The question of state capacity might be one of, if not the, most important question that academics and policy makers can tackle. When we talk about local, regional, and international stability, failed states, etc, often times the major problem is a lack of capacity by a state to control what goes on within its borders. State capacity is the product of numerous variables, including legitimacy, material resources, government coherence, coercive capacity, and autonomy vis-a-vis international actors. And while state capacity is seemingly a critical issue in global politics, policy makers and academics alike have found it one of the most intractable problems to solve. How do you build capacity? What are the proven techniques? Are techniques portable or replicable in other states and regions?
I think the short answer is: we don’t really know
The Financial Times ran a story this morning chronicling the continuing degeneration of the Nigerian state’s ability to maintain control over the oil rich Niger Delta. While conflict with rebels in the region is nothing new, militants have expanded and refined (no pun intended) their activities over the past decade to include the tapping of oil pipelines for sale on the black market. However, the militants have recently began refining the crude being siphoned for local sale.
The article goes on to discuss how the state is struggling to determine a course of action that will reestablish it’s authority and control in the region. (John Robb over at Global Guerrillas has commented for some time on the role of super-empowered individuals and their ability to disrupt states, in particular rebels in Nigeria). For the state, control over crude is key for capacity, as it provides economic resources with which to exert control and influence. By slowly losing control over that key resource (along with refinement and its distribution) the state suffers in at least two ways:
1) It further depletes its fiscal resources through which it maintains stability within society and has less funds to distribute to key players in exchange for political support;
2) It reveals that the state doesn’t have the capacity to control key parts of its territory. As some have argued, this kind of signaling can potentially lead other separatists/militants/rebels in other parts of the country to determine that they too can encroach on the state.
There are many ideas about how to build state capacity–charismatic leadership, leveraging large fiscal reserves and/or natural resources, increase public goods and social welfare programs, etc.
The question I have is whether we truly know how to build state capacity (i.e. have we fully developed a science of state capacity) or whether the problem is simply one of implementation (i.e. conditions on the ground rarely allow for known, effective policies to be implemented).
Interested to hear readers thoughts.
The news yesterday that the Iranian Guardian Council has ordered what amounts to an inquiry into certain disputed ballots may at first glance appear as a positive development. However, it is not at all clear that simply recounting certain ballots is going to truly reconcile the apparent disparity between the expected results and the actual results. I would posit that right now you have the leadership in Iran scrambling to send signals both domestically and internationally that it will take the accusations seriously and act as an impartial arbiter, so as to avoid a number of unwanted outcomes (i.e. continued rioting, increased risk of internal revolt/revolution, international sanctions, etc). Of course, it isn’t clear what they could do to make these signals credible, but it is interesting that rather than simply suppress the outbursts by force (which is happening, although not to the full extent possible) they are taking care to not appear as a brazen oppressor and dictator–the optics still matter to them. Even dictators take into account how they are perceived by various audiences, even domestic.
In terms of the ‘re-count’, Renard Sexton at fivethirtyeight lays out the possible causes of the voting irregularities and what the corresponding recourse would be—with a re-count only helpful in one instance:
1. Intimidation and electoral violence: Reports of activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and paramilitary forces have been widely discussed. If Nate’s hunch is correct, perhaps 15% or more of the population was willing to abstain from voting.
Recourse: New round of voting
2. Deliberate misreporting of vote totals: The blogosphere has been buzzing with reports of Mousavi’s camp receiving word from the electoral commission that he had won the upwards of 60% of the vote, which was then retracted. If this was simply manipulation of the totals by loyalists in Tehran, and the political winds have shifted, the real total could possibly emerge.
3. “Lost” ballots”: Allegations have also abounded that a significant number of votes were disposed of from areas of strength for Mousavi and Karroubi (probably Rezai as well, but few reports).
Recourse: New round of voting
4. Khameni decided ahead of time: There are commentators, expert and not, that have suggested that the whole electoral process in Iran is a sham, with the results dictated long in advance by the Supreme Leader. Similar allegations were leveled in 2005, when then-unknown Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a surprising second place in the first round.
Recourse: Rioting in the street; move to London
Of course, a political-coup was likely orchastrated with the explicit consent and participation of the various power structures in Iran, meaning that it is highly unlikely that a re-count would actually show evidence of widespread fraud. More than likely, they will show sporadic fraud–enough to appear as thought they acknowledge some mischief, but not enough to swing the election. More than likely the only way you see real action is if the social movements get so far out of control that the leadership decides it has to enter into some kind of bargain to have any chance of avoiding a ‘green’ revolution. The calculas is not straightforward and relies primarily on the leadership’s perception of risk and probability. At this point, I am hardpressed to see a how Moussavi gets declared the winner without increased social unrest and violence. More than likely, there will be some kind of compromise–what that looks like I don’t know. I think an Iranian specialist would need to weigh in on what a potential bargian (if any) could look like.
