Degrees of intimacy

Drone warsNext month Cambridge University Press is publishing a book of essays edited by Peter Bergen and Daniel Rothenberg, Drone wars: transforming conflict, law and policy, due out from Cambridge University Press at the end of the year.  Here’s the blurb:

Drones are the iconic military technology of many of today’s most pressing conflicts, a lens through which U.S. foreign policy is understood, and a means for discussing key issues regarding the laws of war and the changing nature of global politics. Drones have captured the public imagination, partly because they project lethal force in a manner that challenges accepted rules, norms, and moral understandings. Drone Wars presents a series of essays by legal scholars, journalists, government officials, military analysts, social scientists, and foreign policy experts. It addresses drones’ impact on the ground, how their use adheres to and challenges the laws of war, their relationship to complex policy challenges, and the ways they help us understand the future of war. The book is a diverse and comprehensive interdisciplinary perspective on drones that covers important debates on targeted killing and civilian casualties, presents key data on drone deployment, and offers new ideas on their historical development, significance, and impact on law and policy. Drone Wars documents the current state of the field at an important moment in history when new military technologies are transforming how war is practiced by the United States and, increasingly, by other states and by non-state actors around the world.

And here is the Contents List:

Part I. Drones on the Ground:

1. My guards absolutely feared drones: reflections on being held captive for seven months by the Taliban David Rohde
2. The decade of the drone: analyzing CIA drone attacks, casualties, and policy Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland
3. Just trust us: the need to know more about the civilian impact of US drone strikes Sarah Holewinski
4. The boundaries of war?: Assessing the impact of drone strikes in Yemen Christopher Swift
5. What do Pakistanis really think about drones? Saba Imtiaz

Part II. Drones and the Laws of War:

6. It is war at a very intimate level USAF pilot
7. This is not war by machine Charles Blanchard
8. Regulating drones: are targeted killings by drones outside traditional battlefields legal? William Banks
9. A move within the shadows: will JSOC’s control of drones improve policy? Naureen Shah
10. Defending the drones: Harold Koh and the evolution of US policy Tara McKelvey
Part III. Drones and Policy Challenges:
11. ‘Bring on the magic’: using drones in combat Michael Waltz
12. The five deadly flaws of talking about emerging military technologies and the need for new approaches to law, ethics, and war P. W. Singer
13. Drones and cognitive dissonance Rosa Brooks
14. Predator effect: a phenomenon unique to the war on terror Meg Braun
15. Disciplining drone strikes: just war in the context of counterterrorism David True
16. World of drones: the global proliferation of drone technology Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland

Part IV. Drones and the Future of Warfare:

17. No one feels safe Adam Khan
18. ‘Drones’ now and what to expect over the next ten years Werner Dahm
19. From Orville Wright to September 11: what the history of drone technology says about the future Konstantin Kakaes
20. Drones and the dilemma of modern warfare Richard Pildes and Samuel Issacharoff
21. How to manage drones, transformative technologies, the evolving nature of conflict and the inadequacy of current systems of law Brad Allenby
22. Drones and the emergence of data-driven warfare Daniel Rothenberg

Over at Foreign Policy you can find an early version of Chapter 6, which is an interview with a drone pilot conducted by Daniel Rothenberg.  There are two passages in the interview that reinforce the sense of the bifurcated world inhabited by drone crews that I described in ‘From a view to a kill’ and ‘Drone geographies’ (DOWNLOADS tab).  On the one side the pilot confirms the inculcation of an intimacy with ground troops, particularly when the platforms are tasked to provide Close Air Support, which is in some degree both reciprocal and verbal:

“Because of the length of time that you’re over any certain area you’re able to engage in lengthy communications with individuals on the ground. You build relationships. Things are a little more personal in an RPA than in an aircraft that’s up for just a few hours. When you’re talking to that twenty year old with the rifle for twenty-plus hours at a time, maybe for weeks, you build a relationship. And with that, there’s an emotional attachment to those individuals.

“You see them on a screen. That can only happen because of the amount of time you’re on station. I have a buddy who was actually able to make contact with his son’s friend over in the AOR [area of responsibility]. If you don’t think that’s going to make you focus, then I don’t know what will.

“Many individuals that have been over there have said, ‘You know, we were really happy to see you show up’; ‘We knew that you were going to keep us from being flanked’; ‘We felt confident in our ability to move this convoy from ‘A’ to ‘B’ because you were there.’ The guy on the ground and the woman on the ground see how effective we are. And it gives them more confidence.”

