(updated 7 May) This post will be the last one that presents the current state of play and the five categories of actors fighting in and over Syria.
The rise of the two groups of factions presented below – the Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria and the Sunni extremist factions with a global jihadi agenda – as well as their mobilization power has been, first, eased by the protracted quality of the conflict and the despair it implied among Syrian people. It was then facilitated by the initial inability of the moderates to find support in the West, thus to demonstrate their power.
Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria
The first nexus is composed of more extreme Islamist groups – compared with those seen previously – and of “Nationalist Salafis” groups – to use Lund (2013:14) terminology. They want to create an Islamic Sharia state in Syria. Lund (2013: 14) quotes Abdulrahman Alhaj, an expert on Syrian Islamism he interviewed in January 2013: Continue reading →
(Updated 20 May 2013*) The Kurds in Syria have their own agenda, which will determine their actions. As the other Kurdish communities in the region, their priority is to create a semi-autonomous Kurdistan where they live, notably in the NorthEast of Syria. Kurdish enclaves in Syria can also be found around Jarabulus – North – and Afrin – Northwest, North of Aleppo (Tejel, 2009: xiii). As analyzed by Spyer, their recent history tells the Kurds in Syria that mastering their own destiny is the only way to live decently and according to their own way of life, thus benefiting for once from the bounty of their land, in terms of oil and crops (Spyer, March 9 2013). The Syrian Kurds’ objective was again reasserted by Sipan Hamo, commander-in-chief of the People’s Protection Committees or People’s Defense Units (YPG - the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish political force in Syria, see below), in a statement on 4 April 2013: “We will not bargain with any side at the expense of the Kurdish people.” (van Wilgenburg, April 5 2013, AlMonitor).
The Syrian Kurds have already achieved an important part of their goal as they are largely Continue reading →
Keeping in mind the complex and fluid character of the situation in Syria we addressed last week, this post and the next will present the current state of play and the various categories of actors fighting in and over Syria, namely the pro-Assad groups, the moderate opposition forces and the Muslim Brotherhood “related” groups, the Islamist groups fighting for an Islamist state in Syria, the groups linked to a global Jihadi Front, and, finally, the Kurds in Syria, without forgetting the external actors. Scenarios for the future will follow from this assessment. The scenarios will then evolve, notably in terms of likelihood, from changes on the battleground and in interactions between all actors.
Pro-Assad regime groups
The regime and government of Bashar al-Assad has lost full domestic legitimacy (or there would not be a civil war) and a large part of international legitimacy, but it remains Continue reading →
Last week, we suggested that looking at a past protest movement, why it was born, how demonstrators mobilised and according to which space-time pattern, could help us understanding better what is happening nowadays in many countries. As the current protest movements spread, multiply and recur, it is most likely that we are faced with escalating situations. Understanding how political authorities, in the past, managed to stabilize a protest movement could shed light on the political decisions taken in the present. This knowledge gives us tools and indicators to assess and monitor various contemporary situations and evaluate their future dynamics.
Blind first response: escalating a protest movement
Then, the political authorities initial feedback actions occurred as soon as the movement appeared, in November 1915. They were not stabilising but escalating, as they did not end the protest but, on the contrary, increased it. Indeed, the answers dealt with only one part (the 1915 prestations) of the multiple motivations for escalation (all the issues that created the rising inequalities, as well as the related resentment and feelings of injustice), and were built upon the complete lack of understanding of the situation. They incorporated the belief in a potential plot, rather than considering the real causes for grievances.
This underlines that stabilising actions must be related to the reasons for escalation, and adds that partial solutions are not stabilising. It thus emphasises the crucial importance of understanding and the difficulty to obtain a realistic analysis when one is prey to biases and when one does not have time to reflect but must act immediately.
Stabilisation phase 1: Listening and immediate feasible redress
The first phase of the stabilising actions was to increase the authority’s understanding of the ‘opposition’ and of the situation, while taking immediate measures to show protestors they had been heard and taken seriously. Throughout January 1916, the peaceful and mainly non-violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh on the one hand, the dual authority willingness to listen and understand, on the other, allowed for real communication (i.e. exchange and listening truly to others, not communication campaigns created by advertisers and spin doctors) and consequent understanding to arise, with the exception of the Prey Veng Resident caught up in his anti-German fears. The authorities took note of the various reasons for discontent and gave immediate satisfaction to the protestors on the feasible and most urgent points, such as the buy-back of prestations done by a 22 January 1916 Royal Ordinance. By 1st February, the number of demonstrators reaching Phnom Penh had decreased to a few hundred.