Nate analyzes some statistical analysis claiming to show fraud in Friday’s elections. Short story, he is not buying the analysis (as the results are mostly an artifact of how the numbers were released), nor is he discounting the possibility that it occurred (which, I would say, is more than reasonable).
Rob Farley links to a nice summary regarding what’s in the air regarding the dimensions of the ‘political coup’. Part of this, if true, shows an attempt to cover up data that would more than suggest outright fraud.
Still waiting for a reliable statistical model of estimated electoral fraud. Even if we had one, it appears the authorities in Iran are intent on withholding the inputs necessary for such a model.
Given the recently held presidential elections in Iran, and the claims from each candidate that they won the election, I am wondering if it is possible to reliably estimate the amount of voter fraud in favor of one candidate. At the very least, can we reliably estimate the amount of fraud perpetrated by the incumbent, who naturally has the advantage in terms of infrastructure and resources at their disposal? I honestly don’t know and have never thought deeply about such a problem. However, my instincts tell me that there ought to be a way, depending on the quality and volume of data one has at their disposal to determine when outcomes are highly improbable and what the size of the anomalous effect is. The problem is, for those elections that we most care about–in this case, Iran–the polling data is not as detailed and representative as is necessary.
Over at fivethirtyeight.com, Renard Sexton took a look at the data from Iran before the polls opened. He notes that while there as been extensive polling in the run up to the elections, the data is skewed due to a number of factors, including geography (Tehran) and issues with the questions themselves. While polls showed a much closer outcome between the top two candidates, those polls focused on Tehran, where support for Mousavi is highest (Ahmadinejad’s base is rural). While I certainly don’t trust the numbers coming from Iran’s state media (62.6% to 34%), if the original polls where highly skewed towards urban centers like Tehran the difference between the expected results and the actual results may simply be a function of sampling-error. The one issue, as Renard points out, is that historically as voter turnout increases in Iran the share of the winning vote has decreased. It is hard to believe that if there was in fact record turnout, Ahmadinejad would have actually earned more votes this time out than during the previous election (where there was a run-off).
Here’s hoping that Nate and the folks at fivethirtyeight do some work on the question of estimating election fraud abroad.
Tobias Harris over at Observing Japan, weighs in on the discussion regarding Japanese balancing (or lack thereof). Harris’ post is an excellent addition to the discussion and includes some excellent points that require me to clarify my original post. And away we go…
1) Tobias is correct that given the current and likely current state of the DPRK they are not exactly a Gilpin-esque revisionist power. However, I don’t think that a state must have asperations and likely capabilities to match to be considered a revisionist state in general. A state that clearly is unhappy with the current political order (whether it be regional or global) and shows intent to press for revisions to the status-quo can be considered revisionist. No one thinks that Iran is capable of challenging the US for global dominance or seriously affecting the current global order, but they certainly can rock the boat regionally which can make them revisionist in many states’ view. My larger point was that the DPRK is more likely in the short term to be the focus of any reactive balancing by Japan–given that they are a more immediate security threat.
2) I think we are in agreement that China is certainly the long-term focus of any balancing, whether that be internal or external. My larger point was that it isn’t likely to serve as a catalyst for change in Japan’s currently policy short term.
3) On Japan’s desire to strengthen it’s alliance with the US: I actually agree. Some of their behavior, even that which may require changes to the status-quo of their own security policy, can be explained by their need to signal to the US that they are a reliable partner in the alliance. To do so requires not only a shift in material capabilities, but also a shift in political capabilities–meaning, a greater willingness domestically to allow for these types of military operations. A dashing young scholar has explored this dynamic with regards to Germany after the Cold War. I am not as well versed in the domestic and foreign policies of Japan as Tobias seems to be, but from what I’ve seen I think a similar case can be made, particularly looking at the evolution of Japan’s willingness and ability to project power in coordination with UN or US-led campaigns.
4) Finally, I should have been more explicit in terms of hedging my post. I wrote that the idea had merit. I don’t have enough knowledge of Japan to say for sure that this is the case, only that it was plausible and that I thought there was a compelling logic to it. Needless to say I will certainly be keeping a closer eye on it to see if the effects and behavior I posit eventually come to pass.
