A female soldier walked up to Janice and admired Logosou. “Oh, what a fine baby!” she cooed. “I’ve killed two like him today.”
In his 1994 essay “The Coming Anarchy”, Robert D. Kaplan predicted the spread of failing states and societies, a process driven by a combination of political, economic, social and environmental crises. He characterised the outcomes in a memorable phrase: “Skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors”:
Outside the stretch limo [ie the comfortable, guarded lives of the decreasing number of the affluent] would be a rundown, crowded planet of skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors, influenced by the worst refuse of Western pop culture and ancient tribal hatreds, and battling over scraps of overused earth in guerrilla conflicts that ripple across continents and intersect in no discernible pattern—meaning there’s no easy-to-define threat. Kennan’s [Cold War] world of one adversary seems as distant as the world of Herodotus.
In the decades since Kaplan wrote, disruptive forces have gathered momentum and have been joined by newer ones, such as instability in the financial sector. This is the first in a series of posts in which I want to explore the consequences, which I see as being:
1. the recent elections to the European Parliament, the crisis in Ukraine, and a number of other ongoing news stories are all symptoms of the same underlying crisis;
2. globalisation is finished, and the consequences are going to be difficult for Western nations;
3. and as a result, we in the West need to start thinking hard and thinking quickly about how we’re going to manage the fallout of these consequences.
Kaplan described how, in some countries, traditional social structures and culture had been eroded by the forces of modernity, but the modern state that had replaced them was incapable of exerting any authority or control. In these places, anarchy had taken hold as different players vied to fill the vacuum, leading to civil war and violence such as that of 1990s Liberia. The depths of degradation and horror that resulted are often inconceivable to comfortable Westerners. These clips are fictional, taken from a French film Johnny Mad Dog – but the cast were all real child soldiers, and the scenes are based on their own real-life experiences.
In other countries, people responded to crisis by retrerating into traditional and exclusivist certainties. His passing reference to “Cossack skinheads” evokes this rise of nationalism and xenophobia. I’ll talk more about the Cossacks in a later post, as they are a subject of particular interest to me (and they are actually a positive example in many ways), but the opening scene of Banlieu 13: Ultimatum gives a sense of where this trajectory leads – internally homogenous groups separated from each other, perhaps in peaceful coexistence, perhaps in conflict. There’s no room for minorities in these groups, but they are internally stable.
If some of Kaplan’s examples have stabilised since he wrote it’s largely been due to outside intervention. The British army, for example, brought peace to Sierra Leone. The Western powers, though, no longer have the will for such interventions – unless their national interests are directly involved, as those of the French were in Mali. More generally, the collapse that he described has spread further throughout Central and Northern Africa Even in the ‘stabilised’ countries, the peace is fragile and old soldiers still yearn for war.
Collapse and civil war have spread to regions that were largely peaceful in the 1990s. Countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East are either on fire, or tinder-dry and waiting for a spark. All of them are slipping towards Kaplan’s ‘juju’ warrior state, where both traditional society and modern government have failed, to be replaced by militias, gangs, and crude religion. While I was studying for my MBA I met a Bulgarian researcher into Islamist terrorism; she was thinking about spending time in Syria to study Arabic – because Syria was a safe, stable country, where a single young European woman could travel alone. Now Syria is a country where guerrillas cut out their enemy’s heart and eat it on camera.
Those who can, leave. Of course they do. But where can they go? This brings us to Kaplan’s other extreme: the ‘Cossack skinheads’. In societies that take this path, modernity has also failed, but traditional social structures and identities are still strong enough to be a refuge – even if they have to be re-invented.
The collapse of Africa and the Middle East is driving vast numbers of refugees across the Mediterranean to Europe – which doesn’t want them and, increasingly, simply won’t be able to absorb them. The countries of Northern Europe are washing their hands of the problem, and dumping the problem into the laps of the southern countries where the refugees are arriving: but these countries, like Italy, Spain, and Greece, are the countries which are suffering the most from IMF-driven austerity. Their societies are already under immense strain. The result is the rise into the mainstream of parties such as the Front National, and Golden Dawn – which is now openly neo-Nazi. This will inevitably lead to harsher and harsher responses to the refugee issue, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see minefields being laid at sea in the next few years.
The recent results of the European elections are, in my view, the first indications that the collapse of modernity is spreading across the continent, and the retreat of Europeans to the certainties of the past.
This can still be turned around. The right-wing parties which benefitted did so not because of their specific platforms, but because they were the only parties to acknowledge that the current political and economic system simply isn’t working for most people; that most people fear worse is to come, and they need something to cling to for reassurance. The mainstream parties aren’t providing this reassurance – and are largely incapable of understanding that the world has changed.
The new world has started to become apparent in the last few weeks, and it’s very different to what we’ve become used to since the end of the Cold War. It’s a world that is going to be very, very hard on the societies of the West. Avoiding the worst consequences will take awareness, great courage, and clear thinking.
A terrible threat is that nationalism and authoritarianism will become our best option. If our historical memory hadn’t been erased by the 24-hour news cycle, we would remember the rape camps and mass murder of the Yugoslav wars, and be reminded that a descent into a “juju warrior” society is possible in Europe – as the Zetas and other gangs show that it can exist in North America.
The first step is understanding that the era of globalization is over. It ended this week, though it’ll take a while to stop working. In the next post in this series, I’ll explain why this is.