State Capacity and the US Federal Budget

bush_budget.jpgWe’re currently discussing and analyzing the state, and its important role in comparative politics. One of the dimensions on which we can compare state power is “capacity.” What is capacity? According to O’Neil (p.38-39), “capacity is the ability of the state to wield power in order to carry out the basic tasks of providing security and reconciling freedom and equality. A state with high capacity is able to formulate and enact fundamental policies and ensure stability and security for both itself and its citizens.” We were presented with evidence today of a demonstration of the high capacity of the United States as President George W. Bush unveiled his new 3.1 trillion-dollar (I’m no mathematician, but that’s at least a couple of gazillion dollars, isn’t it?) budget. Any state that can make its citizens cough up that much money, more or less willingly, has to have high capacity.

The photograph is from Yahoo News, click here to see a video clip of the president submitting this year’s federal budget, the first one in American history to be submitted in electronic form. As the president correctly surmised, “this will save a lot of trees!”

War and the Process of State-making

As we discussed in class on Thursday, there is a close relationship between the war, the state, and state-making.  Thus, violence is at the root of the idea of the modern state, as Weber’s famous definition of the state aptly demonstrates.  Norbert Elias suggested that the state-formation process in Europe was “an elimination contest.”  In addition, Charles Tilly famously wrote* “war made the state and the state made war.”  In a much-read paper** on the topic, Tilly wrote:

What distinguished the violence produced by states from the violence delivered by anyone else? In the long run, enough to make the division between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” force credible. Eventually, the personnel of states purveyed violence on a larger scale, more effectively, more efficiently, with wider assent from their subject populations, and with readier collaboration from neighboring authorities than did the personnel of other organizations.  But it took a long time for that series of distinctions to become established. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, the practice of using it routinely to accomplish their ends, or both at once. The continuum ran from bandits and pirates to kings via tax collectors, regional power holders, and professional soldiers.

The uncertain, elastic line between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence appeared in the upper reaches of power. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, its actual employment, or both at once. The long love-hate affair between aspiring state makers and pirates or bandits illustrates the division. “Behind piracy on the seas acted cities and city-states,” writes Fernand Braudel of the sixteenth century. “Behind banditry, that terrestrial piracy, appeared the continual aid of lords.”‘ In times of war, indeed, the managers of full-fledged states often commissioned privateers, hired sometime bandits to raid their enemies, and encouraged their regular troops to take booty. In royal service, soldiers and sailors were often expected to provide for themselves by preying on the civilian population: commandeering, raping, looting, taking prizes. When demobilized, they commonly continued the same practices, but without the same royal protection; demobilized ships became pirate vessels, demobilized troops bandits.

It also worked the other way: A king’s best source of armed supporters was sometimes the world of outlaws. Robin Hood’s conversion to royal archer may be a myth, but the myth records a practice. The distinctions between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” users of violence came clear only very slowly, in the process during which the state’s armed forces became relatively unified and permanent.

The process of legitimation of state violence came, as Tilly argues above, slowly.  What, according to Weber, are the different types of legitimacy that attended to this process?

*Charles Tilly, “Reflections on the History of European State-Making,” in Charles Tilly, ed.,  The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975), p. 42.

**Tilly, Charles. “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, ” in Evans, Rueschemeyer and Skocpol, ed., Brining the State Back in (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p.172-173.

***Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process  (Oxford: Blackwell), 1993.

Corruption and Transparency International (Redux)

Apropos of an earlier post and discussion in class today about correlation and causality, here is an excerpt from an interview with Transparency International’s Huguette Labelle, where she answers questions about the apparent correlation between corruption levels and GDP, and corruption levels and levels of violent conflict:

The countries with the best scores in the CPI seem to be some of the world’s richest countries – is higher GDP the key to less corruption?
I think the difference between the countries at the top and the bottom is not so much due to their relative wealth or poverty, but to the development of their institutions. The top scorers have effective public sectors, with open contracting procedures, strong disclosure rules and access to information.

Labelle is implying here that the correlation between corruption and GDP is not causal; it is spurious (we’ll talk about spurious causation next class).

Many of the countries with the worst scores in the CPI are victims of violent conflict (Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan). What is the relationship between failed states and corruption?
In a crisis situation, the institutions of government are weakened, so corruption can more easily take hold and spread. It is not just individuals, but also institutions, that are responsible for maintaining integrity in a country. Many countries at the bottom of the CPI are failed states that are at the intersection of poverty, conflict and corruption.

