Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Very interesting discussion going on over at Dr. Barnett's over a TCS Daily review of Blueprint For Action by Max Borders, the TCS managing editor and think tank scholar. In his review of BFA, Max wrote:

"And it is in Barnett's recommended process of transforming Gap states into Core states that we see the age-old tension between theory and practice start to emerge. Before attempting to expose this tension, we should note that Barnett's Blueprint for Action is a worthwhile effort. Still, it falls short -- not due to the Wherefores carefully elaborated the first book, but due to some of the Hows elaborated in the sequel. The shortcomings of the second stage of Barnett's grand strategy -- implementation -- are, in some respects, due to what Friedrich Hayek called "the fatal conceit." In other words, Barnett focuses too much on nation-building and not enough on institution-building

...The most important aspect of any SysAdmin effort should be institution-building, not just nation-building. This is where the UN and the quasi-governmental behemoths have failed so utterly in just about everything they've done. To build a nation without transfusing vital institutions is to build a house of cards ready to collapse. To wit: India and China are in no position to contribute to institution-building, as they're still grappling with the internal transformation of their own institutions. The most successful Core states are the states that look the most like the US in their institutions. So while you might want Britain or Australia to contribute to institution-building, you're not likely to want Russia or Brazil to do so."

( Hat tip to Bruce Kesler )

Borders review deserves to be read in its entirety, but the point about institutions has become a focal point of discussion. Tom responded in his own post:

"His larger critique that I focus too much on nation-building vice institution-building is at worst a misrepresentation of my ideas (BFA is full of discussion on the latter, which, quite frankly, is logically indistinguishable from the former--to wit, what is a nation but a collection of institutions?) and at best an argumentative ploy (reminding me of the criticism that "Barnett should think less about shrinkíng the Gap and more about growing the Core," to which I reply "Fine, call it whatever you want.").

Borders' points about the complexity of the challenge are all good and his emphasis on, and articulation of, the goals of institution-building are most welcome. But he needs to put his considerable brainpower to the "how' answers, not just the "how not" summaries of past experience. "

As I commented at Tom's, the issue here is primarily one of scale ( a point on which Max strenuously dissents) though nations and states are separate questions. I'm pretty sure we can build states which are nothing more than a large network enjoying the function of sovereignty and a monopoly over the legal use of force. Inevitably, any Sys Admin force will have to build both institutions and the state simultaneously to some degree in order to create a zone of security and order in which civil society and the market can evolve and thrive. I don't see this issue as an either-or proposition but "both".

Nations are another question. A functional, competent, state can certainly help the nation-formation process ( Prussia 17-19th century) and a dysfunctional, corrupt or illegitimate state can impede it ( Mobuto's Congo, today's Nigeria) but the sense of nationhood comes from the heritage of a shared experience that bridges tribal, sectarian or other associational primary loyalties. We can encourage that or discourage it but I'm not sure that such a thing as a " nation" in the organic sense can be built.


I wanted to call your attention to a recent post by Eddie at Live From the FDNF who has given a lot of thought this past year to humanitarian intervention problems. In "Sys-Admin Academy & Exchange", Eddie throws out a number of intriguing yet pragmatic ideas regarding Sys Admin possibilities.
I think it would be interesting to consider the apparent contradiction in the position being taken in this post.

It speaks of connecting the Gap to the Core by wiring them into the ever increasing globalized world - a very worthy endeavor. The argument that I seem to be hearing though is that by erecting properly wired institutions within these dysfunctional Gap nations one will produce the correct structure to support a viable globalized Core nation. The paradox, in my mind anyway, is that the true promise of globalization is realized when the boundaries which define a nation are slowly erased.

In reality the resistance we find today in the continued wiring of globalization is produced by the nation state trying to preserve itself. In essence the nation state is the castle of sand on the shore confronted with the rising tide of globalization. To make the argument that submitting to globalization supports a stronger nation seems to me a little contradictory. Submitting to globalization for the sake of economic prosperity is a valid argument, however, submitting to globalization to strengthen the nation is simply nonsense.

Many years in the future globalization will be seen as the event that made the successor to the nation state possible - what ever that successor turns out to be. It definitely will not be viewed as the event that constructed, strengthened, or preserved strong nations.
I must be missing some important point in the SysAdmin argument, as I honestly just don't get it. For me, the simple acid test is to ask: Would it work in Iraq? (Or somewhere similar.)
If the locals are willing and able to cooperate with a SysAdmin force to build a new core state it seems to me that they are probably well on their way to becoming core by themselves. On the other hand, if they resist the idea of core values (rule sets)the presence of a SysAdmin force is only likely to make the situation worse, unless the SysAdmin applies overwhelming and continuous force - a situation that does not appear conducive to achieving stability and core values.
Of course, this latter case is just the Iraq situation, which brings me back full circle to my lack of understanding of the proposed SysAdmin solution to "coring the gap".
So, my reality check keeps on asking whether a SysAdmin force is really the answer to failed states, and my internal answer keeps coming back as "maybe not". Perhaps "evolvedreason" has a more viable alternative by dissolving the nation state in a more global identity, for which the European Union is a possible example. But, again, this only works if the failed state actively wants to become core. The case of the failed state that refuses to play the game (eg, N Korea) appears to be intractable, at least in the short/medium term.
Hi Evol & Freeman

Pardon the delay. You have both raised some very interesting points.

for Evol:

I would agree that "strong" nation-states that try to tightly regulate connectivity through trade restrictions, censorship, authoritarian controls etc. find globalization dangerously eroding to ther sovereignty.

OTOH, very weak states have little to lose by increasing their connectivity to the Core. Having only nominal control over their own territory anyway, military aid, commerce, investment, economic assistance can strengthen the state's ability to maintain order or win adherence by providing basic services, perhaps for the first time.

Perhaps the effect of globalization on sovereignty runs along a continuum?

For freeman:

My preference, strategically speaking, would to tackle the easier, " cooperative" cases first with Sys Admin rather than focusing on the hardest ( Obviously, in Iraq we had no choice as the occupying power but to try to rebuild but effectively, the Bush admin./bureaucracy failed to plan for reconstruction of that magnitude). The Gap still shrinks and the zone of order and peace increase.

Less chaotic states are a better
( i.e. less costly) place to learn "first lessons" and make mistakes than in the center of a war zone

The first order of business for any state-to-be is to establish a legitimate monopoly on the use violence both internally and externally. This allows the state to promulgate effective law and build the instituions required to administer those laws, in effect it grants legitimacy to the state. As we see in Iraq, without such a monopoly on violence the state becomes ineffective in most every other sector. So while some degree of institution building will go hand-in-hand with establishing a monopoly on legitimate violence, I would agrue that the state does not really exist until it does so.

More importantly though, is the question of whether or not a state can establish this monopoly and achieve legitimacy while totally dependent on another state to do so? I'm not so sure.
Thank you for linking to my post Mark.

When considering the building of institutions and states, I can't help but go back to the reality on the ground in numerous "New Core" and "Gap" nations alike that Amy Chua explained in "World On Fire".

To me this is a key flaw in Barnett's theory; of course there will be losers as Ralph Peters has noted in numerous columns and essays, but when a majority of the population is not experiencing a real benefit of the connectivity, this is more than a case of some losing out, it is a serious area for concern, a fundamental flaw in the structure of both institutions and nations.
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