May 24, 2012

Mackinlay On The Domestication of the European National Interest

King's College London professor John Mackinlay, one of my favorite European security analysts, has an interesting new essay at Prism. The gist? Britain's operational design is moving from projecting power abroad to a more insular of idea of security:

Is it unimaginable that Britain may soon find itself in need of armed
forces that are much more versatile and have greater capabilities for
dealing with other kinds of worst-case scenarios? In 2011, the
short-term success of rioters and demonstrators associated with the Arab
Spring in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan,
Syria, Iran, Libya, Bahrain, Oman, Djibouti, Kuwait, and Morocco seemed
to push the techniques of political violence over the threshold of a new
chapter. Across the region, the images and techniques of mass
deployment by the population of one state seemed to incite violence in
another. The crowds that surged into the streets were impulsive,
leaderless, and without a deliberated manifesto. Their guidance through
the streets relied on the widespread possession of cell phones and
access to the Internet. In the UK, similarly leaderless crowds using
similarly impulsive networking methods surged onto the streets of
London, Manchester, and Birmingham.

Mackinaly argues that a number of environmental, economic, and migratory pressures on European security are coalescing, and this geopolitical event horizon may force Britain to choose between its traditional support of US operations abroad and ensuring domestic stability at home through an integrated mixture of security services. Moreover, public support for expeditionary operations has eroded over the last ten years and there is no longer an immediately compelling rationale for European "out-of-area" operations. He goes on to recommend a new kind of operational design rooted in gendarme capabilities.

Of course, anyone broadly familiar with 19th century history and the conservative reaction against revolutionary ideas after the Napoleonic wars might find this sort of idea vaguely familiar. These too were conceived of as broadly paradigm-breaking national security (although that term had not yet been invented) challenges, enabled by new ideologies and evolved technologies. French political theorist Paul Virilio has written extensively in Speed and Politics on how states have traditionally feared urban threats that use the urban commons as a medium for channeling revolutionary fervor to create a sped-up and terrifying new crowd power. Virilio's analysis begins with the French Revolution and the street fights of the late 1800s and reviews evolved responses to crowd power such as Baron Haussman's military-oriented renovation of Paris.  The Concert of Vienna was not just a mechanism for great power peace but a means of freeing up European states to focus on preservation of their own internal orders in the face of threats viewed just as apocalyptically as Islamic jihadism is seen today. The phrase "terrorist," after all, has its roots in the state terror of Maximilian Robespierre and his mobs. And just as Islamophobia is sometimes substituted for solid analysis of the domestic terrorist threat, the horrors of the French Revolution fueled bizarre conspiracy theories that still have resonsance among the tinfoil hat crowd today.

The difference, primarily, is that counterinsurgency and counterterrorism thinking have powerfully shaped the way security policymakers look at domestic complex operations challenges. Such a shift goes beyond the simplistic idea of police militarization, as European public security has traditionally featured the expansive use of domestic intelligence and expansive police powers for maintaining order. Though European counterinsurgency and counterterrorism thought has conceptual roots in colonial experiences, the guiding logic behind it can be seen as a liberal response to the same kind of threats that motivated the conservative reaction of the 19th century.

Aaron Ellis of the Tory blog Egremont has written about the concept of the "internationalization of the national interest" as conceived during the Tony Blair government. Broadly speaking, British policymakers argued that in a world shrunk by globalization far-off security threats required urgent attention lest they trigger domestic catastrophe. There is, however, little unique to Blair about such an idea. It became broadly accepted in the West after September 11. While Patrick Porter and others have focused on the degree to which this idea ties Western strategy to far-flung zones of action with little connection to core interests, the internationalization of the national interest is not really a cosmopolitan idea. It is actually quite a parochial one tied to the postwar European state's dilemmas of domestic order. 

By proposing the idea that domestic and international security threats were inescapably linked, Blair and others did not internationalize the national interest. Rather, Blair domesticated the international. Unruly, failed, or failing states became seen as extensions of existing domestic security problems. Foreign grey zones were areas that had to be pacified to fully realize the state's domestic monopoly of force, because those areas exerted influence that compromised domestic government authority.  There was, in a sense, an equation of pacifying Helmand with solving the problem of a "no-go" neighborhood in London. But unlike the 19th century European states, which conceived of domestic security problems as a problem to be dealt with Napoleon's "whiff of grapeshot," the domestication of the international reflected the liberal norms and concerns of 21st century welfare states shaped by a desire to transcend a century of ideological turmoil. The management of order, especially in the context of publics vulnerable to extremist ideologies, was conceived from a frame of simultaneously extending security, policing malcontents, and gaining legitimacy through state largesse. 

If Mackinlay is right, the consequence of a decline in public and elite acceptance of an internationalized interest and expeditionary operations means that complex operations are merely returning to their domestic origins. This would not mean literally carrying out military operations akin to Iraq and Afghanistan. But just as some US police forces have adopted counterinsurgency methods to domestic legal, normative, and political contexts it would mean--as Mackinlay suggests--an European operational design for a predominately civil security context.