Models of the stability of states

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See also: Insurgency
See also: Weak state
See also: Failed state
See also: Social capital

Several models of the stability of states describe the prerequisites for state stability. Insurgency, and the collapse of government services without insurgency, develops in the presence of social instability. E.E. Pritchard-Evans noted in 1940,

There are three major forms of power in a society: coercive force, social capital, and authority. The power of coercion is the ability to compel a person through threat of harm or by use of physical force. ... Counterinsurgency forces must be aware of these groups, and understand the social role these coercive units play in the local political arena. Social capital refers to the power of individuals and groups to utilize social networks of reciprocity and exchange to accomplish their goals...In many non-Western societies, patron-client relationships are an important form of social capital. In a patronage system, an individual in a powerful position provides goods, services, security or other resources to followers in exchange for political support or loyalty, thereby amassing power. Counterinsurgency forces must identify, where possible, which groups and individuals have social capital and how they attract and maintain followers."[1]

If the government has inadequate coercive force, social capital, or authority, its rule will be unstable. To avoid the development of insurgency, either the government must itself build a workable mix of these factors, either on its own or with external assistance. The latter was often the case when the insurgency was directed, by the native population, at a colonial power.

Even worse situations arise where a colonial power drew boundaries, as with the Durand Line among Afghanistan, India, and the not-yet-existing Pakistan, or with the country of Iraq created by merging three distinct Ottoman governorates of different ethnicity. In these arbitrary assemblages, there may be little sense of social capital outside a tribal or religious group: the Pashtun people in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran. When modern Iraq was created,[2] it threw ethnic Kurds together with sectarian Shi'a and Sunni; when the Hashemite king of Iraq was overthrown and Saddam Hussein gained control of the Ba'ath Party, the Ba'athist elite were overwhelmingly from his home area of Tikrit. Samuel Huntington defined fault line conflicts as between various civilizations within a state. Depending on the granularity with which one defines "civilization", colonial aggregations may be a recipe such conflicts, as in the former Yugoslavia between Slavic and Islamic civilization. In Iraq, there certainly was Islamic sectarian conflict, which could be considered a country cleft among Shi'a, Sunni, and possibly Kurd.

Even before a state failure, insurgency may flourish due to a lack of social capital, and counterinsurgents may need to rebuild it. Several studies have addressed it with respect to the Dinka and Nuer peoples of Sudan, who have fought against one another and against the central government. The Dinka and Nuer relationship was reexamined in 2010 by Luka Biong Deng, Minister of Presidential Affairs in the Government of South Sudan, who said that "exogenous" counterinsurgency increased social capital while "endogenous" counterinsurgency reduced it. [3]

U.S. foreign internal defense (FID) doctrine, as well as the models of NATO and allies, assumes a goal is to enable the host nation (HN) and its institutions to move into the realm of those states that both provide for their citizens and interact constructively with the rest of the world.

Two broad categories of country need at least some aspects of FID assistance. The obvious category is of weak and failed states, but there are also needs in generally strong states that face specific problems such as terrorism, piracy and illegal drug trade.

Stability models

Kilcullen's Pillars

David Kilcullen developed a model identifies the participants in an actual or potential insurgency.

Kilcullen Figure 1: Ecosystem of Insurgency[4]

It shows a box defined by geographic, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and religious characteristics. Inside

the box are governments, counterinsurgent forces, insurgent leaders, insurgent forces, and the general population, which is made up of three groups:

  1. those committed to the insurgents
  2. those committed to the counterinsurgents
  3. those who simply wish to get on with their lives. The FID team must identify all these components that are present in the HN, and identify their interactions. encouraging those supportive of the counterinsurgents and the general population, and discouraging the needs of the insurgents.

Kilcullen's model is less focused on a hierarchy of command and control, and more on establishing shared values. "Obviously enough, you cannot command what you do not control. Therefore, unity of command (between agencies or among government and non-government actors) means little in this environment." Unity of command is one of the axioms of military doctrine[5] The three pillar model repeats later as part of the gaps to be closed to end an insurgency.

Kilcullen's Three Pillars

As in swarming, Kilcullen "depends less on a shared command and control hierarchy, and more on a shared diagnosis of the problem [i.e., the distributed knowledge of swarms], platforms for collaboration, information sharing and deconfliction. Each player must understand the others’ strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and objectives, and inter-agency teams must be structured for versatility (the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks) and agility (the ability to transition rapidly and smoothly between tasks)."

McCormick Magic Diamond

McCormick’s model[6] is designed as a tool for counterinsurgency (COIN), but develops a symmetrical view of the required actions for both the Insurgent and COIN forces to achieve success. In this way the counterinsurgency model can demonstrate how both the insurgent and COIN forces succeed or fail. The model’s strategies and principle apply to both forces, therefore the degree the forces follow the model should have a direct correlation to the success or failure of either the Insurgent or COIN force.

