War beyond the West: is the modern state a Western invention?

De Baripedia

The question is how to analyse the wars that have taken place around the world since 1945, what are these new forms of wars? How does the change of context that implies looking at the post-colonial world lead to the conclusion that war no longer makes the state and that the state does not necessarily make war. Leander will show in Wars and the Un-Making of States: Taking Tilly Seriously in the Contemporary World published in 2004 that war today increasingly does not involve states and that war often leads not to centralization and state building, but rather to the destruction, weakening and destruction of states. Nevertheless, this view is contested. We will review some of the characteristics of third type wars in postcolonial wars to understand their characteristics and evolutions and see if Tilly's postulate of "war making - state making" is applicable.

The question is whether the "Europeanist" model inspired by Tilly applies beyond Europe. There are different issues that we need to address here:

  • How did the modern state emerge in the postcolonial world? The first explanation put forward is the role of colonization. The idea is that the modern state has emerged in Europe and that with the creation of European colonial empires beyond the European continent, this has made it possible to extend the state idea to the rest of the world, but also the bureaucratic way of functioning that has been established in a number of colonized societies allowing the creation of modern states in the postcolonial world according to the modern western state model. Other analyses put the emergence process according to endogenous factors older than colonization. For example, one might wonder whether Japan is the result of exporting a Western model because there was already in the 15th century a way of concentrating the monopoly of legitimate violence. This would suggest that Tilly's analysis is not necessarily universal. Not all states would be the fruit of warrior companies and others have similar processes disconnected from European influences. Analyzing post-colonial states by seeing colonization as the starting point of the processes that affect these countries is rather simplistic.
  • what is the role of war from this point of view?
  • non-Western trajectories: successful or failed states? the distinction between empirical and legal states was proposed by Robert Jackson in Quasi State[7].[8].

It is important here to understand the link between violence and political order in the contemporary postcolonial world.

There are two types of applications of Tilly's theory outside the Western sphere with the idea that modern state building and war are linked, those who have tried to apply this model outside the Western sphere divide into two groups:

  • It is considered that according to Tilly, the various existing states are the fruit of war and vice versa. To apply Tilly would be to show that this or that state is the fruit of war, or alternatively, the wars that are going on within these societies see a modern state in the Weberian sense. It also means saying that today these States in the throes of civil or inter-State wars are not really States even though they are recognized in international law. This reasoning is hardly tenable. Not all wars obviously lead to the creation of states. Not all wars lead to states and not all states were created by war. This type of reasoning leads to the conclusion that the States that are currently experiencing wars are not yet real States, or these analyses lead to the rejection of Tilly's analyses. Jean-François Bayart's idea is sometimes that the current civil wars in the world can be analyzed as a difficult gestation from which the state will emerge. The idea would be that we should leave it alone until we see the emergence of modern states.
  • Tilly shows that the modern state model is not the result of war generally, but of wars in a political system, knowing that the context of modern state formation in Europe is not necessarily applicable today. Does this mean that any positive link between war and state building is wrong in the contemporary world? Leander shows in Wars and the Un-Making of States: Taking Tilly Seriously in the Contemporary World published in 2004 that the current international context in which postcolonial states were formed is not conducive to Charles Tilly's analysis. Outside this context, the effects of the war will produce very different effects than those described by Charles Tilly. The mode of export out of Europe was done through other means, through colonization, decolonization, but also by international organizations that participated in exporting state knowledge and then formatted the post-colonial states in a Western model. It can be considered that even if Leander is right about Tilly's analysis, there are nevertheless sometimes positive links between war and state building in some wars, even if it is difficult to show this positive link. In some conflicts, we still see state building through war, even if this means abandoning the European-centred definition of statehood.

