Surveillance beyond borders and boundaries

An unusually interesting Call for Papers for a conference organised by the Surveillance Studies Network in Aarhus (Denmark) 7 – 9 June 2018. This will be their 8th conference; the banner above is ripped from their 6th in 2014.

You can download the full CfP (from which I’ve extracted the details below) here.


Recent years have witnessed the increasing scope, reach and pervasiveness of surveil- lance. It now operates on a scale ranging from the genome to the universe. Across the spheres of private and public life and the spaces between, surveillance mediates, documents and facilitates a wide range of activities. At the same time, surveillance practices now reach beyond the corporal and temporal boundaries of life itself, no longer resting on the individual as subject, but instead falling both within and beyond it. This emphasises the porosity of such categories. Pervasive surveillance produces new articulations of power and animates ows of people, information and capital, harbouring potential for myriad opportunities as well as harms. With this growth of surveillance comes in- creasing complexity and paradox.

Within this milieu, these issues are particularly pronounced, controversial and prescient in relation to borders and boundaries. Surveillance practices have long been associated with shoring up territorial and categorical borders, yet in the digital age such practices become accelerated, in many cases beyond the speed of human comprehension. Highly dynamic inscriptions of difference, abnormality and undesirability are now commonplace. At the same time, surveillance practices transcend and challenge erstwhile articulations of borders and boundaries, including enabling mobility for some, uniting formerly fractured assemblies of information and the capacitating borderless passage of data.

The conference

Since 2004 the Biennial Surveillance Studies Network conference has become established as the world’s most significant gathering of surveillance studies experts. The Surveillance Studies Network is a registered charitable company dedicated to the study of surveillance in all its forms, and the free distribution of scholarly information, and con- stitutes the largest association of surveillance scholars in the world. The Surveillance Studies Network owns the leading surveillance-focused peer-reviewed journal Surveillance & Society, which has held long association with the conference. We encourage presenters to submit fully formed papers to the journal to be considered for publication.

We call for papers and panels from all areas of critical enquiry that seek to examine such complex articulations and impacts of surveillance in contemporary society. We invite participants to discuss, develop or demolish the borders and boundaries of surveillance. In particular, we welcome interventions that are truly interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary, or transdisciplinary in scope and reach, from academics, activists, artists, and policy-makers, especially those who sit on the borderlands between academia and practice-based knowledge production.

Key themes include, but are not limited to:

Authority, democracy and surveillance

Surveillance and everyday life

History of surveillance

Surveillance and digital/social media

Art, action and surveillance

Surveillance infrastructures and architectures

Managing borders and uncertainty

Theories of surveillance

Ethics, philosophy, trust and intimacy in and of surveillance

Regulation, politics and governance of surveillance

Algorithmic surveillance and big data

Resistance to surveillance

Non-technological and interpersonal surveillance

Paper Proposals

Paper sessions will be composed by the Organising Committee based on the individual Paper Proposals submitted. Paper Proposals should consist of: Name(s) of Author(s); Affiliation(s) of Author(s); Proposed Title of Paper; An abstract of up to 150 words.

On acceptance paper proposers will be invited to submit an extended abstract, presentation summary, paper outline or developed paper draft of at least 2000 words for publication in the delegates area of the conference website ahead of the event. This can be submitted anytime up until the May deadline.

Visual or other artistic submissions

We welcome and encourage alternative formats, including but not limited to visual dis- plays and other artistic installations. These may include but are not limited to lms, documentaries, photographic exhibitions, architectural modeling and digital-mediated artistic forms. Artistic submissions should consist of: Name(s) of proposer/artist; Affiliation(s); An overview of the proposed submission of up to 250 words.

Panel Proposals

Panels are sessions that bring together a diverse group of panelists with varied views on a topic related to the conference theme. The session format should engage the panelists and audience in an interactive discussion. Panels should be designed to fit in a 90-minute session. Panel Proposals should consist of: Name(s) of Organiser(s); Affiliations; Proposed Title of Panel; An abstract of up to 300 words describing the panel, including why the panel is of interest to the conference, and the proposed format of the panel; Name(s) and Affiliation(s) and abstracts for all included papers (150 words) of all proposed panelists. Speakers included in successful panel proposals also will be required to later submit the more developed extended abstract, presentation summary, paper outline or developed paper draft of at least 2000 words as per the instructions for paper proposals above. NB: Organisers must secure the agreement of all proposed panelists before submitting the Panel Proposal.


