States vs. Statelets

After years of reflexively blaming Pakistan for any and all domesticterrorist attacks, it looks like India will now have to address agrowing homegrown Islamic terrorist threat. At ten percent of India’spopulation, the Indian Muslim community can’t possibly hope to imposean Islamic state, and even if that were the goal, it was achieved 60years ago with the independence of Pakistan.

Still, while I’ve tended to dismiss the idea that Islamic extremismrepresents a strategic or existential threat to the U.S. (or the West),I suppose that if it does, it’s not in the sense that it can actuallyachieve its objectives so much as it might succeed in destabilizingenough states as to make things pretty unmanageable.

But insomuch as the goal is to target the faultlines of the Westphalianorder, it’s not so very different from what’s happening in great powerrelations at the moment. NATO in Kosovo, Russia in the Caucasus, the charges of Americanmeddling in Bolivia’s separatist provinces: all illustrate the ways inwhich interests trump sovereignty and the faultlines of nation statesare exploited to advance strategic objectives. The way in which thePalestinian Authority was essentially fragmented into the West Bank and Gaza isanother example of the use of fragmentation to advance interests.There’s a growing tension between sovereignty rights andnation-building on the one hand, and separatism and the right tointervene on the other.

And the balance seems to be swinging increasingly towards the latter.Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the overarching strategic logic isone of nation-building and reinforcing the central government, tacticalimperatives have either led to the use of fragmentation (the SunniAwakening) or else illustrated the limits of the state as a solution(the Pakistani tribal frontier).

So if the real threat of Islamic terrorism is that it might undermine the global order of nation-states, it’s not the only one.

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