GREGORY Angry Eyes Extract.001

[The image above is taken from my ‘Angry Eyes’ presentation; the Predator pilot in this instance was involved in orchestrating the air strike in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan on 21 February 2010, and the quotation is taken from the US Army investigation into the incident.  I’m converting the presentation into the final chapter for The everywhere war, and I’ll post the draft as soon as I’m finished.]

But when the pilot in Rothenberg’s interview goes on to claim that ‘Targeting with RPAs is very intimate’ and that ‘It is war at a very intimate level’, he reveals on the other side an altogether different sense of intimacy: one that is strictly one-sided, limited to the visual, and which resides in a more abstracted view:

“Flying an RPA, you start to understand people in other countries based on their day-to-day patterns of life. A person wakes up, they do this, they greet their friends this way, etc. You become immersed in their life. You feel like you’re a part of what they’re doing every single day. So, even if you’re not emotionally engaged with those individuals, you become a little bit attached. I’ve learned about Afghan culture this way. You see their interactions. You’re studying them. You see everything.”

The distinction isn’t elaborated, but the claims of ‘immersion’ and becoming ‘part of what they’re doing every day’ are simply astonishing, no?  You can find more on the voyeurism of ‘pattern of life analysis’ and the remarkable conceit that ‘you see everything’ here.

GREGORY Drones and the everywhere war 2014 Homeland insecurities.001

[The image above is taken from my ‘Drone geographies’ presentation]

The interview emphasises a different bifurcation, which revolves around the alternation between ‘work’ and ‘home’ when remote operations are conducted from the United States:

“”When you’re doing RPA operations, you’re mentally there, wherever there is. You’re flying the mission. You’re talking to folks on the ground. You’re involved in kinetic strikes. Then you step out the ground control station (GCS) and you’re not there anymore…

“Those are two very, very different worlds. And you’re in and out of those worlds daily. I have to combine those two worlds. Every single day. Multiple times a day. So, I am there and then I am not there and then I am there again. The time between leaving the GCS [Ground Control Station] and, say, having lunch with my wife could be as little as ten minutes. It’s really that fast.”

You can find much more on these bifurcations in my detailed commentary on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone here and in ‘Drone geographies’ (DOWNLOADS tab).

There’s one final point to sharpen.  In my developing work on militarized vision, and especially the ‘Angry eyes’ presentation/essay,  I’ve tried to widen the focus beyond the strikes carried out by Predators and Reapers to address the role they play in networked operations where the strikes are carried out by conventional strike aircraft.  Here is what Rothenberg’s pilot says about what I’ve called the administration of military violence (where, as David Nally taught me an age ago, ‘administration’ has an appropriately double meaning):

‘”Flying an RPA is more like being a manager than flying a traditional manned aircraft, where a lot of times your focus is on keeping the shiny side up; keeping the wings level, putting the aircraft where it needs to be to accomplish the mission. In the RPA world, you’re managing multiple assets and you’re involved with the other platforms using the information coming off of your aircraft.

“You could use the term ‘orchestrating’; you are helping to orchestrate an operation.”

***

Drone wars appears just as remote operations over Iraq and Syria are ramping up: you can find an excellent review by Chris Cole at Drone Wars UK here, ‘Drones in Iraq and Syria: What we know and what we don’t.’  The images below are from the Wall Street Journal‘s interactive showing all air strikes reported by US Central Command 8 August through 3 November 2014:

Air strikes in Iraq and Syria

During this period  769 coalition air strikes were reported: 434 in Syria (the dark columns), including 217 on the besieged border city of Kobane, and 335 in Iraq (the light columns), including 157 on Mosul and the Mosul Dam.

Air strikes in Iraq and Syria August-November 2014

But bear in mind these figures are for all air strikes and do not distinguish between those carried out directly by drones and those carried out by conventional strike aircraft.  As Chris emphasises:

‘Since the start of the bombing campaign, US drones have undertaken both surveillance and strike missions in Iraq and Syria but military spokespeople have refused to give details about which aircraft are undertaking which strikes repeatedly using the formula “US military forces used attack, fighter, bomber and remotely-piloted aircraft to conduct airstrikes.”’

Although the USAF has used a mix of MQ-1 (Predator) and MQ-9 (Reaper) drones, F-15E, F-16, F/A-18 and F-22 fighters, B-1 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters in these operations, it seems likely that its capacity to use remote platforms to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is limited by its continuing commitments in Afghanistan (though Britain’s Royal Air Force has now deployed its Reapers for operations in both Iraq and Syria).

