Sudan: In Search of a Model
As Sudanese from all walks of life anticipate the historic referendum on national unity scheduled for 2011, it is an appropriate time for the international community to reconsider its expectations and assumptions about Sudan’s likely future by reexamining the lens through which it views two salient aspects of the country’s post-independence experience: state-making and war-making.
Sometimes, it is the simplest truths that are most useful. Dr. T. Lindsay Moore of Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies has perceptively observed that all policy prescriptions are ultimately based upon some instrumental theory about how the world works, whether implicit or explicit, proven or unproven. One who proposes to end military conflict through negotiated settlement assumes that all combatants will ultimately be willing to accept some end-state that is short of total victory. Likewise, an advocate for the privatization of a public utility usually believes that the opportunity for profit will incentivize contractors to deliver cheaper, more efficient services than could government. In this essay, I build on Mohammed Ayoob’s theories of state-making in the developing world to make the argument that contemporary Sudan is both a byproduct and captive of the Westphalian model of statehood inherited from Europe. I go on to suggest that many Western observers of state-making in Sudan have failed to adequately understand the history of that model, leading to inevitable frustration. I conclude with a brief discussion of challenges that will confront all Sudanese after the referendum, whatever its outcome.
The Westphalian State
According to Paul D. Williams, “[T]he defining characteristic of the Westphalian ideal of statehood has been the right of states to exercise five monopoly powers: the right to monopolize control of the instruments of violence; the sole right to tax citizens; the prerogative of ordering the political allegiances of citizens and of enlisting their support in war; the sovereign right to adjudicate disputes between citizens; [and] the exclusive right of representation in international society which has been linked with the authority to bind the whole community in international law.” A complementary definition by Krasner holds that the Westphalian state is based on the principles of “territoriality and the exclusion of external actors from domestic authority structures.” Admittedly, the Westphalian state is an ideal. As Josef Joffe points out, states have rarely defended their sovereignty as jealously as the model suggests, often embracing international institutions that strain against the ideal of total non-interference, and are frequently willing to trample the rights and prerogatives of others. Yet the Westphalian model remains important because it offers a collection of norms to which much of the world aspires, and which continue to provide much of the basis for international political exchange.
Monopoly and exclusion are central characteristics of the present international order. “Hard-shelled” statehood of the kind envisioned by Hans Morgenthau is a tangible reality. In international relations, borders and jurisdiction matter, even when boundaries are frequently violated, and borderlands neglected. Thus, while individuals may distinguish between juridical and actual sovereignty, recognizing the limits of a particular state, the international community has consciously avoided acknowledgement of the problem. The ungoverned spaces of the world have already been awarded. It is accepted that they await the application of sovereignty. They cannot exercise it for themselves.
Westphalian sovereignty is highly relevant in the developing world. Statehood on the European example was the expectation (and ambition) of every former colony through the achievement of majority rule in Zimbabwe in 1980. As Williams writes, the Charter of the Organization of African Unity, and Africa’s ready participation in the institutional side of international statehood, indicate that continent’s clear commitment to those norms. Mohammed Ayoob agrees: the Third World’s “commitment to the central postulates of the international system — sovereignty, nonintervention, self-help, codes of diplomacy — has been strong.” Indeed, in Africa, the promise of monopoly and exclusion are today more appealing than in the West. For Ayoob, “Third World elites …. see Westphalian values in their pristine form as the greatest normative and ideological bulwark against both domestic and foreign threats to states and regimes in the Third World.”
Sudan is an enthusiastic proponent of Westphalian statehood and its potential implications for contemporary international order. Khartoum has often insisted on strict respect for Westphalian norms, as when resisting the deployment of peacekeeping forces to Darfur. When on April 3, 2010, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told supporters, “Even America is becoming an NCP member. No one is against our will,” he was sending a message not to the international community, but to his domestic constituency, implying the legitimacy of his rule. The strict dictates of a system first designed to restrain interstate war in 1648 still have great appeal in those large regions of the modern world still troubled by serious domestic turmoil, for they simultaneously delegitimize internal dissent while shutting the door against external involvement. By contrast, the United States and other Western states, no longer satisfied with Westphalian norms, have begun to articulate, and even act on, a new set of norms that reject the promises of 1648, and instead suggest humanitarian community, linking the right of government to the discharge of social responsibilities which many of the governments of the developing world either cannot, or will not, abide.