Nowadays, hardly anyone truly listens to demonstrators. At best, some quick anti-austerity, stimulus packages are constructed, according to old recipe, but demands and grievances are usually dismissed, when the protests are not completely ignored. The responses that are given are done according to the wishes of the most powerful actors and lobbyists, and following cognitive models that may not reflect anymore the entire reality.
Stabilisation phase 2: Rebuilding trust and asserting legitimate authority
The second phase was to increase the feeling of understanding and communication and to build trust to permit in-depth work towards reforms. The permanent commission of the council of ministers under leadership of the Résident Supérieur began to reflect on the peasants’ grievances. The King, after having condemned violence, abuse and the massive protests in Phnom Penh because they favoured unrest, issued a proclamation that detailed all grievances and announced that they would be seriously examined. Thus, by 10 February, the situation in Phnom Penh was judged normal.
A reassertion of the authority’s monopoly of violence through selective and just use of force accompanied these two phases. In the provinces, as the authorities had understood the three phases of the movement, it had the possibility to discriminate between different kinds of leaders and to know where and how violence originated. Thus, the state could reassert its monopoly of violence in a selective and proper way. The central authority struggled against any provincial authorities’ unjustified use of violence and against excessive and unfair punishment (all intrinsically escalating) and penalised them when they happened.
Thus, the means of violence remained in the hands of the authorities, which prevented the perception of a waning authority that would have led to more escalation. For example, towards the end of the movement, the villagers helped the authorities to suppress agitation and arrest agitating leaders.
The fundamental beliefs of the population and the specific structure of religious institutions and practices were understood and considered. Escalating ways to take advantage of the latter were prevented: in agreement with the heads of the two Buddhist branches (Mohanikay and Thommayut), all travels by monks to Siam were suspended and all pagodas informed of this measure to prevent rebellious leaders using Buddhist robes and Pagodas networks to escape the authorities.
In the meantime, from the second part of February 1916 onwards, the King and the ministers, representing respectively the symbolic and acting parts of the Kampuchean authority, toured the most agitated provinces, explaining the proclamation, and the reforms on the one hand, scolding villagers for their behaviour, on the other. These tours first reinforced the feeling of communication and understanding and second lent legitimacy to the authorities’ actions and declaration of future actions. Third, they contributed to ensure that potentially remaining demonstrators would not travel to Phnom Penh and that they would not drag along other villagers, thus decreasing opportunities for violence. Residents similarly toured the less agitated provinces.
By the end of February 1916, the movement had ended.
Compared with our present, the difference is that, in many countries, even if national, regional and international political authorities travel frequently, they do so without the first phase of stabilisation having taken place, without grievances having being heard and without true communication. The shell, the appearance of communication has been kept but is the substance still there?
Disregard for historically constructed beliefs and norms, including fundamental respect for others (see below the video produced by the Greek Omikron Project struggling against constant slights), as not only religious ideas must be considered, also have the potential for transforming what should have been stabilising in escalating actions, witness, for example, Mrs Lagarde outraging comment on Greek citizens, or, more recently, Mrs Merkel’s trip to Greece and Ireland. Even if reactions are not – or not yet – mainstream and widely shared, the fact that they already exist collectively is a signal that something is amiss, as the master work of political scientist James Scott emphasises.
The means of violence definitely remain in the hand of the political authorities, but is their use perceived as just and legitimate, considering the fact that the other stabilising elements tend, so far, to be lacking?
Then, symbolic and coercive power interacted, mutually reinforced each other and lent legitimacy to the authority-system. Now, they do not.
Stabilisation phase 3: in-depth reforms
In Cambodia, the third phase, in-depth reforms, could now begin, as promises had been made with the King’s proclamation that had to be held. The Résident Supérieur took immediate measures aimed at reducing abusive or erroneous practices in tax collection, prestations and requisitions. For example, he recommended that Residents get closer to the population by multiplying tours to ensure effective control of the lower levels of the Kampuchean administrative apparatus, while posters were put up in all villages to explain to the inhabitants which taxes were owed by whom. Meanwhile, the dual authority had to examine the validity of the other complaints and to propose reforms, that were studied, discussed, enacted and applied by the end of 1917.
