Battle of the maps

Books & Ideas has a translated interview with Michel Foucher, ‘A world out of key’, on cartography and geopolitics.

Foucher is a former diplomat and now a professional geographer (though no doubt each requires the skills of the other).  A graduate of the Sorbonne, he was special envoy to the Balkans and the Caucasus (1999), adviser to the French Foreign Minister (1997-2002), head of the Policy Planning Staff of the Foreign Ministry (1999-2002), French Ambassador to Latvia (2002-2006), and Ambassador at large for European Issues (2007).  He is currently Director of Studies and Research at the Institut des hautes études de défense nationale and Professor of Applied Geopolitics at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.  At the 19th Festival of Geography he took part in a roundtable on ‘Les nouveaux territoires de la guerre’ (below; video here), and repeatedly invokes Clausewitz to insist that ‘the geographer is [the person] who looks over the hill’.

FOUCHER Nouveaux territoires de la guerre

Prolonging that martial note, the current interview is based on Foucher’s recent book, La bataille des cartes.  The analysis is conventional enough – though I like Foucher’s image of a ‘dissonant world’, which could be made to play off Edward Said‘s ‘contrapuntal geographies’ (hence the title of the interview).  It’s a wide-ranging discussion, from the meaning of geopolitics and questions about ‘strategic autonomy’ in our dissonant world, through reflections on territorialisation (and ‘maritimisation’ – works much better in French) and the power of imaginative geographies embedded in maps, to b/ordering and the implications of the Arab uprisings for the imaginaries installed by colonial cartographies.  (You can find an earlier interview on borders, security and identity here). The B&I translation is clunky in places, but it’s a good survey for a public audience.  Above all, Foucher is determined to counter the view that geography is what Jean-Claude Guillebaud called ‘a dead star’.

A Battle of Maps

As Stuart Elden noted, the project from which it derives is available not only as a book but in a digital version for the iPad, A Battle of the Maps, in either French or English. You can try it out free (‘Lite’ – just the first two sections) or download the full version here.

There’s an irony in all this; Foucher notes that ‘in an age dominated by screens’ the market depends on ‘the sham of “it’s true because it’s in colour”, a wordless geography’.  Foucher seeks to undo this cartographic rhetoric through 74 Le Monde Diplo-style  maps and accompanying text, and some of them – even in the free version – are suitably imaginative: ‘The world according to Standard & Poor’s’ or ‘The banker’s mental map’.  As Foucher notes, ‘geopolitical rhetoric enables experts who are neither geographers nor political scientists, still less cartographers, to seize commercial opportunities.’  And as those two maps also imply, many of them aren’t even experts….

Project Z

In 2010 James Der Derian (with David and Michael Udris) released Human Terrain, a film that explored the US Army’s Human Terrain Teams and its projected ‘cultural turn’ in counterinsurgency.

Human Terrain

‘Human Terrain’ is two stories in one. The first exposes a new Pentagon effort to enlist the best and the brightest in a struggle for hearts and minds. Facing long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military initiates ‘Human Terrain Systems’, a controversial program that seeks to make cultural awareness the centerpiece of the new counterinsurgency strategy. Designed to embed social scientists with combat troops, the program swiftly comes under attack as a misguided and unethical effort to gather intelligence and target enemies.   Gaining rare access to wargames in the Mojave Desert and training exercises at Quantico and Fort Leavenworth, ‘Human Terrain’ takes the viewer into the heart of the war machine and a shadowy collaboration between American academics and the military.

The other story is about a brilliant young scholar who leaves the university to join a Human Terrain team. After working as a humanitarian activist in the Western Sahara, Balkans, East Timor and elsewhere, and winning a Marshall Scholarship to study at Oxford, Michael Bhatia returns to Brown University to take up a visiting fellowship.  In the course of conducting research on military cultural awareness, he is recruited by the Human Terrain program and eventually embeds with the 82nd Airborne in eastern Afghanistan.  On the way to mediate an intertribal dispute, Bhatia is killed when his humvee hits a roadside bomb.

War becomes academic, academics go to war, and the personal tragically merges with the political, raising new questions about the ethics, effectiveness, and high costs of counterinsurgency.

Der Derian has now released a new film project, completed with Philip Gara, Project Z: the final global event.  The trailer (below) was released last month – at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 – and according to a press notice, its release was ‘in acknowledgement of a cascading series of related dates – from the 11/ fall of the Berlin Wall, to the 9/11 attacks in the US, to the Arab Spring’s 2/11/11 removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power.’

“If we don’t learn from these events, we’re headed for the final global event,” says head of the Global Media Project (GMP), James Der Derian, who is producing the film. Directed by Phil Gara ’08, a first-time filmmaker coming out of the GMP, the documentary features some of the world’s leading policy thinkers, military strategists, and critical theorists in an entirely new context, which they have embraced in the spirit of producing innovative global interest media that can reach new audiences.

And yes, “Z” stands for “Zombie.” As in, “we need to stop going around like the undead, wake up, and start making the tough decisions about how we want to live in a global community,” Der Derian says.

Trailer is here:

I’m grateful to Cathy Lutz for the information.

