09 Mar 2006

Strategic Necessity of Defeating Third World Anarchy


Wretchard, who consistently produces superb foreign policy perspectives, responds to a Robert Kaplan article in this month’s Atlantic, The Coming Normalcy (available to subscribers only, alas!), on the strategic necessity of overcoming anarchy:

Philip Bobbitt argued in his book, the Shield of Achilles, that Napoleon’s strategic revolution consisted in fielding armies so large that any sovereign who opposed him would, in matching the size of his force, be compelled to wager the entire State, and not simply a wedge of territory in confronting him. Napoleon’s campaigns were designed to kill enemy armies — and thereby enemy states. What Napoleon failed to realize in his 1812 campaign against Russia was that the Tsarist state was so primitive that the destruction of its army simply did not mean the corresponding demise of its state. Like the proverbial dinosaur of pulp fiction, Russia had no central nervous system to destroy and lumbered on, like the bullet-riddled monster of horror stories, impervious to the Grand Armee. What Russia had on its side was chaos as epitomized by its savage winters.

Saddamite Iraq, like most terrorist-supporting states threatening the world today, are like the landscape of 1812 in that they were cauldrons of anarchy given a semblance of shape by fragile, yet brutal shroud-like states. Occasionally some force of exceptional virulence would escape or be set loose to ravage the outside world: destroy a temple in India, athletes in Munich or a subway in Paris. Through the 80s and 90s the rest of the world toted up its losses at each outbreak, mended its fences and hoped it would never happen again. But after September 11 the problem grew too big to ignore, yet the question of how to destroy anarchy, already by definition in a shambles, remained.

Anarchy is self-defending, as the failed United Nations relief mission to Somalia in 1990 discovered to its cost. It will appropriate relief supplies, money and aid workers themselves as gang property, the economic basis of its system. Anarchy absorbs violence just as it absorbs relief and even gains strength from it when weapons, designed to disrupt ordered societies, are unleashed on it. Countries like Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran are defended less by frontier fortifications than by the sheer toxicity of their societies. Not for nothing did Saddam release tens of thousands of hardened criminals from jail immediately before the invasion of Iraq. They were his wolves upon the frozen steppes.

It would be a serious mistake to think that the problem of confronting national security threats within the context of anarchy is limited to Iraq. Iraq is simply where the West must come to grips with The Coming Anarchy because it cannot step around it. And it is not the only place. An earlier post noted how the eviction of the Taliban from Afghanistan has simply shifted the fighting to Pakistan, the country in which the Taliban was first born. The real metric in any war against rogue “states” will not be the reduction of strongpoints, like Tora-bora given such prominence by the media, but the reduction of anarchy which constitutes their energy core.

Kaplan correctly understands that no campaign against Iran, Syria or any similar state can be expected to succeed until the lessons of OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom- JDZ] are successfully internalized. And the key he hints, is learning how to use force to allow indigenous order to emerge. If Napoleon wrought the army-killer in the 18th century as the answer to his strategic dilemmas, America must invent a anarchy-killer in the 21st; or a globalized world in which boundaries are ever more tenuous will be permanently at risk.

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Michael Yon provides Kaplan’s entire article for free as a pdf file:


I am a big Robert Kaplan fan, but I limit my blogging to transatlantic affairs, especially German-American Relations. I write with two other German Fulbright Alunni for the Atlantic Review http://atlanticreview.org and organize the quartely carnivals of German American Relations http://america-germany.atlanticreview.org/

Perhaps you are interested in participating. That would be great.


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