Thus, we can see first that communication and pooling of resources at all levels of the politico-administrative apparatus in a bottom-up and horizontal fashion were necessary to permit stabilising actions. The authority worked in a dual fashion and, even if final decision-making power remained vested in the French, it still reflected joint work, as the Resident did not discard the suggestions of the Assembly, but incorporated most of them into the final decisions.
Second, the speed with which actions were taken and the visibility of the first phase of actions that compensated for those that had to be delayed probably strongly contributed to the stabilisation.
Finally, this case confirms the necessity of multi-dimensional actions truly addressing the grievances of the protestors, selective and fair use of force and the importance of sustained and persistent efforts. The dual authority had taken the measure of the discontent and consequent risks, persisted in its stabilising efforts, and thus stabilised the situation for the next twenty years.
Why is it not happening today?
Many factors come to mind. Among the most obvious, first, we must recall that the 1915-1916 Cambodian protests movement was very large, relatively, and thus the shock for and risk to the political authorities was important. Most movements nowadays do not meet this criteria (see previous post). The incentives to truly consider protestors’ grievances and to actively endeavour the various phases necessary for a stabilisation thus lack. Furthermore, many of the countries where the protests take place are liberal democracies. In the shallow understanding of Democracy (contrasted with what Kant’s political writings taught us and that Doyle reminds us), the election process mainly, or even only, is understood as granting legitimacy to citizens’ representatives and the resulting government. The latter may thus believe it is enough to be elected or re-elected to be fully legitimate. As hypothesized earlier, the type of political regime into which protests take place may affect the credibility of the movement and its dynamics.
Second, the Cambodian peasants showed their willingness to use violence. Currently, save, so far, for Syria and Libya, and for short outbursts of violence elsewhere, most of the movements are not only peaceful but also underline this aspect as one of their ideals. In terms of political dynamics, this begs the question of the possibility of successful completely peaceful political actions. To take an example further away from revolutions and escalation towards civil war, unions’ movements and actions involved much violence. The success of Gandhi non-violent movement springs to mind here, but it took place against the backdrop of other very violent actions, while the overall situation was largely different.
Last but not least, we are probably in an overall escalating phase, where the various institutions that have been built in the past are not anymore fully adequate to deal with the reality of a transformed present, of a potential paradigm shift, of the multiple pressures that we must face while having largely contributed to create them. It is thus hardly surprising that actions grounded in the past lack a stabilizing character, as everything, from capacities to understanding and beliefs, must be adapted, transformed, sometimes created if we want to properly handle changes and be ready for the future. In this framework, protest movements are a constructive and crucial component of ours societies’ evolutions as it is only through the interactions they prompt, through the change they impose that a new better adapted system may hope to emerge.
Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT,Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Everstate is plagued by a deepening budget deficit and an increasing need for liquidity, with a related creeping appropriation of resources while the strength of central public power weakens to the profit of various elite groups. An outdated world-view that promotes misunderstanding, disconnect and thus inadequate actions presides to its destiny. Henceforth, the political authorities are increasingly unable to deliver the security citizens seek. Risks to the legitimacy of the whole system increases. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something. Of the three potential scenarios or stories that follow, we now start the second, “Panglossy: Same Old, Same Old,”* after having seen the end of “Mamominarch: Off with the State.”
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab - a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading).
In 2012 EVT, as Everstate’s governing authorities and more specifically national representatives start thinking they should do something to face the various difficulties they meet and notably the rising discontent, a new period of elections opens up. Thus, what matters to the national representatives now is to win the elections for a new term. It is not anymore a fear of losing power because their legitimacy as efficient rulers (being able to deliver what they have been elected for) is questioned. They need now to convince citizens that they are the best to represent the nation and govern it and that they are better than their usual competitors.
As political parties are built around a programme and according to specific lines of thoughts, the rationale of the electoral competition asks them to follow the core of those programmes to demarcate themselves from their adversaries. When each party was formed, this formation led to the construction of a unique program upon which various national representatives and parliamentary groupings agreed. This program was also built to allow for the mobilization of electors needed to see the representatives elected. However, as with the way ideological and normative belief systems and socio-political models are constructed, this mobilisation was done in the past. The problems it sought to answer are past challenges. Furthermore, it could only be built according to the socio-political model and normative framework of that time. Over time, with each election, each of the two programmes has evolved but could do so only within relatively tight boundaries. Hence, the two main parties about to dispute the elections in Everstate are both abiding by the modernizing norm, constructed around materialistic improvement, each representing, as in most of the liberal world, two ends of the same spectrum, one of social-democrat inspiration, the other with a more conservative stance.
