< < <
Date Index
> > >
by Michael Pugliese
09 August 2003 16:56 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >
— by Stephen Ellis. (Word document)
http://www.wrmea.com/ , WashingtonReport on Middle East Affairs.
...Rival views of world history
Since the end of the Cold War, a system of liberal global governance has emerged that has no single centre (even if Washington is of key importance) and is not based on states alone. Integral to the system are international financial and quasi-juridical institutions, inter-state bodies and treaties, business corporations and even non-governmental organisations. The fact that the assailants of 11 September attacked a state institution and a financial and commercial centre is testimony to the acuteness of the attackers’ perceptions of where power and influence lie.

The fact that major decision-making centres within the system of liberal global governance lie in Europe and North America, and that many of its institutions and ideas are based on models that have their historical origins in Europe, colours political opinions as to the benevolence or otherwise of this system. Liberal global governance is often represented as either generally benign (involving the imposition of superior ethical and legal standards including in regard to human rights, more efficient technology, and higher standards of living at least for substantial concentrations of people) or malign (involving the more or less forceful imposition of formidable techniques of repression and exploitation, leading to growing inequity).

Long before 11 September, there were signs that the contemporary system of liberal global governance was not universally regarded as legitimate even in leading industrial countries, as demonstrated by significant popular opposition to such symbolic events as key meetings of the Group of Seven, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and others. In the intellectual sphere, the post-modern movement in arts and letters has challenged key aspects of the ideological coherence and, hence, the legitimacy of the world’s current dominant political dispensation, even in its heartlands. While financiers and politicians often exude confidence in the future, in both radical and conservative intellectual circles in the West, a self-doubt as to the evolution of industrial societies has become apparent. It has become common to consider much recent history as a ghastly mistake caused by an over-reliance on theories of modernisation. For example, the US former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski estimated in 1993 that at least 167 million lives had been ‘deliberately extinguished through politically motivated carnage’ since the start of the twentieth century, largely as a result of visionaries creating ‘coercive utopias’ that largely replaced religion. Some intellectuals with very different intellectual pedigrees, such as the communist historian Eric Hobsbawm, hold a broadly similar view.

In large parts of what used to be called the third world, there has been a widespread popular reaction against what, in retrospect, may be seen as the unprecedented expectations and formidable concentrations of power and wealth raised among vast populations in the three decades after 1945. These were generated by massive systems of social engineering made possible by new technology and the bureaucratic organisation associated with states, often introduced by colonial rule or associated with the exercise of European or American influence. In the mid-twentieth century, scientists and assorted experts and politicians and the general public in many parts of the world came to believe that life could be made better, longer and richer by the application of certain techniques of modernisation or development that were believed to be of universal validity. This period from 1945 to 1973 corresponded to the longest and greatest economic boom in the history of the world. It also saw the promulgation of major texts of international human rights law. It witnessed independence from colonial rule in most of Africa and much of Asia, resulting in the existence of 189 member-states of the United Nations today. Hundreds of millions of people became the first in their families ever to receive a formal secular education. Equally vast numbers moved from villages to cities. Populations in third world countries exploded, increasing sometimes by several hundred percent in less than a century. Very substantial numbers of people entered salaried work for the first time, often employed by state organisations.

In many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, this transformation turned out to be unsustainable beyond one or two generations. Some states, particularly in Africa, effectively went bankrupt in the late 1970s and early 1980s and, in return for loans, were obliged to delegate key areas of responsibility to the international financial institutions. Attempts at liberal economic reform imposed by the latter, including the wholesale privatisation of state services, have often led to unexpected and undesirable results, including a complex interaction between formal and informal spheres of activity in both politics and economics.

Also in the late 1970s, conflicts in the former third world, manipulated by superpowers, began to result not only in a greater demand for arms but also to a change in the boundaries between formal and informal warfare, notably with resistance to Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. With the end of the Cold War, armed insurrectionary groups that had previously relied on funds from one or other super-power turned increasingly to drug-trading or other forms of self-finance, as in Colombia.

