Militias: A Driving Force in World Crisis

Posted in Global Net Assessment

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Right now we witness the central role of militias — “bad guys” and “good guys” alike — in Ukraine, Libya, Mexico, Thailand, and Brazil, as drivers in “unsecured” societies. These example showcase five militia genotypes:

1-Thailand: Muscle extension of a national political movement locked in a struggle over national identity (antecedent: Nazi Sturmabteilung)

2-Libya: Militias represent both self-defense and the political leverage of different constituencies within society, reflecting a shifting mix of local, tribal, and movement identity, with “Government forces” just another militia actor (antecedent: the Germanic warlord jockeying after the fall of the Roman state in Western Europe).

3-Brazil: Self-defense forces of local communities, representing de facto but unrecognized autonomous principalities (antecedent: Klephts-Armatoloi in the Ottoman Peloponnesus).

4: Mexico: Vigilante, self-organizing law enforcement in response to the breakdown of legitimate institutions for defending public order (antecedent: Dutch Schutterij — citizen militia — of the 16th-17th centuries).

5-Ukraine: Minority insurgents fomented and used by an adjacent power to destabilize the national core and leverage it to client state status (antecedent: Low-level violence across Europe after the Paris Peace Conference treaties of 1919-1920, characterized by riots, coercion over plebiscites).

In Thailand, the Red Shirts and rival Yellows, political movements with a distinctly militia dimensions, fighting, like political gangs in early 1930s Germany, not with guns but rather more basic weapons. Check out the margins’ video and Facebook pics here, of street battles reminiscent of those between Army, Communists, and SA thugs in late Weimar Germany:

http://uglytruththailand.wordpress.com/tag/coup/

http://thairedshirts.org/ (Official Red site)

http://www.antithaksin.com/BlankForm.php?Aid=0501012 (Yellow agit-prop)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/red-shirt-v-yellow-shirt-thailands-political-struggle-2057293.html

In Libya, the militia’s are the focal tool for successor-state self-organizing, which involves both staking out territories, defending “sovereignty, and jockeying for a larger share of national rulership. This process very much resembles that of the early Middle Ages, with extremely weak kingdoms and multiple, militarily equivalent power centers, each dependent on retinue-based allegiance and loyalty:

http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR500/RR577/RAND_RR577.pdf

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/libya-in-crisis-rival-militias-position-themselves-for-civil-war-as-country-teeters-on-brink-9399311.html

http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2014/05/22/islamist-led-militias-deploy-in-libyas-capital

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/18/world/africa/libya-violence/

As it looms in Brazil, the World Cup brings a fierce offensive campaign against militias in the vast human ecology of the urban Favelas:

http://projects.aljazeera.com/2014/world-cup-favelas/

Yet this “militarization of public space” (as The Nation calls it) is required for a secure civic space for the duration of the Futbol grande fete, raising the question of whether real civic space even exists outside of military enforcement. Moreover, the Brazilian military is being advised by one of the most feared US militias: Blackwater.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/179541/why-blackwater-helping-train-brazils-world-cup-security

These militias are not simply bad-guy drug thug forces, but also include scores of vigilante militias of off-duty and former police, prison guards, and firefighters. The line between civic order and disorder, of good guys vs. bad guys, is breaking down:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0208/p04s01-woam.html

In Mexico, militias look like the good guys. They stepped up when the Mexican Federal Police and Army failed them. In towns across Michoacan and Guerrero, citizens organized the equivalent of the Schutterij, the town militias of the Dutch Republic of the 16th and 17th centuries, fighting off the depredations of Spanish mercenary-band armies, immortalized by Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Stalwart Mexican campesinos may not resemble the manicured and velvet-draped town fathers of the Dutch Golden Age, but the civic motivation is just as heroic. Take in these compelling photographs and video (followed by some useful reports:

http://www.wired.com/2014/05/ross-mcdonnell/?mbid=social_twitter#slide-id-929971

http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2014/05/mexicos-vigilantes/100734/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26106203

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/horton_michoacan.pdf

http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/insights/I0839en.pdf

http://bakerinstitute.org/media/files/Research/3e645892/BI-Brief-041814-Vigilantism.pdf

http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/latin-america/mexico/b029-justice-at-the-barrel-of-a-gun-vigilante-militias-in-mexico.pdf

In Ukraine we see a struggle over national identity and its separation, fomented by great power agitation by both the US and Russia. Militias here are drivers, not simply of a national dissolution, but also of the very fabric of normal life itself, and thus potential bringers of a subsidence of civilized life. Those drawn to renew by tearing down, to purify in wreckage, are all self-anointed champions of identity from the margins of society. The militia leaders represent in their very persons a host of personal resentments and prejudice that fuels their energy to fight, and to destroy. Begin with these evocative photographs and videos:

https://news.vice.com/show/russian-roulette-the-invasion-of-ukraine?trk_source=12-playlist-video

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/world/europe/behind-the-masks-in-ukraine-many-faces-of-rebellion.html

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/22/the-kremlin-s-crazy-shock-troops.html

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117865/peoples-republic-donetsk-defended-violent-grannies

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/05/the-chaos-engulfing-eastern-ukraine.html

http://mashable.com/2014/05/17/arms-race-ukraine/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/world/europe/ukraine-faces-struggle-to-gain-control-of-militias-including-those-on-its-side.html?_r=0

A report just out from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights offers compelling texture of what this picking apart of civilized life, looks like:

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/UA/HRMMUReport15May2014.pdf

Ukraine is the most sensational militia beachhead in our collective imagination right now, but we should not forget that there are militias everywhere, save in the most advanced, pacific, and stable states. But even here, in the land of 300 million guns, a momentary misstep and newly-minted militias magically appear: On this, first a news report, and then AmmoNation’s pro-militia propaganda:

You might ask: Why not just call these “armed groups” — with the clear option of adding “illegal” or “insurgent” or “terrorist” as it might suit the established order. But  “militia” means “soldierly service,” and those who form armed groups rarely think of themselves as bad guys, but rather as soldiers. This is because the distinguishing mark of a soldier is the defense of the community, hence the idea of “service.” The very word “soldier” reaches back to the Roman “solidus” — a “solid bit” gold coin. Pay for service. Even militias whose enterprise is nakedly criminal, like drug gangs in Brazilian favelas, also think of themselves as protectors of their communities. In other words, “militia” is closer to how the member of such groups think of themselves, and using this term reminds us of their sense of identity and motivation.

As we look at what the emergence of militias worldwide means to the approach or onset of world crisis, we should ask ourselves:

Does militia formation represent a renewal of civic commitment and order, or its coming apart?  Even if it is an order-dynamic, is it happening because established institutions of civic defense are losing public trust or coming apart? How long can a society be tended by militias before it ceases to be a cohesive national enterprise, and moves toward a looser association of related localities and regions? If militia formation is a symptom of nations under stress, is it because new identities are rising, or is it because unifying national institutions are failing — or both? Finally, what is wrong with the forcible devolution of national systems? Why do we think of this tendency as a crisis, rather than as a solution?