Thus, now, if the real severe problems faced by the nation must be considered, solutions can nevertheless only be envisioned within the framework of those existing programmes, as well as within the existing socio-political model and norms. For the two major classical parties, trying to change their framework and their programme in a very substantial way would mean risking changing the existing mobilisation forces and upsetting existing parliamentary groupings, thus risking losing the elections, which, ultimately would imply not being in power.
Battles are thus pitched on relatively minor points, when seen from the point of view of the huge challenges the nation must face. From the point of view of many people who are not only electors, but also those very people who seek security, experience pressures in their everyday life and are increasingly dissatisfied, such battles contribute to further de-legitimise whoever will become the nation’s representatives, thus the government, and indeed the existing parties’ system.
Meanwhile, a combination of apparent renewed optimism, notably expressed through better statistics, for example a slightly rising consumers’ spending, especially abroad, through bullish financial markets and stock exchanges worldwide, a slow down of protests both within Everstate and worldwide, with a fear that those protests could start again, tends to comfort the potential nation’s representatives in the validity of their old aims and programmes and in their wish to come back to the situation ante, i.e. before everything started to unravel. Chief among those aims, Everstate must obtain economic growth again. The crisis is severe, indeed, but it is certainly temporary as those optimistic signs show. Unfavourable, negative trends are still at work, and those must be faced and stopped. But the goal is clear and the framework for doing so is pristine, and it may only work, as it has always worked since the parties were created.
The rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), prompted by the current modernising and materialistic paradigm, only fuels this vision. Be they upheld as a threat against which one must struggle or as new partners with whom one must cooperate, their recent success is one more evidence of the correctness of the existing system. As a result, the awareness of the new pressures that had started to emerge recedes and those are considered as not really important or, if they are, their timing is uncertain, thus, if ever such threats materialise, it will be later.**
Hence, nothing fundamentally changes. On the contrary, habits and the existing system, once the new national representatives are elected and the new government starts ruling are even more entrenched, almost ossified.
Yet, something unexpected, dismissed by observers, is also happening during the months leading to the election. To be continued…
* The name for this scenario, Panglossy, comes from the famous character Pangloss in Voltaire‘s work Candide ou l’Optimisme (Candid : or, All for the Best – 1759). Candide is an attack on Leibniz’s optimism, seen as absurd in the light of the many ills of the world. The absurdity of optimism is notably conveyed through the explanations for the series of catastrophes met that Pangloss, Candide’s preceptor, gives and that always emphasise that “all is for the best.”
** Note that the absence of interest existing on timing and the sparse research on this factor may only ease the ability to deny reality.
A frontispiece of Voltaire’s Candide (Paris : Sirène, 1759). It reads, “Candide, or the Optimism. Translated from the German by Dr. Ralph.” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. To face the various difficulties and widespread discontent, in a first scenario, Everstate’s governing bodies implement the Mamominarch programme of drastic reduction of state’s spending.By 2018 EVT, the result is involution, with a rising insecurity for most Everstatans. The now fragile state cannot efficiently manage the complex catastrophes that start hitting Everstate in May. As a result, tension rises relatively uniformly while grievances increase heterogeneously. Inability to answer this multiform situation leads to a new political mobilisation, besides the classical old parties, proponents of Mamominarch: movements for local independence and direct membership in the Regional Union, including a powerful Movement for the Independence of the Trueland on the one hand, and a Movement for the Renewal of Everstate on the other.
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab – a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading).
News of the terrorist attack on Novcybio International abroad, which had first gone viral among Renewers, lead to a sudden awareness that Everstate could be impacted. What if some of the last genetically modified seeds received by Novcybio Everstate for testing that have already been planted include the dangerous gene engineered by the terrorists? How can Everstatans know? What if, one day, terrorists were to conduct such an attack directly in Everstate?