Peter brings up an interesting question and one that we don’t yet have a final answer on: Under what circumstances will states balance against another? If shifts in the balance of power are not enough to provoke balancing, what does? I think the notion that Japan could be provoked into balancing by the DPRK rather than China certainly has merit. A few initial thoughts as to why this may be the case:
1) Increased Economic Dependence: China’s military modernization has been and will continue to be fueled by its growing economy. Japan has become arguably China’s most important economic partner (both in terms of trade and investment) over the past few decades. With Japan being China’s third largest export market it would seem that the PRC would have less incentive to militarily threaten the Land of the Rising Sun. There is no such interdependence with the North Koreans. Wait, you might say, Japan does provide a ton of aid to the DPRK. Surely that can create a form of dependence that would deincentivise military provocation. Except that historically it hasn’t stopped the DPRK from continuous provocations. And Japan has repeatedly suspended aid in the wake of missile and nuclear tests.
2) Provocative Signals and Established Images: North Korea has repeatedly test-fired missiles in Japan’s direction, recently test-fired a ballistic missile over Japan, has a history of naval incidents with the Japanese, and as is well known recently conducted an underground nuclear test. Taken together, these are recent provocative signals that make it more likely Japan will see North Korea as a threat. At the very least, it makes it much harder for Japan to comfortably predict status quo behavior from the DPRK. There hasn’t been much for Japan to use to build a status-quo image of the DPRK in the last few decades, meaning most actions by the North are likely to be interpreted as evidence of their hostile and revisionist nature. Simply reviving aid will not be enough to reliably predict status-quo behavior going forward.
3) Domestic Politics: Over the past few decades there has been a growing call with Japan to re-examine its role internationally, particularly with regards to military affairs and the projection of power. At a minimum, many have called for greater participation in collective defense, which by definition of late has meant the ability to project power and not merely defend the home front. International events can create “windows of opportunity” for domestic policy entrepreneurs looking to alter the status-quo. Various scholars, including so-called “neo-classical realists” focus on the influence that domestic political players can have in shaping a state’s foreign policy.
Interesting post this morning over at The Argument on the similarities between the Taliban and organized crime. This idea echoes earlier (and interesting) work by Charles Tilly on the origins of the state. While I think Peters’ analysis is interesting and thought provoking, I don’t think it means we should ignore the religious aspect of the movement. Understanding the criminal aspects of their enterprise is useful for gaining perspective on their material capabilities and the methods through which they maintain and grow those capabilities. It also allows us to think thoroughly as to how we might cut off and put a strain on those capabilities. But in thinking about their likely actions, we would be limited if we just stuck to criminal/economic rationale and ignored the religious/political goals. I am not suggesting that Peters thinks or suggests we should go completely in this direction, just a general observation on my part.
My first semester in graduate school I had the pleasure of attending a talk by General Wesley Clark (Ret.). He gave the talk not soon after the attacks of September 11th and the US offensive in Afghanistan. At the time, Clark was just begining a PR offensive that would eventually position him as a contender for the Democratic nomination in 2004.
During the Q&A I asked him a question about the regional dynamics going forward as a result of the Afghanistan offensive. While not criticizing the move (I was for it), I questioned what the potential fallout could be in terms of domestic politics within Pakistan and interstate dynamics, particularly with regards to Iran and Iraq. On Pakistan, I questioned whether we had a solid strategy for balancing our need for strategic support from the Pakistani government with the potential domestic disaster that might ensue as a result of their ‘switching sides’ and the longterm instability we would inevitably have to their north. I asked whether we had a plan to ensure domestically stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan when major military operations in the former ceased. He somewhat chuckled and asked, “You’re not talking about nation-building, right?” The line garnered some laughs from the audience and he then went on to basically avoid the question.
I bring up this anecdote because this remains a major issue for US foreign policy–one that I would say has become even more pressing given recent events, such as the ever increasing civil war (as Dan said, let’s call it what it is) within Pakistan.
Yesterday, Taliban militants managed to extend their control of areas in Northern Pakistan by taking the district of Buner–a mere 70 miles from the capital of Islamabad. This represents the continuation of a trend whereby the Taliban pushes deeper and deeper into Pakistan, even after a mid-February truce that effectively created a ‘safe haven’ for the militants in Swat Valley.
At that time, many called the truce a massive misstep, one that would undoubtedly backfire and lead to further aggression by the militants. One major reason was that the Pakistani military would move into a ‘reactive’ mode–rather than staying on the offensive against the Taliban and trying to both defend and recapture lost territory, the military would simply wait in reserve if the Taliban attempted to make further advances, thereby violating the terms of the truce. Yesterday’s events would seem a perfect example of such a violation. The question now is, what’s next?
