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The Democratization Of War

(Title shamelessly stolen from commenter "Mr. Evilwrench.")

When I first wrote my piece on WikiLeaks, discussing their actions in the context of geopolitics, I grasped at the edge of a much, much larger picture. I compared them to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups -- in that they have taken on some of the powers and roles heretofore relegated to nation-states. Where the terrorists are acting as a military, WikiLeaks is an intelligence service -- stealing our secrets and disseminating them among our enemies, as well as sowing dissent among our allies.

In both cases, as in many others, we are seeing a phenomenon evolve that is very, very ominous: the democratization of power.

For a couple of centuries, the model of the world's geopolitical structure has been the nation-state. That has been the apex of social, economic, scientific, and military power. The only threat to a nation-state was another nation-state (or coalition of nation-states). It literally took a nation to harness the power to damage, conquer, or destroy another nation.

But coupled with that power were limitations and vulnerabilities. Nations had interests; they could be threatened or bribed or reasoned into using or not using their powers. In that model, the Cold War brought that balancing act to its ultimate expression: MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction. Several nations -- first the US -- had developed weapons to the point of being able to destroy other nations utterly. Then others did the same, and the peace was (by and large) preserved by the threat: take us out, and you go, too. The United States and the Soviet Union held each others' citizenry hostage under the threat of nuclear annihilation to guarantee the others' good conduct.

But within that Cold War, there was still fighting. Proxy wars were fought around the world. And in the shadows, an all-too-deadly game of Spy vs. Spy was fought.

Even there, there were rules. Traitors were tried, convicted, and executed. But each others' officers were, generally, respected; they were traded back, often for officers of the other side or other concessions. These weren't always followed, but certainly more often than not.

It was an uneasy peace, and the world teetered on a razor's edge over Armageddon, but we survived it. And, even better, the good guys won.

In the aftermath of that cold war, we have seen a tremendous rise in non-state actors begin to take on some of the prerogatives of nation-states. One correspondent of mine (whom I would rather not name, but he/she/it goes by the initials of Q.i.a.B.) pointed me to this article from Foreign Policy Magazine, published back in 2003.

In that article, Moises Naim cites five examples where non-state actors are starting to take on the roles and powers of nation-states, occasionally to the point of threatening the survival of the nation-state in which they live: drug cartels, arms traders, human traffickers, intellectual property piracy, and money laundering. To that I would add actual piracy on the high seas.

It all ties in to the common theme: the dissolution of the power of the contemporary nation-state. In Mexico, the drug cartels are threatening the very existence of their government. Arms smugglers empower groups to be able to directly challenge the power of a government. Human traffickers assail the border security and policies of a nation (geography being one of the defining elements of a nation). Intellectual property pirates assault the economy of nations. Money launderers, like arms smugglers, empower non-state groups. And pirates also threaten the economies of nations, as well as sap resources from other places as we fight them.

This is aided and abetted by many nations around the world, the ones I consider "illegitimate" and others term "rogue." They enjoy the rights and privileges of being a nation-state, but their despots shirk the responsibilities and obligations that should come with them. North Korea and Iran come to mind -- they consider the concept of sovereignty a unique possession: theirs is inviolate, others' is something that only exists by their sufferance. They want the protections and respect due a "sovereign state," but refuse to acknowledge that others have the same rights.

So they enable these rogue actors, these non-governments. They feed them resources and intelligence and encouragement, helping them wreak havoc on a global scale. I've named two, but there are plenty of other nations around the world who have seen how useful these free-lancers can be towards achieving their common purpose.

But above all those rogue nations, there is one force in the world that gives the most aid and comfort to the rogue groups. One body that has done more to push the assault on the contemporary nation-state than any other:

The United Nations.

The UN has, for years, tried to establish itself as a super-government, the body to which sovereign nations can be called to account for their deeds. It has taken upon itself many of the prerogatives of a nation-state: it levies taxes (in the form of "dues"), it has a military (the U. N. "Peacekeepers"), it recognizes a judicial system (The World Court), it exchanges ambassadors, it has departments that parallel government agencies, and so on. It is, essentially, a super-nation.

But without the burdens of being a nation. It is a governing body that doesn't have any citizens.

And it is run in a near-pure form of democracy, perverted in obscene ways. In the general assembly, all nations are equal. Even the rogue nations. Absolute dictatorships are treated exactly the same as free democracies. And as there are a lot more dictatorships than democracies, the free nations often find themselves outvoted.

One classic example is the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is the body that evaluates and reports on the status of fundamental human rights in every nation on earth. Its current membership includes such stalwart guardians of human rights as Libya, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Cuba.