Considerable numbers of states, especially those situated in former colonial territories, have since the 1970s lost the monopolies of legitimate violence that they are supposed to possess and with which they were formally endowed by the granting of sovereign status. More than a few have lost the means, as well perhaps as the will, to articulate any hegemonic idea at all that could correspond to what is meant by a public policy. These are often referred to as ‘failed’ states or ‘collapsed’ states. The numbers of such states has grown rapidly since the late 1970s. They have been generally neglected by the rich world in the belief that their condition is not of prime international concern or even, in some cases, that it represents a difficult first step on a virtuous path towards a liberal state that refrains from intervening in social and economic matters.

These factors combined have helped to produce a widespread sense of betrayal and resentment in substantial parts of the former third world, sometimes accompanied by a more or less self-conscious search for whatever are deemed ‘authentic’ values, meaning those considered to have existed before European influence and modernisation. This is the context in which Al Qaeda and similar networks can flourish.

Crime and politics: spot the difference

The existence of such different views of the direction in which history is moving is of the greatest importance for the future of human rights, as it challenges the notion that all the world’s people can be encompassed in an effective international code of human rights, a key tenet of liberal global governance.

If there are parts of the world that explicitly reject orthodox international views of morality as well as formal international laws and conventions on human rights, as has been the case with the Taliban administration in Afghanistan, then the legitimacy of the international system as a whole is called into question. If there are governments that do not openly question the legitimacy of such a system, but which in practice are unwilling or unable to apply it, then the system of international governance is at risk of rotting from the inside. Such is already the case with the many ‘failed’ states in Africa and Asia especially those that do not formally challenge international human rights legislation or related norms, but that ignore or even despise them in private. Circumventing international laws while paying lip-service to them may be seen as part of the emerging global phenomenon of informal commercial and political activity, meaning those transactions that take place in spheres not formally countenanced by national or international legislation, including some that may even be illegal. Informal trade and political activity may be situated on a continuum ranging from non-formal activity involving licit goods (such as selling food, textiles or other harmless products without registration) to international trade in illegal and harmful commodities, such as weapons or narcotics, the latter regarded by some governments as tantamount to an act of war.

In itself, it is banal to observe that some parts of the world have a serious problem of crime, for crime is always with us. The situation is made much more complex and ambiguous by the fact that activities of major scope which are considered illegal in terms of both international conventions and national legislation, may nevertheless be carried out by senior state authorities that are formally responsible for upholding or promulgating the very laws they are also breaking. Again, this can range on a continuum going from individual officials who corruptly break laws on their own initiative, to entire governments that blatantly disrespect both national and internationals laws for reasons of self-interest, to the most extreme case of states that themselves promulgate laws explicitly designed to condone or even facilitate crime. An example of the latter is Seychelles, which changed its constitution in order to permit the passage of an Economic Development Bill that would enable persons investing $10 million in the country to enjoy immunity from prosecution ‘for all criminal proceedings whatsoever except criminal proceedings in respect of offences involving acts of violence and drug trafficking in Seychelles’.

Al Qaeda is one example among many of how an international network that itself has no official status can use the physical infrastructure and sovereign status of ‘failed’ states to mount a formidable challenge to the system of global governance. There are many states in the world that in law enjoy full sovereign rights but that in practice are willing to rent out state prerogatives including the issuing of diplomatic passports, the recognition of phony ‘embassies’, the provision of end-user certificates for arms-transfers, the registration of front companies and airlines used for smuggling, and the collaboration of central banks in currency counterfeiting — all of which may be useful to money-launderers, smugglers and fraudsters of every type, including those whose interests are purely financial (criminals) and those with political motives (terrorists). It is important to record, though, that the intelligence agencies of major powers sometimes make use of these facilities also.

A catalogue of networks abusing the facilities of sovereign states on a major scale would include conventional criminal gangs, both of the highly structured, organised-crime type, but also of the more flexible type seen in societies with a segmentary social structure. It would also include criminal enterprises that have very strong connections to official authorities, such as the Russian and Ukrainian mafias and various Israeli commercial concerns with close links to the Israeli intelligence services. Groups using the facilities offered by failed states, or simply by compliant ones, also include certain multinational companies that are generally regarded as respectable, not to mention the intelligence services and even the political parties of major Western powers. It is beyond doubt that the US intelligence services have on occasion condoned international narcotics trafficking in Vietnam, central America and Afghanistan, deeming this necessary in the light of a greater good; that Western intelligence agencies and politicians aided and abetted the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, later to collapse in the biggest bank fraud in history; that officials of the Vatican bank knowingly condoned law-breaking in the case of the Banco Ambrosiano; and that politicians and political parties in Italy, France and probably elsewhere too have used the facilities offered by sovereign states to generate illicit funds for their own use. States that use — or abuse — their sovereignty in this way do not exist only on the fringes of international systems of governance, but may also be integral to those systems for certain types of operation that do not receive great attention but that are important nonetheless.

