Empire Building and Social Fragmentation
Vaknin’s fourth criterion for a semi-failed state is that it replaces rational infrastructure reconstruction and policy making with empire building. In his view irrational empire building is a signal that a semi-failed state is in the final stages of becoming a failed state.
He gives four examples. The first is US empire building in the US prior to the Civil War. Americans tend not to recognize aggressive westward expansion between 1812 and 1860 as empire building – nor our own civil war as prima facie evidence of a breakdown in national governance.
His other three examples are Nazi Germany, the USSR between 1956 and 1986 and post-1989 Yugoslavia (referring to Serbian nationalism and expansionism). I would also add the Roman Empire – as the fall of Rome was preceded by massive empire building in France, North Africa, Egypt, Israel, and even Great Britain.
Irrational Empire Building
Does the US meet this criteria? I have blogged previously (“Is the US a Zombie State?” – http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/01/03/is-the-us-a-zombie-state/) about the US government’s total neglect of cities and other domestic infrastructure. There is no question that our country qualifies as the most aggressive empire builder in history.
Excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has 837 military bases in 135 countries. The number of foreign basis on US soil is 0. In fact Americans would tend to view a military base in their country as a form of military occupation.
As part of the global war on terror, the US currently conducts military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Columbia, the Philippines and the horn of Africa (see http://www.fas.org/man/crs/RL32758.pdf)
In the past I have always blamed US military expansion on aggressive lobbying by defense contractors seeking to sell more weapons and a Wall Street agenda demanding cheap third world resources and labor and captive markets for our products. However after reading Vaknin’s article, I also see US military expansion into Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Columbia, Africa, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the other former Soviet republics as a desperate attempt to maintain a facade of legitimacy as other global powers surpass us economically.
Vaknin’s fifth and last criterion relates to the social fragmentation that occurs as local and popular leaders, backed by angry and rebellious constituents, take matters into their own hands.
Written pre-Obama, his article provides no specific examples. However I already see numerous examples of a shift away from federal authority to state and local government.
The best publicized example is the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol (committing to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels) by 1044 mayors – representing over one-third of Americans – despite the senate’s refusal to ratify the treaty. I think it’s important to recognize that no mayors took this action in a vacuum. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickel’s, who launched this initiative, was clearly acting in response to Seattle’s extremely vocal network of sustainability activists.
Their endorsement of Kyoto is but one example of the growing power (and autonomy) of the US Conference of Mayors. A second is their unanimous adoption of a resolution supporting the global elimination of nuclear weapons and the redirection of nuclear weapons spending to meet the needs of cities. It calls on Congress to terminate funding for Obama’s program to modernize US nuclear weapons systems. Observers at the mayors’ June 2010 convention, report a high level of anger at the way the federal government has siphoned off tax dollars – leaving them no money to pay for schools, law enforcement, roads, lighting, libraries, homeless shelters, and clinics. There is even talk of a 2011 resolution requesting a formal seat at the UN.
Important States’ Rights Victories
Even more significant is Obama’s quiet reversal (in October 2009) of Bush’s policy of prosecuting medical marijuana use in the 15 states (including Washington, D.C.) which have legalized marijuana use, with a doctor’s prescription, for specific illnesses. In addition to this clear states’ rights victory, the move also reflects the inability of the Justice Department to effectively enforce these laws – given the anticipated unwillingness of juries to return guilty verdicts in states which have legalized medical marijuana via citizen initiative. This has actually occurred in a recent marijuana possession case in Montana (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/22/montana-jury-marijuana-mutiny_n_800074.html)
Other strong challenges to the federal/corporate power elite:
- The growing movement for states to address their budget problems by withdrawing from the Wall Street debt factory and creating their own state-owned banks (like North Dakota – see http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/growing_movement.php).
- The 250% increase in extremist groups and armed militias since 2000 and the murder of six law enforcement officials in 2010 (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/04/us-surge-rightwing-extremist-groups). In the first week of 2011 an Arizona Congresswoman and a federal judge have And in the first week of 2011 Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been shot and an Arizona federal judge killed.
- Growing secession movements in Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and seventeen other states.
- Explosion of citizen-based global environmental and social justice movements (now at two million plus, with many based in the US) in the past decade.