This is the equivalent of instituting pure democracy in a prison. How long will it take for the warden to be removed from office, if all the inmates and guards get to vote? And what will happen to the warden and guards after that first and last election?

That is why I was relieved to hear that the State Department had been engaged in espionage at the United Nations, against the United Nations. It was one thing done by Hillary Clinton (or, at least, in her name) that I can wholeheartedly endorse. "Gentlemen don't read each others' mail?" It was bullshit nearly a century ago, and is bullshit today.

There is a need for an international body, a transnational quasi-governmental institution. But its membership should not be open to all. All nations and all governments are NOT equal. We need a League of Democracies, open only to those nations.

In the meantime, however, we are still left with the dilemma: what to do with these rogue groups that are taking on some of the powers and rights heretofore reserved for nation-states, but shirking the obligations and responsibilities that have been heretofore indivisibly intertwined with the powers?

One solution -- near and dear to the hearts of many on the left -- is to treat the rogues as criminals. We have laws, they break the laws, we punish them. Very simple.

The problem is, they are not criminals, in the traditional sense. Yes, they are breaking laws, but their intent is not to break the law. Their intent is much greater, and the normal deterrents we use against criminals are utterly meaningless. For example, had the 9/11 hijackers been caught before they crashed the airplanes, they would have faced life in prison for their crimes. Perhaps, even, death. But their deaths were an intrinsic part of their plans. No legal deterrent would have mattered in the least.

My solution is simple: once a group starts asserting its right to act like a nation-state, we treat them as such. When terrorists declare war on the United States, we wage war against them. When free-lance spies start conducting espionage and sabotage against us, we treat them just like we would spies of a hostile nation.

The protected status of civilians, under the nation-state model, is contingent on an oft-overlooked, implied restriction: that the civilians act like civilians. That they conduct themselves as civilians, and not actors. That they refrain from taking actions that are restricted to actual agents of a nation-state.

To my way of thinking, once you stop acting like a civilian, you've voluntarily forfeited the protections thereof. A terrorist is not entitled to be treated as a captured criminal, or a prisoner of war.

To repeat my earlier point: once you demand to play in the big leagues, you play by those rules. You don't get to bring your T-Ball stand and aluminum bat to the World Series.

We need to recognize the dangers being posed by these rogue actors, recognize those rogue states who are empowering and enabling them, and recognize the many bodies that are protecting the rogue actors and rogue nations.

And once they're recognized, we need to develop ways to properly deal with them.

Or we can simply accept defeat.

I'm not ready for that. And, I suspect, neither are the majority of my fellow Americans.


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Comments (19)

"...once you stop acting li... (Below threshold)

"...once you stop acting like a civilian, you've voluntarily forfeited the protections thereof."

Exactly, but don't expect the idiot PC crowd to jump on the bandwagon.

This "albino" as I hear him... (Below threshold)

This "albino" as I hear him called who is leaking all this info...who gave it to him? Did he hack into computers or is there a bunch of deep throats out there feeding him. If that is the case, shouldn't we be going after them, first and then this creep.

Soros and Assange expect a feather in their hat to take down the super power America, best watch out that feather isn't shove some place else other than their hats. What disgusting people. Our gov't is bad, but remember the others are so much worst.

PS: Didn't Soros turn in other Jews to the Nazis? Is that true? If so, I can see it when he dies (he is old so it may happen soon)walking a gauntlet of victims of the holocaust as he is headed toward the the 9th circle (save for betrayers) to hell.

I mostly agree with you, ex... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:

I mostly agree with you, except for this bit of nonsense:

Intellectual property pirates assault the economy of nations.

There is no way that people who download mp3s of the top ten list are anything like the drug smugglers who are threatening to take down the Mexican government, or with Wikileaks releasing state intelligence documents. The argument is ridiculous on its face.

Let me just head this off a... (Below threshold)

Let me just head this off and be done with it:

Jay Tea,

this is the most insane thing I have ever read in my entire life. And that includes everything that I have ever written.

So if you don't mind - and even if you do - I'm going to scrawl this on the wall of my room with the big fat purple crayon I stole from the art room here at the hospital, and take credit for it myself.



matt, that was disgusting a... (Below threshold)

matt, that was disgusting and uncalled-for and inappropriate and just plain wrong.

Next time, put up a spoiler notice.

You done ruined faparoo's fun!


Never would I thought that ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Never would I thought that the Foggy Bottom a place normally held in contempt, as the lowest circle in Dante's hell, by conservatives even here, could be now be defended so feriously.

Most conservatives were probably sympathetic or least tolerated Pat Robertson, when he sugggested something far worse for the State Department than having a batch of low level documents released.