McCormick insurgency model

The model depicts four key elements or players:

  1. Insurgent Force
  2. Counterinsurgency force (i.e., the government)
  3. Population
  4. International community.

All of these interact, and the different elements have to assess their best options in a set of actions:

  1. Gaining Support of the Population
  2. Disrupt Opponent’s Control Over the Population
  3. Direct Action Against Opponent
  4. Disrupt Opponent’s Relations with the International Community
  5. Establish Relationships with the International Community

Barnett and connecting to the core

In Thomas Barnett's paradigm,[7] the world is divided into a "connected core" of nations enjoying a high level of communications among their organizations and individuals, and those nations that are disconnected internally and externally. In a reasonably peaceful situation, he describes a "system administrator" force, often multinational, which does what some call "nation-building", but, most importantly, connects the nation to the core and empowers the natives to communicate -- that communication can be likened to swarm coordination. If the state is occupied, or in civil war, another paradigm comes into play, which is generally beyond the scope of FID: the leviathan, a first-world military force that takes down the opposition regular forces. Leviathan is not constituted to fight local insurgencies, but major forces. Leviathan may use extensive swarming at the tactical level, but its dispatch is a strategic decision that may be made unilaterally, or by an established group of the core such as NATO or ASEAN.

FID can grow out of the functioning of the "system administrator", be that a single dominant country (e.g., France in Chad), or with a multinational group such as ECOMOG, the military arm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in Sierra Leone. In the Sierra Leonian situation, the primary Leviathan was Great Britain, with Operation Barras, which involved special reconnaissance, direct action, and hostage rescue.

Eizenstat and closing gaps

Broad views of FID involve closing "gaps",[8] some of which can be done by military advisors and even combat assistance, but, even more broadly, helping the Host Nation (HN) be seen as responsive. To be viable, a state must be able to close three "gaps", of which the first is most important:

  • security: protection "against internal and external threats, and preserving sovereignty over territory. If a government cannot ensure security, rebellious armed groups or criminal nonstate actors may use violence to exploit this security gap—as in Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia."
  • capacity: The most basic are the survival needs of water, electrical power, food and public health, closely followed by education, communications and a working economic system.[9] "An inability to do so creates a capacity gap, which can lead to a loss of public confidence and then perhaps political upheaval. In most environments, a capacity gap coexists with—or even grows out of—a security gap. In Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, segments of the population are cut off from their governments because of endemic insecurity. And in postconflict Iraq, critical capacity gaps exist despite the country’s relative wealth and strategic importance."
  • legitimacy: closing the legitimacy gap is more than an incantation of "democracy" and "elections", but a government that is perceived to exist by the consent of the governed, has minimal corruption, and has a working law enforcement and judicial system that enforce human rights.

Note the similarity between Eizenstat's gaps and Kilcullen's three pillars.[10]

External pressures on the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election have been focused on creating legitimacy, as well as coalition-building to replace the insurgencies in Iraq.

Cordesman and Security

Other than brief "Leviathan" takedowns, security building appears to need to be regional, with logistical and other technical support from more developed countries and alliances (e.g., ASEAN, NATO). Noncombat military assistance in closing the security gap begins with training, sometimes in specialized areas such as intelligence. More direct, but still noncombat support, includes intelligence, planning, logistics and communications.

It is well to understand that counterterrorism, as used by Cordesman, does not mean using terrorism against the terrorism, but an entire spectrum of activities, nonviolent and violent, to disrupt an opposing terrorist organization. The French general, Joseph Gallieni, observed, while a colonial administrator in 1898,

A country is not conquered and pacified when a military operation has decimated its inhabitants and made all heads bow in terror; the ferments of revolt will germinate in the mass and the rancours accumulated by the brutal action of force will make them grow again[11]

Both Kilcullen and Eizenstat define a more abstract goal than does Cordesman. Kilcullen's security pillar is roughly equivalent to Eizenstat's security gap:

  • Military security (securing the population from attack or intimidation by guerrillas, bandits, terrorists or other armed groups)
  • Police security (community policing, police intelligence or “Special Branch” activities, and paramilitary police field forces).
  • Human security, building a framework of human rights, civil institutions and individual protections, public safety (fire, ambulance, sanitation, civil defense) and population security.

