From the CIAO Atlas Map of Europe 

email icon Email this citation

CIAO DATE: 05/03

Wars and the Un-making of States: Taking Tilly Seriously in the Contemporary World

Anna Leander

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
December 2002

That war makes states has become part of international relations (and political science) folklore. There are good reasons for this. The idea can be evoked with reference to venerable classical masters of our trade, including Weber, Hintze and Elias, or more recent ones such as Finer or Tilly. Moreover, the argument dovetails beautifully with the anti-liberalism underlying much realist thinking in international relations. It stresses the violent foundations of power and states as opposed to liberal stress on the role of power growing out of legitimacy and common action. And finally, the argument is useful from two perspectives. Analytically, it enables observers to make positive sense of the messy reality of war in large parts of the world: it is just an inevitable step on the way to state formation (Cohen, Brown et al. 1981). And politically it provides a welcome excuse for not getting too closely involved with that messy reality. If wars make states, well then the best thing is to allow them to be fought out (Herbst 1996-7).

The only trouble with all this is that in spite of its respectable origins, its realism and its usefulness, the ‘war makes states’ argument no longer holds. And the main reason for this is that contemporary state building takes place in a globalised context which alters the effects of the central processes which Tilly (and others) argued placed war making and state making in a positive relationship. The thrust of the argument is that these mechanisms and processes continue to be useful and essential for understanding the relationship between wars and states. However, if we look at how they work, it soon becomes clear that they fail to create a positive link between wars and states. The point is therefore not to contest Tilly’s analysis of European situation. Rather, the chapter shows that if we take Tilly seriously, i.e. follow the arguments he actually develops and grant his argument more than folklore status, it helps us understand why wars at present do not make states, but rather unravel them.

In order to make this argument, I will begin by identifying the three key processes by which ‘war made states’ in Europe according to Tilly. I will then proceed to look at how each of these processes work in the contemporary developing world in order to clarify the reason for which they not only fail to make states, but often lead to the unmaking of fragile state structures.