We have to be careful with the idea of a universal linear history, this is what we call historicalism or evolutionism, which is found in the theories of modernization, which are an intellectual unit that can be traced back to Marx or even Locke. This vision considers that in order to understand post-colonial states, third world states and political organisations, it is necessary to study European history, since these states would be at a stage that European states experienced several hundred years ago. Tilly's theory was founded by looking at European history from which Europe would provide the implicit and explicit model. At the same time, it is undeniable that Europe and the "West" are exporting their political models beyond their borders. It is necessary to see how legal, administrative and bureaucratic norms have often been forged elsewhere and exported through colonization or through international organizations under the influence of Western states, following standards of "good governance" and democracy forged by Western regimes.

The debate on "fragile states"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the post-colonial world, wars would be both a factor in weakening states and the consequence of weakening states. Authors attempt to reverse the causality identified by Tilly. In the post-colonial world, war defeats states in the same way that weakening states leads to war.

A whole series of theories tries to analyse conflicts in the Middle East through the constitutive weakness of states. It is true that since 1945, the majority of armed conflicts throughout the world have been civil wars, not inter-state wars. The decline of inter-state wars has been faster than the decline of civil wars, especially after the 1990s, which means that there are many more civil wars today than there are inter-state wars. In reality, both forms of warfare decline, but inter-state wars decline more rapidly. It is not possible to say that there has been a decline in inter-state wars in favour of a new type of war.

There is a weakening of post-colonial states that has led to a number of wars, creating a particularly political debate about the risks posed by failed states and fragile states, knowing that a fragile state would be more likely to fall into civil war or a sanctuary for terrorist groups and that post-colonial states would need to be strengthened to strengthen this dynamic. In The Coming Anarchy published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1994, Kaplan said that the attempt by postcolonial states to set up administrations and governments more or less modelled on Western models has failed and this creates a situation of anarchy and a return to the state of nature. There would be a return of the struggle of all against all according to the postulate of Hobbes.

When we speak of a "fragile state", we do not speak of a "state" as such, but of "political resistance". A distinction must be made between "State","government" and "political system" because there is a tendency to confuse interpretations. The debate on "fragile states" refers to the idea that the capacities of political regimes are so limited that it puts their citizens and neighbouring states at risk. Zartman uses the notion of "collapsed states", Callaghy of "leviathans blade" and Holsti of "fragile states","state weakness". All of these authors focus on a link between the phenomenon of state, government or regime that they see as failing to extract resources from the population both in terms of creating effective bureaucracy, raising taxes and failing to provide essential services. This leads to conflicts widely analysed through a framework that sees as Hobbes the absence of a state as a regression factor, if not towards a state of nature at least a permanent state of war against all.

The "state collapse" mechanism is used by Zartman after the 1990s. States created after decolonization after the Second World War had very few domestic resources in terms of security, weapons systems, know-how and bureaucracy. However, this did not create any particular effects during the Cold War because it was a situation of competitive patronization of post-colonial states by the superpowers, namely the United States and the USSR. This rivalry between the USSR and the United States involved trying to break into third world countries, but not into the central theatre of the Cold War, which was the Central and Eastern European plains. As such a war was impossible, the two great powers tried to extend the conflict to the periphery of colonial states by an attempt to buy allegiance, to strengthen to consolidate the "friendly" third world states that were challenged by the guerrillas of the opposing blocs. Clientelism was recurrent in a context where competition between the socialist and capitalist bloc led the superpowers to spend resources to expand their influence. States have even gone so far as to change sides, such as Ethiopia and Somalia, showing that third world states during the Cold War were able to use this competitive structure to obtain external resources to cope with their lack of internal resources. With the end of the Cold War, competitive patronage ceased. We stop supporting undemocratic regimes in the context of the Cold War confrontation and the USSR collapses, the Russian Federation does not have the means to pursue Soviet policies. This is how states will collapse after the Cold War. These states only held on because there were resources provided by the logic of the Cold War. Once the Cold War is over, these resources cease, weakening the government of the day and reinforcing internal opposition leading to civil wars and a resurgence of civil wars after the end of the Cold War.

In Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third Word published in 1990, Jackson explains how we have moved from a state where "empirical sovereignty" that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe has "purely legal sovereignty", but without "empirical sovereignty". The modern state that emerged in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was marked by the legal principle of non-intervention["juridical statehood"], but at the same time it was an empirical state in the sense that it had a certain number of resources enabling it to administer its territory, to raise an army, to raise taxes, to create an administration of civil servants who were competent and independent of society. With the decolonization movement in the 1950s until the 1970s, we see the emergence of "quasi-States"["Quasi-states"] which are States in the legal sense of the term with negative sovereignty enjoyed the principle of non-intervention, but which do not have the "empirical statehood" that does not have the capacity to govern their territory. Negative, purely legal negative sovereignty based on non-intervention becomes a liability for these States because the legal principles of sovereignty oblige these States to play the inter-State game, presupposing that they have the capacity to ensure the security of their citizens in their national territory, to be able to dissuade neighbours from intervening in their territory even though they do not have the capacity to do so. This will lead to the third type of wars described by Holsti.

Numer of reporter battle deats 1946 2006.jpg

This idea that there would have been an upsurge in civil wars with the end of the Cold War must be considerably qualified. The first graph shows the number of war-related deaths between 1946 and 2006 and the number of conflict related deaths. There is a decline between 1950 and 2006, which would therefore tend to show that there was no explosion in the number of deaths caused by the war, linked to a supposed return from the war of all against all in the Hobbesian state, to take Robert Kaplan's thoughts.

Number of conflits ri3 1.jpg

There is a peak around 1990 when there seems to be more conflicts in the world than in 1950, but at the same time the number of conflicts remains relatively constant over the period 1950 to 2005. This shows that wars around the world appear to be becoming less lethal between 1950 and 2006. If there is an increase in the number of conflicts between 1960 and 1990, it is not because there is an increase in the number of conflicts per year, but because ongoing conflicts tend to persist over time. In other words, civil wars tend to persist over time.

These are long term conflicts that are difficult to date. There is an increase in the number of conflicts related to the fact that the wars started earlier lasted over time, particularly since the civil wars in the Third World see a government against a sustained guerrilla warfare. After 1990, there is a decline in the number of conflicts in the world without a significant decline in the number of wars. What has changed with the end of the Cold War is that there is a tendency to make the conflicts that begin much shorter than before. There is a decline in civil wars in the Third World before 1990. Statistics do not support Robert Kaplan or Mary Kaldor in her 1999 book "New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era".

What Holsti calls "state weakness" is more subtle than these analyses, even though it is the weakness of post-colonial states that explains the number of civil wars after 1945. The problem is that there are at least three dimensions of the state: legal, sociological and institutional.

  • the state-strength dilemma [dilemme de la force d’État] : Post-colonial states have weapons from the former colonial power or from one of the two Cold War camps, they have colonial administration and are relatively capable of suppressing demonstrations or internal political protest movements, but at the same time they are weak in terms of legitimacy. Borders have generally been drawn by the former colonial power, political personnel are not elected, but often come from the army without necessarily having democratic legitimacy, even if they may have historical legitimacy. This is what Holsti calls "vertical legitimism", but there is also a problem of "horizontal legitimism" which is that most citizens of these states do not recognize most of the constituent communities of the state in question as part of that state. There are irredentist movements with the desire to annex neighbouring states, considering that certain populations are their own. Others will try to secede in order to redraw political boundaries, partly because there are economic interests, but also because there is no recognition of the national community based on a willingness to live together and shared values. This creates the dilemma of state power: what these post-colonial governments do not have in legitimacy, they try to replace it by resorting to force, creating a dilemma because resorting to force against their own people is a way of sustaining itself over time, but it further erodes legitimacy.
  • the patrimonial State: it is the tendency in the Middle Ages to consider that the financial means at the disposal of the king and the royal estate are not constituting a public sphere, but the private property of the king. The state budget was the private purse of the king, his army and his fiefdom by making it a state based on property. Neopatrimonialism has often been applied to post-colonial third world states in order to explain the clientelist system in place in post-colonial states, which consists of buying with public money allegiances that can only be constituted on the basis of legitimacy. The principle of maintaining these post-colonial governments is linked to the use of force and patronization by paying local elites to support the government of the day. This presupposes significant economic means on the part of the central government, making the regime vulnerable to economic crises that could lead to a reversal of some local elites once paid for by this system of clientelism against the government in place. Bachar Al Assad took power in Syria in 2000, changing the economic policy of his father Hafez el-Assad. It tries to liberalize the bassist regime not so much by opening it politically, but from an economic point of view to make the system more favourable to certain entrepreneurs. It also implies the loss of the poorest sectors of society that had hitherto supported the Hafez el-Assad regime, which had a clientelist policy explaining why some marginalized sectors of the Sunni population will oppose it.
  • the contested boundaries of political communities.