Robertson made the comments during a series of interviews on his "700 Club" (October, 2003) television show with journalist Joel Mowbray, author of a new book, Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security."

Robertson founded the Christian Coalition in 1989 after running for U.S. president as a Republican in 1988.

Introducing Mowbray on his show, Robertson said that a reader of his book could conclude that the State Department needed a nuclear explosion.

"I read your book," Robertson said. "When you get through, you say, 'If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer,' and you say, 'We've got to blow that thing up.' I mean, is it as bad as you say?" Robertson said.

"It is," Mowbray said, although his book never suggests that the State Department should be blown up with a nuclear device.

Indeed, Pat Robertson was heavily courted by a number of 2008 presidential candidates -- most notably Hucklebbe and Mitt Romney, before choosing Guliani. Hucklebee is now asking for the death penalty for the wiklileaks founder without a trial.
Robertson suggests we blow up Foggy Bottom, (that's funny) and he gets feted, and courted; Julian Assange, the death penalty by the same crazies for releasing low level documents from a body that they think is a joke or dangerous to our national security to begin with. It is the Roman coliseum! Palin should win the nomination in a landslide unless Hucklebee, who has seen the light asks that Assange be strangled and burned at the stake as well.

Jay Tea, there is an obviou... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, there is an obvious factual error in the first paragraph if this post. Wikileaks did not steal the documents it published.

I'm sure you will be correcting this error shortly.

Steve, you will go far befo... (Below threshold)

Steve, you will go far before you find someone with more contempt for Pat Robertson than me. But that being said, let me introduce you to this little geographic feature called "the water's edge."

It's one thing for us, as Americans, to kick around our government. They work for us, not the other way around, and every now and then we need to remind them just who's the boss.

Plus, the water's edge is where domestic politics should stop. There is a HUGE difference between Americans bad-mouthing our representatives, and outsiders actively working to subvert and sabotage our relations with other nations.

Or, to put it another way: yes, most of the State Department is pathetic. (P. J. O'Rourke once said the only reason we should keep it around was to give us something to do with our surplus of Ivy League twits.) But they have a very important and very difficult job to do, and there is absolutely no reason why we should tolerate outsiders complicating the matter (and, consequently, making the world a less safe place).

Or, to put it bluntly, Steve, there are some things that should transcend partisan politics. This is one of them. So kindly take your partisan sniping and snide asides and shove them up your ass. Sideways.

I'm an American first and foremost. You, apparently, are a Democrat/liberal/progressive/asshat first, and "American" somewhere further down the list.

Not. Helpful.


faparoo, you wanna get nit-... (Below threshold)

faparoo, you wanna get nit-picky? No, it doesn't SEEM they actually took the documents. (We may never know for sure -- the only identified thief apparently didn't have access to all the stuff that's been released.) But they certainly solicited the theft, encouraged the theft, cheerfully accepted the stolen material, and profited from its use. In the grand scheme of things, whose hands actually took the documents out of the government's possession is pretty much irrelevant.

Much like yourself, come to think of it.


Oh, and faparoo, you're tal... (Below threshold)

Oh, and faparoo, you're talking like a lawyer, looking for loopholes. That's actually another part of my thesis -- I'm not looking for things to get settled in courts. We got too goddamned many lawyers already gumming up the works.

That reminds me... how go things on the "civilian trials for terrorists" going? Or was that just another Obama promise that's passed its expiration date?

Thank god for that one.


Who knew the damn enemy of ... (Below threshold)

Who knew the damn enemy of GI Joe was going to become the model of modern warfare?

Sheesh! Thanks Mattel.


Quite a while ago, Martin V... (Below threshold)

Quite a while ago, Martin Van Creveld wrote an article (and book, I think) called "The Fate of the State" in which he suggested that nation-states are going to soon be a thing of the past. While events may not have unrolled exactly as he predicted, indeed states may be losing their position in the world.

Google for "fate of the state" and you can see it in Google Books, as well as in:


Jay, I realize you were the... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Jay, I realize you were the exception and didn't care for Robertson, it's too bad that all the other Republican grandees didn' feel that way. I suppose they feel they don't want to lose the evangelical vote.

On the larger topic this patriotic groupthink on this topic is beginning to remind me of the run-up to the Iraq war. CNN as first cheerleader is leading the way again.

Sure it is slightly unethical to do what Assange did. But I think it is unethical of the State department to ask its highest diplomats even in our London embassy to contravene signed normal diplomatic conventions and snoop on not only other diplomats, but foreign business leaders etc for their credit card numbers, saliva, urine or whatever juicy 'biometric' details they could uncover. If you read the British papers, the Brits are far from blase about this, so much for the special relationship.

