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Sunday, August 30, 2009

October Conference Paper

I will be presenting a paper at the ISSS/ISAC conference on "Insecurity and Durable Disorder: Challenges to the State in an Age of Anxiety." The conference is hosted by the Naval Postgraduate School and the Monterey Institute for International Studies. They have set up a very extensive schedule of panels on various issues surrounding the topic. My panel regards "Strategy, War, and the State" and my co-panelists come from Oxford and the RAND Corporation.

My paper is tentatively titled “Avoiding Heroic Illusions: Reconciling Strategy and State Power in the Coming Era.” The abstract follows:

For at least the past quarter-century, the state power of the most developed nation-states has been on the wane, ushering in a period of limited warfare. This argument is two-fold. First, state power, that portion of national power that can be mobilized and controlled by the state government to serve its ends, is generally in decline as governments’ extractive power and capacity wanes. By comparison, the relative power of non-state actors is increasing, making for a much more chaotic security environment. Second, policy-makers must realistically assess capabilities and set grand strategies appropriate to this limited power. This means a turn away from the annihilatory military strategies of the nationalist period and a return to the more circumscribed strategies of attrition that were used prior to its rise. For politicians and strategists, this portends an era of grappling in the murky darkness with an unseemly and intertwined cast of characters and threats. Conflicts will be layered, with participants ranging from criminals, opportunistic businessmen, and insurgents to state intelligence and military institutions. Each group of participants will be fighting their own war for their own ends, making singular, kinetic solutions impossible. For conventional militaries, the need to patiently deconstruct these layered wars in the face of limited means and support will prove to be a daunting task.

I've been doing a great deal of reading that has spiraled around this topic and I am still unsure exactly how I want to focus my paper. I'm struck by Philip Bobbitt's (The Shield of Achilles) idea of the next conflict among types of the market-state. I do not fully agree with him, but I do think that a major point of conflict within states is going to be over the challenge between welfare policies and the idea of the free market, especially as the most developed states age and face ever-growing bills for various programs and entitlements as their productivity declines. As these issues weaken the most developed states, developing states with much different ideas about the role of the state with regard to the society and economy will be expanding their search for markets and resources in the most unstable portions of the world, potentially precipitating conflict. The confluence of these dynamics will cause significant challenges for the states trying to hold on to the status quo. I'm still working out how to capture this and focus my argument.

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