That is unclear. The US has been expanding its covert war against militants in the tribal areas for some time, while at the same time pressuring Pakistan (in particular, the ISI) to sever ties to the Taliban and increase relations with India. Some believe this is a bad idea, or at least isn’t very pratical. In either case, it doesn’t address the more urgent and strategically relevant issue of whether or not Pakistan is now headed towards a true collapse into failed-state status. The country has long been internally fractured along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines. The state never had full control over its own territory, but the kind of territorial conquest that we are seeing now is, to my (admittedly limited) knowledge, unprecedented since at least the 1990’s (note: readers with better background please feel free to weigh in with comments).
Failed states are always dangerous and pose significant problems, both regionally and globally, for other states. Pakistan has the obvious capacity to pose a problem the likes of which we have never seen–as the combination of a nuclear state falling into the hands of religious militants strikes me as uniquely dangerous.
The US approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan post-911 seems to have helped lay the groundwork for the current situation. US military strategy in Afghanistan was both effective and flawed, allowing key militants to escape and regroup (notably in the Afghan-Pakistan border region). Additionally, without a clear plan to sure up domestic stability in Pakistan we essentially moved the problem of religious militants from one geographic location to another–one that will have a far greater impact on security if it goes the way of the failed state.
I am not arguing that we shouldn’t have pressured Pakistan into an uneasy alliance with the US post-911. What I am arguing is that by doing so without proper attention being paid to the longterm dynamics we would set in motion, and not adequatley planning to address those dynamics in a constructive way, we may have simply set off a very ‘long fuse’ that is nearing its end.
John Robb weighs in with his thoughts on the likelihood of Pakistan becoming a ‘hollow state’.
The reaction of Pakistan’s authorities has been ineffective to say the least. I’d say this is both a problem of will and one of capabilities.
As some have voiced, we could end up invading the country to secure their nuclear assets if things continue to deteriorate towards state failure…
Joshua Frost at Registan.net has a great ‘sanity check’ post with interesting history and perspective, as well as a reading list for those interested in the history of the conflict.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that hackers have breached classified data on the United States’ Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program (the F-35). (For those without a subscription, here is the Reuters story). The scale and nature of information the hackers were able to obtain appears quite significant–however, the most sensitive data did not reside on servers connected to the web, which is good news.
The default suspect is, of course, China (why you say? see here). However, given the value of the data for both potential adversaries and, frankly, countries that are not in some way privey to this program (for an overview of international participants and potential buyers, see here), there should be no shortgage of potential suspects. I’d like to float a specific one: North Korea
North Korea has both the motive and, potentially, the means for carrying out such an attack.
Admittedly, this is all conjecture on my part. Regardless of the identity of the perpetrator, this event does raise some interesting questions about Cyber security and assymetric warfare.
Compellence in its purest form: a threat to inflict pain if an adversary does not alter their current behavior. Is the threat credible? It’s unclear at this time, although US officials are publicly dismissing it. Other threats of late seem more credible–although the FedEx strategy is an example of deterrence, not compellence.
And no, I am not morally equating FedEx and Mehsud–just pointing out examples of strategy.
I haven’t actually seen a study which looks at the success rate of terrorist or non-state deterrent/compellent threats against states (then again, I haven’t looked through the literature for a while). Would be interesting to see…
Last time I checked, 7M is twice as large as 3.5M. Therefore, if a 3.5M margin of victory is somehow a ‘mandate’, wouldn’t it stand to reason that 7M is twice as emphatic a mandate? Or if nothing else, falls into the category of ‘mandate’? I’m not saying that every conceivable progressive policy should now be rammed through, but let’s be realistic here about what we saw Tuesday night.
[Updated: Thanks to commentator Aldous for pointing out an error in my original predictions–I had Montana for Obama and neglected to include Nevada]
I am not, by any stretch, and expert at polling–presidential or otherwise. By that doesn’t stop most of the talking heads from bloviating and spewing silliness.
Therefore, I thought I’d have some fun and post my predictions for Tuesday’s Presidential election.
Final: Obama over McCain 349-189
I think Obama ends up winning a significant electoral victory–swing states such as Virginia, Ohio, and Florida will break for Obama. He also picks up New Mexico and Colorado out west.
States that break Obama
I am not basing this prediction on anything overly sophisticated–simply a combination of watching various polls, etc, making a gut call. At the end of the day, Obama ran the better campaign and had the better field operations. Why not have a little fun, right?
