Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kimberly Marten's "Warlords: Strong-arm Brokers in Weak States"

Kimberly Marten is Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of Enforcing the Peace: Learning from the Imperial Past; Weapons, Culture, and Self-Interest: Soviet Defense Managers in the New Russia; and Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, which won the Marshall Shulman Prize.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Warlords: Strong-arm Brokers in Weak States, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a great place to sample Warlords. The book is about armed local power-brokers in a variety of places including the Pakistani tribal areas, Iraq, Chechnya in Russia, and post-Soviet Georgia. These warlords have bargained and cooperated with state officials, both domestic and foreign, while creating all kinds of security headaches and undermining genuine state sovereignty. The book explores the relationships between warlords and states through deep case-studies, and provides policy recommendations to the U.S. and its allies as they face warlords in weak states all over the world.

My basic argument is that warlords can sometimes bring short-term stability to areas that are hard to govern, but they aren’t state-builders. It’s a mistake to believe that cooperating with them will overcome state failure. This matters today in Afghanistan and Libya and Syria, because many security forces there are really local warlord-led militias.

On Page 99 I sum up my conclusions about warlords in Georgia, and begin offering policy recommendations drawn from that case. Eduard Shevardnadze, despite being a hero for helping end the Cold War as Gorbachev’s foreign minister, was later too intimidated as the leader of the new Georgian state to kick two powerful warlords off his territory. I write that these local power-brokers and their militias caused “rampant criminality, the bleeding of the state budget, and significant human suffering.” Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader who replaced Shevardnadze in the Rose Revolution, then successfully dislodged both warlords. This proves something important: “Warlords may be more pretense than peril…. Longstanding fears of unrest in both places were laid to rest quite easily.”

But Saakashvili did this “only through methods that would probably have been impossible in a liberal democratic political system.” He gathered good intelligence about the warlords’ clan and patronage networks, and then made shadowy deals to win those networks over to the side of the state. State-building and democratization do not necessarily go hand in hand.

In one case, in Upper Kodori, Saakashvili also antagonized Russia through his arrogance and unilateralism, by “showing the Georgian flag so vividly—as well as flaunting the support of the United States—in what had previously been…a buffer zone” maintained by a warlord militia between Georgia and Russian-supported Abkhazia.

If you’re going to take on a warlord, pay attention to the external states involved and make deals there, too. Otherwise you may find yourself at war, as Saakashvili did in 2008.
Learn more about Warlords at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue