Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States.
Marten's central thesis is that the nature of a warlord has changed: a warlord is no longer an independent ruler maintained by his own strength. Instead, a current warlord is independent only by the sufferance of a state, i.e., the national government, and this sufferance may be the result either of the state's weakness or of the warlord's existence being convenient for the state. She supports her thesis by examining the case studies of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Georgia, Chechnya, and Iraq, and she has organized the lessons from these case studies into observations about the origins, the stability, and the utility of warlords.
The first set of observations describes the origins of warlords. The principal observation is that specialists in violence always exist in a society but that such a specialist becomes a warlord, i.e., personally rules part of the national territory, only when the national government cannot control that territory at a cost which is unacceptable to the national government. (The government might be able to 'control that territory at an unacceptable cost.) In fact, the seemingly strong, e.g., empires often have created warlords by subverting traditional tribal authorities. Great Britain did that by imposing primogeniture on the tribal societies of Pakistan thereby creating "a hereditary class of armed local power brokers," the maliks, in what became the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In Iraq, by contrast, Saddam Hussein was so weakened by the losses his state suffered during its eight years of war with Iran that he solved his need for total security by outsourcing some of his policing to Sunni militias based on tribes which were real or "made in Taiwan." These local warlords became insurgents after the U.S. invasion, and the United States attempted to reintegrate them into the state as the Sons of Iraq patrolling their own areas. In Chechnya, the Russian government appointed warlords (Kadyrov father and son) as a matter of convenience to suppress the insurgency, but in Georgia, Shevardnadze tolerated the warlords of two enclaves (Abashidze of Ajara and Kvitsiani of Upper Kodori), who had emerged out of the disorganization caused by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, as a temporary modus vivendi.
The second set of observations describes the tenuous stability of a warlord's regime. The warlord depends on patronage from a source outside his domain, and he redistributes that patronage to his supporters. The warlord may receive this patronage from the national government (as the maliks do in Pakistan and as Ramzan Kadyrov does in Chechnya) or from a foreign government (as Abashidze and Kvitsiani in Georgia received from Russia). Concomitantly, the warlord redistributes this patronage to his supporters in various forms, e.g., jobs or preferential contracts. As a consequence, a warlord operates either with the support or at the sufferance of a national government which lacks the immediate inclination to provide security itself However, this arrangement may work to the benefit of a foreign government or of a criminal syndicate, and the arrangement will undermine the national government.
As a further consequence, therefore, the national government may seek to eliminate the warlord. Since the warlord retains his supporters by redistributing patronage, the national government should offer those supporters a more attractive alternative (as the United States has attempted to do in Iraq despite the obstruction of the national government), and to do so, the government will need specific information about those supporters. Meanwhile, of course, the warlord will attempt to stay in power by recruiting other patrons, as Ramzan Kadyrov has done by accommodating smugglers. The warlord also will attempt to forestall governmental action by acquiring legal control of all provisions of security in his territory, thereby depriving the national government of specific information about his networks of patronage. A democratic state can penetrate this network, but this can be done most readily by a populist leader without either strong political opposition or democratic oversight, as was done by President Saakashvili in Georgia after he succeeded Shevardnadze. Saakashvili utilized the surviving files and apparatus of the Soviet state to penetrate the networks of patronage in Ajara and upper Kodori, and then he suborned the respective warlords' supporters with offers of amnesty and official positions. In Pakistan, by contrast, the availability of lucrative jobs outside the country has produced remittances which are slowly undermining the power of the maliks.
The third set of observations evaluates the utility of a warlord to the national government, and Marten concedes that a warlord can have some utility. Thus, a warlord can temporarily serve as a buffer, e.g., by maintaining stability in a border area (as in Chechnya or Georgia) or by allowing the national government to concentrate its resources on another front (Pakistan concentrating against India). Moreover, where ethnic or sectarian tensions are high, as in Iraq, a warlord may be hard to replace in an area populated by a national minority.
However, a warlord is unlikely to become a builder of the state because he creates resentment by impeding fair outcomes, i.e., by distributing benefits and justice as patronage rather than according to merit or economic efficiency. On this point, Marten's case studies are especially informative. Thus, in Pakistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas are rife with smuggling, radical Islamic militancy, and economic stagnation. Even international development assistance is distributed by the local warlords, so that such assistance does not build support for the state. When Georgia tolerated the enclaves of Ajara and Upper Kodori, their warlords allowed rampant criminality and bled the state's budget through the loss of customs revenue while securing no guarantee of cooperation from Russia. The latter state subsidizes a warlord in Chechnya despite the smuggling of arms and narcotics, the loss of customs revenue, and a poor record on human rights. In Iraq, real integration of the Sunni militias may be impossible because the distrust felt by each side is too intense: the Shiite government distrusts these militias, and the members of the militias fear individual assignment to government posts.
Although not an indispensable book, Marten's book is a useful and informative one. Her analysis is persuasive for the four cases she examines, and her observations are pertinent. Although warlordism is sometimes a necessary evil, a national government should eliminate the warlord as soon as possible. A warlord is dependent upon patronage, and therefore, he is vulnerable to having his network of supporters undermined. Ethnic or sectarian tension may make this more difficult, but a popular national leader operating without effective opposition is in a strong position to act. In any case, removing a warlord requires that the national government possess specific information about the network of patronage and be willing to suborn the important members of that network. Marten has presented a great deal of information and analysis in only 262 pages. 1 recommend her book unreservedly.
By Kimberly Marten Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012, 262 pages Reviewed by LTC (Retired) Kevin McMullen