This leads to the wars of the third type according to Holsti linked to colonial history and the third world that emerged after the Second World War. Civil wars generate interventionism and destabilize neighbouring states. There are systems of conflict that mutually support insurrections within their rival states, so that intertwined civil wars often degenerate into transnational warfare.

Ri3 failed states 1.png
Ri3 failed states 2.png

The whole literature on fragile states has served to objectify the notion of failed state. With this map, we can see that the failed state problem gives priority to third world states and second world states.

Ri3 failed states 3.jpg

Geographically, there seems to be a link between what the southern states have in common: their colonial history and their propensity for internal conflict.

This map shows violent conflicts in 2013. This map raises a number of questions. The other map shows that conflicts are actually localized.

The notion of a failed state has been criticized for many reasons. On the one hand, it is Eurocentric and supported by a normative vision of the State. It is a state that differs from what would be considered a "successful state" that would be the western state or at least the state of a number of so-called developed countries that provide the model to the rest of the world. This is based on a normative vision because the states that would have "succeeded" would be peaceful and non-violent, raising an idealised but historically false vision. The notion of a failed state does not take into account local power structures. There is the idea that in the absence of a power structure, a government and therefore a modern state, there is a lack of power structures and therefore wars between all against all. Just because there is no centralized system does not mean that there is no local power structure. In situations described as a failed state, there are structures based on "anocracy" that stop struggles based on local elites in the absence of public institutions with legal status. Anocracy is a power based on a fragile balance between elites that are not based on democratic institutions. Elite struggles between elites can be either violent as in Somalia and non-violent as in Pountland and Somaliland. This vision is based on an idealized vision of the state.

In On the Postcolony published in 2001, Achille Mbembe describes the political uses of this concept:"Unlike the fable of the Weapons of Mass Destruction, it rests on a political mythology that is all the more robust to the extent that, as with all theologies, it cannot be falsified. Codified in the US Government's National Security Strategy of 2002, state failure has been tendered as the significant clause in the doctrine of pre-emption. That document famously announced that' America is now threatened less by conquering states than by failing ones'". The notion of a failed state is used to justify interventions taking place for other reasons.

The "burden" of the Third World[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There are alternative interpretations of the positive feedback loop between war and state "weakening" established by many authors. The retroactive loop can be challenged.

The first would be Tilly's strictly evolutionary and universalistic interpretation. A second is Cohen, Brown and Organski in The Paradoxical Nature of State Making. The construction of the State creates internal turmoil at first, it is only after a certain threshold that it becomes a factor of stability. The authors do not consider that war strengthens states through the extraction of resources from their internal society, but they consider that it is the strengthening of states that leads to internal wars. It is the fact that these are States under construction obliged to extract resources from their populations, even though these governments are not considered legitimate and create internal opposition. They overturned Tilly's reasoning by saying that war is not a factor in the constitution of the state, but that it is the fact that it is states under construction that justifies internal wars. At a certain level of resource concentration, the government becomes powerful enough to strengthen itself further. Cohen, Brown and Organski's reasoning is more complex than it seems. To some extent, they make it clear that sometimes weak states are in civil wars, but this does not mean that they are weakening. These are strengthening States that do not have the possibility and the capacity to legitimize further strengthening and, from a certain threshold effect, the construction of the State will become a pacification factor.

