Roy’s statement, the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy of 2002, rooted the acceptance of democracy in its own history:

America’s experience as a great multi-ethnic democracy affirms our convictions that people of many heritages and faiths can live and prosper in peace. Our own history is a long struggle to live up to our ideals. But even in our worst moments, the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence were there to guide us. As a result, America is not just a stronger, but is a freer and most just society (12).

Applying one’s own experience in their own social environment to another population that is in a completely different social environment is problematic especially when one applies Douglas’ notion that shared experiences is what creates cooperation and solidarity; expectations of political legitimacy between America and Afghanistan are different. Political legitimacy comes from the population’s norms and values. Instructions from the state will only be followed “to the extent that these instructions correspond to the identity of the community” (13). Roy notes that Afghanis expect their state to meet three requirements:

1. it embodies the central concept of Afghanistan as a Muslim and always independent territory, historically built to withstand the Iranian Shi’a influence, the Russian-Soviet empire and the British one, whose legacy has been taken over by Pakistan, Muslim solidarity notwithstanding;

2. it appears as a (relatively) honest and distant broker between local factions, clans, tribes and ethnic groups, even if some are more favoured than others;

3. it channels funds and international help and provides some minimum services (schools, roads) (14).

It is important to note that the concept of democracy did not make Roy’s list; however, he does realize that the problem for the West is that, “current development theory…discards the notion that there are other legitimate cultural models of political power, not based on democratic and free elections” (15).  Again, political legitimacy must be situated in the norms and values of the population.

If control and stability are the objectives of a state, then the incongruence between Western governance and Iraqi/Afghan governance should be addressed by accepting the local form of governance. This does not mean that local systems of governance should be used without evaluating them. This is not an exercise in cultural sensitivity, instead, it is an evaluation of what structures have CCNAs already active within them and what steps must be taken to neutralize or co-opt them.

Works Cited

1. John A. Nagl and Brian M. Burton, “Dirty Windows and Burning Houses: Setting the Record Straight on Irregular Warfare,” in The Washington Quarterly April 2009, 3.129 Population-centric COIN can be considered nation-building while engaging in kinetic operations against an enemy — nation-building while under fire.

2. Adam Shilling, “Toward an Effective and Humane Counterinsurgency,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Louisiana, 2008), 10.

3. Major Mark Grdovic, “Understanding Counterinsurgency,” Special Warfare, December 2004.

4. This does not imply that the population itself should be characterized as a static and monolithic body. This distinction is needed because the term “population” can be dehumanizing and gloss over all of the psychological, social, and even spiritual motivations behind the choices individuals make.

5. Counter-productivity is the combination of losing gains and regarding an absence of a negative as success.

6. Michael Ignatieff, Empire Lite (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2006), 83.

7. Ibid., 93

8. Mary Douglas, How Institutions Think (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 10. 

9. Ibid.

10. “I am not defending here a culturalist approach, asserting that Muslim societies are not prone to democratisation because they are more holistic (discarding heterogeneity in the name of a common belonging to Islam, ignoring secularism and relying on charismatic leaders), or because sharia is incompatible with modern law, or because their social fabric is based on kinship and personal loyalties. The issue is not one of competing models of governance based on different religious and cultural legacies. The issue is the rooting of a Western model in societies that did not choose this model for themselves…” Olivier Roy, “Development and political legitimacy: the case of Iraq and Afghanistan,” in Conflict, Security and Development, 4:2, August 2004: 169.

11. Ibid.

12. George Bush, “National Security Strategy,” The White House September 2002, 3.

13. Jean-Marc Coicaud, Legitimacy and Politics, trans and ed. by David Ames Curtis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 17.

14. Roy, 173.

15. Ibid., 168.


Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 5, 2009

The Afghan Public Protection Force

This report by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson from the National Public Radio describes the Afghan Public Protection Force project in Wardak province (see here for a gallery).

Its purpose:

The idea is to get local Afghans to take charge of securing their villages against militants who find safe haven in the isolated, mountainous region that Afghan and U.S. soldiers have been unable to control.

The general plan:

Several hundred Guardians, who received three weeks of training and were issued AK-47s, have started patrolling their home villages in districts around the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr. Each receives the equivalent of $100 a month plus $24 for food. They patrol in white Ford Ranger pickups.

As an outsider it is difficult to judge what the implications are of this. Personally, I think the end result will be the creation of another group that will be able to engage in coercion — essentially another CCNA. This coercion may provide a point of contention for the Afghan government in the future, although that’s assuming the government plays a role in the area or would even want to have a presence in the area. Ultimately, I think the success of this program depends on the goals that ISAF has.

If anyone has heard of any other reports on this program, I would love to get a hold of them.