IS (Islamic State) claims to have its own drones too.  In February it released video of its aerial surveillance of Fallujah in Iraq, taken from a DJI Phantom FC40 quadcopter, in August it released video of Taqba air base in Syria taken from the same platform, tagged as ‘a drone of the Islamic State army’, and in September a propaganda video featuring hostage John Cantile showed similar footage of Kobane (below).

1414438887900_wps_7_IS_have_released_a_new_vi

These image streams are all from commercial surveillance drones, but in September the Iranian news agency Fars reported that Hezbollah had launched an air strike from Lebanon against a command centre of the al-Nursra Front outside Arsal in Syria using an armed (obviously Iranian) drone.

You can find Peter Bergen’s and Emily Schneiders view on those developments here, and a recent survey of the proliferation of drone technologies among non-state actors here.

The details of both the state and non-state air strikes remain murky, but I doubt that much ‘intimacy’ is claimed for any of them.

Game of Drones

theory_of_the_drone_finalJean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer writes to say that his review of Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone has just appeared in English translation over at Books & Ideas here.

It’s a combative review, literally so:

When Chamayou was asked what motivated him to write the book, he replied that “some philosophers in the United States and in Israel work hand in hand with the military to elaborate what I call a ‘necro-ethics’ that tries to justify targeted assassinations. So it is urgent to respond. When ethics is brought into a war, philosophy becomes a battlefield.” 

A bit like Plato looking upon his Socratic dialogues as the philosopher’s responses to the sophists – i.e. to false philosophers – Chamayou presents his Theory of the Drone as a response to the traitorous philosophers who collaborate with the military. I am myself one of this low species: I teach ethics and the law of war to officer students at the French Military Academy of Saint-Cyr, and I often work with the military (without however being “enlisted” to justify anything whatsoever). Therefore I can testify that, when you take an interest in military matters, it is helpful to work with them, to increase your precision and to avoid some clichés and factual errors.

I provided some background to Vilmer’s work and discussed his critique here.

An excellent English translation of Theory of the Drone is due from the New Press in December.

While I’m on the subject of translations, French versions of my ‘Drone geographies’ from Radical Philosophy (DOWNLOADS tab) are now available as ‘Géographes du drone’ in Jef Klak: critique sociale et experiences littéraires 1 (2014) 262-277 and in Décadrages: Cinéma, à travers champs 26-27 (2014) 129-150.

Journeys from No Man’s Land

Stretcher-bearers

I’ve agreed to join a panel organised by Noam Leshem on Remnants of No Man’s Land: history, theory and excess at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago next April (I imagine this is a follow-up to the session at the RGS/IBG in September).

The no-man’s lands of the First World War were never limited to the killing fields between the trenches. Their impact was never fully confined by the time and space of the battles: it lingered on the bodies of soldiers, in contaminated ecologies and in the radically altered post-war intellectual landscape. The violence that is unleashed in the no-man’s land and the destruction it wrought does not result in emptiness, in a terra nullius, but in excess that can never be fully contained.

This session invites additional reflections on the excessive quality of no-man’s land: its materialities, ecologies, cultural expressions and political-ideological articulations. It aims to deepen the theoretical import and conceptual power of ‘no-man’s land’, and move beyond its use as merely a convenient colloquialism. Similarly, we seek to engagements with other histories of no-man’s lands that are not solely confined to the Western Front during WWI.

LOBLEY Dugouts in the embankment near Le Cateau

Despite that last sentence, this is what I’ve come up with; these abstracts are always promissory notes, of course, written so far in advance that they can provide little real indication of what eventually transpires.  Fortunately we are now no longer lumbered with the Yellow Pages-style book of abstracts so I doubt anybody will actually read this on the day.  But here goes:

Journeys From No Man’s Land, 1914-1918

During the First World War on the Western Front a central logistical preoccupation of military planners was the deployment of troops to the front line and the evacuation of casualties from the battlefield. These priorities were closely connected – the aim was to provide medical treatment as close to the site of the wound as possible so that troops could be returned expeditiously to the line – but they also often confounded one another as hospital trains headed for the coast were shunted into sidings to allow troop trains to move up. In this presentation I address three questions. First, what it was possible to know about the ‘lie of the land’, particularly in the deadly spaces between the front-line trenches? Here I focus on the connections between aerial reconnaissance, night patrols and trench maps. A second question concerns the arrangements made in advance of major offensives – the disposition of stretcher bearers and aid posts, field ambulances and casualty clearing stations – and the ways in which these visible geometries of the medical-military machine affected the sensibilities of soldiers waiting to go ‘over the top’. Finally, how did the wounded apprehend and navigate No Man’s Land, and how did they make what Emily Mayhew calls their precarious journeys away from the fighting?