All proposals should be submitted by December 31st 2017.  Decisions will be returned by January 31st 2018

All extended outlines/presentation summaries/paper drafts to be submitted by May 1st 2018

Submissions should be made through the EasyChair submission webportal here.



Articles that have recently caught my eye through their intersections with various projects I’m working on (so forgive what may otherwise seem an idiosyncratic selection!):

Bogdan Costea and Kostas Amiridis, ‘Ernst Jünger, total mobilization and the work of war’, Organization 24 (4) (2017) 475-490 – I keep encountering Jünger’s work, first when I was writing ‘The natures of war‘ (he served on the Western Front in the First World War: see his remarkable Storm of Steel, still available as a Penguin Classic in a greatly improved translation) and much more recently while preparing a new lecture on occupied Paris in the Second World War (he was stationed there for four years and confided a series of revealing and often critical observations to his diaries).  But his reflections on the ‘destruction line’ of modern war are no less interesting.  For parallel reflections, see:

Leo McCann, ‘Killing is our business and business is good”: The evolution of war managerialism from body counts to counterinsurgency’, Organization 24 (4) (2017) 491-515 – I’ve written about what Freeman Dyson called ‘the bureaucratization of homicide‘ before, in relation to aerial violence, but this essay provides a wider angle.

Laura Pitkanen, Matt Farish, ‘Nuclear landscapes’, Progress in human geography [Online First: 31 August 2017] (‘Places such as New Mexico’s Trinity Site have become iconic, at least in the United States, and a study of nuclear landscapes must consider the cultural force of spectacular weapons tests and related origin stories. But critical scholars have also looked beyond and below the distractions of mushroom clouds, to additional and alternative landscapes that are obscured by secrecy and relative banality’).

I’m still haunted by the reading I did for ‘Little Boys and Blue Skies‘, much of it inspired by Matt’s work (see especially here on ‘Atomic soldiers and the nuclear battlefield’); this essay should be read in conjunction with:

Becky Alexis-Martin and Thom Davis, ‘Towards nuclear geography: zones, bodies and communities’, Geography Compass [Online early: 5 September 2017] (‘We explore the diverse modes of interaction that occur between bodies and nuclear technology and point towards the scope for further research on nuclear geographies. We bring together different strands of this nascent discipline and, by doing so, highlight how nuclear technology interacts across a spectrum of geographic scales, communities, and bodies. Although nuclear geographies can be sensational and exceptionalising, such as the experiences of nuclear accident survivors and the creation of “exclusion zones,” they can also be mundane, everyday and largely unrecognised, such as the production of nuclear energy and the life-giving nature of radioactive medicine.’)

Simon Philpott, ‘Performing Mass Murder: constructing the perpetrator in documentary film’, International Political Sociology 11 (3) (2017) 257–272 – an insightful critique of Joshua Oppenheimer‘s The Act of Killing (see my posts here and here).

José Ciro Martinez and Brett Eng, ‘Struggling to perform the state: the politics of bread in the Syrian civil war’, International Political Sociology 11 (20 (2017) 130-147 – a wonderfully suggestive analysis that has the liveliest of implications for my own work on attacks on hospitals and health-care workers in Syria (notably: ‘The provision of bread to regime-controlled areas has gone hand in hand with targeted efforts to deprive rebel groups of the essential foodstuff and, by extension, their ability to perform the state. Since 2012, the regime has bombed nascent opposition-administered attempts to provide vital public services and subsistence goods, thereby presenting itself as the only viable source of such necessities.’)  But it also has far wider implications for debates about ‘performing the state’ and much else.  And in a similar vein:

Jeannie Sowers, Erika Weinthal and Neda Zawahiri, ‘Targeting environmental infrastructures, international law and civilians in the new Middle Eastern wars’, Security Dialogue 2017 [Online early] (”We focus on better understanding the conflict destruction of water, sanitation, waste, and energy infrastructures, which we term environmental infrastructures, by drawing on an author-compiled database of the post-2011 wars in the Middle East and North Africa… Comparatively analyzing the conflict zones of Libya, Syria, and Yemen, we show that targeting environmental infrastructure is an increasingly prevalent form of war-making in the MENA, with long-term implications for rebuilding states, sustaining livelihoods, and resolving conflicts.’)

Will Todman, ‘Isolating Dissent, Punishing the Masses: Siege Warfare as Counter-Insurgency,’ Syria Studies 9 (1) (2017) 1-32 – Syria Studies is an open-acess journal from the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews.

Sarah El-Kazaz and Kevin Mazur, ‘The unexceptional Middle Eastern City’, City & Society 29 (1) (2017) 148-161 – a really useful introduction to a themed section, much on my mind as this term I’ll be doing my best to jolt my students out of lazy caricatures of ‘the Islamic city’ (‘The study of Middle Eastern cities has been constrained in its analytical and methodological focus by a genealogy shaped by a triad of regional exceptions–Islam, oil, and authoritarianism–and … this special section move[s] beyond those constraints in important ways. Focusing on geographical places and time periods that have remained peripheral to the study of Middle Eastern cities, the three articles ethnographically historicize the planned and unplanned processes through which cities in the region transform to transcend a genealogy of exceptionalism and the constraints it has created. They highlight the global and local connections that shape these processes to offer new perspectives on the study of scale, verticality and sensoriums in the shaping of urban transformation around the globe.’)

Rasul Baksh Rais, ‘Geopolitics on the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland’, Geopolitics [online early: 11 August 2017] – a helpful historical review particularly for anyone interested in the exceptional construction of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas by both Washington and Islamabad.

Katharine Hall Kindervater, ‘Drone strikes, ephemeral sovereignty and changing conceptions of territory’, Territory, politics, governance (2017) 207-21 – Kate engages with her characteristic breadth of vision with some of the problems that preoccupied me in ‘Dirty dancing’ and urges a topological engagement with territory (DOWNLOADS tab) (‘This article examines the US legal frameworks for drone-targeting operations, and in particular the conceptions of territory they draw upon, to argue that contemporary strikes reflect less a disappearance of the importance of territory and sovereignty to justifications of the use of force than a reconfiguration of their meanings. Grounded in an understanding of territory that is more networked and dynamic, drone strikes reflect the emergence of a new landscape of mobile and ephemeral sovereignty.’)

Georgina Ramsay, ‘Incommensurable futures and displaced lives: sovereignty as control over time’, Public culture 29 (3) (2017) 515-38 (‘The recent mass displacement of refugees has been described internationally as a “crisis.” But crisis implies eventfulness: a distinct problem that can be solved. The urgency of solving this problem of displacement has seen the use of expansive techniques of sovereignty across Europe, the epicenter of the crisis. Focusing exclusively on the formation of sovereignty through the analytical locus of crisis continues, however, to reproduce the trope of the “refugee” as a category of exception. This essay considers the experiences of people who were resettled as refugees in Australia and whose displacement has ostensibly been resolved. Drawing attention to their continuing experiences of violence, it considers how the temporal framing of displacement is itself a way to conceal formations of sovereignty embedded in the very processes designed to resolve displacement. Doing so opens up new ways to think about control over time as a technique of sovereignty.’)

For an equally trenchant and invigorating critique of crisis-talk, see Joseph Masco‘s brilliant ‘The Crisis in Crisis’, Current Anthropology 58 Supplement 17 (2017) S65-S76, available on open access here. (‘In this essay I consider the current logics of crisis in American media cultures and politics. I argue that “crisis” has become a counterrevolutionary idiom in the twenty-first century, a means of stabilizing an existing condition rather than minimizing forms of violence across militarism, economy, and the environment. Assessing nuclear danger and climate danger, I critique and theorize the current standing of existential crisis as a mode of political mobilization and posit the contemporary terms for generating non-utopian but positive futurities.’)

