Friday, June 30, 2006

Freebooters and the Long War

Wretchard writes (noting Chester) that we may see private entities wage war on the Islamists if our government is too constrained by legalities to fight the war ruthlessly enough to win. Chester is quoted:

If protections that normally accrue to states after debate and ratification can now be given over to non-states which have no mechanism for ratification, let alone debate, one can easily imagine a scenario in which non-state organizations form themselves and immediately possess the rights of a state, with no corresponding need to adhere to any laws in their own activities.

If this is the case, then we have the answer to the war: it will be privatized, and its ultimate victories won by uninhibited private military actors, not the hamstrung citizen militaries of nation-states.

This is not a good thing. As I wrote in regard to private cyber-warfare:

For now, these online freelancers are working on our side and seem to provide a clear net benefit.

But what happens when some guy in New York City waging his private war against the jihadis gets noticed by the enemy? If they murder him, will we treat this as a crime or part of the war?

In time, our cyberbooters will work against our foreign policy in a deliberate and directly dangerous manner and we will be forced to address this situation with more urgency.

And just as private mercenary companies wandered Europe, Cyberbooter companies may wage war against others online.

It is interesting to see this develop. Not necessarily interesting in a good way, either.

My worry applies to the real world, too. Private entities, unhappy with the protection of the state, will fight for their own objectives which may not--and most likely won't--match our national objectives for very long.

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.

Lovely decade we're having, eh?

UPDATE: Thank you to Instapundit for the link. By coincidence, he had just posted on his comments about the downsides of technology empowering individuals in An Army of Davids. An Army of Freebooters could be one aspect of this future. I hope not. Another reason to wage the war vigorously and effectively. It is quite possible that the question isn't whether we win or lose the Long War, but how we win it. It could be a very ugly win if we aren't careful.