But I suppose we shouldn't be so shocked now, if American diplomat found his way into the British Home Office and lifted a couple of hundred thousand foreign service cables with a stolen password, and the documents mysteriously found their way on to the front pages of the Washington Post. What would Hillary do then? Censor him publically, and call this another attack on the international community, but give the diplomat/intelligenc asset a quiet promotion?

Steve:Family may b... (Below threshold)


Family may bicker amongst themselves - but they're still family, and will band together when needed.

You seem to think, as Jay said, that politcal orientations are more important than a threat from outside the family. They're not.

Guys, give Steve a break. ... (Below threshold)

Guys, give Steve a break. He's not "up" on this type of "nuance".

Steve, diplomats are assume... (Below threshold)
Rob Crawford:

Steve, diplomats are assumed to be spies. They always have been. The only requirement is that they be subtle about it and don't involve themselves too closely in fomenting violence. To pretend otherwise is to live in a fantasy land...

Oh, you're a Democrat, right? Never mind.

faparoo, you wanna get n... (Below threshold)

faparoo, you wanna get nit-picky?

Nit-picky? Jay Tea, no one except you, as near as I can tell, is accusing Wikileaks of doing anything other than publishing stolen documents that were given to it.

You're the only one I know of who has accused Wikileaks of actually stealing the documents themselves. This is especially surprising given that the government has someone in custody who it believes stole most of the documents that Wikileaks has published.

Now Wikileaks has a stated policy on its website that it does not solicit information. You can take that with as much salt as you want, but the fact still remains that there is no evidence that wikileaks has ever solicited, paid or otherwise supported anyone who has given it information which it subsequently published.

Wikileaks is nothing but a bunch of servers and a website. Just like Wizbang, they consider themselves a media organization. A news outlet

If you can't accurately describe what Wikileaks is and what it does, why should anyone pay any attention to your rambling argument for how to deal with it?

Speaking of which, let's look at Wikieleaks "about" page:

Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society's institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.

Scrutiny requires information. Historically, information has been costly in terms of human life, human rights and economics. As a result of technical advances particularly the internet and cryptography - the risks of conveying important information can be lowered. In its landmark ruling on the Pentagon Papers, the US Supreme Court ruled that "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government." We agree.

We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their own government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government through the media.

Now let's look at something you wrote not two days ago here at Wizbang:

I was reminded of that joke when I heard this story from the WikiLeaks release of confidential diplomatic cables: last year, the Obama administration was talking with Russia about the problems with Iran. We struck a deal: we would cancel the planned missile defense system we were working on with Poland, and Russia would support increased sanctions against Iran. We upheld our end, and the Russians promptly reneged on theirs.

Which puts me in mind of another joke, my favorite Polish joke. The punchline there is baed on knowing that, historically, the Russians have spent centuries screwing over the Poles -- and this is just one more example.

Two pretty funny jokes. I just can't bring myself to laugh.

You took information that you got from the Wikileaks release to form the basis of a criticism of the Obama administration.

In other words, you used the information released by Wikileaks in the exact manner in which Wikileaks hopes and intends that the information it publishes will be used: To hold government accountable for their behavior.

And yet a few days later you argue that Wikileaks should be treated like an enemy of the United States.

The trouble is, Jay Tea, that Wikileaks is indeed an media organization. If you think it's more like an enemy intelligence agency, what is your judgment of and remedy for every other media organization, including Wizbang, that published the same information?

You yourself went a step further than just repeating the information: You built a criticism of US policy based on the information, just as Wikileaks hoped you would.

But I suppose I'm just being nit-picky because without the Wikileaks info you would have made up something to criticize, anyway.

Who cares, right?

Your readers know they shouldn't trust you any way.

I'm beginning to think Obam... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

I'm beginning to think Obama and Clinton have set this up to drum up support for their adminstration to rally round the flag. His ratings must have shot up. Everyone has forgotten about Osama bin Laden on the lamb, Even "Alpha man" Putin is even going on CNN tonight with Larry King in the role of a wounded tyrantm to denounce Julian Assange, the world's most wanted man for leaking cables that show America knew that

Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a "virtual mafia state", according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower.

The Czars or Stalin never had problems with such widespread revelations. But journalists in the American msn know their place; there is no fear Larry will ask a tough question, based on the wikileaks; he doesn't want Interpol or Hillary Clinton to come after him.

He made clear he w... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:
He made clear he was not amused by a US diplomat's description of him as "Batman" and President Dmitry Medvedev as "Robin". "To be honest with you, we did not suspect that this [criticism] could be made with such arrogance, with such rudeness, and you know, so unethically," Putin remarked.

If Larry has a box of kleenex on his desk. Putin better not use if one of our diplomats are around or is this still a state secret?






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