Dima Saber and Paul Long, ‘”I will not leave, my freedom is more precious than my blood”: From affect to precarity – crowd-sourced citizen archives as memories of the Syrian war’, Archives and Records 38 (1) (2017) (‘Based on the authors’ mapping of citizen-generated footage from Daraa, the city where the Syria uprising started in March 2011, this article looks at the relation between crowd-sourced archives and processes of history making in times of war. It describes the ‘migrant journey’ of the Daraa archive, from its origins as an eyewitness documentation of the early days of the uprising, to its current status as a digital archive of the Syrian war. It also assesses the effects of digital technologies for rethinking the ways in which our societies bear witness and remember. By so doing, this article attempts to address the pitfalls attending the representation and narrativisation of an ongoing conflict, especially in the light of rising concerns on the precariousness and disappearance of the digital archives. Finally, by engaging with scholarship from archival studies, this article attempts to address the intellectual rift between humanities and archival studies scholars, and is conceived as a call for more collaboration between the two disciplines for a more constructive research on archival representations of conflict.’)

Climate change and the war in the Syria

For those of you interested in the debate over global climate change and the war in Syria, there is an important exchange published online in Political Geography 60 (2017).  It starts with an essay by Jan Selby, Omar Dahi, Christiane Frölich and Mike Hulme, ‘Climate change and the Syrian civil war revisited‘:

For proponents of the view that anthropogenic climate change will become a ‘threat multiplier’ for instability in the decades ahead, the Syrian civil war has become a recurring reference point, providing apparently compelling evidence that such conflict effects are already with us. According to this view, human-induced climatic change was a contributory factor in the extreme drought experienced within Syria prior to its civil war; this drought in turn led to large-scale migration; and this migration in turn exacerbated the socio-economic stresses that underpinned Syria’s descent into war. This article provides a systematic interrogation of these claims, and finds little merit to them. Amongst other things it shows that there is no clear and reliable evidence that anthropogenic climate change was a factor in Syria’s pre-civil war drought; that this drought did not cause anywhere near the scale of migration that is often alleged; and that there exists no solid evidence that drought migration pressures in Syria contributed to civil war onset. The Syria case, the article finds, does not support ‘threat multiplier’ views of the impacts of climate change; to the contrary, we conclude, policymakers, commentators and scholars alike should exercise far greater caution when drawing such linkages or when securitising climate change.

Several of those whose work is criticised in the essay respond: Colin Kelley, Shahrzad, Mark Cane, Richard Seager and Yochanan Kushnir (their original contribution ‘claim[s] climate as one of many contributing factors to the unrest’ and ‘nothing [in the critique] refutes this, and none of their supportable arguments even offer reason for doubting this view’), and Peter Gleick (‘While the authors note in a few places that the research studies they critique do not typically claim that climate change “caused” the Syrian unrest, they themselves regularly repeat that very argument as a strawman that they then try to debunk’).

There’s also a blue-helmet response from Cullen Hendrix:

I fear getting the Syrian case “right” – or at least correcting a flawed dominant narrative – will negatively affect discussions of environmental impacts on conflict in the policy sphere. Many will read this article as “all this talk of climate change and conflict is wrong,” when in fact the evidence supports a much more limited conclusion: the impact of climatic factors on the Syrian civil war is not entirely clear. But the dramatic nature of the Syrian civil war and the vocal nature of those linking it to climate change have caused this case to exert inordinate influence on how influential non-specialists and the general public view the relationship between climate change and conflict.

There’s also a robust rejoinder from the original authors:

Firstly, we wish to emphasise that nothing in our analysis or our other writings questions the fact of anthropogenic climate change (though this really should go without saying) [Sadly it doesn’t: see here]. Second, we wish to note that, though some may read our article as evidence that ‘all this talk of climate change and conflict is wrong’, as Hendrix fears, this is not our view. Most academic studies of climate-conflict linkages are much more careful in their use of evidence, and on issues of causation, than the studies interrogated here. Moreover, though there is room for debate on where, when and howclimate change will affect conflict, we do not doubt that it will do so. Given the scale and the range of challenges posed by global climate change, it would frankly be incredible if it did not have some significant conflict implications.

And yet there is a long, sad history of people making overblown claims about climate change and conflict, the Syria example – and Al Gore’s recent extension of it to explain the UK’s vote to exit the European Union – being clear cases in point. Climate conflict discourse has historically been much more policy- and media-than research-led, and indeed policymakers and journalists often show scant regard for academic nuance on these issues (see e.g. Selby & Hoffmann, 2014). In the Syria case, this problem has been accentuated by the readiness of certain natural scientists, most prominently the authors of Kelley et al. (2015), to feed this un-nuanced policy and public discourse while using evidence casually and failing to engage with relevant social scientific research. To this extent the main implication of our analysis is simple: that far greater care is required, since without such care there really is a risk of climate conflict talk fuelling climate scepticism.

