The Corner

Anarchy, the New Threat


The scourge of the twentieth century was overly-powerful governments; could the looming problem of this century be too-weak governments?

The political scientist R. J. Rummel estimated, in his evocatively titled study, Death by Government (New Brunswick, N.J.:  Transaction, 1994), that deaths at the hands of governmental killers in the twentieth century (through 1987), amounted to 169 million persons. He tabulated that victims of their own government (or what he calls democide) were in fact “several times greater” than the number killed in all of the century’s wars.

The largest number of fatalities was the 62 million in the Soviet Union, followed by the 35 million killed by the Chinese Communists, 21 million by the Nazis, 10 million by the Chinese nationalists, and 6 million by the Japanese militarists.  Even this listing is incomplete; as Rummel puts it, “post-1987 democides by Iraq, Iran, Burundi, Serbia and Bosnian Serbs, Bosnia, Croatia, Sudan, Somalia, the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and others have not been included.”

And while murderous regimes certainly continue to rule and massacre, there is a new danger looming – anarchy. Consider several cases in the Middle East in chronological order:

  • Afghanistan: Since the coup d’état that overthrew the king in 1973, Afghanistan has not had a central government that could effectively control the country.

  • Lebanon: Once called the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” Lebanon has endured a mix of totalitarian rule by Syria and anarchy since the country’s civil war began in 1975.

  • Somalia: The Siad Barre regime fell in 1991 and has lacked anything remotely resembling a central government since then. The country’s anarchy has led to a massive piracy problem in the Indian Ocean that already in 2007 was called “frightening and unacceptable” and since has grown yet worse.

  • Palestinian Authority: Thanks to mismanagement and aggression, the Palestinian Authority has lost most of its authority since taking power in 1994. Half of its territory is under a hostile organization, Hamas.

  • Iraq: The U.S. government made the mistake of disbanding Iraq’s army after the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the country has yet to tame the subsequent chaos.

  • Libya: Since the uprising against Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi in early 2011, the country has not had a central power.

The same story holds in many countries of Africa, including Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Parts of Russia and Mexico suffer from anarchy. Piracy has grown to the point that it afflicts several parts of the world.

Because this pattern is so much at variance with the old problem of overweening central government, it tends not to be seen. But it is real and it needs to be recognized. 


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