"This pillar most engages military commanders’ attention, but of course military means are applied across the model, not just in the security domain, while civilian activity is critically important in the security pillar also ... all three pillars must develop in parallel and stay in balance, while being firmly based in an effective information campaign."[10]

Anthony Cordesman, while speaking of the specific situation in Iraq, makes some points that can be generalized to other nations in turmoil.[12] Cordesman recognizes some value in the groupings in Samuel Huntington's idea in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,[13] but, rather assuming the civilizations must clash, these civilizations simply can be recognized as actors in a multinational world.

Recruiting for insurgency

Social scientists, soldiers, and sources of change have been modeling insurgency for nearly a century, if one starts with Mao.[14] Counterinsurgency models, not mutually exclusive from one another, come from Kilcullen, McCormick, Barnett and Eizenstat; see insurgency for the material that deals with factors that predispose toward insurgency.

Not all current insurgency is Islamic; South Asia is experiencing a resurgence of Maoist activity. In both cases, social capital also can recruit for insurgency. [15] Social capital is not only useful to the counterinsurgent, but helps the insurgents recruit — "trust based on social networks also plays a big role, because he or she risks everything, including life, by joining the insurgency." Sztompka explains how social capital—like social networks, family, friendship, and religion—helps in taking risk.[16]

It is worth noting that several complex insurgent organizations, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, act, in their areas of control, as shadow governments. Rather like an old-time American political machine, they may be a better place to obtain services than the regular government. Before reform, Tammany Hall was the "go-to" place, not the government of New York City.

Does stabilizing eliminate terror?

The term war on terror has been criticized, but there may be utility in examining a war not specifically on the tactic of terror, but in one or more, potentially cooperating insurgencies. "the utility of analyzing the war on terrorism using an insurgency/counterinsurgency conceptual framework. Additionally, the recommendations can be applied to the strategic campaign, even if it is politically unfeasible to address the war as an insurgency."[17] Anthony Cordesman points out some of the myths in trying to have a worldwide view of terror:[18]

  • Cooperation can be based on trust and common values: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
  • A definition of terrorism exists that can be accepted by all.
  • Intelligence can be freely shared.
  • Other states can be counted on to keep information secure, and use it to mutual advantage.
  • International institutions are secure and trustworthy.
  • Internal instability and security issues do not require compartmentation and secrecy at national level.
  • The “war on terrorism” creates common priorities and needs for action.
  • Global and regional cooperation is the natural basis for international action.
  • Legal systems are compatible enough for cooperation.
  • Human rights and rule of law differences do not limit cooperation.
  • Most needs are identical.
  • Cooperation can be separated from financial needs and resources

Another problem is that self-radicalization of individuals or small groups may come from individual anger, rather than real social breakdown. The worst terrorist incident in the U.S. before 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by individuals that had been rejected by a number of radical groups.


  1. E.E. Pritchard-Evans (1940), The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People, Clarendon Press
  2. William O. Beeman (May 2004), Strategic Insights, Naval Postgraduate School III (5)
  3. Luka Biong Deng (11 February 2010), "Social capital and civil war: The Dinka communities in Sudan’s civil war", African Affairs 109 (43): 231-250, DOI:10.1093/afraf/adq001
  4. Kilcullen, David (2004), Countering Global Insurgency: A Strategy for the War on Terrorism
  5. Department of the Army (14 June 2001). Field Manual 3-0: Operations (PDF). 
  6. McCormick, Gordon. "The Shining Path and Peruvian terrorism". RAND Corporation.
  7. Barnett, Thomas P.M. (2005). The Pentagon's New Map: The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. Berkley Trade. 
  8. Eizenstat, Stuart E. (January/February 2005), "Rebuilding Weak States", Foreign Affairs (no. 1)
  9. Sagraves, Robert D (April 2005), The Indirect Approach: the role of Aviation Foreign Internal Defense in Combating Terrorism in Weak and Failing States, Air Command and Staff College
  10. 10.0 10.1 Kilcullen, David (28 September 2006), Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency
  11. McClintock, Michael (November 2005). Great Power Counterinsurgency. Human Rights First.
  12. Anthony Cordesman (August 1, 2006). The Importance of Building Local Capabilities: Lessons from the Counterinsurgency in Iraq. Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  13. Samuel Huntington (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster. 
  14. Mao Tse-tung (1967), On Protracted War, Foreign Languages Press
  15. Durga Madhab (John) Mitra (February 2007), Understanding Indian Insurgencies: Implications for Counterinsurgency Operations in the Third World, Naval Postgraduate School
  16. Piotr Sztompka, Trust: A Sociological Theory, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 129-131, quoted by Mitra, p. 13
  17. Canonico, Peter J. (December 2004). An Alternate Military Strategy for the War on Terrorism. U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
  18. Anthony Cordesman (29 October 2007), Security Cooperation in the Middle East, Center for Strategic and International Studies