In August, as soon as Novcybio International had become aware of the threat, its security service had immediately acted, while its PR team started a reassuring campaign, explaining that everything was under control, that the police force had recovered the stolen deadly pathogens and that all potentially dangerous seeds had been identified, and most of them traced and recalled. Now, only a few of them are still missing, but Novcybio International headquarters’ security is working hand in hand with its branches and the authorities of the various countries potentially impacted. Unfortunately, Everstate is on the list of those countries. Soon, Everstate’s central government, the local authorities of the Continental South-East and Novcybio Everstate issue a joint statement asserting that the incriminated seeds have been found, that none of them has thus been planted and that they have now been destroyed.
However, investigations carried out by Renewers point out that one month elapsed between the terrorist attack on Novcybio International and the Everstatan joint statement. The Movement thus accuses the involved actors of complacency, which threatens the security of all Everstatans. This, added to the fresh memories all Everstatans have of the way the complex catastrophes of the Spring were mishandled, implies that few Everstatans fully believe the official joint-statement. People ask for evidence and for the resignation of all political actors involved. Rumours start spreading. This is an impact of the degraded legitimacy presiding over Everstate. The local authorities, seeing their authority imperilled and their power threatened, start distancing themselves from the central authorities, accusing them of inefficiency and saying they did not provide all necessary help. They turn to the Regional Union to ask for further test and control of Novcybio Everstate.
They also try to join the Movement for the Independence of the Trueland, arguing that Trueland covers the whole South-East, and not solely its maritime façade. However, the Truelanders’ leaders reject the idea, as they see the Novcybio affair and the continuing rumors as one more reason to distance themselves from the rest of the country, for the security of real Truelanders. The local authorities of the Continental South-East, as their position is directly threatened on the one hand, as they feel rejected and cornered on the other, then become even more virulent than other proponents of the various local movements for independence, while also starting a campaign explaining that the Trueland cannot be divided between a maritime and continental part.
By StMH (Own work), GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
One night Novcybio Everstate is burnt to the ground with the test crops planted on its land. Immediately, the Regional Union and various countries appeal to Everstate’s central government to put its house in order, while Novcybio International asks for compensation. When central officers are sent to the site of the arson to investigate, they are denied entry by angry citizens. As they ask for police support, local authorities refuse it, arguing that they will deal with the problem, which does not concern in any way central authorities.
Everstate’s central political authorities should answer to this direct denial of their power by imposing their will, sending the army if need be. However, considering the highly tense situation, they hesitate, afraid of the consequences. Furthermore, Novstate, which provides both some of the police forces of the Continental South-East and many of the Everstatan armed forces, does not favour seeing its men fighting each other.
The new episode of the global financial crisis that starts in October lessens the international political pressure put on Everstate to remedy to its internal disorder. Other countries, as well as the Regional Union, are now focused on other more important matters. For Everstate, the new general break on liquidity that ensues, as the country is still as dependent as ever on international borrowing, means that it must face new difficulties to pay its remaining central civilian and military staff. Local authorities are also impacted, however in various ways according to the situation of each city and region. Everstate does not participate in the international discussions trying to deal with the global financial disorder, except through Novstate, which is present along other powerful private sector’s representatives.
Italian sphere of influence in Turkey according to the agreements of 1917 in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne by Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
When a new conflict starts in the Middle East, Everstate, which used to be an important player in this region, is not even invited to the summits that take place to try bringing back peace. The Renewers then judge that the country is falling apart, has lost a tremendous amount of crucial international influence and is falling prey to parochial problems that not only do not address the initial real challenges and pressures that endanger the lives of all Everstatans, but, on the contrary, aggravate them. The Renewers thus ask for a resignation of Everstate’s government and for the end of the Mamominarch system.
Last week’s summary: In 2012 EVT, in Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state), the population’s discontent increases – and is bound to continue to do so – as a result of various pressures and threats, most of them inevitable, imperfectly identified, and not understood. Indeed, Everstatans feel both directly and indirectly the impact of those pressures, which affect their sense of security and thus generate discontent.
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab).
Everstatans seek security
Everstatans continue to seek a security that is appearing as increasingly distant and elusive.
They turn to their political authorities, expecting them to deliver this security. Indeed, Everstatans believe that their government, their state (which assists the ruler in its tasks) and their national representatives, being their legitimate political authorities, should ensure their security. This fundamental belief is inscribed in their collective history, not only as a country, but also as part of the human species (Moore, 1978). Furthermore, Everstate is part of the normative order called liberal democracies. Thus, as Everstatans have elected their representatives and their government, they are even surer of their right to be well governed, i.e. to see their security ensured.
