Extra-National Violence Will Determine Afghanistan’s Future

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan invited both praise and blame, but most commentators have assumed that the action, which began under the Trump administration and ended under US President Joe Biden, indicates a new foreign policy stance for the United States. In sharp contrast to the previous three administrations, Biden apparently rejected so-called eternal wars, keeping his struggles without specific goals.

But this assumption is based on the belief that whether or not the United States goes into wars forever is the result of separate decisions. Getting involved in Iraq – if not Afghanistan – was a war of choice. But on a deeper level, the structural features of the current international system make wars forever highly likely. These structural characteristics are beyond the choice of any single political agent, even one as nominally powerful as the United States. The nation-state is no longer the sole agent of legitimate deadly force, if it is. The difference between states and non-national or semi-national agents of violence is blurred.

The International System of Early Modern Eurasia, from approximately 1500 to 1780, shares the same characteristics. These wars produced recurring, such as the many short conflicts in northern Italy and ongoing wars such as the Thirty Years’ War or the Franco-Spanish War. These unstable situations can be compared to the eternal wars of the post-Cold War period, the international system after 9/11, or modern “frozen wars,” such as the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and unstable situations in which active conflict ended but did not stop. Legally resolved – therefore can be restarted at any time.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan invited both praise and blame, but most commentators have assumed that the action, which began under the Trump administration and ended under US President Joe Biden, indicates a new foreign policy stance for the United States. In sharp contrast to the previous three administrations, Biden apparently rejected so-called eternal wars, keeping his struggles without specific goals.

But this assumption is based on the belief that whether or not the United States goes into wars forever is the result of separate decisions. Getting involved in Iraq – if not Afghanistan – was a war of choice. But on a deeper level, the structural features of the current international system make wars forever highly likely. These structural characteristics are beyond the choice of any single political agent, even one as nominally powerful as the United States. The nation-state is no longer the sole agent of legitimate deadly force, if it is. The difference between states and non-national or semi-national agents of violence is blurred.

The International System of Early Modern Eurasia, from approximately 1500 to 1780, shares the same characteristics. These wars produced recurring, such as the many short conflicts in northern Italy and ongoing wars such as the Thirty Years’ War or the Franco-Spanish War. These unstable situations can be compared to the eternal wars of the post-Cold War period, the international system after 9/11, or modern “frozen wars,” such as the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and unstable situations in which active conflict ended but did not stop. Legally resolved – therefore can be restarted at any time.

Today and the early modern period share one major feature: nations with a blunted ability or desire to demonstrate hard power and collect resources such as revenue and potential soldiers. The reasons are different – but the results are the same.

Early modern states had small administrations, primitive infrastructure, and relied on primitive technology. They have not yet developed the modern capabilities of gathering resources and controlling people. Modern countries like Afghanistan are similar, and this article deals mainly with countries like these.

Contemporary great-power states have a much more complex relationship with attributes of power. These states technically have the potential to mobilize significant resources, but neoliberal social, economic, and governmental changes over the past 50 years have resulted in a situation in which the public and the private are intertwined, limiting the will of the state to impose itself overtly. While the characteristics that defined the stereotypical nation-state were developing in early modern Eurasia, today they are in the process of collapsing or becoming something else. The technically developed powers of the United States are no longer in use, either of deliberate choice or a shift in the social and economic context. For example, although the United States technically does contingency planning for conscription, conscription is currently politically out of the question. Meanwhile, in countries like Russia, the public and the private, the legal and the corrupt, are so penetrated almost indistinguishable.

For these reasons, early modern warfare and contemporary warfare were characterized by the extensive use of mercenaries, agents of war whose organization combined public and private. Many officers in the early modern states were subjects of those states and served their feudal lords for a mixture of monetary payments and government rewards. Syrian officers are simultaneously agents of the state’s standing armies and private companies, who are expected to buy supplies for their men out of their own pockets – and rely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for their luxury apartments. Iran-backed militias are forcibly recruited from refugee camps and serve inside Syria for whatever loot they can afford. The pattern repeats up and down the social level.

Many early modern political entities were directed around their sovereignty, with weak institutional security. Once mercenary armies were formed, they could be difficult to exclude, contributing to instability or continuing wars for longer than they would otherwise. Powerful subcontracting officers acted as political agents – the most independent of whom were the military leaders Albrecht von Wallenstein and Ernst von Mansfeld – as they did in modern Syria and Afghanistan. Syria is now divided into factions because, for decades, it was a country whose stability was built on patronage and the subcontracting of markets to military leaders whose loyalty was assured by such privileged access, like an early modern royal patent. A component of Syrian foreign policy in Lebanon was to maintain the ability of Syrian generals to conduct their commercial operations in that country, including smuggling goods abroad. Like the first Swedish contractors-generals in Germany, the Syrian generals built personal fiefdoms in the “backyard”.

