“explicitly calls for an 'acceleration' of the March 2005 agreement between the US president, the president of Mexico , and the prime minister of Canada , known as the 'Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America .' This somewhat secretive agreement—a treaty in all but name—aims to erase the borders between the United States, Canada, and Mexico and threatens our sovereignty and national security. The SPP was agreed by the president without the participation of Congress.” [Immigration 'compromise' sells out our sovereignty, May 30, 2007]No surprise. Everywhere, the nation-state is now being undermined by powerful forces as never before. Elites of the Davos-man mold think the future requires a post-national framework that fits with their one-world ideology based on the global economy and multiculturalism.
Bush and his cronies in suits and sombreros believe that Mexichurian capitalism can be better accomplished after the annoying rights of US citizenship are enfeebled in a sovereignty-dismantling North American Union.
But simultaneously, civil society itself is being similarly weakened by another group: the lowlife characters in gangs around the world who are building their own warlord future, in which criminal fiefdoms have more power than the ostensible governments. These criminal syndicates have a lot in common with the traditional clan associations, such as those that have run Somalia for years. Gang turf, defined broadly, ranges from neighborhoods in Los Angeles to swaths of Mexico and major chunks of Africa.
As far as entire failed states go, “About 2 billion people live in countries that are in danger of collapse” according to the Index of Failed States from Foreign Policy magazine. Some of the nations at the top of the failure list never had abundant state apparatus to begin with, so the additional pressures of economic globalization and organized crime don't meet much resistance.
Colombia's vice-president Francisco Santos has warned, “Crime is the biggest problem of the next decade… In most countries, you have very weak judicial and police systems. If governments do not act they will lose control of the streets.”
Warlords thrive on successful crime—particularly the drug trade in which cash is measured by the pound. Financial proceeds of such magnitude enable criminal organizations to challenge governments, police and armies, such as in Colombia. Furthermore there are great fortunes to be made from society's breakdown as well as in its creation. For every builder like Andrew Carnegie, there is a Pablo Escobar making billions by destruction, chaos and crime.
We can see one battle line being drawn in Mexico. Presidente Calderon is trying to get some of his country back from the drug cartels after Vicente Fox's somnambulist tenure. “The state has become much weaker under his watch,” Mexico scholar George Grayson remarked last year before the election of Calderon.
“In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon may be the constitutionally elected leader of the nation, but in reality, drug cartels and warlords exercise de facto authority over much of the area,” according to a paper from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, The Government and the Drug Lords: Who Rules Mexico?
When then-Presidente Fox sent the army to take back Nuevo Laredo from the narcos in 2005, an occupation of several weeks' duration left the beleaguered city “more violent” than before. Fox's military action was an embarrassing failure, like gaining weight on a diet.
Sadly, many honest business people of Nuevo Laredo have had to close up shop because of ongoing warfare between cartels: 700 small- to medium-sized businesses have shut down on account of street warfare with bazookas, machine guns and RPGs. Some call the place Narco Laredo, an example of black humor being used to adjust to a new and worsening normal.
The jury is still out on whether Calderon can retrieve substantial Mexican territory back from the grasp of the drug cartels (see map). Part of the problem is the little belief the people have in the country's governance, shown in particular by a poll last year which revealed that “50 percent of respondents feared the government was on the brink of losing control.” At this point, the number of narco-dead is up, which suggests that a real war is going on. But the odds must be given to the narcos, since corruption in Mexico is everywhere.
Furthermore, the Stratfor intelligence group opines that a successful quashing of the Gulf cartel would cause at least some of its Zeta enforcement arm to “flee into the United States, spreading their particularly brutal style of violence north of the border.”
This is the difficulty with having a country-sized crackhouse for a next-door neighbor.
Another template for a failing state is the clan rivalry in Somalia. The warring families have deprived the country of a functioning government for the past 16 years. In fact, a long-time warlord was recently appointed mayor of the capital Mogadishu. Of course, a large land area with no responsible government attracts terrorist groups like ants to a picnic.
It is Brazil, however, where the shape of the post-national future is coming into focus. That's particularly interesting, because as the American middle class shrinks and the imported poor remain in their barrios, the US is starting to look much more like Brazil, particularly the favela (slum) in places of high immigration.
In addition, Americans of wealth are moving to “gated communities” to keep out criminals and other riff-raff. Their new homes are modern castles of self-defense. The only thing missing is the moat.
