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CIAO DATE: 03/02

Globalisation and the Eroding State Monopoly of Legitimate Violence

Anna Leander

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
August 2001

Introduction 1

This paper is an attempt to trace the link between processes which are usually bundled under the label "globalisation" and the eroding state monopoly of legitimate violence. In a nutshell, I will claim that globalisation has the dual effect of displacing politics and of diffusing authority, thereby diminishing the state's legitimacy and capacity to monopolize violence respectively.

The displacement of politics undermines the legitimacy on the basis of which the state claims a monopoly of legitimate violence. An increasingly transnational definition of the boundaries of the political and of who is part of the political process, combined with the privatisation of formerly public regulation, have diminished the centrality of state sponsored processes in the determination of public affairs. And as state sponsored political processes seem decreasingly adequate, the claim that the state is legitimately monopolizing violence for the sake of these processes is correspondingly weakened.

At the same time, a diffusion of authority is undermining the state capacity for legitimate violence. Globalisation creates new sources of authority both for states and those contesting states. And since state control continues to be quintessential, there is growing competition for the control over the state. The run on the state results in a portioning up (or rivatisation/feudalization) of public authority by the groups or individuals struggling to control it. As political processes are controlled, or taken over, by non-state authorities, they also challenge the capacity of public authorities to preserve and use the state's monopoly of violence.

This claim has important intellectual and political implications. If globalisation and its pivotal actors can partly explain the erosion of state monopoly of legitimate violence, then they have to be given serious consideration when we think about where and with whom we locate the responsibility for violence, and hence for where diplomatic efforts sh ould be directed. Y et, with a few notable exceptions 2 , work on war and violence goes on fairly much as usual. The prevailing attitude seems to be that if globalisation there is, it has no significant impact on the centrality of the state and the state system in the regulation of violence. It is as if the argument that states are still important actors, something which needs not be denied, forestalls any serious consideration of the changes that happened. For instance, in his recent "Social theory of international politics", Alexander Wendt justifies his state centrism — and his total neglect of transnational phenomena — with the argument that the control of violence is the precondition for all other social activities and "states are still the primary medium through which the effects of other actors on the regulation of violence are channelled into the world system" (Wendt 1999: 9). But clearly, this argument is untenable if, as this paper argues, a growing share of the regulation of violence escapes the state and state actors. Stubbornly confining the study of international politics to states will then merely lead to misconstrued and incomplete understanding of current international political processes, including war and peace.

The argument proceeds in three steps. First, I will argue that a central characteristic of "new wars" is the erosion of the state monopoly of legitimate violence. Then, I draw the links between globalisation and this erosion focusing first on the diminishing legitimacy and then on the eroding monopoly of the state control over violence.


Note 1: The first version of this paper was presented at the conference "The Global Constitution of Failed States" (University of Sussex, 18-20 April, 2001). The present revisions as well as plans for future work owe a great deal to the participants in that conference and to the comments of Andreas Behnke, Linda Bishai, Barry Buzan, Stefano Guzzini, Morten Kelstrup, Kati Sárváry, Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, and Håkan Wiberg. Back

Note 2: For example, the "Copenhagen school" provides a framework for analyzing securitization which encompasses non-state security and makes it possible to account for why the kind of processes developed below may be translated into violent conflict (Buzan, Wćver et al. 1998). Similarly, in peace research more generally there is a long standing and well alive tradition for taking non-state (and economic) factors into account (Balázs and Wiberg 1993; Wiberg and Scherrer 1999). Back