Meanwhile, despite the conviction of American officers that the Afghan army’s shortcomings can be compensated for by top-down strategies such as more or better training, reports on the experiences of rank-and-file soldiers describe the failure of institutionalization that leads to underpaying, under-food and Reliance on American contractors. (When these modern mercenaries left, this was a turning point in the war.) Claims that the Afghan army was quickly defeated because Afghans were “tribal” or “because they had no nation to fight for” seek material interpretation of reality with reference to an illusory ideological reality. They ignore how Afghan soldiers and police think as agents who make decisions within their physical limitations; In similar contexts, such as early modern Europe, soldiers would desert, surrender, or accept wages from someone else if they were not paid, armed, or fed.

Early modern “institutionally incomplete” political entities depended on external support for legitimacy and subsistence. Heads of state relied on private financing for credit. Imperial Swedish policy in the early 17th century financed the war through contributions imposed by the army that paid it. Political entities appealed to mutually contradictory religions to legitimize their rule, each claiming a complete monopoly on the truth. These confessions led to the splintering of political entities and stimulated transnational relations between followers of religions. Cross-border religious loyalty is an obvious cause of the ongoing conflict at the moment, as is cross-border loyalty, such as between the Taliban in Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Organizational difficulties, such as difficulties in keeping track of money and assets, are common in early modern and contemporary nations. Both are characterized by extremely rapid financial expansion beyond the ability of those who nominally control the tracking and control of the movement of funds. The money disappeared into the personal possession of powerful independent agents. ANA corruption followed the same patterns as military corruption in the seventeenth century because both were the result of similar circumstances emerging on the ground, including large sums of money given to senior officers to distribute without accountability. In both cases, officers invented fake soldiers, called “dead pay” in 17th century Europe, and “ghost soldiers” in modern Afghanistan, and appropriated the money meant to pay their salaries and supplies.

At the same time, other political or quasi-political entities take over the functions of the state. Taliban, Hezbollah and Brazil gangs have implemented public health campaigns, imposed lockdowns, and disseminated information during the coronavirus pandemic. The Taliban are vaccinating against COVID-19 in Afghanistan. The bureaucratic documents of the Islamic State were analyzed by George Washington University and The New York Times It reveals the many small governance actions that the Islamic State has undertaken to manage and extract revenue from the territories they control. The Islamic State has performed state functions.

I do not claim that the actions of non-state political entities demonstrate the failure of institutions to respond to changing events; Instead, I would argue that state-style actors are institutions as well. All huge social networks can take on institutional characteristics. Power networks with large numbers organize themselves and are organized similarly to the power networks we call states.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the high modernity of sovereign nation-states was in the making. Now, he is changing his form. The study of the early modern period teaches interesting ways of examining modern political entities. In both cases, money and goods are allocated through informal social networks, and they are ephemeral. The difference between official and informal is not very great. Members of these social networks have interests in nation states and are willing to pursue them. It is not entirely clear who has the right to engage in legitimate acts of violence. Judgment depends on persuading powerful local elites to join them. Without these powerful elites, no head of state can wage war, but these elites are also the ruler’s opponent. “Criminals” are often demobilized soldiers who continue the same business without a formal patent – and they can easily become soldiers again.

This diagram of power networks is a summary of sociologist Charles Tilly’s view that war-making and state-making are forms of organized crime—not because the people involved care more about themselves than anyone else but because cells, gangs, corporations, and political entities organize themselves in similar ways on larger scales. and smaller. Writing “War-Making and State-Making as Organized Crime” in 1985, Tilly compares early modern European political entities to the political entities he saw taking shape in the developing world. But after nearly 40 years, it is not only the developing world where the networked nature of power and violence has been revealed.

Common characteristics between modern and contemporary states as well as other political entities contribute to persistent conflicts, chronic conflicts, and recurrent conflicts. What Biden or anyone else wants may not be closely related to the deeper structural factors that shape states’ actions. Even if the United States swore to intervene, conditions would not change, and other countries would intervene to fill the void, as they did in Libya, Syria and Sudan. Wars will continue forever for the foreseeable future.

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