This is part one of a memo was prepared for a WPF seminar on “New Wars, New Peace” held at the Fletcher School, January 12-13, 2012. Part two can be found here.

The distinction between “old” and “new” wars is best conceptualized as a distinction between two “ideal types,” and argues that there is a third ideal type, which is the violence that occurs in the governance of a rentier political marketplace.

Mary Kaldor captures the key difference between “old” and “new” wars by noting that Clausewitz conceived of war as an ideal type – a contest of wills in which one state compelled the other to submit to its will – and saw actual wars as an imperfect approximation of that. “New” wars, by contrast, are paradigmatically joint enterprises among belligerent parties that have interests in sustaining the conflict or confrontation for their own political and economic interests. David Keen’s study of Sierra Leone is a paradigmatic instance. This is also an “ideal type” in that actual “new” wars are imperfect approximations. Empirically, all wars have elements of both.

I propose a third “ideal type,” which is the violence embedded in the governance of a periphery, which I label as the rentier political marketplace. I see this as competition for position in a patronage hierarchy, and specifically a patronage system that has been globalized and modernized. It has similarities with the ideal type of war as a joint enterprise, but also marked differences. This draws from my experience in Darfur, both studying the conflict and engaging in attempts to end it.

In particular, I argue that our mediation paradigms are still framed by the “old” war ideal type, in that mediators seek to achieve compromise between two adversaries with political objectives, each of which has decided it cannot fully defeat the other. In both “joint enterprise” wars and “political marketplace” conflicts, a third party mediation process is liable to become subsumed within that system of governance itself. Noting that rentier political markets are globally integrated, this has the consequence that mediation is conducted less among the contending parties themselves, and more in the form of them individually and competitively, petitioning external patrons and powerbrokers.

The rentier political marketplace state has the following characteristics:

(a)  pervasive rent-seeking in the economic and political spheres, most particularly in a country in which the ruler appropriates sufficient income from mineral and/or sovereign and aid rents to be able to finance the governing apparatus without extracting resources the domestic productive base;

(b)  dispersed control over the instruments of organized violence within a state, and closely related to that, widespread access to modern forms of telecommunication and financial transfer that allow for all participants to engage in rapid and well-informed bargaining for access to those resources;

(c)   integration into the global economy and sovereignty regime on subordinate terms, such that the sovereign and the intermediate elites all compete for access to transnational resources and rents, including direct financial patronage, favorable media attention and diplomatic recognition.

The rentier political marketplace state is a contemporary development of a historically common mode of government by patronage. Today, the patronage transaction has become marketized: subject to renegotiation in short order, based on cash payments, and integrated across borders and with global patrons. The ruler pays for the allegiance of the intermediate elites. Unable to bargain on the basis of providing or withholding domestic resources, instead the intermediate elites bargain using violence (or the threat thereof) and challenges to the international legitimacy of the state.

Approaches to mediation have not kept pace with these changes. We still adopt a model that treats civil war as akin to a football game or boxing match, with two sides contesting in pursuit of victory. However, in some cases, it can be a collaborative venture in which the two “sides” benefit from continued conflict. Or, in the case of a rentier political marketplace, a political insurgency is embedded within systemic political-societal-criminal violence. Levels of violence fluctuate in such a system, escalating and reducing in response to shifting political conditions. Additionally, this form of governance is hierarchical, so that political actors use a mediation forum to petition patrons, including global actors such as western governments.

Third party mediation is designed for cases in which the sides (preferably two) can be readily identified, and each puts forward a set of demands that can be negotiated with the other, with the possibility that negotiations will result in a stable formula for stopping fighting and sharing power. Where the conflict is organized differently, mediation efforts must be redesigned accordingly.

The archetype of the rentier political marketplace is contemporary Darfur and the immediately adjoining regions, namely Chad, Central African Republic and the Libyan Sahara. The Darfur case also provides examples of mediation efforts and how they function in such circumstances.

Part two can be found here.

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One Response to Part One: Mediation in the Political Marketplace

  1. [...] are relatively young.) Indeed, despite de Waal’s defense of negotiated settlements, his more nuanced treatment of the political mediation is a bit more skeptical. Drawing from his wealth of Sudan-related diplomatic encounters, de Waal [...]

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