The Coming Anarchy – Kaplan's piece and the blog

Eoin Purcell

The warning bell
All that digging in the archives lead me to Kaplan’s fabulous February 1994 piece The Coming Anarchy which attempted to shake off the lethargy and myopia that had spread across the Western World with the downfall of communism and the seemingly rapid spread of democracy to the former soviet satellites.

Kaplan offered what he (or the sub editor) nicely headed:

A Premonition of the Future

West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real “strategic” danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization. To remap the political earth the way it will be a few decades hence—as I intend to do in this article—I find I must begin with West Africa.

There is much more unsettling stuff there that seems relevant even now from his points about Côte d’Ivoire:

Consider “Chicago.” I refer not to Chicago, Illinois, but to a slum district of Abidjan, which the young toughs in the area have named after the American city. (“Washington” is another poor section of Abidjan.) Although Sierra Leone is widely regarded as beyond salvage, the Ivory Coast has been considered an African success story, and Abidjan has been called “the Paris of West Africa.” Success, however, was built on two artificial factors: the high price of cocoa, of which the Ivory Coast is the world’s leading producer, and the talents of a French expatriate community, whose members have helped run the government and the private sector. The expanding cocoa economy made the Ivory Coast a magnet for migrant workers from all over West Africa: between a third and a half of the country’s population is now non-Ivorian, and the figure could be as high as 75 percent in Abidjan.

During the 1980s cocoa prices fell and the French began to leave. The skyscrapers of the Paris of West Africa are a facade. Perhaps 15 percent of Abidjan’s population of three million people live in shantytowns like Chicago and Washington, and the vast majority live in places that are not much better.

Not all of these places appear on any of the readily available maps. This is another indication of how political maps are the products of tired conventional wisdom and, in the Ivory Coast’s case, of an elite that will ultimately be forced to relinquish power.

Chicago, like more and more of Abidjan, is a slum in the bush: a checkerwork of corrugated zinc roofs and walls made of cardboard and black plastic wrap. It is located in a gully teeming with coconut palms and oil palms, and is ravaged by flooding. Few residents have easy access to electricity, a sewage system, or a clean water supply. The crumbly red laterite earth crawls with foot-long lizards both inside and outside the shacks. Children defecate in a stream filled with garbage and pigs, droning with malarial mosquitoes. In this stream women do the washing. Young unemployed men spend their time drinking beer, palm wine, and gin while gambling on pinball games constructed out of rotting wood and rusty nails. These are the same youths who rob houses in more prosperous Ivorian neighborhoods at night. One man I met, Damba Tesele, came to Chicago from Burkina Faso in 1963. A cook by profession, he has four wives and thirty-two children, not one of whom has made it to high school. He has seen his shanty community destroyed by municipal authorities seven times since coming to the area. Each time he and his neighbors rebuild. Chicago is the latest incarnation.

Fifty-five percent of the Ivory Coast’s population is urban, and the proportion is expected to reach 62 percent by 2000. The yearly net population growth is 3.6 percent. This means that the Ivory Coast’s 13.5 million people will become 39 million by 2025, when much of the population will consist of urbanized peasants like those of Chicago. But don’t count on the Ivory Coast’s still existing then. Chicago, which is more indicative of Africa’s and the Third World’s demographic present—and even more of the future—than any idyllic junglescape of women balancing earthen jugs on their heads, illustrates why the Ivory Coast, once a model of Third World success, is becoming a case study in Third World catastrophe.

President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who died last December at the age of about ninety, left behind a weak cluster of political parties and a leaden bureaucracy that discourages foreign investment. Because the military is small and the non-Ivorian population large, there is neither an obvious force to maintain order nor a sense of nationhood that would lessen the need for such enforcement. The economy has been shrinking since the mid-1980s. Though the French are working assiduously to preserve stability, the Ivory Coast faces a possibility worse than a coup: an anarchic implosion of criminal violence—an urbanized version of what has already happened in Somalia. Or it may become an African Yugoslavia, but one without mini-states to replace the whole.

Now that’s a long quote but when you read these stories from the recent past you see just how clear sighted the article was. Now the country has regained some sense of normalcy in the last twu years but the tensions remain.

And the blog
The blog is an interesting discussion forum based on the ideas and concepts the Kaplan brought forth in his article, but Kaplan does not contribute there and he is not involved in any way. He is more of an inspiration. There is no end of variety to the topics covered so I won’t try and elaborate except to say that this is by far my favourite on a review.

So much to think about sometimes is there not?
Eoin

Some interesting thoughts from Kaplan in the Atlantic 150th Year Anniversary edition

Eoin Purcell

Sea power in the modern era
Amongst a number of other great articles, the 150th Anniversary Edition has one thoughtful and exceptional one from Robert D. Kaplan. It deals with the imperative of the US have a function and effective navy. Given the excellent news that the Atlantic has opened its archive I can link directly to the piece:

“Regular wars” between major states could be as frequent in the 21st century as they were in the 20th. In his 2005 book, Another Bloody Century, the British scholar Colin Gray, a professor of international politics and strategic studies at the University of Reading, explains convincingly that these future wars will not require any “manifestation of insanity by political leaders,” nor even an “aberration from normal statecraft,” but may come about merely because of what Thucydides recognized as “fear, honour, and interest.” Wars between the United States and a Sino-Russian axis or between the United States and a coalition of rogue states are just two of the scenarios Gray imagines.

Are we prepared to fight these wars? Our Army and Marine Corps together constitute the most battle- hardened regular land force in the world. But it has been a long time since our Navy has truly fought another navy, or our Air Force another air force. In the future they could be tested to the same extent that the Army and Marine Corps have been. The current catchphrase is boots on the ground; in the future it could be hulls in the water.

As an added bonus the article in print carries references to two classic titles: Alfred T Mahan’s, The Influence of Sea Power upon History and Julian S. Corbett’s Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. The print version even offers brief aside on Mahan’s work written by none other than Theodore Roosevelt.

Worth reading all three!
Eoin