In some respects, then, Westphalian statehood provides a bulwark behind which a morally agnostic project of state-making can take place undisturbed by the even more onerous demands of building nations. This first task — maturing the state — is itself no small order. Indeed, it has often come exactly in the order we see here: “[I]n almost all cases in Europe, with the exception of the Balkans … the emergence of the modern national state was the precondition for the formation of the nation,” Ayoob posits. Also describing the evolution of the Westphalian system, Williams recounts that, “Even in Europe, as Teschke observed, the practical acquisition of these [five] monopoly powers sometimes took centuries of often violent turmoil and social upheaval,” while, “[I]t is clear that most states in Africa are still mired in the relatively early stages of state formation.” The foregoing discussion leads us to several important questions. How did the Westphalian state develop? What are the distinctive characteristics of Westphalian state-making? Is Sudan a typical case? We begin with theories of state-building, in the course of which, we will find it necessary to study theories of war-making.
Theories of State-Making
In thinking about where the state comes from, we are tempted first to ask what the state does. This leads to the problem of separating the intentions of state-building elites from the expectations of those over whom they hold sway. Although, as I shall argue, the state was not originally intended to do so, contemporary states are expected to solve what might be called “problems of want.” Whether by action or inaction, it is often the state, as the locus of both “hard” and “soft” power, that makes possible the civic and productive freedoms that permit citizens to enjoy what the United States Declaration of Independence succinctly sums up as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Armed conflict frequently arises when the state’s capacity to fulfill the promises of this role is outrun by popular expectation.
I posit that all conflict within the state can best be understood as a reflection of state weakness measured across two dimensions: coercive power and popular legitimacy. Conflict signals the breakdown of what Dziedzic and Hawley call “viable peace,” or the relatively livable conditions that prevail when “zero-sum” aspects of political interaction are substantially reduced, and grievances are negotiated with buy-in from all or most stakeholders — in short, when “problems of want” are adequately addressed. The vital precondition for viable peace is a government’s effective exercise of what Moore calls “suasion,” across both dimensions. In other words, viable peace will result when a government possesses sufficient military force to cow power-brokers who refuse above-board compromise (be they foreign or domestic), and sufficient legitimacy that resistance or opposition is hard to come by. Often, this legitimacy is obtained through the provision of goods and services to some or all members of the polity, whether directly, as through payouts, or indirectly, as when the government simply provides the foundation of laws and infrastructure for commercial activity. According to T. Lindsay Moore, broad popular legitimacy is granted only when citizens are assured of physical security, productive well-being, and cultural continuity. When the state is at its strongest on both dimensions (power and legitimacy), order is a distinguishing feature of everyday life, and violence becomes a deviation rarely understood as a political act. The fear that otherwise incites groups to mobilize and politicize for reasons of self-defense (a potentially provocative move that may inflame neighbors), and the space for violent manipulation by unscrupulous political entrepreneurs, will be low when a government is strong, impartial, and based on consent. Under these circumstances, there will exist a single, undisputed source of law and order that can provide binding and unconditional resolution to significant disputes and deliver a variety of other social goods, stimulating civil society, and meeting all of the requirements outlined in Williams’ definition of Westphalian sovereignty.
Not all peace is viable. Sometimes, governments achieve “simple peace,” or the absence of overt violence, but without the corresponding reduction of potentially deadly grievance. In these instances, the state is an institutional and practical reality, but legitimacy exists only in immature form (as acquiescence), and political stability is questionable over the mid- and long-term. As indicated earlier, Westphalia recognizes polities of this type as acceptable bearers of the privileges of statehood. There is only a very low threshold of political responsibility. All states in the developing world are still aspiring to popular legitimacy, in part because so many do not yet possess the monopoly over legitimate use of force. In other words, they are confronted with the problem of insecurity.