There’ll be more posts on this as I circle in towards the presentation.  It’s part of my new research project which explores military-medical machines and the casualties of war 1914-2014, but which is now widening to include other aspects of medical care in contemporary conflict zones like Gaza and Iraq/Syria and the militarisation of medical intervention in West Africa.

Eye in the Sky

Several years ago I met Guy Hibbert in a London hotel to discuss his draft script for a BBC drama about a targeted killing by a British drone in East Africa.  It was a clever script and an interesting conversation – and I hope a helpful one – but in the interim I heard no more about it and assumed that the BBC had shelved the project.

eye-in-the-sky-image-helen-mirren

Now I see that Eye in the Sky is in production as a feature film directed by Gavin Hood and starring Helen Mirren (swoon).  As First Showing reports,

An American drone pilot (Aaron Paul) finds himself at a crossroads when a 9-year-old girl enters the kill zone his drone operation, under the command of military intelligence officer Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is poised to destroy after they learn their targets are planning a suicide mission. What follows is a climb up the “kill chain” of command, weighing the legality and morality of action and inaction.

Eye in the Sky is scheduled for release next year.

UPDATE: Guy has written to say that shooting in Cape Town finishes this week, and then it’s nine months of post-production for a September 2015 première.

Flesh on the Bones

Skeleton RoadOne of my pleasures is good – and I mean seriously good – crime fiction, and I’ve just finished Val McDermid‘s latest, Skeleton Road.  It’s a finely wrought reflection on the wars that destroyed the former Yugoslavia, notably the conflict between Serbia and Croatia, but it’s also shot through with ferociously smart insights into geopolitics.

In fact, the epigraph is from Gerard Toal‘s Critical Geopolitics (the book not the blog) and in her acknowledgements Val thanks both Linda McDowell and Jo Sharp.

I was particularly taken by the way in which the shadows (and lights) of international law and human geography fall across its pages. Neither becomes an abstraction; both are fully embodied.  Two of the protagonists are lawyers working for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and another is a Professor of Geography at Oxford (who ‘forced herself to consider the entries she was due to contribute to the forthcoming Dictionary of Human Geography‘ – a perfectly reasonable motive for murder).

All of which may explain my favourite quotation from what is now one of my favourite novels.  I’ve always despaired of those approaches to ‘geography and literature’ that gut novels by ripping out the supposedly ‘geographical’ bits, so I hope I’ll be forgiven for this autopsic deviation.  This is Maggie Blake, Professor of Geography, describing the results of her fieldwork in Dubrovnik:

‘The work I ended up doing on the region and its wars … is rooted, as human geography should be, in an embodiment of the conflict.’

Smelling blood

Writing about the sensory armature of modern war seems to have two dimensions (and as usual it’s the relationship between them that matters).  One involves the political technologies used by advanced militaries to detect the physical presence of their enemies: the infrared sensors that form part of the multispectral targeting systems fitted to Predators and Reapers that can detect heat signatures of bodies, other sensors that can detect ‘chemical signatures’ associated with IED factories, and sophisticated signals monitoring equipment.  These are all prosthetic devices that extend the range of the human sensorium – though they also depend upon it – so that the other dimension, which remains stubbornly important even in later modern war, is constituted by the human body and its own sensory capabilities.  This was the central concern of the conference on Sensing War held over the summer, and you can find the abstracts from the meeting here (I particularly like the remark made by a Bundeswehr officer reported by Marion Naeser-Lather: ‘To understand Afghanistan, you have to see, hear, smell and taste it’).  It’s also a central theme of my lecture/essay on ‘The natures of war’.

British_55th_Division_gas_casualties_10_April_1918

While I was in Zurich I had a lively and productive discussion about the penultimate draft of that essay with Benedikt Korf, Timothy Raeymaekers, Rory Rowan and their students, and as a result of that, together with an e-conversation with Steve Legg, I’ve been re-thinking my previous ideas about corpography.  Steve drew my attention to the ways in which I describe senses being ‘out of place’ on the Western Front: tasting rather than feeling mud, for example, or feeling rather than hearing shell-fire.  You can find further examples in the extracts from the essay I’ve posted about the war in Vietnam here and here.  This scrambling of the senses seems to be different from the intersensoriality discussed by Concordia’s innovative Centre for Sensory Studies.

In response to a similar observation in Zurich, I suggested that the Enlightenment project involved a disciplining of the senses – establishing what it was permissible to see, to hear, to touch, to taste or to smell – and allocating epistemologies to each: what it was possible to know from seeing, hearing, and the rest.  And that perhaps these regulated divisions were undone and their epistemologies radically challenged by the intensity of experience on the battlefield.

Since then I’ve stumbled upon the wonderful work of Matt Leonard; see, for example, his exquisitely titled essay on the First World War, ‘A senseless war‘, in which he argues that

‘The Western Front was a world that could not be negotiated by temporarily reordering the operation of our senses, for the ‘temporary’ became a relative term in the hell of the trenches. Rather, the relationship with the environment had to be completely restructured.’

See also his splendid essay on ‘Mud in World War I’ from Military history here.

I’ve also discovered a literature on the history of the senses that I should really have known about, including Diana Ackerman‘s A natural history of the senses (1990) – a book Richard Fetzer suggests we ‘read, taste, fondle’so I suspect it says rather more about the joys of corporeality than its trials – and Robert Jütte‘s A history of the senses: from Antiquity to cyberspace (2004).

More recently, there’s Constance Classen‘s The deepest sense: a cultural history of touch (2012) which cries out to be read alongside Santanu Das‘s brilliant Touch and intimacy in First World War literature (2008).  Bloomsbsury’s series on  A Cultural History of the Senses (2014) includes volumes on A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Empire, 1800-1920 (edited by Constance Classen) and A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age, 1920-2000 (edited by David Howes); the detailed contents list is here, though I don’t know how much space they devote to war.

There’s also a sensory archaeology.  For intimations of a sensory geography, see Mark Paterson, ‘Haptic geographies: ethnography, haptic knowledges and sensuous dispositions’, in Progress in human geography 33 (6) (2009) 766-88 (also available here), the collection Mark edited with Martin Dodge, Touching space, placing touch (2012) and Caleb Johnson and Hayden Lorimer, ‘Sensing the city’, Cultural geographies 21 (4) (2014) 673-80.  There’s also developing work on sonic geographies.  But substantively this is all a far cry from what I’ve been thinking about here.

SMITH The smell of battlePerhaps closest to what I have in mind is Mark Smith‘s re-narration of the American Civil war in The smell of battle, the taste of siege (2014):

Historical accounts of major events have almost always relied upon what those who were there witnessed. Nowhere is this truer than in the nerve-shattering chaos of warfare, where sight seems to confer objective truth and acts as the basis of reconstruction. In The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege, historian Mark M. Smith considers how all five senses, including sight, shaped the experience of the Civil War and thus its memory, exploring its full sensory impact on everyone from the soldiers on the field to the civilians waiting at home.

From the eardrum-shattering barrage of shells announcing the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter; to the stench produced by the corpses lying in the mid-summer sun at Gettysburg; to the siege of Vicksburg, once a center of Southern culinary aesthetics and starved into submission, Smith recreates how Civil War was felt and lived. Relying on first-hand accounts, Smith focuses on specific senses, one for each event, offering a wholly new perspective. At Bull Run, the similarities between the colors of the Union and Confederate uniforms created concern over what later would be called “friendly fire” and helped decide the outcome of the first major battle, simply because no one was quite sure they could believe their eyes. He evokes what it might have felt like to be in the HL Hunley submarine, in which eight men worked cheek by jowl in near-total darkness in a space 48 inches high, 42 inches wide. Often argued to be the first “total war,” the Civil War overwhelmed the senses because of its unprecedented nature and scope, rendering sight less reliable and, Smith shows, forcefully engaging the nonvisual senses. Sherman’s March was little less than a full-blown assault on Southern sense and sensibility, leaving nothing untouched and no one unaffected.

One last thought: the identification (and limitation) of just five senses is a conventional, European construction, and so I’m left wondering about Steve’s final suggestion: that perhaps the intensity of experience in the deserts of North Africa and the Central Highlands of Vietnam reveals the dependence of the Cartesian model on particular ‘natures’ and, above all, on the ethnocentric privileges accorded to ‘temperate nature’ as ‘normal nature’.  These radically intemperate natures – the Western Front too – thus took their toll on more than the bodies of the soldiers who fought through them.