Here are a couple other blogs that posted on the problems of using a “Sons of Iraq” template for COIN in Afghanistan:


Here’s a fun thought experiment. Read John Robb’s write up on “USA Inc.” and debate whether or not the government would use a Sons of Iraq-esque strategy for domestic security in North America. I imagine one of the appealing factors of arming populaces is that its start-up costs are lower than employing security professionals. The externalities on the other hand….

Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 4, 2009

Social Control and Insurgents

“Today, for those of us in the West, the state has been part of our natural landscape. Its presence, its authority, its place behind so many rules that fashion the minutiae of our lives, have all been so pervasive that it is difficult for us to imagine the situation being otherwise” (1).

– Joel S. Migdal, 1988

I think Migdal’s quote here contributes to the further idea that the state is a rarity. Following on the idea that the state is diaphanous, and can be usurped/destroyed/replaced by other social groups (particularly coercive and contentious non-state actors – CCNAs), I think that how CCNAs replace states should be examined. 

When states are unable or unwilling to honour their contracts, CCNAs are given a window of opportunity to capitalize on. Recruitment, tacit support from the population, empathy from the international community, and other advantages present themselves for CCNAs when social contracts between the state and its population are annulled. Perhaps, life in a given territory has become so bad that a Hobbesian state of nature/war exists in the state itself and the contract that is offered by a CCNA creates a new political entity. Robert D. Kaplan writes that, “a large number of people on this planet, to whom the comfort and stability of a middle-class life is utterly unknown, find war and a barracks existence a step up rather than a step down” (2). That is not to assert that motives for joining a CCNA are based purely on materialistic means; instead, it means that if individuals can align themselves with the state, they can also align themselves with a CCNA.

Nor should one assume that CCNAs only operate in developing countries. For example, western Canada is home to the highest per capita of organized crime syndicates in the entire world. Some CNAs and CCNAs have been empowered by the province’s marijuana trafficking operations; it has become a growing business since former president George W. Bush’s stance on the softwood lumber dispute. Despite the violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the American lumber industry profits from the 27 percent tax on Canadian softwood sales into the United States. Misha Gleny describes how former loggers, now out of work, were able to use their transferable skills in marijuana grow operations in British Columbia’s interior:

Many of those who once worked in the traditional industries have moved into marijuana. The trade in weed has attracted large numbers of highly skilled workers who, as I discovered on a trip into the BC interior, have been quick to redeploy their skills into producing vast quantities of marijuana…The men look, smell and move like loggers, their senses finely attuned to the outback. As well as scanning for the telltale signs of grizzlies, they keep their ears open for the distant twittering of helicopter rotors — ‘Could be game wardens, could be RCMP, could be DEA,’ he mutters. They talk like loggers, too, which is almost never (3).

It should be noted that not all of those involved in marijuana grow operations in B.C. are involved with CCNAs. However, there are many CCNAs that are able to entice populations into breaking the law and use coercion. In these situations the individual is acting in the interest of the CCNA. The ability for a CCNA to provide new social contracts to a population and the consequences for the state is better understood when one studies how CCNAs are able to exercise social control.

The idea of individuals participating in CCNAs instead of the state have been commented on by various observers. John Robb has situated the association individuals feel for CCNAs as a type of loyalty:

A primary loyalty is a connection to a non-state group that is greater than loyalty to a state. These loyalties include those to clan, religion, tribe, neighborhood gang, etc.  These loyalties are reciprocated through the delivery of political goods…by the group that the state cannot or will not deliver (see here) (4).

As important as these “primary loyalties” are to a CCNA, they become even more beneficial for CCNAs when individuals act on the CCNAs’ behalf — what Migdal calls “social control.” The importance of being able to mobilize a population is shown in Migdal’s description of social control: “Social control is the currency over which organizations in an environment of conflict battle one another.” For him, social control is divided into three levels:

COMPLIANCE: “conformance to its demands by the population. Compliance often first comes with the use of the most basic of sanctions, force.”

PARTICIPATION: “to gain strength by organizing the population for specialized tasks in the institutional components of the state organizations.”

LEGITIMATION: the “acceptance, even approbation, of the state’s rules of the game, its social control, as true and right” (5).

The ability for a CCNA to exercise social control provides an incredible resource from which to draw. Social, mental, and even emotional capital can be drawn from those who change their primary loyalty from the state to a CCNA and begin to comply, participate, and accept the CCNA as a legitimate party.

 Works Cited

1. Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988), 15.

2. Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy (New York: Random House, 2000), 44.

3. Misha Gleny, McMafia, (London: The Bodley Head, 2008), 248-249.

4. John Robb, “Primary Loyalties,” January 5, 2005.

5. Migdal, 32-33.


Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 3, 2009

California’s Descent

Although I have noted the importance of political legitimacy for COIN practitioners and “nation-builders,” I think I should have noted that political legitimacy may become just important for the so-called developed world. Here’s a quick analysis of California’s troubles given by John Robb:

This will give CCNAs opportunities to invest in political legitimacy, if they decide to do so. Whether or not CCNAs care if they’re seen as being legitimate, they will be able to exercise more social control in a society where political goods are scaled back.

Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 3, 2009

Too legit to quit (continued)

The second characteristic of social contracts is their ability to change. This is demonstrated in all societies (it’s hard for me to think of an example where social contracts do not change, so feel free to post an example of unchanging social contracts – maybe the most traditional societies???). I think North America provides a good example of changing social contracts. 

In North American societies, whether it be the legalization of homosexual marriages or racial profiling, the heterogeneity of social contracts in a given state is explained by Charles Tilly’s notion of protection. A brief study of the legal aftermath from 9/11 brings to light how different contracts between the state and the citizen can quickly change.

When a state engages in “protection” it is eliminating or neutralizing the enemies of their clients. The “clients” who benefit from the protection differ depending on the type of state. Although this dynamic has already been noted in this study, it does no harm to highlight this point again: Tilly observes that depending on whom the state extends its favors to and how the population is divided into “enemy classes,” statemaking actually reduces the protection of some groups (1). Although one can debate what type of state Canada and America are, after September 11, 2001, the “enemies” were well-defined. In the United States, the “[fear] and anger” that swept America prompted the United States Department of Justice to “targeted Arab and Muslim noncitizens for aggressive enforcement efforts” (2). In Canada, authorities utilized the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which “allow[ed for] preventive detention and the removal of noncitizens solely on the basis of secret evidence not disclosed to the deportee” (3). In Ontario, Mike Harris’ provincial government created a special police unit that would seek out and deport illegal immigrants (4). In both countries, noncitizens — generally Muslim or of Arab descent — were targeted; thus, immigrants were defined as at least one of the “enemies” of North America. Part of the North American states’ nature is the unequal treatment between different groups in a given population. From this example, one can apply it to other groups and situations and make the conclusion that there are essentially a multitude of contracts, endlessly changing and emerging into new forms (5).

The example of post-9/11 treatment of minorities, shows how the state can renegotiate contracts with its citizenry with the consent of different social groups. As a result of such a “renegotiation” social groups within the state can perceive the social contract as being broken, and, in effect, null and void.

The reason why I’m discussing political legitimacy and the importance of social contracts is due to contentious and coercive non-state actors (CCNAs) to obtain political legitimacy. This brief article from the BBC by Natalia Antelava highlights Hezbollah’s ability to gain political clout and legitimacy: “In the US and Britain, the group is proscribed, but in Lebanon, Hezbollah and its allies stand a strong chance of winning the upcoming parliamentary election.” (Oddly enough, the “fighter” being interviewed describes Hezbollah as being “very flexible and very understanding of those who have other commitments” – not unlike an understanding human resource friendly company). The importance of this political legitimacy is described by Dr. Russell Glenn in a Small Wars Journal article:

Hezbollah is more than a military force, and therein lies its real strength. It has political, social, diplomatic, and informational components that provide bedrock support for its military organization. That foundation, established by years of providing humanitarian aid, building physical infrastructure, educating Lebanese, and serving as medical provider would remain even in the aftermath of military defeat. 


Political legitimacy and the ability to establish beneficial social contracts is a skill that COIN theorists and practitioners will have to familiarize themselves with. I think, and I hope that the idea of “population-centric” COIN is beginning to address political legitimacy.   

I also want to note that just because I’m saying that some CCNAs have political legitimacy in certain populations, not all CCNAs exercise legitimacy. Some CCNAs use intimidation and violence to achieve compliance from individuals. I’ll address different kinds of social control in my next post.

Works Cited and Endnotes

1. Charles Tilly. Warmaking and State Making as Organized Crime (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1982), 16.

2. Kevin R. Johnson. “Racial Profiling after September 11: The Department of Justice 2003 Guidelines,” Loyola Law Review 50 (2003): 1. 

3. Kent Roach. “Canada’s Response to Terrorism,” in Global Anti-terrorism Law and Policy, ed. Victor V. Ramraj, Michael Hor and Kent Roach (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 512.

4. Reem Bahdi. “No Exit: Racial Profiling and Canada’s War Against Terrorism,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 41 (2003): 2.

5. A cursory glance over voting rights in North American is another example that reveals how different groups within a population can be denied or granted political power. The current debate on the use of torture is another example where social contracts are subject to change. A.M. Dershowitz canvasses most of his audiences to find out that the majority of them believe that torture should be used in the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario. The end result, is a drastic reversal of the philosophical reasoning of countries who have signed onto the Geneva Conventions or have made torture illegal. See, A.M. Dershowitz “Should the ticking bomb terrorist be tortured? A case study in how a democracy should make tragic choices,” Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (pp. 132-163). New Haven: Yale University Press.


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