To main anarchy page

Defense against states

National defense, or at least some forms of national defense, such as destroying Hitler's Germany, is a public good, and genuinely anarchist societies are apt to under provide public goods.

On the other hand governments tend to over provide public goods, in part because whenever it provides a public good it unavoidably creates a lobby group – in the case of war, the infamous military-industrial complex.

War, for example destroying Hitler's Germany, is the most plausibly essential public good, the strongest justification for the state. But when we look at the defeat of the Soviet Union, or the defeat of the Taliban, this argument looks considerably weaker. The heavy lifting in those wars was done by loose alliances of small groups, for example the holy warriors and the contras, which did not rely on a single large centralized authority to support the public good of defeat of an oppressive regime.

In the second world war, public good theory would lead us to expect that the most powerful state, America would bear most of the burden of defeating the threat, and smaller states would hang back and cheer the winner. When it came to the part of the war that was purely a public good, conquering the German and Japanese homelands, America did indeed bear most of the burden, but when it came to defending Australia against the Japanese, the Australians bore the major burden, and similarly for most other battlefields outside of the aggressors' homelands. Most German troops died fighting Russians in Russia, not Americans in Germany. The particular victims of particular Japanese or German acts of aggression counter attacked those particular Japanese or Germans attacking them.

Defeating a large scale evildoer is a public good - but large scale evil consists of many acts of small scale evil, and defeating each particular small scale evil act is a private good.

The holy warriors were probably effective against the Soviets because each holy warrior was defending his home, and each small group of holy warriors were defending their village. Among the contras, it appears that the Indian contras defended the Indians against forced collectivization, breaking up collectives with extreme violence and killing the collective's functionaries and administrators, often in disturbingly unpleasant ways, but failed to participate in other contra struggles.

Thus anarchic forms of society appear to be capable of waging war defensively with considerably effectiveness, but are considerably less capable of taking the war to places far away.

This disadvantage is less that it seems. The Soviet empire was overthrown by a series of defensive wars, by loose coalitions, the contras and the holy warriors, not by invasion and conquest like Hitler's empire. Each local defeat of the Soviets led to another, like falling dominoes each knocking over the next and the dominoes fell all the way to Moscow itself. The heavy lifting was done by forces with no central command. People in an anarchic America would find it very difficult to do what Roosevelt did to the nazis – but would not find it so difficult to do what Reagan did to the commies.

It is the nature of Islam to impose dhimmitude on nonbelievers, without much regard for official state boundaries. “Dhimmitude” being a dangerously inferior status where one's property is insecure, and women are apt to be raped. Existing Muslim states no longer officially impose dhimmi status, but for the most part they impose unofficial dhimmi status, which is even more dangerous and precarious: Existing Muslim states often fail to prosecute crimes against infidels, and when crimes are prosecuted, penalties are slight.

The West has tried to confine dhimmitude inside a system of states – the Muslims can oppress their minorities inside Muslim state boundaries all they like, but cannot oppress outside Muslim state boundaries. This artificial boundary bends under pressure, creating the conflict occurring as I write. In response to this threat, the American government engages in imperial state building – imposing on Muslims governments more acceptable to Americans.

The anarchic equivalent of the current policy of imperial state building would be to enter mutual defense arrangements with dhimmi, without regard to state boundaries.

The Taliban had imposed dhimmi status on Muslims they did not agree with in Afghanistan. An anarchic America would not be able to occupy Iraq, nor would it be capable of “building democracy” in Afghanistan, but it would be able to do the equivalent of sending special forces to assist the victims of Taliban oppression to overthrow their oppressors – a tactic that addresses the problem in a more direct manner than state building, a tactic that had great success, whereas state building has so far been costly and has provided limited success. An anarchic America would not be able to do to Iraq what Bush did to Iraq, but anarchic Americans would be able to do to the Taliban what Bush did to the Taliban.

Government offers advantages and disadvantages in defense. Its greatest disadvantage is that offers a target. Governments are hard to create, easy to destroy, as recent history has repeatedly demonstrated. Because government monopolizes defense capability, destroying the enemy government brings great advantage to the attacker. If you organize a government, you present your soft underbelly to a hostile foreign government, you give your enemy a single throat that he can cut.

If for example, America's enemies in Iraq were to organize a counter government, that would make things mighty easy for American troops. By organizing an Iraqi government, those troops have made things easy for their enemies.

The problem the Pentagon encountered in Iraq is, as we discovered during the cold war, that destroying governments is easy, upholding governments is hard. Containment (protecting non communist governments from communists) was bloody, expensive, and failed, failed with catastrophic consequences. Rollback (undermining communist governments) was cheap, easy, and wildly successful. In Iraq, as I write, the world's mightiest superpower is disturbingly close to being defeated by numerous little underfunded and underarmed groups totalling perhaps twenty thousand men. The existence of an Iraqi government is not an advantage in defeating these enemies, but a profound and terrible disadvantage, a disadvantage demonstrated daily in blood.

These documents are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License