My sound-bites don’t do justice to the debate, nor to its importance.

There’s also a commentary from the Center for Climate & Security (‘a non-partisan policy institute’ whose Advisory Board is stacked with Admirals and Generals: even if the Trump administration dismisses global climate change as a hoax invented by the Chinese, the Pentagon certainly doesn’t) here.

More on CCS from the Washington Post here.  The CCS was cited approvingly in a comic, “Syria’s Climate Conflict” (2014), produced by Years of Living Dangerously and Symbolia Magazine; you can access it via Mother Jones here.

If, like me, you wonder about the methodologies on which these arguments and counter-arguments rest, I recommend Thomas Ide, ‘Research methods for exploring the links between climate change and conflict‘, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 8 (3) (2017) to jump-start the debate.

Ice Cold in Alex

I think most of my research on medical care and casualty evacuation from the Western Front in the First World War is now complete, though there are still some loose ends to tie up and some more interviews/oral histories to listen to on-line courtesy of the wonderful Imperial War Museum.   So I spent much of the summer working on the very different situation in the deserts of North Africa during the Second World War: the material – at the IWM and the Wellcome Institute – is just as rich, though much less worked over.

If the First World War was the first industrialised war yet still  fought, for the most part, at short range, the campaigns in North Africa involved mechanised war fought over vast distances.  I had anticipated some of this in ‘The natures of war‘ (DOWNLOADS tab), particularly since some of my evidence was drawn from vivid accounts by volunteer ambulance drivers from the American Field Service working with the Allies, but now I’m finding that early essay on the entanglement of the desert terrain and the soldier’s body needs to be supplemented – often dramatically so – once the wounded body is brought into the centre of the frame.

The Battle of Egypt, 1942: New Zealand and Indian Infantry Casualties (Art.IWM ART LD 2722) image: Interior of a tent with casualties lying on stretchers, main figure with arm and leg in makeshift
traction Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

For the Western Front I’ve experimented with how to bring together the systems of evacuation that were put in place (with all their delays and dangers, imperfections and improvisations) with the wounded bodies that were moved through them, and – as regular readers will know – I’ve tried to incorporate the imbrications of those bodies with the changing and highly variable technological apparatus that made all this possible.  You can see some of my first attempts in Anatomy of another soldier

At the end of that essay, I worried about two issues: an anthropomorphism and a functionalism (in which everything that is pressed into service works inexorably to carry the soldier through the evacuation chain).

The spur for all this was Harry Parker‘s remarkable Anatomy of a soldier (see here and ‘Object lessons‘: DOWNLOADS tab), about the experience of a young British soldier who suffers traumatic blast injuries from an IED in Afghanistan.

But I’ve now found another, much earlier example that speaks directly to my work on North Africa.  And while the anthropomorphism remains a problem, as you’ll see the functionalism is much less secure – and for that very reason.

I’ve just finished Christopher Landon‘s Ice-Cold in Alex, a novel published in 1957 that provided the basis for J. Lee Thompson‘s celebrated film the following year, starring John Mills, Harry AndrewsSylvia Sims and Anthony Quayle.  (For a reading of the film, see Michael Leyshon and Catherine Brace, ‘Men and the desert: contested masculinities in Ice Cold in Alex’, Gender, place and culture 14 (2) (2007) 163-182).

The story describes a desperate drive in a British military ambulance from Tobruk, where the Afrika Korps is closing in, across the trackless desert to safety in Alexandria (and to a bar where the beer is always ‘ice-cold’).  Landon served with the 51st Field Ambulance and the Royal Army Service Corps in North Africa during the war, and knew what he was writing about.

Before the party sets off, Landon describes the Sergeant-Major lying underneath a lorry:

‘Above him, the bowels of the engine – gleaming crankshaft and loosened connecting rods , tied to the sides of the crank-case with wire – seemed to be grinning.  It was a challenging grin – “what’s wrong with me?”  He started back, up at the glint of metal, framed in the black space where the sump had been removed.  “It’s easier for doctors,” he thought.  “Patients can talk.  But machinery goes on uncomplaining, until it breaks.”‘

Later he has a similar conversation with one of the nurses they have been ordered to escort to Alexandria:

‘”Not so difficult, or different from your job.  They’re like humans, really.  If you give them the right food and drink – a dose occasionally – and don’t overwork them, they obey all the rules.”  He was moving the fan blades to and fro, feeling with the other hand behind it.  “The only trouble – and difference – is they can’t talk.  So that by the time you know they have a pain, it’s usually too late.”

