Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Pre-West View

On vacation I read a fascinating book (Mercenaries, Pirates, & Sovereigns by Janice Thomson ) about how Western states monopolized military power for inter-state wars only fairly recently in the last century or so. Privateers and private or state army units bought and sold by rulers to increase their military might were ended. Companies acted as nations and waged war. Indeed, even the once common practice of recruiting globally for your armies and fleets has declined to virtually nil.

So the fight against powerful terrorists today is more than just the question of whether the Westphalian system or sub-state actors proliferate and dominate our international system. Even with states as the primary actors in the Westphalian system, private military power used by those states existed and thrived for centuries more, as Thomson writes:

State-authorized nonstate violence proved to be highly effective. Privateers dominated naval warfare. Mercenary armies and navies became th norm. Mercantile companies were highly successful in establishing a European economic an political presence outsie the European system.

The point of the book was that our current state system where the state monopolizes military assets was not always as it is today and it is a mistake to simply take the current status as a constant factor when analyzing international relations.

This is important considering the posts I've made regarding whether the West will respond to Islamist non-state military force with our own nonstate military power:

Vigilantes arise anywhere when the authorities fail to provide security or justice. If lawfare undermines our government's ability to defend our society from our enemies, private military groups will wage war on the jihadis--or even against Islam in general. As Wretchard notes, if WMD attacks on our cities are a threat from small groups of Islamist fanatics, Mecca is under threat of the same if those under attack by Islamic thugs--Christians, Hindus, Jews, or whoever--decide to fight fire with nuclear fire and go to the perceived source of the problem.

In many ways, our state-centric views hobble our efforts against non-state actors who may wield destructive power hitherto reserved to states. But our state-centric system is not all bad. If freebooters join our Long War, and the system of Westphalia is breaking down and private military entities return, we might want to remember the impact of religion and private military forces on Europe in another long war--the Thirty Years War.

That war's horrible events led to our Westphalian system which we may be seeing broken up in our era.

In many ways, we are looking at the question of whether the Moslem world will monopolize military power at the state level as the West did or whether we will revert to our earlier mix of national and private military power.

Yes, it is true that we have faint memories of the past even in the West. Small numbers of foreigners are part of militaries. Gurkhas enlist in the British and Indian militaries. We reserve access for Fillipino recruits in our Navy. Security firms provide armed manpower and services, including planning, for nations or companies in dangerous regions. Countries even rent combat units to the UN (in this case these units rarely fight). But this is a far cry from the past when conventional military power on par with that raised by nations was held in private hands.

Really, consider that many in the West bizarrely excuse Iranian efforts to kill our troops in Iraq by saying they are not really the government and just a faction not controlled by the government. And this American indifference continues despite escalating Iranian intervention as described by MG Rick Lynch:

The U.S. military has consistently accused Iran of fueling the violence in Iraq by arming Shiite militias and providing sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, which have killed hundreds of American troops.

Lynch and other military officials also have said that Shiite-dominated Iran is providing support to some Sunni insurgents fighting American forces in Iraq, while cautioning that it was unclear whether the Iranians were supplying the weapons directly or whether the Sunnis were buying them on the black market.

Tehran has denied the allegations, and last week the two sides held a second round of ambassador-level talks in Baghdad on the security situation.

The general said his troops had found mounting evidence of Iranian involvement, and he planned to step up efforts to fight Shiite extremists in his area, which covers the southern rim of Baghdad and mostly Shiite areas to the south.

Imagine if our Air force started bombing Iran and the President and Congress shrugged and said "We have not authorized this. What can we do?" Would people just nod and say "too bad we can't prove this was ordered" as they do about Iran's campaign to kill American troops and Iraqi civilians?

No, clearly not. We are expected to control the military power that comes from our national territory. Yet Iran (and Lebanon and Pakistan and other places) is largely given a pass on this responsibility to control military forces sent from their territory, a responsibility that we assume is the norm for us.

These rogue countries get the benefit of our system that assumes they control all military power. The benefit is that it is considered a violation of our international system to try to enter their territory to stop that violence. Yet they don't control the non-state military power based out of their territory to attack us.

After reading Thomson's book and really thinking about how recently we ended pirate kingdoms, privateering, armed companies, private mercenary units, and cross-border recruiting of troops and officers on a large scale, the idea of revived private warfare by the West despite our laws and international system seems far more likely to me than it did when I speculated on that possible future. (And I looked to recruiting globally, too.)

There are glimmers of the organization to sustain such a privatized military power and the demand for these services (and here's one that is free).

Once again, we see the war on terror as a fight between Westernizing the Moslem world to integrate it into our system or reverting to the pre-modern West's views on military power that is reflected in the Moslem world's use on non-state military power. It is a clash of civilizations--just not a clash between the West and Islam. It is a clash between the West and "pre-West." I may have been hasty in speculating about a retreat to a pre-Westphalian system, but a retreat only to the world of pirates, privateers, mercenaries, and other private military power within a sovereign state system is not a development we should be eager for, either.

And even if we beat Islamist terrorism, the price could be reverting to the "pre-Western" practice for who owns military assets. Will we like a post-jihad world where private military companies hire out their very lethal services to private or state entities? Where states hire and authorize violence from nonstate sources that they can deny responsibility for? I don't think so. (Though I admit it would almost be worth it to see the looks on Lefty faces if we let Exxon create their own military!)

Yet this will be a consequence of the so-called compassionate Left's view of the war that doesn't want to make states like Iran pay for their tolerance and support for deniable acts of violence against us that come from within Iran's borders.

Victor Hanson speaks more broadly about this struggle:

Of course, our foreign policy, or even the crassness of Western pornography, can inflame this preexisting anti-Americanism. But, ultimately, there remains this divide between vibrant modern life that is the product of the Western Enlightenment and a static tribal order that is not.

What to do? The time is over both for coffee-table talk in the West about a pie-in-the-sky “reformation” needed in Islam, and the endless habit in the Middle East of blaming others for self-inflicted miseries.

Instead, right now we should hold the Muslim world to the same standards of tolerance that we demand of ourselves — no more apologies for things like our insensitive cartoons or excuses for their insane anger against novelists. In turn, the Middle East must grow up and accept, like the rest of the world, that there are social and cultural costs and consequences for any who wish to embrace the benefits of modernism.

We need to make Moslem states pay a price for their embrace of the pre-West way of looking at violence coming from within their borders. Until we impose such a price, the Moslem world will continue to see nonstate means of war too valuable to give up. We need to beat the jihadis on our terms unless we want to unleash our pre-West views of waging war on a world where the non-state actors have access to very lethal means of waging war.

Lovely decade we're having, eh?