According to Ayoob, sources of insecurity in the developing world “include the lack of unconditional legitimacy for state boundaries, state institutions, and regimes; inadequate social cohesion; and the absence of societal consensus on fundamental issues of social, economic, and political organization.” He adds that, “These problems typically arise during the early stages of state building, when state makers attempt to impose order, monopolize instruments of violence, and demand the exclusive loyalties of their populations.” As Ayoob has recognized, all of these activities are consistent with the Westphalian model of state formation. For an assessment of that process, I turn to Charles Tilly’s discussion of state-building early-modern Europe, from which Sudan and most others have obtained their model. Indeed, Ayoob remarks, “Tilly’s description of conditions in Europe at the birth of national states has an uncanny resemblance to present conditions in many Third World societies.”
Charles Tilly’s Europe
In early-modern Europe, the chief power-brokers after the fall of Rome were the wealthy, land-owning elite — those with the excess capacity to wage war and develop institutions of governance. Tilly perceives that these individuals were primarily gratifying their own self-interest. The polities which they ultimately fashioned were not the product of some “grand bargain” with the governed, but a set of norms and institutions, largely economic, imposed at sword-point across a specific geographical space, and working to the benefit of the power-accumulators themselves. Tilly’s concept of the state is minimalist: it is, quite simply, a collection of functionally discrete, at least marginally coherent institutions that “more or less successfully” exercises a monopoly of force over those gathered within a “large, contiguous” geographical space. This exercise enables the mobilization of productive capacity in an effective manner. Tilly’s approach is the more interesting because there is no requirement of highly engaged governance as we measure it today in the West: the state is merely a given parcel of land over which there is one recognized authority who has established and perpetuates functional structures. Whether the state generates one florin or fifty, and whether the people are starved or well-fed, is of no consequence. The state exists so long as it flatters or purports to flatter one man, while also constituting an inescapable reality for others. Here, we run directly into the theory formulated by Englebert in Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow: once the state is established, it is a thing to be coveted: “‘Because of the benefits of legal command relative the few nonstate opportunities for advancement and accumulation, African political elites, regional leaders, and other communal contenders face compelling incentives to surrender subnational particularistic claims and compete instead for access to the sovereign state, irrespective of the latter’s history of violence against them.'”
According to Tilly, the first phase of “the state-making process” was characterized by an absence of both monopoly and legitimacy. Although there might have been a preeminent warlord who exercised some of the functions of governance and enjoyed some of the assent mentioned above, this was tenuous: a number of actors were commissioned to do violence or take plunder before a national army existed as one coherent entity. These ranged from individual soldiers to minor subordinate lords that “successfully claimed the right to levy troops and maintain their own armed retainers.” The paramount lord has uneasy relations with subordinate power-brokers: he is at once beholden to them for military support, and at pains to gradually relieve them of the same means so as to better secure his own position. As Frederic Lane put it, governments market protection. Yet, a glut of providers is bad for business. According to Tilly, we imagine that this is the case because the commodity is mutually exclusive (the “buyer” cannot ordinarily obtain it from more than one source), and that sales are under duress (the “buyer” can rarely choose from whom he will take his protection). Thus, in an unconstrained moral environment, there is incentive to pursue the elimination of one’s rivals. Depending on who manages a government, the balance between profit and rent will differ. Where providers of protection are, in fact, the government (that is, a military junta), we would expect that they would extract as high a monopoly rent as possible, while paying little attention to whether anything useful is done in the way of actually delivering that protection; an oligarchy will try to do the same, save for paying attention to the defense of its economic interests. Starting only with those who have power and merely want more, Tilly suggests that the state was incidental. Subordination of rivals gradually increased in cost and difficulty such that ever more complex and wealth-bearing social organization and infrastructure was required, leading to reinvestment, administration, wider differentiation of labor, and bargaining. This image of Europe during and before the seventeenth century can be mapped almost perfectly onto the contemporary state of affairs in the Darfur region, where the government raised tribal militia to compensate for military weakness, but has sometimes found that these forces are beholden only unto themselves.
