Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do Wars Make States? - Part I


Due to its high costs, war plays a major role in the formation of states, creating the need for an organization larger than the individual, family or tribe. This and the following post will consider that phenomenon and highlight the United States as a case study. While some scholars contend that war has a democratizing effect, I will argue that democracy is by no means the necessary outcome of the pressures of war.

War is a costly undertaking and has only become more so with changes in warfare. “Every thirteenth-century noble household owned swords, but no twentieth-century household owns an aircraft carrier” (Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990, 84). Mobilizing military power requires personnel, weapons and a considerable variety of supplies, things almost inevitably outside the resources of any single individual. Thus, Charles Tilly points out, “war and preparations for war involved rulers in extracting the means of war from others who held the essential resources – men, arms, supplies, or money to buy them” (15). In order to extract these resources and deploy them for war, states have emerged.

Before proceeding further, it may be useful to define what states are. Tilly describes them as “coercion-wielding organizations that are distinct from households and kinship groups and exercise clear priorities in some respects over all other organizations within substantial territories” (Tilly 1). Three elements of this definition are noteworthy. First, states wield coercion; while this may be domestically or abroad, by physical violence or other means, states are clearly in the business of force. Second, states are distinct from households and kinship groups; neither is sufficiently large to mobilize significant military forces. Third, states exercise priority over other organizations; it is precisely the state’s ability to extract resources from others, by persuasion or coercion, which gives it the ability to meet the demands of war.

When considering the origins of city-states, Lewis Mumford saw that “two great forces drive the growth of cities: the concentration of political power and the expansion of productive means” (Tilly 13). Both forces are required, or at least highly desirable, for an entity waging war. Political power enables taxation and conscription of citizens for military service; productive means increase a state’s ability to produce, and therefore deploy, war materiel. Tilly makes this point explicit when he argues that “the organization of coercion and preparation for war [should be] squarely in the middle of the analysis [of state formation]… State structures appeared chiefly as a by-product of rulers’ efforts to acquire the means of war” (14).

Failure in war has done much to drive the development of states, by destroying those states with few or weak institutions. However, success in war can also be a driver of state formation. “To the extent that [states] are successful in subduing their rivals outside or inside the territory they claim, the wielders of coercion find themselves obligated to administer the lands, goods, and people they acquire” (Tilly 20). These administrative obligations produce new taxes, new garrisons and new administrative mechanisms, which in turn reinforce the state and its ability to wage war.
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