Feel free to post your predictions in the comments section. Happy Voting!
Dan recently commented on how the decline in US economic power will likely lead to a rewrite of the post-war global order. Additionally, there are reports that a new intelligence assessment by US agencies is set to be released after the upcoming elections which notes the coming relative decline of US predominance, particularly in the economic realm, by 2025. Now, there have been numerous predictions of US decline that, like the death of Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated. But the current panic in the US economy is on par with the very worst crises we’ve seen since the Great Depression (e.g. Stagflation, Black Monday, post-9/11, etc.), and there seem to be real structural problems that are unlikely to abate any time soon. That combined with the true rise of new economic players (e.g. China, India, and the continued productivity of the EU) means that for the first time since WWII we are seeing even more economic parity on the world stage.
Let’s assume for a moment that we will finally see a significant decline in US economic predominance and the rise of a more multipolar world order–is this necessarily a good thing? The answer I think is that polarity isn’t really the most important factor.
There has long been a debate in IR circles on what types of great power systems create the most stability–from a military and economic perspective. Balance of Power theory suggests that stability is dependent on the relative parity of great powers, as power imbalance between the great powers provides opportunities for both defensive and offensive balancing actions that can lead to war. There are only two possible systems, bipolar and multipolar–depending on who you ask, one or the other is preferrable from a stability standpoint. Hegemonic Stability Theory predicts an opposite scenario, where a single predominant economic and military power creates conditions necessary for peace and for an open economic trading order (Peter has certainly provided insightful commentary on HST in this space). The two theories are difficult to reconcile–however, Ed Mansfield tried to do just that in “Power, Trade, and War“. The book was based on his dissertation and was an attempt to determine which theory had it right–was the world more peaceful and prosperous when there was a more even distribution of power amongst great powers, or when there was a high imbalance of power with a single great power dominating the system?
The data suggests the answer was, well, yes. Mansfield found that in addition to looking at the polarity of a system (how many great powers exist in a system) it is equally important to examine the concentration of power in the system, where concentration is a combination of the number of great powers as well as the relative inequality of economic and military capabilities among those powers.
Mansfield finds a U-shaped relationship, rather than a linear relationship, between the concentration of power and openness of trade, and an inverse-U relationship between the degree of concentration and the outbreak of war [see figure below for a representation of both relationships].
What is most interesting is that the most dangerous times in terms of war and the least prosperous times occur in systems where the concentration of power appears in flux, or in a middle state–stability in trade and peace comes when power is most concentrated or most evenly dispersed.
I bring this up because if we are seeing the emergence of a more multipolar order (and that is debatable), whether or not this is a good outcome will depend more on how this effects the concentration of power in the system. The rise of new great powers and their effect on the relative concentration of power in the global system may have a net negative effect on peace and stability if we transition into that middle state. US economic power will decline in a relative sense, but militarily speaking it should remain predominant. Yes, China is growing economically and would like to convert those gains into military power, but the gap is large and a global economic slowdown will no doubt hamper those plans. Same with Russia–with global oil and gas prices dropping, Putin is less likely to catch up (if that is even the goal) with the US. And I will believe that Europe is dedicated to seriously enhancing their military aresenal when I see it. However, more important is the US’s ability to actually use that power and convert it into influence. While our spending will remain high (regardless of who is elected, just check the historical data), we have serious issues with our ability to translate that power to favorable battlefield outcomes as well as diplomatic victories. The main reason of course is the damage done and the vulnerability demonstrated since 2003 with the Iraq escapade. Not only did it stretch resources too thin, but it also demonstrated that a large budget doesn’t easily translate into dominance in practice.
I don’t have a prediction as of yet, but the economic and military trends do worry me–not because I am only comfortable with the US being a global hegemon, but depending on how dispersed power becomes in the next 20 years we could see far more turbulence in the system than we have for decades.
Just a thought.
Hello loyal Duck readers. I wanted to briefly introduce myself as the newest member of the Duck. I am a longtime friend of the site that has decided to start posting rather than just commenting on the great insights of colleagues.
A little truth in advertising: my real name is not Randy Waterhouse. For fans of a certain author you will immediately notice that it is a pseudonym. Unfortunately, my current employer does not allow for employees to blog, so I’ve decided to assume this online identity so that I can contribute to the broader conversation on, well, whatever is bugging me in the world of politics.
I likely won’t be able to post as much as other Duck members as I’ll have to restrict my activities to off-hours, and between my job and family life there aren’t many hours where I am actually off. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring some additional insight to this already stellar lineup.