Tilly in Africa
Ironically, while initially asserting that his program could inform developments outside of Europe, Tilly elsewhere alleged that post-colonial nations obtained power as an exogenous given, with international borders effectively inviolate by law, and pre-existing military organizations that did not need to be honed over time. These considerations are insufficient to invalidate the model. As Ayoob convincingly argues, Third World elites are as much in the business of consolidating their power as any medieval potentate in the West: “[T]he typical developing nation lacks adequate stateness – defined as a balance of coercive capacity, infrastructural power, and unconditional legitimacy” that can sideline alternative power-brokers, deliver public goods, and purport to speak for a unitary national identity.
A theory of internal war reliant on state weakness has strong explanatory power. Since 1945, there has been a net gain of more than 100 new states in the international system. Yet it is also useful to remember that, whereas modern Europe is comprised of only a few states, many of which purport to have a distinctive ethnic and cultural identity, there were once hundreds of entities competing for preeminence. The world does not mourn the Duchy of Burgundy. Obtaining “stateness” as described by Ayoob has traditionally required harsh suppression of alternative identities and interests, both internal and external. Ayoob perceives that the developing world is currently caught in the turmoil generated by the competing and often mutually exclusive demands of juridical statehood and human rights, which “force all of the diverse and dissatisfied elements within [Third World] states to remain within their postcolonial boundaries while at the same time encouraging those elements to make political, administrative, and economic demands the states cannot begin to satisfy, either because they lack the capabilities or because doing so could jeopardize their territorial integrity.” The states most likely to champion human rights are those that long ago achieved statehood without reference to moral qualification. If, as van Evera purports, inequality in the “supply and demand for states” can generate war – and this seems valid, since both the monoethnic state achieved through secession and the “new” state established via regime-change may be regarded as heuristic devices promising presumptive satisfaction of specific group objectives – then today’s wars are being fought in exactly the places one would expect.
Again, the state-builder gradually fights his way into need of a state. Tilly’s state-building included four key competencies: prosecution of violence against external opponents; elimination of internal opponents by war or bargaining; assistance to “clients;” and, finally, the collection of tax. Building in part on this analysis, Ayoob offers a new definition streamlined to three competencies: war-making, policing, and taxation, all of which presume the pursuit of a monopolization of force. Generally speaking, the earlier the phases of this state building, the greater the violence pertaining thereto. Today, the Third World still struggles to address security issues stemming from relative political immaturity, where insecurity is best understood as arising when the political consequences of some event are sufficient to result in repercussions that threaten or diminish state power, as manifest in borders, structure, leadership, and response capacities. Accepting that violence is part and parcel of state creation, Ayoob observes that absence of totalistic legitimacy and the “societal consensus” for unitary action was a problem familiar to state-builders in Europe as much as the Third World; the chief comparative difference lies in that Europe’s struggles are past, while the developing world’s have only just begun. Ayoob asserts frankly that state-making has involved “piecemeal incorporation” of actors whose parochial “social, economic or political interests” are at odds with the centralizing state, via divide-and-conquer strategies, or “even . . . using force,” and accepts implicitly that the future may be no less violent. Perhaps equally important, states are today prohibited by tradition (i.e., lack of precedent) from repudiation of their own responsibilities over geographic space: they may not govern, but they are still considered governors under international law, with all the political assumptions (and presumptive rights) therein entailed.
Jeffrey Herbst claims that African government is almost uniformly frustrated by the colonial legacy, because due to low population density, governance of the expansive territorial states of post-colonial Africa entails unusually high costs. As he explains, statesmen have tended to exercise meaningful control over specific assets – the national capital, “critical urban areas,” and the most important means of production or extraction – while authority in the periphery becomes a function of opportunity. The outcome of the strict application of international norms of sovereignty is the preservation of the weak state despite its demonstrated irrelevance to societies at the territorial margins.
