Sunday, July 30, 2006

The failure of legitimate states

Is the Israeli fight against Hezbollah in Lebanon comparable to the fight the United States and allies against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Michael Singer thinks so. The problem he sees is the de-legitimization of states by non-state actors. Problems arising across national borders need to be settled nation-to-nation. Otherwise, nations risk being sucked into wars instigated by private organizations operating from their territories.

He writes,
…. Lebanon right now is very interesting, and distressing,
analyzed as a state. In the south, Hezbollah has essentially become a
state-within-a-state. The fundamentalist group has a quasi-monopoly on
violence. They provide social services and police functions. Their
members are further elected to positions in Lebanon's central government.
So you basically have southern Lebanon as a quasi-state that declared war (sort
of, in its own ineffectual and limited way) on Israel.

In the post-Westphalian world, we want, and should want,
states. Yes, we want humane and democratic states, but those are
second-order preferences. The first thing we want is states. States
are good. Speaking as a lawyer, it's like when there's a conflict between
individuals in the United States. Whether it's a traffic accident or a
surgery gone wrong, you want lawyers involved. You want arbiters who
themselves are invested in some sort of common system of reasoning (members of
the same bar, students of the rule of law) mediating between the chaotic
passions of individuals who, left to their own devices, might just tear each
other to shreds.

We cannot accept a world where non-state actors become
legitimate. In Weber's famous definition, a government is that which has a
legitimate monopoly on violence. The crucial gray area has always been
what "legitimate" means. The Taliban's (or Hezbollah's) legitimacy is not
your grandmother's legitimacy. Especially as Iraq teeter-totters toward a
status quo where Moqtada al-Sadr starts running his own state-within-a-state,
and Pakistan's madrassas become more powerful and start providing more services, America -- the strongest country in the world -- ought to do all it can to make its investment in legitimate states as strong as possible.

You may read his entire piece here at Democracy Arsenal.

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