Opinion | Columnists

Profiting from political chaos

Organised crime and terrorist groups like to use failed states as a base thanks to tacit support provided to their operations

  • By Francis Matthew, Editor at Large
  • Published: 00:00 April 29, 2010
  • Gulf News

Illustration
  • Image Credit: Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/©Gulf News
  • The world has learnt a bitter lesson that black holes of government are not something that can be ignored.

Failed states in the Middle East are not just an invitation to increasing political chaos, but they are also havens for all sorts of organised crime and terrorist organisations. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has not taken action on many failed states in its region, but the problems in Yemen have prompted it to action.

Government failure is not limited to territories like Somalia where there has been complete political collapse and decades of civil war, but can also occur where local government gives way to crime, like the regional warlords in Afghanistan who both allied to the Nato forces and are also working with the international drug cartels to produce over 90 per cent of the world's opium.

Somalia leads the way in failure with its many warring factions, allowing both religious radicals, including Al Qaida, to build a base for themselves, but also the pirates to flourish and successfully threaten the world's shipping from the northern coast of Somaliland. Failure is growing in Yemen as government forces lose their grip on parts of the country under the triple threat of southern secession, northern rebellion and Al Qaida activism.

Another semi-formalised territory where national government does not operate is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan where despite the recent government assaults, the tribal residents allowed the Taliban to regroup from their defeat in Afghanistan.

The world has learnt a bitter lesson that such black holes of government are not something that can be ignored. In the past such gaps in organised government might have been a horror for the people suffering in them, but they did not become a global threat. But the export of Al Qaida terror from both Somalia and the Taliban's Afghanistan has ended that illusion.

But the danger of criminal or terrorist takeover is not limited to territories where there is complete collapse. In fact it is easier for the villains to do a deal where there are local powers who can deliver security in the territory in return for payment, or other benefits.

For example, during the long Lebanese civil war there was a sharp increase in ship theft in the East Mediterranean, which Lloyds List attributed to pirates operating out of ports controlled by Maronite militias. The non-state of Abkhazia is seeking to break away from Georgia in the Black Sea, and although it enjoys Moscow's support at present, it also offers a clear opportunity to a criminally-inclined Caucasus warlord to move in and have access to the sea routes for any goods he might chose to move.

However, there some areas where the failed states do manage to sort themselves out. Kurdistan did not look at all hopeful in the early 1990s as Saddam Hussain's government dominated Iraq and the two Kurdish factions squared up to each other. But after a brutal civil war, the factions started to work together and by 2003 were able to take advantage of the US-led invasion to build a very successful mini-state operating within Iraq.

No control

Regardless of their politics, what terrifies all national governments is a hint that any group in their territory might seek such autonomy, which might then lead to secession with the clear implication that any other groups in the nation state might do the same.

This is why the Sudanese government is so jumpy about the referendum next year on the south going its own way. But in addition to such national collapse, smaller territories are also more likely to fail because they do not have the resources and manpower available to larger states, and are more vulnerable to collapse.

The real threat of organised crime and terror is from those areas where control breaks down. This is why the GCC is taking a keen interest in Yemen, where it sees a direct threat from failure of the state, and in addition, the GCC member states do not want tribal or religious unrest to spread to their own territories.

The GCC has been clear that the long-term solution for Yemen has to be based on helping build an educated population with aspirations to prosperity and social success. This is why the GCC has focused its aid on supporting economic growth and encouraging education. But the short-term answer often has to be to re-impose security, which requires military force.

This is part of the reason that the GCC plans to set up a joint rapid deployment force this year. Following the GCC's Kuwait summit last December, General Saleh Bin Ali Al Mahya, the Saudi chief of staff, said "We expect the force to be established this year and it will be headquartered in the King Khalid Military City."

The GCC agreed in Kuwait that a rapid deployment force would address security threats in the world's top oil-exporting region, like those which may emerge in Yemen. It is not supposed to replace Peninsula Shield, the GCC defence force set up in 1986. It is still firmly in place, and is targeted at conventional fighting like the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 and was also the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Comments (1)

  1. Added 23:35 April 28, 2010

    You completely failed to analyse why these 'failed' states have failed. Looking at the example of Somalia, it was and still is as much foreign intervention as domestic intiative which cause and continues to sustain the current situation. I have to say, it is not a very objective article and one which does not clearly lay down all the arguments and evidence. I think Iraq was invaded for oil. Afghanistan was invaded for the drugs (which I think has increased in production).

    Matthew, Lonon, United Kingdom

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