This highly articulate, well-respected legal structure of sovereignty, combined with the general weakness of many states in the developing world, helps explain both the relative paucity of secessionist groups in recent African history identified by Engelbert, as well as the relatively low instance of interstate war on the African continent. As both Biafrans and Katanganese learned to their lasting chagrin, the international community provides recognized states with potent tools that both enhance their ability to deliver social goods (i.e., access to developmental assistance from international institutions), as well as to combat irredentism (i.e., embargo). Furthermore, when access to military resources is generally low, the juridical state enjoys enormous advantage. As observed by Tilly, it was the juridical state that inherited the arms and levies left behind by the colonial power. The juridical state will also generally have the wherewithal to procure replacements, and therefore enjoys enormous advantage. South Sudan and Eritrea fought long odds, and possess far less impressive arsenals than their cross-border adversaries, whatever the quality of their infantry. However, it should not be forgotten that, to some extent, extension of sovereignty may not be what opponents of state power are after. The still-unfolding violence in the eastern DRC began as an attempt by foreign powers to meddle in Zaire’s internal politics, but gradually evolved into a contest over natural resource wealth and the right to conduct localized “hot pursuit.” The Rwandans and Ugandans flouted, subverted, and even contested Kinshasha’s rule, but did not purport to offer a meaningful alternative: they kept the peace only as it was necessary for mineral extraction.
The history of Western Europe and North America during the past five hundred years bears a striking resemblance to what has often been wrongly regarded as the unique, even incomprehensible, experience of post-colonial Africa. The root causes of the American Civil War will be familiar to any observer of modern Sudan: fundamental disagreement over the relative supremacy of state legislatures versus the federal government; stark socio-economic distinction between north and south; widespread perception in one area of the country that government policy (protective tariffs) actively discriminated against its economic wellbeing; regional dependence on a particular export, controlled largely by a small number of wealthy elites; and assertions by certain less-populous states that they had been given insufficient representation in the national government to insure their interests. The resulting war left 600,000 dead and fostered irrevocable expansion of federal power. The pursuit of a unitary identity through military action has in fact been an acceptable goal throughout much of Western history. Modern Britain was an essentially English project of conquest involving subjugation and subordination of Welshmen, Scots, and Irishmen first, and many other subject populations afterward. The implication of Tillian logic here is that moral legitimacy is a historically mediated outcome, divorced from particular moral attachments – a view leading inexorably to exoneration of arms suppliers to “bad men,” the definition of which is now contingent.
Herbst’s complaint that boundaries do not speak to “facts on the ground” is easily applied to past European experience. Wedgwood remembers for us that European government was no more competent on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War. As she writes, “The routine of government was ill-organized; politicians worked with inadequate help; honesty, efficiency, and loyalty were comparatively rare, and the average statesman seems to have worked on the assumption that a perpetual leakage of funds and information was inevitable.” Indeed, Europe struggled with this legacy throughout the twentieth century, leading to high tension or bloody conflict between Hungarians and Romanians, the diverse peoples of the former Yugoslavia, and Greeks and Turks, to name only a few. Ayoob is also careful to draw the distinction between the functional national state and the ideational nation-state, which is a relatively homogenous polity with respect to its language, religion, and “symbolic identity.” The national state was the historical predecessor of the nation-state, which, Ayoob asserts, was the output of a process of consolidation and integration that only moved forward when the state was already a given, not a thing of dispute.
