It is essential to make a distinction between societies and states. A society can be defined as “a group of people involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social groupsharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships (social relations) between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often evinces stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups”.
The elementary parts of a society are individual human-beings, groups and communities.
Societies must fulfill a set of basic requirements to ensure their survival. The most important basic requirements are: (1) energy-input and a certain level of well-being, (2) internal and external security, (3) identity and (4) integration.
To fulfill these basic requirements, various subsystems are embedded in a society. Basic requirements, and their respective subsystems interact. Each subsystem is responsible for a certain process, related to a basic requirement.
Each basic requirement, and consequently each subsystem and accompanying process contains elements of the other basic requirements. Economic well-being and identity are related; identity also provides a sense of security.
The economic subsystem is responsible for energy-input and a certain level of well-being of/in the society. The defense and threat subsystem of a society is responsible for the society’s internal and external security. The identity subsystem is responsible for sense-making; the identity of a society and its members is contained in its value-system.
The integrative subsystem – the government, the state – is responsible for the integration of the various (sometimes contradicting subsystems). A functioning government (state) determines the direction of development of the society, determines its priorities, balances contradicting requirements, provides a certain identity to the society it represents, and controls the defense and threat subsystem of a society (its police forces (for internal security) and its armed forces (external security)).
In a functioning state, the defense and threat subsystem is subordinate to the integrative subsystem (the government). The war theory of Von Clausewitz (‘On War‘) is based on the assumption that the state has full control over the defense and threat subsystem.
With this simple framework, it is possible to better understand certain dynamics of the System.
For example, the everlasting war in Afghanistan (2001 – ….) can be explained: Afghanistan lacks an effective government and state-structure. The government is imposed, but does not represent Afghan society (as far as such a coherent society exists). Consequently, its police and armed forces also are not representative for Afghan society and its interests. The actual (more representative) defense- and threat subsystem of Afghan society is the Taliban. The Afghan armed forces – in name of the state – compete with the Taliban for control. As long as the Afghan state (and armed forces) do not represent Afghan society, stability cannot be achieved and maintained.
The Kurds are a society without a state, consequently it is problematic for the Kurds to ensure their survival as a society: ‘balanced’ fulfillment of their basic requirements is problematic. Stability cannot be achieved in the region.
Due to economic and identity issues, fracture lines between Catalonia – a distinct society – and Spain – the integrative structure, which also deals with Catalonia – have (re)emerged. Parts of Catalonian society demand more autonomy; a fully operational integrative structure, which better ensures the fulfillment of their ‘own’ basic requirements. However, the demands for full autonomy by Catalonia undermine Spanish (state) authority and ability to ensure the fulfillment of basic requirements of the ‘Spanish’ society, which includes Catalonia, according to their perspective. A new balance must be found to restore stability.
The state has become the standard: The United Nations and the European Union only accept the state as legitimate structures they deal with. The European Union was/is built on this idea, and for that reason does not want to interfere in Spain, regarding Catalonia’s desire to acquire more autonomy. That is a mistake.
Failed states are ‘states’ (the point is actually, they are not) that are not able to fulfill their primary task: integration, and balancing of basic requirements of the populations that live on the territory they (these failed states) try to control.
The state – as the standard integrative structure to ensure the fulfillment of basic requirements of societies – was a European ‘invention’: The outcome of a series of four war cycles during the period 1495-1939 in Europe.
The problem with failed states is that they mostly ‘lack’ a coherent society. These states were imposed over certain territories and their populations, following colonization. The, basic idea of the state – as a representative of a society – was ignored, when these artificial states were imposed.
Adoption by the UN and the EU of the state as the only legitimate organizational representative of societies – that sometimes do not even exist – causes ever greater problems.