Note: Book not available, working from book reviews.
Purpose: To examine the origins of ‘weak states’ in Latin America.
Summary: Latin America has a whole bunch of weak states, and they also had a history that was characterized by a lack of total war. Centano argues that the context of the country and the type of war matters, so applying Eurocentric theories of war contributing to state-formation are problematic. See notes below for details, but the essential take home point is that elites did not need to mobilize the public to win their limited wars, so they didn’t. Without mobilizing the public, there’s no nationalism, no need for state institutions, no state-building. End of the day, Centano doesn’t think we can have a universalistic explanation for state-formation that is premised on the importance of war (or anything else, for that matter).
Methodology: Comparative history. Applies ‘Bellicist’ (war and state development are related – a la Tilly) theories to Latin America
Instead of taking the Eurocentric view that warfare was the driving force behind the formation of modern nation-states, he argues that “Latin America’s experience both contributes and has contributed to the weakness of state formation throughout the region. No state, no war.”
Centano finds that state development does not meet the expectations of the theory, and he thus proposes that we need a more sophisticated understanding of the impact that different types of war can have upon development.
He makes a distinction between:
1) Limited Wars: low duration and mass mobilization of men and resources, low loss of life – internal enemy – thus no contribution to a sense of nationalism. These are the wars that were fought in LA.
2) Total Wars: high levels of lethalness on the battlefield, militarization of society, association with a moral or ideological crusade – such wars require states to perform specific functions that may contribute to laying the foundations for greater state development.
Why did Latin America only have Limited Wars?
– For Centano “the particular conditions that defined the process of state creation on the continent precluded the type and consequences of “state-making war.” – Geographical obstacles to state administration, lack of pre-existing state capacity, an export-based economic strategy that prioritized external markets over domestic ones, and the resistance of dominant classes within Latin America to unite in support of more powerful centralized authorities.
– Last point is important – for Centano, elite support was central in the few cases in which war making had some type of positive affect upon state development.
– Thus, war doesn’t lose importance, rather, it becomes important to understand how a region’s international or domestic context can lead to different outcomes.
War is directed internally, not against other countries, Centano suggests that the reason for this is the state’s limited capacity.
Centano also argues that warfare has a positive role in creating nation-states. While in the European experience, militarization led to nationalist doctrine, shared sense of citizenship and taxation (and eventually the modern welfare state), Latin America is caught in a ‘vicious circle’.
States are so weak that they can do little more than terrorize their population.
Answer lies in the wars of independence – colonized elites were pitted against colonizers, but didn’t have to mobilize large armies to win. Instead, they feared national integration and mobilization of the masses due to racial and class division. There was no need to extract resources from their own societies due to access to foreign capital/resources.
Critiques: The book focuses on what Latin American elites did NOT do: no war, no strong state institutions, no strong armies. There is no story about the majority of the population