Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers

  • Published

Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers edited by Robert J. Bunker. Routledge, 2008, 322 pp.

Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers is a collection of essays intended to reflect the changing face of international relations. Specifically, Robert Bunker—editor and contributor—offers selections that highlight problems in the context of a “state” related to criminal nonstate actors. Bunker organizes the book according to three clustered topics: (1) “Theory and Law” discusses the status of the Westphalian state in the current global context and expounds the new types of polities emerging; (2) “Criminal-States” loosely links Clausewitzian thought as it relates to conflict with rogue states and gangs (additionally, the operation of selected criminal-states receives attention); and (3) “Criminal-Soldiers” looks at gangs as nonstate actors, the nature of international crime, and the meaning of some crimes from an international perspective (e.g., the symbolic meaning of beheadings).

Unfortunately, this work suffers from three problems, beginning with the timeliness of the publishing. The book’s liner notes describe it as “cutting edge.” Perhaps so in 2008, but its perishable information is now two years stale. Granted, it takes time to put material together, print copies, and distribute them. But this seems to be a persistent issue with these types of current-events books: cutting-edge information in 2008 no longer dazzles our understanding amid a new US administration, a changed international setting, an entrenched recession, and so forth. Second, the contributors offer essays written at very different “levels”— some scholarly, others (e.g., “The Use of Beheadings by Fundamentalist Islam”) reading like slide notes for an intelligence briefing. (Indeed, one can almost imagine the slides to go along with the text.) Third, and mostly a minor annoyance, is the quality of the publication. For some reason, the pages of the book are sprinkled with spelling errors that seem not so much misspellings as errors on the part of the spell-checking software.

The essay “Does Clausewitz Apply to Criminal-States and Gangs?” stands as the gem of the book. Clashing with both John Keegan’s and Martin van Creveld’s opinions that Clausewitz has a reduced place in contemporary thinking, the author demonstrates that nonstate actors using violence do indeed employ war (read as acts of violent terrorism, crime, etc.) as policy. Despite criminal states and gangs lacking the status of a legitimate polity, they can—and in some cases do—share features with the commonly accepted idea of a state. In other words, criminal states, gangs, and warlords exercise sovereignty over territory, control borders, and interact with other state or nonstate actors. These “state-like” activities, including the use of violence as policy, tie them directly to Clausewitz’s thinking. Clausewitz can apply at the microlevel, such as a gang that controls turf inside a city. To restrict Clausewitz to large-scale conflict removes the idea of a nontraditional actor using violence as a matter of policy. This especially comes to light when Marx and, in turn, Lenin and Mao give credence to Clausewitzian thinking in their revolutionary theorizing.

Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers is a marginal work. The unevenness of the essays detracts from its overall quality. Readers interested in international relations or nonstate actors might find the book appealing. However, given the abundance of materials on the topics it addresses, one could just as easily browse for better information elsewhere.

David J. Schepp

Hurlburt Field, Florida

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."