But between these two passages Landon has given the ambulance a voice.

I’m going to be rehearsing these issues at a seminar tomorrow at the Wall – I’ll be interested to see how this year’s Scholars can  help me think this through….  And I’ll be posting more about my work on the Western Desert in the months ahead.

Aerial violence and the death of the battlefield

UBC’s term started last week, but I was in Nijmegen so I’ve started this week.  I’ve posted the revised outlines and bibliographies for my two courses this term under the TEACHING tab.

I was primarily in Nijmegen to give a ‘Radboud Reflects’/Humboldt Lecture.  As usual, I had a wonderful time; I’ve pasted the abstract below – though this was written before I had put the presentation together, so it doesn’t incorporate the closing section at all (“Geographies of the Remote”).  It draws, in part, on my Tanner Lectures, “Reach from the sky“, but it also incorporates new material [see, for example, my reflections on the Blackout here].

You can download the slides as a pdf here: GREGORY War at a distance Aerial violence and the death of the battlefield [this version includes several slides that I subsequently cut to bring the thing within bounds], and the video version will be available online shortly.

War at a distance: aerial violence and the death of the battlefield

Christopher Nolan’s film “Dunkirk” is remarkable for many reasons, but prominent among them is the fact that, as the director himself notes, ‘we don’t see the Germans in the film… it’s approached from the mechanics of survival rather than the politics of the event.’ This raises a series of important questions, but central to any understanding of aerial violence is precisely what can be seen and what cannot be seen: what can those crouching under the bombs see of the perpetrators, and what can those carrying out the strikes see of their targets? You might think this becomes even more important when war is conducted at a distance, but the history of military violence shows that ‘distance’ is a complicated thing…

The first large-scale use of aircraft for offensive purposes (rather than surveillance) was on the Western Front during the First World War, when aircraft were used to ‘spot’ targets for artillery and eventually to conduct bombing operations on the battlefield. But more consequential was the use of aircraft and airships to conduct bombing raids far beyond the battlefield, on cities like London and Paris, because this brought civilians directly into the line of fire and in doing so started to dissolve the idea of the battlefield [what Frédéric Mégret calls ‘the deconstruction of the battlefield‘] and to assault the very concept of a civilian. The bombing offensives of the Second World War, especially in Europe and Japan, accelerated this dismal process, but they also reveal a deadly dialectic between intimacy and domesticity (the effects on everyday life on the ‘home’ front) and abstraction (the way in which targets were produced and made visible to bomber crews).e

That same dialectic reappears in today’s drone operations over Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. But these new technologies of ‘war at a distance’ have their own history that overlaps and intersects with the story of manned flight. Indeed, the dream of ‘unmanned’ flight soared in lockstep with the dream of those extraordinary flying machines. This too goes back to the First World War, when inventors proposed ingenious aerial vehicles whose ‘bomb-dropping’ would be controlled by radio. These proved impractical until after the Second World War, when drones were used by the US to photograph and collect samples from atomic clouds in the Marshall Islands and Nevada [see here and here]. The over-arching principle was to protect American lives by keeping operators at a safe distance from their targets, and this is one of the logics animating contemporary drone strikes (‘projecting power without vulnerability’). But for this to work new technologies of target recognition as well as mission control were required; these were first developed during the Vietnam War, when the US Air Force tried to ‘wire’ the Ho Chi Minh Trail and connect its sensor systems to computers that would direct aircraft onto their targets (or, rather, target boxes).

