Thursday, May 02, 2013

Crime and Politics: The Crime-Conflict Nexus: Warlords and Pseudo-States

Source: ISN

The Crime-Conflict Nexus: Warlords and Pseudo-States

When a state is unable to maintain its monopoly on violence, power-vacuums inevitably arise. Today, Mark Galeotti provides valuable insights into how organized criminals and warlords fill these vacuums in failed, weak and even pseudo-states.

The Russian sociologist Vadim Volkov developed the concept of the “ violent entrepreneur” looking at Russia in the wild 1990s. His belief was that in times when the state was unable to maintain its monopoly over the use of violence, then there emerged this dangerous phenomenon: “a set of organizational decisions and action strategies enabling the conversion of organized force (or organized violence) into money or other market resources on the permanent basis.” However, while Russian gangsters were clearly able to monetize their ability to use—or threaten—violence in a manner that to a much more limited extent persists today, Volkov’s model also points to a wider process, the conversion of military force into economic and political resources.

As Charles Tilly has demonstrated, in many ways, the genesis of the modern state is in the particular “violent entrepreneurs” whom we tend to call warlords. In the modern world, whether Somali pirate-king, Afghan tribal chieftain or Chechen commander, they often seem to be atavistic throwbacks, albeit bearing cellphones and brandishing Kalashnikovs. In most cases they are predatory and destructive, but what distinguishes them from mere bandits, giving them a greater chance for longevity and public support, is that they often provide minimal levels of public good in the process: security, food, employment. Thus, they may seem to acquire some of the attributes of statehood and—when the “real” state is unwilling or unable to provide the same services—even a degree of legitimacy.

Of course, in practice the protector is nothing of the sort. Instead, the warlord is an exploiter who provides the least possible assistance to those depending on him while seeking to maintain the conditions of emergency and perceived threat that make him seem the least-worse option, especially if they are able to draw on community solidarities and myths. Chechen rebels, warlords and gangsters alike tap common traditions of rebellion and clan custom, for example, while Latin American narco-insurgents such as Colombia’sFARC and Peru’s Sendero Luminoso sought to legitimize themselves as much through providing social assistance and a distinctive cultural narrative as through their leftist political rhetoric.

Then there are also the pseudo-states, self-proclaimed territories that maintain the forms of true statehood, even if they are largely unrecognized and lacking in international legitimacy, such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, the Transdniestr Moldovan Republic, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Warlords, insurgent armies and pseudo-states alike both control territory and, typically, need resources to survive, not least in arming and paying their fighters. To this end, they often forge alliances with criminals or become directly involved in crimes, especially those which will benefit from having a safe haven. These territories can be used to grow, process and warehouse drugs, for example, or cache kidnap victims. The more advanced pseudo-states may also have communications and financial infrastructures which can provide even higher order criminal services. For example, the national bank of the unofficial independent state of Chechnya in the early 1990s, used its legal status as part of the Russian State Bank to launder money and, especially, perpetrate major bank frauds. In this way, they have an economic interest in perpetuating their current status and not resolving the conflict from which they generally emerge.
Recommended Reading:
Warlordism in Comparative Perspective
Kimberly Marten’s foundational piece in International Security (2006-7) placing warlords in an historical perspective and demonstrating why it is dangerous for established states to deal with them—even in the short term—or to ignore them.
H-DIPLO roundtable on Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States
Marten’s book Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States (2012) is a crucial study of these violent “non-state power brokers.” In this roundtable she, Henry Hale, David Edelstein and Matthew Evangelista consider the literature, the challenge and the role they play in the modern world.
Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications
Svante Cornell’s 2007 article in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism studies nine major narcotics-producing areas to identify a “crime–rebellion nexus” where conflicts both transform and are transformed by the existing presence of drug cultivation.
People & Power - Return of the Warlords - Part 1
Warlords provide a degree of governance—for their own convenience, and in the process often create and foster criminal operations. This report from Al Jazeera (2009) discusses the case of Rashid Dostum, one of the most feared, notorious but also pivotal strongmen and power brokers of Afghanistan, invited back into the country by President Hamid Karzai.
From Racketeer to Emir: A Political Portrait of Doku Umarov, Russia’s Most Wanted Man
To the Russians—and to the man himself—Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov is a transnational jihadist mastermind. As Kevin Daniel Leahy’s useful 2010 study of the man’s biography reveals, it is not just a question of his own rise to power, but also the way he leveraged the brutal conflict in Chechnya to justify his ruthlessness and evolving jihadist line.
The Other Moldova
The self-proclaimed Transdnestrian Moldovan Republic (PMR), a sliver of a former Soviet state, is widely recognized as a haven for organized crime, especially arms and people trafficking. This 2004 documentary explores the PMR’s status as theso-called “Black Hole of Europe” and the extent to which the open—if presently only political—conflict with Moldova permits an exploitative and authoritarian elite to maintain their power.
Plazas for Profit: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency
Is Mexico’s current challenge simply one of violent organized crime, of a criminal insurgency or outright potential state collapse. In this 2009 piece in Small Wars Journal, John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus suggest that the “problem of cartels is essentially the problem of multiple ‘parallel states.’ All of the functions of legitimate and sovereign government continue, but substantial public goods are diverted to benefit non-state networks. A criminal-gang nexus has burrowed like a malignant parasite into the superstructure of the state.”