Charles Tilly, AD 990-1992: Twenty Years On

The French Revolution
According to Tilly, the French Revolution (a milestone in the civilanization of French politics) emerged from protests against the high taxes French Rulers imposed to compensate for the costly American War. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The other day I was re-reading what should perhaps be on every politics student’s bookshelf, Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1992 by Charles Tilly. In this book Tilly examines what formed the modern state by looking at the impact of Europe’s violent history. In contrast to other theories like the idea of a social contract, Tilly argues that: “War wove the European network of national states, and preparation for war created the internal structures of states within it.” The European welfare state as we know it today, Tilly argues, occurred as an inadvertent spin-off from rulers’ bargaining with subject populations when seeking to extract the means to wage war. In exchange for giving up their most valuable resources (sons, lands, weapons, animals), citizens were granted civil rights, social benefits and protection by the state in return.

Throughout the more than 200 pages of historical anecdotes, AD 990-1992 develops a convincing argument that it was indeed rulers’ zeal for developing and adapting to new types of war – thus changing the nature of political-bargaining – that pushed state-transformation. For example, in Revolutionary France the public only agreed to mass disarmament and conscription in exchange for rights of civil suit, local assembly and social benefits.

A Note on the Border

Hadrian's Wall was one of the first territorial borders. Photo: LittleMissBigFeet/flickr
Hadrian's Wall: durable, but no longer a border. Photo: LittleMissBigFeet/flickr

Among the first durable political borders were the Roman limites – built of stone or marked by ditches, or fortifications – at the Empire’s frontiers in North Africa, Germany and Britain. But a border has always meant more than a wall,  fence or line; Derrida, for one, writes of the epistemological charm of borders, as expressions of our innate cravings for distinctions and certainty, for comfort and security.

For many in international affairs, borders are material facts, dividing the world into what John Ruggie calls “fixed, disjoint and mutually exclusive territorial formations.” On this view, borders may be “contentious and controversial in their location” (as John Williams argues in his 2006 book The Ethics of Territorial Borders) but not in the function they perform.


Environmental Security: “Caution(!) This Report May Contain Traces of Biased World Views”

Case studies show that water scarcity is just as likely to promote cooperation as to increase the risks of violent conflict. Photo: flickr/Jasper ter Schegget

What are we to believe about the relationship between environmental degradation and security?  Does environmental change open the door to conflict, or is it a force for cooperation? Is it best to manage environmental change by focusing on its role in security narratives; or, to the contrary, by keeping security out of it?

The relevance of these questions coincides with the “World Water Week 2011” conference in Stockholm, which the ISN has covered in its two previous Special Features. To round off our coverage, I will raise a caveat: questions like the ones posed above should always be kept in mind when discussing the political implications of environmental degradation.


OSINT: Two Cheers for the Public Domain in Counter Terrorism Financing

Connecting the dots. Photo: ©

The problem with Countering Terrorism Financing (CTF) today is not a lack of comprehensive measures on the global stage, but of developed international norms to support its regulatory framework.

Today, most CTF measures (e.g. the UN International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, or the Financial Action Task Force) perform merely ‘advisory functions’ and lack even the tenuous force of international law. Not only the enforcement but the adoption and implementation of global CTF is entirely up to states themselves.

In the ISN’s latest OSINT report we emphasized that despite all recent policy talk on the matter, the international community has been slow in building a global CTF body that resembles an international regime.*

A case in point: under UN resolution 1373, each country has the authority to freeze an entity’s financial assets. However, if these assets are located in the jurisdiction of another country, resolution 1373 only authorizes the inquiring government to call upon the other to cooperate. So, while the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs continues to freeze the assets of Kashmiri terrorist groups, there is nothing they can do, legally speaking, to ensure that the money is frozen in Pakistan as well.

We Are All Cognitive Misers

Many experts jumped to early conclusions in Oslo, claiming that the attacks carried the “fingerprints” of al-Qaeda and “global jihad”. Photo: flickr/jcoterhals

In a blog I wrote for the other week I discussed the intelligence community’s preoccupation with Islamist political extremism. This preoccupation, I argued, is a manifestation of an obsession with global Jihad in academic discourse and open source intelligence (OSINT) gathering. I argued that, in the former case, this hampers academic progress and, in the latter, undermines security.

When intelligentsia and intelligence services speak of “terrorism,” it often carries the connotation of Islamist political extremism. However, as a couple of scholars with NUPI, an ISN partner, concluded in a report: although figures of speech contribute to the cognitive dimension of meaning by helping us to recognize the equivalence to which we are committed, cognitive shortcuts or ‘heuristics’, raise problems and do little to increase our understanding of terrorism as a phenomenon. In fact, cognitive shortcuts are counterproductive of why we study terrorism, namely, to enhance security.