Sunday, December 08, 2013

This Man's Army--Whose?

Audioreading The Shadow World, Andrew Feinstein's history of the global arms trade, I'm struck by something I never gave much thought to before.  That is: at least as late as World War I, it was proper in polite circles to believe that there should be no private arms trade whatever--that the manufacture of arms should be the province of the governments only, corollary, I suppose, to that "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force," the Monopol legitimen physischen Zwanges, which Max Weber took to be the defining mark of the state.  Apparently Woodrow Wilson thought so--and so also Lloyd George, until he found himself the leader of a great nation in war.

I know what you are thinking; we can burble on about how the arms trade has been "privatized," and the structure of arms production and distribution has indeed revolutionized itself over the generations.  But privatization? Perhaps, but maybe the real point is that the fulcrum of violence has shifted and it is the Lockheed-Martins, the BAEs, the EADs that run the show while states exist (if they do) as--oh, I don't know, the human relations department or the brokerage office.  Feinstein has some wonderful stuff about the British government's headlong plunge into the arms trade, driven by the very good reason that they needed the money, that's why.  And this was a socialist (heh!) government, too (I'm talking about the pre-Thatcher 70s).  It may have seemed like a novelty in its time. These days, that sort of thing may raise issues, but its elementary being is just taken for granted.

We talk about "failed states," of course, but I think I've argued before that "failed state" is a misnomer: Somalia continues to function, just not according to a Treaty-of-Westphalia model  (recall also: by general report, the Somalian shilling continues to function, even if the "sovereign" does not--from what we hear this weekend, perhaps more effectively than the Bitcoin).  And any agglomeration of people that can draw 2500 tribal leaders together into a loya jirga--well, there may need to be a new name for it, but the name is not "failed."

[Side note: I know it's just a  movie, but I'm harking back to that hijacking flic I watched the other night out of socialist, statist, Denmark, by all measures one of the most successful "states" in being.  Can I make anything out of the fact that "state" presence in this operation was exactly nil?  We had scruffy pirate kids on the one side; grey-suited corporate types on the other.  The nearest thing we had to a "sovereign" presence was the Aussie (yes?) freebooter whose advice, if followed, might have ended matters more cheaply and quickly.]

Were I the point man for an international arms conglomerate, I suppose I'd be willing to keep the traditional state around--to preserve deniability, perhaps, to handle the inconvenient and onerous cleanup chores, probably to provide the costly training and apprenticeship programs I would need for my work force.  Or perhaps as cosmetics--the lipstick of legitimacy on the pig of violence.  Yeah, as John Lovitz would say, that's the ticket.  Or perhaps it has already come to pass?

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