However, most of the time, they have forgotten that, as citizens on the one hand and as part of the collective body of the nation on the other, they are also a part of the political authorities. As such, they not only have a role to play but also a duty to assume it. They cannot just sit there and relinquish their power and responsibilities, all the more so that their security is at stake. This forgetfulness is not a specific trait of Everstatans but widely shared with most of their fellow citizens in other representative liberal democracies.
Initially, Everstatans exerted their power in a rather negative and passive way, witness the growing abstention during elections that had been going on for decades and other worrying weak signals of alienation. Now, their grumbling grows louder and is a first still inchoate way to act to make sure their government, their state and their national representatives consider their demands. Furthermore, other actions, more visible,such as strikes and demonstrations – sometimes with some violence -also take place with an increasing frequency while creeping unrest and rising lawlessness settle in some very specific areas.
As all those actions originate from different groups of citizens and take various forms with different purposes, for most observers, including Everstatans, they appear as unrelated, dispersed and thus of no consequence. Worse still for those witnesses, when a protest movement seems to be a bit more constructed – e.g. the Occupy Everstate movement, part of the global Occupy/Indignados movement – it starts with a specific demand, linked to the impacts having generated dissatisfaction, then, when satisfaction is not obtained, the scope of the discontent in terms of content increases, usually giving rise to another supplementary revendication. This leads most to completely discredit the various movements of protest, all the more so that the new very real pressures Everstate has to face are still very imperfectly perceived and measured. Indeed, seen from the surface, the protests are sporadic, actively involve relatively few people, flare up and then recede. However, imperceptibly, overtime, the overall level of tension increases, the number of people likely to be actively involved in protests rises, while the scope of discontent widens.
As the responses of Everstate’s government, state, and Parliament generate dissatisfaction, it seems that they are increasingly unable to answer the population’s demands, which stem from the real situation, the citizens need for security and the beliefs they hold.
Things are however more complex than a sudden incompetency or, more absurd, malevolence, as some extremist Everstatan conspiracy theorists try to promote.
Everstatan political authorities, indeed, have to provide a governance that has become progressively more complex and thus difficult Governance implies more tasks, many of them novel. Security must be delivered to citizens in overall conditions that have changed. The various pressures for survival and military threats as well as their intensity demand attention, resources, policy and successful responses. Meanwhile, the evolution of resources available, as well as their rising complexity, for example all those related to the virtual and mobile world, again ask for fully novel policies and practice.
Logically those new tasks require new staff as well as new resources and income, past ones having become ill-suited, insufficient or even exhausted.
In this framework and because of it, three related phenomena are at work that drive the political authorities’ current incapacity to deliver security and thus the rising population’s dissatisfaction, while also directly adding to the discontent: a deepening budget deficit and an increasing need for liquidity, a creeping new appropriation of public resources and a weakening of the strength of central public power to the profit of various elite groups, and finally the use of an out-dated normative model leading to misunderstanding and disconnect as long as the demand for new understanding is not satisfied.
Geopolitical situation*: Everstate, a middle-range power
As a medium state power located on the Eurasian land mass, Everstate had not seen its geopolitical position fundamentally altered since the end of the Cold War, and even since the end of World War II. However, recently, some tensions had begun building up and Everstate had to start contending with them as they could easily transform in very concrete new external military threats.
What had contributed to maintain its geopolitical position were different factors. If the impact that its ecological setting could have had on its geopolitical position was remote and long forgotten, it nevertheless still played a part. Similarly, its continental climate, soften for the southeastern part by the influence coming from the sea, was not seen as a factor influencing geopolitics anymore. The harshness of the snowy and mountainous North had long been perceived as a bounty for tourism. The large river crossing the country from Northwest to Southeast was seen from the perspective of industry, trade and tourism and no longer as a possible way in for invaders. Finally, it had been centuries since the rich agricultural eastern plain had not attracted invaders or greedy neighbours looking for rich lands.
Everstate’s army was efficient, considering military techniques, expertise and previous experience, even if its size had been reduced. The previous period of peace, as well as the evolution of society and the size of the population had led to this downsizing. The defence forces could thus carry out with success very specific and targeted missions, but not deploy extensively and exhaustively.
