Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Invisible Hand Of Violence

Whether you love Steven Metz or hate him, you've really got to read him. His take on 21st century insurgency is nothing short of paradigm-shifting. Unlike Cold War-era insurgencies, where there were effectively two sides with at times sponsors in each corner, contemporary insurgencies more closely resemble a violently contested, multiple-player market where the commodity is power, and where participants dream of monopoly, aim for dominance, and settle for market share and profitability, both figurative and literal. And as Metz explains, for a variety of reasons, as the conlict takes hold, it becomes to everyone's advantage to perpetuate it in a controlled form rather than to bring it to an end.

Metz argues, as he has before, that the danger of contemporary insurgency is less the threat of a definitive negative outcome, such as a hostile government being installed, so much as the second-degree effects of protracted conflict: population displacements, regional instability, and organized crime and terrorism, for instance. Instead of militarily defeating the insurgency, the goal becomes stability, whether through rapid power-sharing arrangements or more labor-intensive methods:

If, in fact, insurgency is not simply a variant of war, if the real threat is the deleterious effects of sustained conflict, and if such actions are part of a systemic failure and pathology where key elites and organizations develop a vested interest in the sustainment of the conflict, the objective of counterinsurgency support should be systemic reengineering rather than simply strengthening the government so that it can impose its will more effectively on the insurgents. (p. 30)

And since Metz is far from optimistic about the potential for longterm systemic re-engineering, it should come as no surprise that he argues for extremely limiting the contingencies that justify the use of counterinsurgency intervention, and those primarily in the context of a multi-lateral coalition.

It's a fascinating read, sure to change the way you think about the news coming out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots around the globe.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   

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