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Issue 454 -- Oct 09 - 15, 2010
The New Rules: Building Real States To Empower The Bottom Billion
Thomas P.M. Barnett | BIO |
America's top African diplomat recently signaled Washington's desire to establish more official contacts with the autonomous region of Somaliland, which sits within the internationally recognized borders of the failed state known as Somalia. Meanwhile, both our Agency for International Development and the Pentagon's recently established Africa Command worry about Sudan's upcoming vote on formally splitting the country in two. For a country that has sworn off nation-building, it's interesting to see just how hard it is for America to remain on the sidelines while globalization remaps so much of the developing world.
Not that globalization causes changes that otherwise would not occur. It's just that globalization, and the connecting opportunities it offers, tends to empower groups within weak or artificial states to plot their escape routes. That's why the number of states around the world will continue to grow in response to globalization's advance, whether the U.S. gets involved or not.
Weak states are pretty easy to spot, since they cannot control their territory. But what's an "artificial state"? It depends on the degree to which that nation's borders were drawn, rather than discovered.
Development expert William Easterly's research on artificial states finds that postcolonial states with more straight-line borders experience less political stability and economic success than postcolonial states with more irregularly shaped, or squiggly, frontiers. If a country's borders are squiggly, it's probably because they conform to some natural geographic delineator, or perhaps because past wars bent them according to tribal boundaries. Conversely, where borders are straight, it's probably because some foreign colonial power drew them for nefarious reasons, such as dividing ethnic groups to create permanently unhappy minority populations in fake states ruled by competing tribes. The resulting regimes were thereby kept weak by their inability to effectively control their own national territory, leaving them dependent on their colonial patrons.
The Middle East, anchored by the fake state of Iraq -- where Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis were slapped together by the British -- is just the tip of this iceberg. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin did a similar number on Central Asia, creating five states that all ended up with substantial minorities linking them inextricably to their neighbors. A case in point is Kyrgyzstan, whose recent instability featured the usual majority ethnicity violence against the minority Uzbeks.
If we take Easterly's notion of artificial states, and combine them with former World Bank economist Paul Collier's notion of the "bottom billion," or that share of the global economy which did not take off like the rest of the world with the rising connectivity over the past two decades, we find ourselves deep inside those parts of the world most likely to birth new fragile states in coming years.
Collier says that 58 countries make up the bottom billion, whose populations now earn a mere one-fifth in income compared with recent globalizers like China. Unsurprisingly, many are located in the interior of Africa and Central Asia. As such, virtually all can be considered the victims of colonial mapmakers. Indeed, Collier argues that there is simply no logical reason why there should be any landlocked African nations. Only 1 percent of the advanced West's population suffers the odd combination of being landlocked and resource-poor, whereas almost one-third of Africa endures this fate. It's not surprising that they simply lack the resources to become coherent states. As Collier notes, "Many of these countries are not just falling behind, they are falling apart."
As Easterly pointed out in his magnificent book, "The White Man's Burden," former colonies that score high on partitioned ethnic populations consistently score low on things like democracy, government services, rule of law, lack of corruption, infant longevity, literacy, and clean water. The only thing they do consistently score high on is civil strife. According to Easterly's research, 80 percent of Africa's borders correspond to latitudinal and longitudinal lines, where some colonial master took a ruler to a map. Sadly, Africa's record on ethnic violence in the post-Cold War era is all too familiar.
So long as the U.S. remains a global military superpower, it is going to be drawn into plenty of these fake-state scenarios over the next couple of decades as globalization continues its astonishingly rapid advance. For whenever the global economy effectively penetrates these straight-line borders, some group on the inside wants the equivalent of a national divorce, or worse, wants back-payments from neighbors for historical grievances and perceived exploitation.
Those who make the first move are typically the most ambitious and capable. Examples are the Slovenes and Croatians of the former Yugoslavia, the autonomous Kurds in Iraq, or Bolivia's Santa Cruz province, which recently threatened secession. At other times the dispossessed simply rise up in spontaneous mass violence in response to the right kind of political trigger, as in Kenya's disputed 2007 election or Rwanda's 1994 genocidal fit of rage. In fact, the latter's origins can arguably be traced all the way back to the Versailles Treaty of 1919, which gave the former German colony to the Belgians, who thereafter placed the minority Tutsi in privileged control over the majority Hutu.
The world's great powers must collectively remain willing to intervene militarily to prevent or tamp down such ethnic conflict as it arises, and this needs to be part of America's strategic dialogue with China. Otherwise, the U.S. will continue to find itself at loggerheads with the Chinese over these failed and failing states, upon whom Beijing is becoming increasingly resource-dependent. The answer is simple: Working together, the United States and China need to target the bottom billion for pre-emptive nation-building and "external" improvements that better link those populations to globalization's networks. China is arguably the most aggressive economy-builder in the world today, and America is the biggest provider of foreign aid. Together, those two capabilities can forge workable solutions.
Such a grand strategy approach would logically include somehow binding these landlocked states into economic "corridor" packages that link them to coastal states. In Central Asia, this means a corridor that connects the region both westward, through the Black Sea -- thus countering Russia in the Caucasus -- and southward, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean (and India's booming middle class). In Africa, it would mean radial-style corridors that connect landlocked countries to the major ports. In combination, then, such a grand strategy vision would kill two birds with one stone: connecting the bottom billion while improving the security situation in the two great regions where the influence of radical Islam threatens to spread from its center of gravity in the Middle East.
To effectively address these challenges, the U.S. -- and Americans -- must accept that they will continue to face three inescapable realities. First, globalization will naturally fracture fake states and thus birth new, weak ones. Second, the most likely agents of globalization's connectivity will come from the East. And third, our aid and security strategies need to consist of getting in front of these powerful forces, not to stop them, but to shape the ultimate outcomes.
Thomas P.M. Barnett is senior managing director of Enterra Solutions LLC and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His latest book is "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush" (2009). His weekly WPR column, The New Rules, appears every Monday. Reach him and his blog at thomaspmbarnett.com.
Photo: Girls wearing the colors of the Somaliland flag before elections, December 2005 (Photo by flickr user F. Omer, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License).
Source: World Politics Review