Prevailing wisdom suggests that a strong state security service, including a well-resourced and well-trained army and police force, mitigates cyclical violence and aids in the transition from relative anarchy to predictable, rule governed behavior. Yet, despite vast sums invested to secure the state’s monopoly on violence, reform efforts frequently fail to guard against challenges to state authority. Capacity-building reforms are typically unable to reconfigure information asymmetries. Rather than consolidating the state’s monopoly on violence, therefore, enhanced capacity bolsters private (atomized) rather than public (unified hierarchical) violence, resulting in the increased capacity of security agents to act as sources of insecurity and uncertainty. Security agents deploying the image of the state – through its uniform, arms, and resources – towards private gain challenge the symbolic order of “stateness” and reinforce the institutions of everyday war. (Re)creating the state in the mold of its challengers, as illicit, predatory, and inchoate, entrenches a wartime political order in which confidence in its capacity to enforce rules and honor commitments remains low, and incentives to pursue political and economic ends through violence and the threat of violence remain high. Contrary to stated objectives, strengthened security agents thus sustain an equilibrium of everyday war, engender new political grievances, and fracture the monopoly on violence security principals strive to build.
The Political Science Seminar Series is convened by Desmond King and Ben Ansell. For more information on this or any of the seminars in the series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.