The Pentagon looked forward to the installation of an ‘automated battlefield’ on a global scale [see my ‘Lines of Descent’, DOWNLOADS tab]. Although its plans were premature, the subsequent development of targeted killing using Predators and Reapers has since completed the dissolution of a distinctive battlefield: the United States Air Force boasts that it can put ‘warheads on foreheads’ and the US has claimed the right to pursue its targets wherever they go, so that (in Grégoire Chamayou’s words) ‘the body becomes the battlefield.’ These targeted bodies are at once abstract – reduced to digital traces, the products of a global system of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – and yet at the same time, by virtue of the high-resolution full-motion video feeds used to track them, peculiarly intimate to those that kill them. Drone pilots operate their aircraft from thousands of miles away, yet they are much ‘closer’ to their targets than pilots of conventional strike aircraft: previously, the only aerial vehicles to approach this level of intimacy, and then but fleetingly, were the Zeppelins of the First World War. But this intimacy is conditional and even illusory, and case studies [see here, here and here] show that as the battlefield transforms into the multi-dimensional battlespace the very idea of the civilian [see here and here] is put at increased risk.

All of this will appear, in extended and elaborated form, in my new book, also called “Reach from the sky”.

Outlawing war

An vitally important book by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro: The Internationalists: how a radical plan to outlaw war remade the world (Penguin/Simon & Schuster).  Hailed by Philippe Sands as ”A clarion call to preserve law and order across our planet”, it is all too timely:

A bold and provocative history of the men who fought to outlaw war and how an often overlooked treaty signed in 1928 was among the most transformative events in modern history.

On a hot summer afternoon in 1928, the leaders of the world assembled in Paris to outlaw war. Within the year, the treaty signed that day, known as the Peace Pact, had been ratified by nearly every state in the world. War, for the first time in history, had become illegal the world over. But the promise of that summer day was fleeting. Within a decade of its signing, each state that had gathered in Paris to renounce war was at war. And in the century that followed, the Peace Pact was dismissed as an act of folly and an unmistakable failure. This book argues that that understanding is inaccurate, and that the Peace Pact ushered in a sustained march toward peace that lasts to this day.

The Internationalists tells the story of the Peace Pact by placing it in the long history of international law from the seventeenth century through the present, tracing this rich history through a fascinating and diverse array of lawyers, politicians and intellectuals—Hugo Grotius, Nishi Amane, Salmon Levinson, James Shotwell, Sumner Welles, Carl Schmitt, Hersch Lauterpacht, and Sayyid Qutb. It tells of a centuries-long struggle of ideas over the role of war in a just world order. It details the brutal world of conflict the Peace Pact helped extinguish, and the subsequent era where tariffs and sanctions take the place of tanks and gunships.

The Internationalists examines with renewed appreciation an international system that has outlawed wars of aggression and brought unprecedented stability to the world map. Accessible and gripping, this book will change the way we view the history of the twentieth century—and how we must work together to protect the global order the internationalists fought to make possible.

You can read an extended essay by Oona, adapted from the book, via the Guardian here:

Today, perhaps more than at any time since 1945, the prohibition on use of force that has been the backbone of the international order for most of the last century is under attack. Indeed, it is in danger of collapsing – and taking the order it upholds down with it….

But international rules regarding the use of force are not a minor feature of the world we live in – and the fact that these rules have often been broken should not obscure how important they remain.

They are at the heart of some of the most beneficial transformations of the past 70 years, from the global decline in interstate conflict and combat deaths to the rising wealth and health that peace has allowed. With these rules at risk, the international community is facing a crisis of extraordinary proportions. Yet few people appreciate how serious and imminent the crisis is. Fewer still understand where these rules came from: a now-almost-forgotten agreement known as the Paris Peace Pact of 1928 that was eventually signed by all the nations of the world and had the immodest goal of outlawing war. In order to appreciate the magnitude of the threat, we must return to a world very different to our own, one in which the rules that we currently take for granted did not exist. The risk we face is reverting to this world, where might was right and war was legal.

You can read Louis Menand‘s extended review at the New Yorker here.

The fulcrum of the book is the Kellogg-Briand Pact (‘the Peace Pact’) of 27 August 1928; I opened my essay on ‘War and Peace’ [DOWNLOADS tab] with this extraordinary attempt to make war illegal, but I confess I knew little enough about it and now I see that my understanding was also spectacularly inadequate.  Read this book to find out why, but more importantly to think with the intellectual architect of the Pact, Salmon Levinson:

“The real disease of the world is the legality and availability of war.  We should have, not as now, laws of war, but laws against war; just as there are no laws of murder or of poisoning, but laws against them.”