Monday, 4 November 2013

Wargaming Failed States

One of the sources for creating near future wargame scenarios is the Index of Failed States. Warfare in the current world seems to be more a question of failed state militias and clan conflict than the full scale mechanised-industrial warfare of the twentieth century.

The failed state index map is show above. The world is divided into four conditionsL

Green: Sustainable
Amber: Stable
Orange: Warning
Brick-Red: Alert

The factors used in the judgements are as follows:-

Mounting demographic pressures.
Massive displacement of refugees.
Widespread vengeance-seeking group grievance.
Chronic and sustained human flight.

Uneven economic development along group lines.
Severe economic decline.
Criminalization of the state.
Deterioration of public services.
Suspension or arbitrary application of law.
Security apparatus operating independent of the law.
Rise of factionalized elites.
Intervention of external political forces.

It is interesting to look at the states deemed to be 'sustainable' because it raises severe questions about the methodology. Some are inarguable - Finland, Scandanavia, Canada but the choice of some of the others are less convincing.

Australia: The vast majority of the population lives in a handful of large cities separated by huge distances and life is marginal. Global climate change will have disproportionate impact.

Germany: Facing depopulation and a demographic time bomb.

Iceland: Broke.

Ireland: Broke, mass emigration of young skilled people and still threatened by simmering ethnic conflict.

Of course, there are always problems of reducing multi-dimensional data to a single number.

We are familiar with the Spanish Civil War but the activities of the Freikorps and their role in the destruction of the Weimer Republic and the rise of Nazism seems to be largely forgotten now.

I have just finished Nigel Jones superb book on the history of the Freikorps (and other German militias) and their transformation into the brown shirts and SS.

One of the signs of a stable state is that the state has the exclusive control of mass violence through state controlled institutions. In contrast failed states always exhibit private armies in the form of non-state controlled militias of one sort or another be they political, religious ethnic or simply clan-based that are capable of challenging the state's monopoly of mass violence. The Carlist militia of a previous post are a good example.

Of course it helps enormously if the bulk of the population regard the state's monopoly of violence as legitimate but that is not essential. Stalinist Russia showed itself to be remarkably stable.

I recently saw a Texan tea-party militia waving guns at a political rally at the Alamo. Tourists were taking their picture and the militia was boasting that they were showing foreigners what a free country looked like. Hmm..

Of course it would be a wild exaggeration to compare American patriot militia to the Freikorps for all sorts of reasons not least because the patriot militias do not seriously challenge the American State's monopoly of mass violence. Any militiaman waving a hunting rifle who fondly imagines that he could survive ten seconds of combat against the regular army is utterly delusional. Also American militiamen just plain do not have the mind-set of the psychopaths who came back from the German trenches in 1918. To put it bluntly they are protesters not natural killers and their guns are political props.

So the failed state index is a useful scenario-inspiring tool but read about the Freikorps before you take it too seriously.


  1. To put it bluntly they are protesters not natural killers and their guns are political props.

    When they stop becoming political props and becoming items to be used, that's when things are going to really hit the fan.

    1. Yah, but one of the interesting realisations you get from reading the above work is that the Freikorps were such a product of their times. No first world country has that situation right now.
      Honestly Paul, I don't think you have a similar problem in the US. Nothing like.

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  3. (My last comment was a little long so I cut it down to keep it more readable!)

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing this. Except, I have to disagree about Australia - it totally deserves to be in the green.

    In terms of average wealth, Australia is ranked second in the world after Switzerland in 2013. It was identified by the Credit Suisse Research Institute as the nation with the highest median wealth in the world. Global Financial Crisis... what crisis? Australia was in a mining boom. The Ausy dollar was worth more than the US dollar! Australia has the fifth highest per capita GDP (nominal). The country was ranked second in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Index and first in Legatum's 2008 Prosperity Index. So I think it is unwarranted to say that life is marginal in Australia, in fact it is incredibly good!

    When I look at the other factors used in the judgements I can’t see anything that would be an issue at all.

    In terms of militant actions, having more space between cities makes any hypothetical uprising easily containable. To have any success the militant group would need to have big assets like ships and large aircraft. Thinking in terms of external defence, Australia has loads of resources and a strong economy. On top of that Australia is an island!

    One thing that private armies or militia need is weapons. Australia has incredibly strong gun laws which have resulted in a low number of guns. According to wiki, Australia is listed with 15 guns per 100 residence, while the ‘super safe’ Finland has 45.3, Canada has 30.8, Germany has 30.3, Iceland has 30.3 and it goes on. That is not to mention that no resident in Australia can legally own a semi-automatic weapon. Yes, all anyone might have is a bolt-action rifle with a magazine of 10 rounds.

    I didn’t mean for this to come across as a rant! I was just exploring the idea. If I’m totally wrong please do point out what I am missing :)

    1. Hi Col quite agree about Oz's wealth and strong democratic institutions (coughs modestly and doesn't point out where they come from :) ) but I meant ecology not economics when I said life was marginal. It's a very inhospitable continent and potentially challenged by climate change. That makes it amber, not green imo.

  4. "Any militiaman waving a hunting rifle who fondly imagines that he could survive ten seconds of combat against the regular army is utterly delusional."

    -Originally said by the British Govt circa 1774!

    Seriously though, I'm with Mr. Weimar about the guns being political props, but as a history buff/wargamer (and you being an Englishman and me being a Texan) I still haven't stopped laughing.

  5. Sorry sunshine, you do George Washingington a great disservice by assuming that the Britsh Mercenary army was beaten by militiamen. Washington built a line army of regulars. That was his great achievement.

    Or do you think the American Army in Vietnam was beaten by a few militia with AK47s?

    And if you really think fat bubba and his mates with hunting rifles could hold off a US combat battalion then you're barmy.

    So stop laughing and read a few history books.

    And it wasn't Paul who said the guns were political props - it was me.

  6. No No No! Stop!
    I miscommunicate / you misinterpret!
    I agree with your premise!
    All of the things you state I take for granted!


    Maybe this anecdote will help:
    When I worked for GW, I got a new manager from the UK. He asked if he could have the 4th of July off because he wanted to watch England play a World Cup match. I gave him the day off, but cautioned him that in the event of a victory it would be a bad day to run outside yelling, "England Wins! England Wins!" with his accent.

    That same guy is now running a Fantasy Football League called "The Colonial Wars" with half Brits and half Yanks.

    ARGH! Stupid electronic media...

  7. Sorry Maj: I was too quick on the trigger (as you colonials say :) )

    PPS I am writing about George washing at the mo, sort of, The Citizen Series for Baen. He was an extraordinary man - a great Englishman :)


    PS I once visited the revolutionary memorial at Boston wearing a red jacket. I couldn't work out why everyone was staring. I was also drinking a cup of marked Typhoo Tea - as one does. Or as one does if one is English.

    PPS I also recall watching England play in a world cup in a sports bar in St Louis. We lost but we did teach the yanks how to do England football chants so it wasn't an entirely wasted afternoon.

  8. No Prob...

    Re: George Wash
    He was also a crazy man. I used to work at the Ft. Pitt Museum, building exhibits and such. There was a copy of a letter he wrote following Braddock's Defeat (Battle of the Monongahela) talking about how exhilarating it was being shot at and not being hit. As I recall, he had several bullet holes in his coat and at least one horse shot out from underneath him during the debacle.

    1. He seemed to have absolutely no fear of death. What was astonishing was that he survived since by all accounts he took not the slightest care of his own safety. I gues fortune favours the brave (or should that be stupid?).