Power of Statelessness

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Essay: Jakub Grygiel. The Power of Statelessness. Policy Review, 2009.

URL = http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/41708942.html


Jakub Grygiel has written a very cogent “John-Robb-ian” essay at the Hoover Institution, written from the standpoint of power itself. It’s main thesis is that the state form is no longer something that is being aspired to by the new type of insurgents, whether they are worldchangers or criminal organizations.


A must read, some brief experts.

On statelessness:

“Most political groups in modern history have wanted to build and control a state. Whether movements of self-determination in the 19th century, of decolonization in the post–World War II decades, or political parties advocating separatism in several Western states in the 1990s (e.g., Italy and Quebec) — all aimed at one thing: to have a separate state that they could call their own. The means they employed to achieve this end ranged from terrorism and guerilla warfare to political pressure and electoral campaigns, but the ultimate goal was the same — creation of its own state.

It is the ultimate goal no longer, and it is likely to be even less so in the future. Many of today’s nonstate groups do not aspire to have a state. In fact, they are considerably more capable of achieving their objectives and maintaining their social cohesion without a state apparatus. The state is a burden for them, while statelessness is not only very feasible but also a source of enormous power. Modern technologies allow these groups to organize themselves, seek financing, and plan and implement actions against their targets — almost always other states — without ever establishing a state of their own. They seek power without the responsibility of governing. The result is the opposite of what we came to know over the past two or three centuries: Instead of groups seeking statehood through a variety of means, they now pursue a range of objectives while actively avoiding statehood. Statelessness is no longer eschewed as a source of weakness but embraced as an asset.”

Four key reasons:

“Broadly, four factors or trends are allowing stateless groups to survive and be effective. The first two point to the feasibility of stateless groups; the second two to their desirability.

  • The state is no longer the only way to organize and manage large groups. New technologies impart cohesion and strength to an increasingly larger number of dispersed individuals.
  • The proliferation of weapons and dual-use technologies challenges the monopoly of violence of states by allowing individuals or small bands of people to present serious security and strategic challenges.
  • The presence today of great powers, and especially of the American preponderance of power, with growing military capabilities to destroy other states, serves as a strong incentive to keep a low, stateless profile: To be stateless is to decrease one’s own footprint, to decrease one’s chance of being a target of retaliation, and thereby to increase one’s odds of survival.
  • Many of the modern groups espouse radical ideas, tinted by religious and/or extremist views, making them less interested in the establishment of states. States require some sort of political compromise and, even if they are managed in an authoritarian or totalitarian style, they rarely can match the expectations of extremists who tend to become disappointed in political solutions.”

What is means for state policy:

“The question therefore is one of balance: How much will states have to decentralize in order to withstand potential disruptive attacks from stateless actors, while at the same time maintaining a level of centralization and power necessary to deter and, if necessary, defeat peer competitors? To put it differently, will the state’s perfect defensive measures against stateless actors — pervasive devolution of power, development of small and localized security providers — result in considerable weakening of that state relative to its neighbors? I do not offer an answer to this very important question. But the problem of nonstate actors will not go away. The trends underlying their resurgence are strong and outside of the control of a single nation or even a community of concerned nations. And given the inherent difficulties of implementing both offensive and defensive strategies to cope with these actors, we ought to be prepared for a prolonged period of constant conflict which may lead, as suggested here, to a change in the very nature of the state as we know it.” (http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/41708942.html)