Timor Leste (East) and Nation-Building

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has a new report on the situation in Timor Leste. Some of you may be aware that Timor Leste broke away from Indonesia four years ago following a brutal war of secession, during which forces loyal to the Indonesian government were alleged to have committed horrendous crimes against humanity. Thanks to UN intervention, the killing stopped and the small state of Timor Leste gained its independence. Recently, however, the UN-directed nation-building exercise in Timor Leste has imploded, along with domestic order.

According to the ICG.

Four years after Timor-Leste gained independence, its police and army were fighting each other in the streets of Dili. The April-June 2006 crisis left both institutions in ruins and security again in the hands of international forces. The crisis was precipitated by the dismissal of almost half the army and caused the virtual collapse of the police force. UN police and Australian-led peacekeepers maintain security in a situation that, while not at a point of violent conflict, remains unsettled. If the new government is to reform the security sector successfully, it must ensure that the process is inclusive by consulting widely and resisting the temptation to take autocratic decisions. A systematic, comprehensive approach, as recommended by the UN Security Council, should be based on a realistic analysis of actual security and law-enforcement needs. Unless there is a non-partisan commitment to the reform process, structural problems are likely to remain unresolved and the security forces politicised and volatile.

The problems run deep. Neither the UN administration nor successive Timorese governments did enough to build a national consensus about security needs and the kind of forces required to meet them. There is no national security policy, and there are important gaps in security-related legislation. The police suffer from low status and an excess of political interference. The army still trades on its heroism in resisting the Indonesian occupation but has not yet found a new role and has been plagued by regional (east-west) rivalry. There is a lack of transparency and orderly arrangements in political control as well as parliamentary and judicial oversight with respect to both forces.

The situation in Timor Leste illustrates–from the perspective of comparative politics–the importance of the state and its crucial role in facilitating stability by consolidating political power and maintaining, to paraphrase Weber, a monopoly on the legitimate use of political violence. From an IR perspective, we see the difficulty of imposing legitimate order on a society from outside, whether–as is the case here–through intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) like the United Nations, or–as in Iraq–through unilateral, or multilateral means.

Here’s a report from the BBC on the upheavals of April-June 2006.

Crisis Group Named in Top Ten Global Think Tanks

The Crisis Group is a non-governmental Organization (NGO) that does great work on conflict around the world. From the group’s website, we find out:

The International Crisis Group has been listed as one of the “Top 10 Think Tanks in the World” in a new survey, based on peer review, conducted over 18 months by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.

The Crisis Group have archived the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s report here.

From the group’s “about” page, we learn about the Crisis Group’s purpose:

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation, with some 145 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

Crisis Group’s approach is grounded in field research. Teams of political analysts are located within or close by countries at risk of outbreak, escalation or recurrence of violent conflict. Based on information and assessments from the field, it produces analytical reports containing practical recommendations targeted at key international decision-takers. Crisis Group also publishes CrisisWatch, a twelve-page monthly bulletin, providing a succinct regular update on the state of play in all the most significant situations of conflict or potential conflict around the world.

The State–Weber’s definition, the role of legitimacy & Iraq

The state is an important concept in politics, and it is often one that is difficult to grasp for many students new to the study of comparative politics. Probably the most studied work on the state is that of German social scientist Max Weber, who in a lecture given in 1918 (which would eventually be published in 1919 under the name “The Politics of Vocation”) set out a formal definition of the state, and demonstrated the link between that and what is called “legitimacy”.

Below the fold, I’ll provide what I consider to be the crucial part of Weber’s lecture, with an assessment of how this relates to the contemporary situation in Iraq below:
Continue reading “The State–Weber’s definition, the role of legitimacy & Iraq”

The Failed States Index by the Fund for Peace

Here is another great resource compiled by the Fund for Peace. The Failed States Index tracks the stability of, at last count (2007) 177 states around the world on the basis of twelve indicators, grouped into social, economic and political categories. Some of the specific indicators are demographic pressures, a legacy of vengeance, uneven economic development and the rise of factionalized elites. Once again, there is a wealth of information and data at the Fund for Peace website, which goes beyond the Failed States Index. Here is a map based on data from 2007:


Continue reading “The Failed States Index by the Fund for Peace”