(MENAFN- Asia Times) With global attention focused on deadly clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces in Khartoum, another militia halfway around the world was
locked in battle
against its own national military: the Wagner Group, which tussled with the Russian army in Ukraine's Luhansk Oblast.
It was just one of many operations recently waged by violent non-state actors in failing states.
Militias clash with armies, as in Sudan; co-opt the state, like in Iran and Lebanon; or co-exist intermittently with the state and its army –
Iraq, Yemen, and Syria come to mind – raising the specter of civil war.
Militias defend their actions by arguing that government failure let corruption suck up national resources, creating poverty and injustice. Because the system isn't responsive to change or reform through peaceful means, they claim, the only option left is armed rebellion.
But positive change requires two steps: breaking the old and replacing it with something new and preferably better. Armed militias, wherever they operate, break existing systems, but like ruling regimes before them, typically fail to offer anything new or better. Rulers of all stripes are typically cut from the same cloth, rendering progress impossible.
The United States initiated change in predominantly Arab countries when it toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Since then, Iraqis have yet to produce a state as competent as that of their brutal dictator, without whom Iraq has splintered into competing security agencies and militias, all of them abusing state resources –
just like the deposed president and his regime once did.
Second to eject its dictator was Lebanon, whose population took to the streets in 2005, forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to
withdraw his troops after a 29-year occupation . What followed was a series of assassinations, bombings, a war with Israel, and a quick round of civil war. Hezbollah emerged on top and, starting in 2008, its chief, Hassan Nasrallah, became Lebanon's de facto leader.
Today, Lebanon in effect mirrors the Iranian model, where Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his
islamic revolutionary guard corps
militia dominate a failing state, which they blame for their own failure in governance.
As more Arab regimes collapsed after 2011, remnants of national armies started battling newer militias in Libya, Yemen and Sudan. Stalemate ensued.
In Libya and Yemen, war fatigue has forced a truce that is depicted as a process for peace and the rebuilding of the state. But these processes have rarely resulted in better governments. At best, power-sharing deals have seen old armies and militias tenuously co-existing while nourishing their killing machines and patronage networks as they await future match-ups.
A latecomer to the Arab Spring, Sudan's competing factions have just begun battling it out. The fluid military situation suggests that neither side can finish off the other. Sudan's war will likely grind on for some time, at least until the warring sides become too exhausted to fight.
Whenever a truce is reached, the two sides will be governing two or more destroyed zones that live in poverty and suffer crime. The Sudanese, who have started fleeing the war, will continue emigrating to more stable countries, even when the killing stops.
What militias and proponents of violent change fail to understand is that victimhood cannot be a license to practice violence, and that power alone cannot be the answer. Without proper checks, power – even in the hands of victims-turned-militias – is a corrupting force, thus doubling national misery from the days of dictatorship.
Change must be incremental and has to trust existing governments, even inefficient and corrupt ones. These governments will come under immense domestic and foreign pressure if they fail to develop their economies and offer their citizens decent living.
Central authority is the cornerstone of statehood, without which a homeland becomes a piece of land upon which warring tribes fight it out. Perhaps it took the Iraq war and the Arab Spring to realize that many Arab countries are not ready to switch to non-autocratic forms of government.
South Korea might be a good example here. Today, the vibrant Korean economy looks like a stable democracy, but that did not come overnight, despite US sponsorship and presence since the end of war on the peninsula in 1953.
It took the South Korean military junta some 25 years to abandon autocracy, and even then, the country still finds itself – from time to time – embroiled in presidential corruption and political gridlock.
Iran and Arab countries with militias are suffering from endless tension between state and parallel statelets. Allowing the state to absorb militias seems like the best course of action.
An efficient central government has a better chance of developing the economy and human resources. Once developed enough, any of these countries can think of transforming to less centralized governments that can better serve the needs and interests of their people.
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