A third is that of Malesevic, war can be a factor of "modernization" as well as "regression", but the problem here is to maintain a linear interpretation of history. A fourth would be that of Mohammed Ayoob as described in his article "Humanitarian Intervention and State Sovereignty" published in 2002, for which the war remains linked to dynamics of state building, but which are diffracted by the context of colonial post-independence, producing paradoxical effects. He will insist on three points.

The internal security dilemma[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The notion of the dilemma of domestic insecurity is reflected in an incomplete or partial state process, as most countries in the South face a more difficult task with a different temporality in much shorter timescales. The political centre of these new states is still in strong competition with competing political communities for the struggle for power. In other words, there is only one political centre in a society in which there are mutually exclusive political communities fighting for power. According to Ayoob, the groups remain in mutual distrust and fear. The failed states have difficulty establishing a monopoly.

Several characteristics of the domestic insecurity dilemma can be distinguished:

  • disputed legitimacy of the government;
  • authoritarian governments;
  • Inner enemy;
  • distinction between military and police activities;
  • Establishing a connection between inner and outer enmity and sometimes wars of diversion.

State building and extroversion strategies[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Resource extraction involves a process of internationalization rather than endogenous processes. For example, the Magna Carta is a power-sharing agreement between the king and his main lords in exchange for the possibility of being able to extract internal resources in terms of taxes, taxes or people to wage war. The monopolization of resources is a power sharing like Norbert Elias's support. From the moment when a government does not need to reach agreement with the different actors of society, we are in another sequence. When the state does not have to make an effort to accumulate internal resources, it transforms the relationship between the state and society.

The impact of the international level[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The changing context is the impact of the international level. There are at least two points to note:

  • Since the Second World War, external borders have been imposed: the question of the intangibility of international borders is a factor that has changed the situation. In Neverending Wars published in 2005, Ann Hironaka does not question the efforts of civilization from a normative point of view, but emphasizes the practical effects of this difference, which is that if we stigmatize a failed state, we must not forget that these are states that have not had the same opportunities to form themselves as European states. The intangibility of borders must be taken into account, especially since the borders of most southern countries have been imposed by the decolonization process.
  • The third world as an outlet for tensions between "great powers": even if we left the colonial period, the Cold War was a time when many wars were waged by "proxy". This calls into question the idyllic idea of the Cold War as a period of peace since there have been proxies wars such as in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The Cold War context fuelled conflicts in countries of the South and prevented the process of monopolizing resources leading to the monopoly of symbolic violence.

International standards are more favourable to individual rights claims than to the primitive accumulation of state powers: if a faction conducts large-scale massacres to secure a territory leading to the construction of a state that can become a functioning democracy, the massacres will create a range of reactions from the international community that will focus on the issue of individual rights. This is a different process from the northern states.

Conclusion[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Civil wars are generally perceived as destructive conflicts of the state. We must be wary of rhetoric about failed states. Civil wars can also be interpreted as constitutive of political modernity. For Leander, exporting the western model is not easy, applying Tilly to the countries of the south is complicated, but it also brings a critique of the realistic argument that if the countries of the south need time, then we must leave it to them. Edward Luttwak in Give War a Chance published in 1998 in Foreign Affairs, postulates that the countries of the South should be given a chance to constitute themselves through war[9].

Notes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Bibliography[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. [Davidshofer | University of Geneva] -
  2. Publications de Stephan Davidshofer |
  3. Davidshofer, Stephan. “La Gestion De Crise Européenne Ou Quand L'Europe Rencontre La Sécurité : Modalités Pratiques Et Symboliques D'une Autonomisation.” Http://, Paris, Institut D'études Politiques, 1 Jan. 2009
  4. Page personnelle de Christian Olsson sur le site de l'Université Libre de Bruxelles
  5. Page de Christian Olsson sur
  6. Profile Linkedin de Christian Olsson
  7. Jackson, Robert H. “Quasi States Sovereignty International Relations and Third World | International Relations and International Organisations.” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, 18 Mar. 1993,
  8. “Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations And The Third World.” Foreign Affairs, 28 Jan. 2009,
  9. Luttwak, Edward N. “Give War a Chance.” Foreign Affairs, 28 Jan. 2009,