In Everstate, central order was relatively strong. The governance was quite efficient although some areas were starting to be less effectual. As a result, evidence of discontent, so far apparently limited to complaining and grumbling, had started being recorded, letting believe that the security of citizens was not anymore fully ensured. We were, however, apparently quite far from civil war and major domestic escalation of violence, which could impact the geopolitical situation. Furthermore, as none of the latter events had occurred for the last century or so, they were deemed to be impossible: people had become unable of such actions because of the comfortable life they had enjoyed for so long.
At the beginning of this second decade of the 21st century EVT, Everstate was well in line with the most common winning international norms. This gave the country international legitimacy and implied that it did not have to face any major normative war with the dominant order. Its society was modern; it believed in material well-being, constant improvement thereof and in the virtues of constant and rising economic growth; it obeyed the law of the market and of capitalism, economics being quite foremost.
Meanwhile, the old traditional monotheist religions still existed but their institutional and political role was marginal, as most of society was mainly concerned with other matters, more materialistic than spiritual. Nevertheless, as in other countries, some tensions existed between small groups of one or the other monotheist religion and sometimes flared up.
Everstate’s governance starts displaying a creeping loss of performance
Governance was thence still quite efficient, with nevertheless a slow, creeping loss of performance.
The state was organised according to a formal and rational-legal bureaucracy, upheld by a legal apparatus. It was subdivided administratively according to both geography and major domains of interest (defence, foreign affairs, homeland security, agriculture, trade and industry, tourism, finance, etc.) related to the security of Everstate, as identified throughout the previous ruling periods.
Everstate was governed under a democratic parliamentary regime. As a result, Parliament was involved in political decision-making, would it be only through the restraining power it exerted over the executive. The political game that was played within Everstate’s ruling elite was classical, involving not only the search for power of the nation’s elected representative, but also the too often forgotten effort of the nation, this imagined body of citizens (Anderson, 1991), to also protect its power.
As part of the international society and obeying to its norms, Everstate was a full member of the various international institutions that upheld those norms, from the United Nations, to the organizations of the Washington Consensus (IMF, World Bank) and to the World Trade Organization (WTO) (Watson, 1992). Everstate, as many other states in the world, was also a member of a regional institution, a Regional Union of independent and sovereign democratic states, it had joined freely in the decades following World War II. The Regional Union is neither a Federation, as the United States, Canada, India or Germany, for example, nor a Confederation, but something different, in the making. Its mission, shape, organisation, membership, areas of exclusive or only shared competence and consultative responsibility are being continually reworked and redesigned through various treaties and pacts. It adds one more layer of complexity to the overall governance of Everstate.
The power of the ruler (the nation and its representatives) was neither weak nor strong. However, as, by comparison, the power of various elite groups was relatively strong, then, some appropriation of public power was taking place. Because the separation between the public and private domains had been achieved for some time, this appropriation of public power was either hidden as rampant corruption and nepotism or taking new forms that were still difficult to unmask and name. The appropriation of public power had direct consequences on governance as it lowered its efficiency and perverted its objectives.
The nation-state’s income had been slowly but steadily growing over the past decades. However, it had to be seen in the light of the necessary expenses that seemed to grow uncontrollably faster. Indeed, as society had lived at peace and developed over the last 60 years, it had grown more complex. Conditions had changed, from the way to live and relate to each other with urbanization and digital and communication technology, to food availability and quality, to health behaviour. Meanwhile new threats had emerged. This led to a more complex situation in terms of governance. While governing implied more tasks and more complex ones, it became more costly. Hence, a few decades ago, the various resources extracted for governance and for ensuring the security of the citizens had started to be insufficient. This phenomenon was accentuated by the appropriation of public good and power by elite groups.
If the legitimate monopoly of violence of the state was still there, it was nevertheless weakening as it had started being affected by the reduction of overall available resources. Even if such events were thought to be improbable by most, any evolution involving rising grievances up until an escalation towards civil war would be affected by this weakening monopoly of violence. In turn, if such an unlikely and unfortunate spiral started, it would further impact the army’s performance, the monopoly of violence and governance.
The legitimacy of Evertstate’s political system, inherited from past dynamics, was still strong and its impact was thus positive. As a result, despite a security to the ruled – or the citizens – that was starting to be less than perfect, no risk of strong rising discontent and polarisation was thought to be possible.