Writer William Langewiesche investigated the shocking gang riots in Sao Paulo Brazil that lasted for several days in May 2006, in a recent Vanity Fair article.
Here's the opening to the piece:
Operating by cell phone, a highly organized prison gang launched an attack that shut down Brazil's largest city last May, with the authorities powerless to stop it.The coordinated attack was unique because the shock troops did not loot and steal, but instead burned buses, banks and public buildings. Dressed inconspicuously, the members and associates of the PCC (First Capital Command Crime) prison gang used guns and firebombs to terrorize and shatter the illusion of order.
“For seven days last May the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, teetered on the edge of a feral zone where governments barely reach and countries lose their meaning. That zone is a wilderness inhabited already by large populations worldwide, but officially denied and rarely described. It is not a throwback to the Dark Ages, but an evolution toward something new-a companion to globalization, and an element in a fundamental reordering that may gradually render national boundaries obsolete. It is most obvious in the narco-lands of Colombia and Mexico, in the fractured swaths of Africa, in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in much of Iraq. But it also exists beneath the surface in places where governments are believed to govern and countries still seem to be strong.” [City of Fear Vanity Fair, April 2007]
The tactic worked. The city of 20 million shut down for days, as news of the attacks spread and people hid in their homes.
Langewiesche believes that the Sao Paulo attack marked a new milestone in the devolution of society: a basic criminal conspiracy with 21st century technology. For example, the attacks were coordinated through cell phones, gizmos that allow great advances in thuggery. And the immediacy of news informed the public about the widespread danger.
Brazil's gang swarm of May 2006 was not a one-time occurrence. Another episode was unleashed in December: 18 die in wave of violence staged by Rio drug gangs. No wonder that Brazilian police use a tank-like vehicle, the caveirao, to navigate violent street situations.
An analysis of the crime statistics shows that Brazil's murder rate is similar to that of a war zone. In a country of 185 million, 55,000 Brazilians died from homicide in 2005. By comparison, the United States (288 million then) had 16,692 deaths by murder that year. The evidence suggests that crime at an elevated level approximates war—and the combatants are gangs against civil society.
How bad is gang-engendered anarchy in Brazil? One telling marker is that Amnesty International has issued a report calling attention to the situation, in particular that innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire between the police and gangsters:
“'Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have reached a tragic impasse. Criminal gangs … have rushed to fill the vacuum left by the state, Balkanizing the cities into a patchwork of violent fiefdoms,' said the report, which was based largely on news reports and academic studies.Interestingly, the PCC prison gang started as a soccer team and grew into a sort of government of the dark side spread through numerous prisons and on the outside. They initially organized across prisons using cell phones in conference calls. They have their own rudimentary code of ethics, which has decreased prison violence. But cross them and the payback is brutal.
“Amnesty said the situation came to a head in Sao Paulo a year ago when the First Capital Command Crime gang brought South America's largest city to a standstill, torching buses, attacking police stations and taking hostages. Police responded by killing hundreds of suspects.” [Amnesty International: Brazilian cities fractured into violent fiefdoms, Associated Press 5/02/07]
When some of the gang were chattering in the media about their revolutionary intent, Langewiesche asked one what their goals for society were. The gangster said they hadn't gotten that far yet.
No surprise in that. Their ideology is purely that of the gang: our bunch gets the goodies.
When William Langewiesche was interviewed on NPR about his article, Neal Conan remarked that the rioting represented “a fundamental shift in a place where government is largely a fiction and there are more Sao Paulos around the world, including in this country.” (Listen to the interview online.)
With larger forces slicing and dicing social glue into faster fragmentation, it is counterproductive for Washington to pursue public policies that make the problem worse. And extreme levels of legal and illegal immigration must go at the top of the list.
As Prof. Robert Putnam has noted, “Diversity decreases trust.” Conversely, homogeneity increases the bonds of community, which is the foundation stone of the state. A nation-state is not a flophouse or a shopping center, although elites treat our country as such.
We citizens want the center to hold, not fly apart. The founders set up a well designed nation-state with a structure that allows both change and stability. Those who followed protected and improved upon the original blueprint. Thousands of citizens in uniform died to protect our unique form of government, though it has become corrupted by money in politics in recent decades.
The least we can do is refrain from exacerbating the destructive anti-national forces and the blowback of destabilizing levels of crime.
Brenda Walker once asked her Chinese-American bartender why his father immigrated from China. "The warlords," he answered. "Pop wanted to get away from the warlords."
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites,