Theory of the drone

Theorie du droneI’ve been contacted by L’actualité for an interview on drones, which led me to a new book by French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou (CNRS): Théorie du drone (La fabrique, 2013).  I’ve only just ordered it, so this post is advance notice, the product of some rummaging around the web, and I’ll post a considered discussion as soon as I’ve read it.

Chamayou has translated Clausewitz into French, and readers may know one of his earlier texts, I think the only one to be translated into English thus far, Manhunts: a philosophical history (Princeton 2012; original French publication, Les chasses à l’homme: histoire et philosophie du pouvoir cynegetique (La fabrique, 2010); reviewed in English translation at Books & Ideas here).  If you want a good sense of Chamayou’s style, check out this video of a lecture in New York in 2011, ‘Hunter vs. Hunted’, artfully organised around film clips.

Manhunts doesn’t address targeted killing and drone warfare, but you can read a related essay from Radical Philosophy (169/2011) on ‘The manhunt doctrine’ that does here:

George W. Bush had warned us early on: the United States has launched itself into a new kind of war, a ‘war that requires us to be on an international manhunt’… The doctrine of the manhunt breaks with conventional warfare, which rests on the concepts of fronts, linear battles and face-to-face opposition. In 1916, General Pershing launched a large military offensive on Mexican territory to seize the revolutionary Pancho Villa. The massive deployment of force drew a blank. For the American strategists who cite this historic precedent as a counter-example, it is a question of reversing the polarity: faced with the ‘asymmetrical extremes’ posed by small mobile groups of ‘non-state actors’, one must employ small flexible units in a logic of targeted attacks. Contrary to Clausewitz’s classic definition, such cynegetic war is not, in its fundamental structure, a duel. The structure does not involve two fighters facing off, but something else: a hunter who advances and a prey who flees or who hides…

The prey who wants to escape his pursuers tries to become undetectable or inaccessible. But inaccessibility is not only a function of physical geography – such as an inextricable bush or deep crevice. The theorists of manhunting remind us that the ‘political and legal restrictions, especially in the form of jurisdictional boundaries’, are an eminent part of the ‘set of constraints that shape the rules of the game’. From this point of view, it is clear that ‘sovereign borders are among the greatest allies’ that a fugitive can have. The hunter’s power has no regard for borders. It allows itself the right of universal trespassing, in defiance of territorial integrity of sovereign states. It is an invasive power which, unlike the imperial manoeuvres of the past, is based less on a notion of right of conquest than of a right of pursuit….

In cynegetic war, armed violence seeks to pursue the prey wherever it might be. The place of hostilities is no longer defined by the locatable space of an effective combat zone, but by the simple presence of the hunted individual who carries with him everywhere a kind of little halo denoting a personal hostility zone. In this way of thinking, the very notion of armed conflict occurring in a distinct geographical space tends to vanish. Here, on the one hand, the combat zone tends to be reduced to the body of the enemy, which must then, according to the principle of distinction, be the only space that is targeted; but, on the other hand, it is believed that this mobile micro-space can be targeted wherever it happens to be. The paradox is that the principle of targeting is accompanied by a limitless virtual extension of the conflict zone: the world becomes the battlefield. Thus the classical distinction is erased between armed conflict zones, in which the use of weapons of war is allowed, and other zones in which they are not allowed…

Cynegetic war bears an ideal of non-confrontation with death, and of domination without real combat. While a duel involves a reciprocal relation of exposure to death – each participant bearing his chest to the enemy – in the hunt, on the contrary, the master barely ever confronts his prey directly. He uses intermediaries, beaters or the pack. Everything is done so that his life is never in danger, to assure him maximum protection. The use of predator drones and of Hellfire missiles, operated at a distance from American soil, illustrates this principle of absolute preservation of the life of the hunter by the mediation of hunting auxiliaries.

So far, so familiar. Chamayou treats the drone as ‘the emblem of contemporary cynegetic war’, which is to say war that ‘bears an ideal of non-confrontation with death, and of domination without real combat’: hence the new book which, like my own work, explores the complex field of death at a distance and, in a direct line of descent from Manhunts, embeds the drone into the apparatus of a new predatory state (Etat-chasseur) emphasised in this review in Le Devoir.  Here is a listing of the contents:

Theory of the drone

Prelude  — 9
Introduction — 21

I. Techniques and tactics — 33

Methodologies in a hostile environment — 35
Genealogy of the Predator— 41
Theoretical principles of the manhunt— 47
To watch and to annihilate — 57
Pattern of life analysis — 69
Kill box — 79
Counterinsurgency from the air — 91
Vulnerabilities— 109

II. Ethos et psyche— 119

Drones and the kamikazi (suicide attacks) — 121
‘That others should die’ — 131
A crisis in military ethics— 137
Psycho-pathologies of the drone— 151
Killing at a distance— 162

III. Necro-ethics — 177

Combatant immunity— 179
The humanitarian weapon — 190
Precision — 197

IV. Legal philosophy of killing— 211

Thoughtless assassins — 213
War without combat — 220
Licence to kill — 231

V. Political bodies— 241

In war and in peace — 243
Democratic militarism— 254
The essence of warriors — 269
The production of political robots — 285

Epilogue. War, at a distance — 309

21 February 2010 Uruzgan CIVCASYou can find a short extract from Théorie du drone here. This is of particular interest to me since it includes a transcript of an air strike mediated but not directly carried out by a Predator crew and its associated network/assemblage in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan on 21 February 2010, which killed 23 civilians and wounded 8 others.  It’s the mediation that is crucial, though I’m not (yet) sure that what Chayamou means by ‘intermediaries’ in the passage from RP above is quite what I have in mind: we’ll see.  In any event, I discussed the strike and Major General Timothy McHale’s subsequent investigation in ‘From a view to a kill’ (DOWNLOADS tab) and I’ve now provided a much more detailed discussion, with longer extracts from the transcript Chamayou uses here, in The everywhere war (due to be finished, please God, this summer). Chamayou uses this incident as a Prelude to his main argument which – unlike so much philosophical reflection on later modern war, and as he makes clear in his Introduction is in part inspired by the example of Simone Weil – evidently engages directly with the material conduct of military violence.

There’s another extract from the book available here. There are also many  interviews with Chamayou available, but a succinct yet wide-ranging one is available here in which, amongst other things, he assails those American and Israeli philosophers who have defended the use of drones as ‘ethical’, ‘humane’, and even as vehicles for a newly humanitarian mode of war.  He doesn’t name them, but one of those he surely has in his sights is Bradley Jay Strawser (see here,  here and here), whose edited collection on Killing by remote control: the ethics of an unmanned military was published last month by Oxford University Press.  Appropriately, you can buy a Kindle edition from Amazon in just one click.

UPDATE:  For a succinct overview of Chamayou’s work, see Kieran Aarons, ‘Cartographies of capture’, Theory & Event 16 (2) (2013).

8 thoughts on “Theory of the drone

  1. Thank you for posting this. The Simone Weil reference is very interesting. I always feel that her work has been underused in relation to materiality and the mechanisms of oppression. Will check it out!

  2. Pingback: Jordan Crandall’s Unmanned – Militainment and the National Security State

  3. Pingback: Theory of the drone 1: Genealogies | geographical imaginations

  4. Pingback: Grégoire Chamayou – books received | Progressive Geographies

  5. Pingback: Grégoire Chamayou: bodies, manhunts and drones

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