Even ‘failed’ states continue to exist in international law, a fact that offers important rights in international legal, diplomatic and financial dealings to whichever person is regarded as the president of such a state. This may result in circumstances in which a government commits major crimes while asserting the privileges conferred by national sovereignty, such as in former Yugoslavia. Or it may produce a head of state who is internationally acceptable but is in reality used as a figurehead by other, less respectable, interests, as in Sierra Leone, or a head of state who commits all manner of crimes and atrocities, offering facilities to others in return for payment, while professing respect for international law, as in Liberia. Moreover, arms manufacturers in some countries are continuing to produce weapons for sale in an environment in which the formal state apparatus has little control. Hence the terms ‘failed’ or ‘collapsed’ states, while useful in some ways, miss important aspects of the challenge that states of this type pose to international governance, including in matters of human rights.

States like these do not represent simply the dereliction of orthodox theories of the state, as the terms ‘failed’ or ‘collapsed’ imply: seen from a more positive point of view, they may articulate historical continuities in a great variety of fields including traditions of political organisation, but also morality and trade. Hence many countries known for their involvement in narcotics trafficking have much longer histories of involvement in international smuggling, such as in the Guajira peninsula of Colombia, dating back to the days of the Spanish main, or in the Balkans or central Asia, where populations historically situated at the junction of large empires have evolved over centuries by playing one power against another. In such areas political-military entrepreneurs may be involved in activities that articulate traditions and codes of morality and honour considered locally as legitimate but which are in contravention of international laws, such as in drug smuggling. Entrepreneurs of this type may wage war in pursuit not only of their immediate economic interests but on behalf of substantial populations which consider them as legitimate, whatever their lack of legal status: in this case, particularly if they are non-state actors, they risk being labelled as terrorists.

The point here is that there are many groups in the world that may benefit from considerable legitimacy in their countries of origin even while they contravene international laws. This observation is not intended to condone their behaviour but to suggest that it may not be accurate to regard them as ordinary criminals in any conventional sense. <SNIP>

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global turmoil on the eve of the twenty-first century, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993, p.17.
Eric Hobsbawm, “Barbarism: a user’s guide”, New Left Review 206, 1994, pp.44-54.
Béatrice Hibou, La privatisation des Etats, Paris: Karthala, 1999.
R.T. Naylor, “Loose cannons: covert commerce and underground finance in the modern arms black market”, Crime, Law and Social Change 22, 1, 1994-5, p.11.
Note that ‘policy’ and ‘police’, and ‘state’ and ‘statistics’, are concepts emerging from the formation of early national states in Europe in the seventeenth century that seem of ever more questionable relevance to large parts of Africa and central Asia, for example. A title borrowed from Stanley Cohen’s article of the same name in the British Journal of Sociology 47, 1, 1996, pp.1-21.
The Indian Ocean Newsletter, November 18 1995.
Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA complicity in the global drug trade, New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991.
Peter Truell and Larry Gurwin, False Profits: the inside story of BCCI, the world’s most corrupt financial empire, Boston: Houghton Mifflin,1992, esp. pp.118-54. Charles Raw, The Moneychangers: how the Vatican Bank enabled Roberto Calvi to steal $250 million for the heads of the P2 masonic lodge, London: Harvill, 1992.
See the exceptionally well-researched report of the Panel of Experts, sent by the Chairman of the UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1343 (2001) to the President of the Security Council, 26 October 2001, S/2001/1015.
R.T. Naylor, “The insurgent economy: black market operations of guerrilla organisations”, Crime, Law and Social Change 20, 1, 1993, p.47.

Michael Pugliese

< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >