Review – Command of Violence

Commanding violence: Explaining the relationship between armed groups and states from conflict to cooperation
by paul staniland
Cornell University Press, 2021

Paul Staniland is one of today’s leading scholars of armed conflict.his command of violence “” is an influential 2012 article “States, rebel forces, and wartime political ordercommand of violence Examines how and why states confront, collaborate with, contain, and otherwise interact with armed groups. Raising this question itself represents a considerable advance over much of the thinking in political science’s current civil war literature, which loosely assumes a binary opposition between incumbents and rebels. Staniland shows that the problem is actually much more complex. He categorizes the relationships that occur between states and armed groups into four military orders: “total war, containment, limited cooperation, and alliances” (p. 3). Trying to explain why such orders appear at different times, Staniland looks at “how the ideological threat governments perceive from armed groups prompts state responses.” p.2).

Staniland refreshingly insists on “taking ideas seriously” (p. 262). He objects to the frequent caricatures of modern warfare that there is “no ideology or politics beyond greed and survival” (p. 263). However, it is unfortunate that he continues to uncritically accept the opinions of other scholars thereafter. A depiction of Africa that satisfies this “greed and survival” model (we revisit the applicability of Staniland’s ideas to West Africa below). In addition to emphasizing ideological alignments and competition between states and armed groups, Staniland also focuses on changes over time and how certain events, such as “militarized elections,” We also pay attention to how companies can create tactical cooperation among competitors, thereby turning them into “strange brethren.” ”(p.40).

Beyond the introduction and two theoretical chapters (“The Politics of Threat Perception” and “How Armed Orders Change”), the heart of the book is Staniland’s dataset of armed orders in South Asia. (Chapter 3) and subsequent chapters. Case studies of India, Pakistan, Burma/Myanmar, and Sri Lanka (Chapters 4 to 7). The case study demonstrates Staniland’s keen interest in history. He delves deep into the colonial past, highlighting the numerous political and conflictual aspects within each country, thereby providing considerable texture that cannot be captured in datasets. The book’s conclusion provides a humbling impression of the limitations of Staniland’s arguments (especially “Mechanisms of Armed Group Agency”, p. 261). Staniland also discusses the theory and policy implications of the book, particularly that “ceasefires, let-alive agreements, and active cooperation can all limit conflict and protect civilians from the worst excesses of open warfare.” “It can be done” (p.273). . This is a solemn but realistic proposal. Signing a peace agreement is not the only way to save lives, and such agreements may not normally materialize.

How valid are Staniland’s ideas when applied to other parts of the world, such as West Africa? The usefulness of Staniland’s typology is clear. His four-part model of different arms orders, as well as his explanation of how different combinations of “ideological compatibility” and “tactical overlap” arise, are relevant to the Sahel region and Nigeria. could be productively applied to conflicts in various forms of armed order; There are also many “strange bed buddies” in the area.

At the same time, however, the situation is even more troubling than Staniland’s typology suggests, with much information still inaccessible to researchers and typologies having to be provisional, probabilistic, and limited. For example, is it possible for multiple orders to exist simultaneously within the Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria? Rumors abound regarding wartime political economy and the relationship between local politicians and armed groups. Meanwhile, civilians and military personnel have at times openly disagreed, not to mention occasional signs of tension within the military hierarchy itself. Is it possible that both “all-out war” and “limited cooperation” are happening at the same time, depending on which region you are looking at and which parties you are discussing? Political scientists can fall into what political scientists call the “single-actor fallacy,” or the fallacy of projecting cohesive and singular motives and goals onto a state or organization. The unit of analysis in many of Staniland’s books is governments and armed groups rather than individuals or factions. When individuals participate in his story, it is often the leader who comes out on top. Similarly, although Staniland makes change over time a central part of his analysis, change in Nigeria and the Sahel region is sometimes so rapid that any data set will I don’t think you can capture complexity. In 2020 alone, Mali experienced large-scale protests, a military coup, jihadist infighting, and jihadist kidnappings of key politicians and subsequent negotiations for their release. Such complexity cannot be encoded without radical reductionism. That’s exactly why case studies are so important.

Here I would like to give a final critique of this book. As someone originally trained in the humanities, I found Staniland’s case studies to be very detailed but thinly sourced. In both cases, especially those described in Chapters 5 to 7, the bibliography focuses on a relatively small number of derivative works. Although Staniland makes use of several primary sources—Jawaharlal Nehru’s letters are widely quoted, as are the diaries of Muhammad Ayub Khan—the reader hears firsthand the words of the parties to the conflict. This is relatively rare. If the book was about taking ideas seriously, the main characters might have been taken more seriously. Including their voices would probably have changed the analysis in interesting ways.

generally, command of violence It will become an anchor study in the increasingly complex and compelling political science literature on civil war and armed conflict. Staniland’s central insight, that there is more to war than fighting, has profound implications for the way we understand the relationship between nations and those with whom they fight and, in many cases, do business. ing.

Further reading on electronic international relations

Related Article


Leave a Comment