Ultimately, Sudan is a state with architecture no less fragile than what was known in Europe during the medieval period, and the same problems of identity that ultimately culminated in the First World War. The example of fully-fledged Western democracy has worsened the weight on state-makers of today by encouraging popular political awareness (thus the possibility of disrupted legitimacy) and the expectation of equitable treatment. Where populations adopt “the Western yardstick of political legitimacy” (i.e., popular buy-in), particularly when they cannot be jettisoned, suppressed, or eliminated, state-builders in the developing world will face a new set of challenges to which Western state-builders were exposed only much later. The challenges of socio-economic modernity are equally significant: the rise of literacy, education on the Occidental model, industrial economics, and rapid communication has (in some cases) restructured the set of “haves” and “have-nots” in developing societies. Distortions of access during the colonial era, and its continued practice in the present day, fuel even hotter resentment. Anti-statist aspects of globalization also apply. Modern technology permits mobilization across enormous distances in real-time, and rapid transportation; the organizational advantage once inherent in large, central government – with the only funds for developing railways and mail routes – has been neutralized by the satellite phone. The Thuriyya mobile set has played a significant role in marshalling forces on both sides of the Darfuri fault line. The second factor is widespread proliferation of small arms – heavy, low-cost, man-portable firepower. Warfare no longer depends on a military-industrial complex requiring large investments. Sudan plays host to a major trade in small arms. Ultimately, then, given all the forgoing considerations, one gets the impression that we are seeing war in exactly the place we might expect.
This essay has devoted very little attention to what Ayoob calls “the external dimension” of state-building in the Third World, or the interaction of the proto-state and actors beyond its own borders, both state and non-state. The two halves of a divided Sudan will fall instantly into the classic security dilemma as they struggle to agree on border demarcation, division of oil wealth, water rights, and the national debt burden (“Key post-referendum issues,” a May 20 overview by IRIN provides sobering detail). Even if both sides remain committed to lasting peace, past experience suggests the high probability of cross-border skirmishing caused (or complicated by) poor command-and-control. Each side will face the temptation to meddle in the political affairs of the other. Any new government in South Sudan will continue to confront demands for a fair division of national wealth and political representation in a landscape where political disputes have already turned violent. In the north, Khartoum faces substantial loss of revenue over time, which may increase interest in political compromise.
The conclusions one can draw from the foregoing analysis are not entirely conventional. First and most obvious, we should expect many future human catastrophes even if Sudan is on a presumptive road to eventual political and moral stabilization. In the West, even when the bloody process of state-building had concluded, national identities were often uncomfortable fits. In Britain, in Germany, and in the United States, these questions stimulated rebellion, political persecution, and lingering ethno-racial alienation. Second, we should amend our expectations of how quickly viable peace can be obtained when the state is still only partly consolidated. To achieve peace and stimulate political accountability has been a tall order wherever it has been tried. In Sudan, where unitary actors that can reliably speak for large constituencies are so rare, peacemaking is doubly complicated. If Europe required four or five centuries, but in that time indulged in what can only fairly be called paroxysms of ugly violence, leading to the disappearance, destruction, or marginalization of whole peoples right through the twentieth century, then the Third World’s efforts to stem ethnic and regional war today and tomorrow can rightly be called monumentally ambitious. Third, we should recognize that even if South Sudan does achieve independence in 2011, which appears highly probable, it will only emerge from a battle of resistance on one stage to begin a battle for consolidation on another. This does not mean that we should resign ourselves to step back and let come what may. It does, however, mean that we should be careful to temper our short-run expectations, and cognizant of the necessary ingredients for viable peace. The answer, then, may not be only to identify good leaders, but to actively play favorites, enhancing their ability to bargain and lead today so that we can more quickly arrive at the day when that leadership will be peacefully disputed.
Much of this essay is based on Mohammed Ayoob, The Third World Security Predicament: State Making, Regional Conflict, and the International System (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995).
Also of interest, and useful in developing some of the ideas that led to this essay, were:
Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg, “Why Africa’s Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood,” World Politics 35:1 (Oct., 1982): 1-24.
Daniel Byman, Keeping the Peace: Lasting Solutions to Ethnic Conflicts (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).
Chaim Kaufmann, “Possible and Impossible Solutions to Ethnic Civil Wars,” International Security 20:4 (Spring 1996): 136-175.
I am indebted to Dr. T. Lindsay Moore and Dr. Tammy Schultz of Georgetown University for their input in the development of these thoughts during discussions throughout the spring of 2009. Any and all inadequacies in the foregoing analysis is strictly my own.
Matthew S. Sinn graduated from Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service with a Master of Arts in Security Studies in 2009.