Drezner International politics and zombiesIn posting this, I’m mindful not only of Rob Sullivan‘s critical response to Trevor Paglen‘s The Last Pictures (incidentally, the URL gloriously converts Paglen to “Pagen”….) and all those interested in ‘zombie geographies‘… For a different take that none the less loops back to Der Derian’s concerns in both his films, see Gaston Gordillo‘s perceptive commentary on Marc Forster’s forthcoming film World Revolution Z, based on Max Brooks‘s novel:

Zombie epidemics and revolutionary situations share a similar spatiality: a territorial disintegration through which multitudes that do not take orders from the state dissolve state-controlled spaces. InWorld War Z and also on the hugely popular TV show The Walking Dead, the zombie multitudes create, through this territorial dissolution, an overwhelming spatial void that is first generated in urban centers and subsequently expands outwardly. As Lefebvre insisted, in an increasingly urbanized world the most radical insurrections are (and will be) urban phenomena. This is why the panoptic surveillance of urban space is a key priority of the imperial security apparatus, as Stephen Graham demonstrates in Cities under Siege. In The Walking Dead, the urban nature of the zombie insurrection is particularly apparent in the opening episodes, when the zombie takeover of the city of Atlanta forces survivors to flee to rural areas. In one scene, attack helicopters bombard the city with napalm, the epitome of counter-insurgency weapons. In subsequent episodes, the spatial voiding created by the collapse of the state acquires a particularly haunting presence. For months on end, the small band of survivors lives on the run, in hiding, always on the edge and with their weapons at the ready, suffocated by the spatial emptiness that surrounds them —a voiding not unlike the one experienced by imperial troops in terrains controlled by local insurgencies, be that of the jungles of South America in the 1600s or the mountains of Afghanistan today.

World War Z

From hotels to hostilities

I’m just back from a wonderful time at Ohio State giving the Taafe Lecture, and still trying to catch my breath: lots of good conversation and good company.  More on this later – as always, I learned much from the discussions, and I’m particularly grateful to Mat Coleman, Kevin Cox, Nancy Ettlinger, Ed Malecki, Becky Mansfield, Kendra McSweeney, Mary Thomas, Joel Wainwright and a stimulating crowd of graduate students for the warmth of their welcome and the range of their questions.

While I’ve been on the road, I learned of two new blogs whose most recent posts, when read together, prompt me to think about the multiple, terrible connections between military violence in Beirut and in Gaza – not least through the IDF’s so-called Dahiyah Doctrine, named after Beirut’s southern suburb that was devastated in the summer of 2006 , which calls for the use of overwhelming and disproportionate force and the deliberate targeting of government and civilian infrastructure (more on the legal armature from Richard Falk and Raji Sourani here).

Sara Fregonese and Adam Ramadan have started Everyday Geopolitics – it’s been running since October but I’ve only just caught up, and Sara’s most recent post on Beirut is a front-line report on her work on hotels and geopolitics.  If that seems a strange combination – and it isn’t – then check out her comments and photographs, and her essay ‘Between a refuge and a battleground: Beirut’s discrepant cosmopolitanisms’, Geographical Review, 102 (2012) 316–336.

Craig Jones has started War, Law and Space that opens with an important reflection on the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, the parallels with ‘Operation Cast Lead‘ in 2008, and the differential granting of the ‘right to self-defence’.

Incidentally, for anyone who thinks Israel ‘withdrew’ from Gaza in 2005, I particularly recommend the following:

Lori Allen, ‘The scales of occupation: Operation Cast Lead and the targeting of the Gaza Strip’, Critique of anthropology 32 (2012) 261-84;

Lisa Bhungalia, ‘Im/mobilities in a “Hostile Territory”: Managing the Red line’, Geopolitics 17 (2012) 256-75;

Shane Darcy and John Reynolds, ‘An enduring occupation: the status of the Gaza Strip from the perspective of International Humanitarian Law’, Journal of conflict and security law 15 (2010) 211-43;

Darryl Li, ‘The Gaza Strip as laboratory: notes in the wake of disengagement’, Journal of Palestine Studies 35 (2) (2006) 38-55;

Helga Tawil-Souri, ‘Digital occupation: Gaza’s hi-tech enclosure’, Journal of Palestine Studies 41 (2) (2012) 27-43.

If you don’t have time, then at least read Samera Esmeir on ‘Colonial experiments in Gaza’ at Jadaliyya here.  In the midst of the latest, horrific attacks, it’s vitally important to realise that violence can take many forms, and that Israel’s assaults on Gaza run even deeper than the overt and spectacular violence it metes out in its spasmodic military operations.  More on this soon too, and on Israel’s ongoing air strikes.

ASAP and experimental geopolitics

My last post trafficked, amongst other things, in a geography of time-space compression, so it’s time (and space) to introduce ASAP: a title chosen by Tina di Carlo, former curator of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a graduate of Eyal Weizman‘s Research Architecture programme at Goldsmith’s, to echo the English ‘as soon as possible’ – ‘to evoke a sense of urgency and speed where space collapses in time’ – and, more precisely, to signal the Archive of Spatial Aesthetics and Praxis.  Established in 2010, this is a virtual Aladdin’s cave of projects and practices, texts and objects.

You can fossick for your own favourites – everything is accessible from the starting grid – but here are two of mine.  The first is Teddy Cruzs Political Equator project.  This uses the US/Mexico border – specifically  Tijuana/San Diego – as a platform to describe an arc through other global borderlands all located between 30 and 36 degrees North:

Along this imaginary border encircling the globe lie some of the world’s most contested thresholds: the US–Mexico border at Tijuana/San Diego, the most intensified portal for immigration from Latin America to the United States; the Strait of Gibraltar, where waves of migration flow from North African flow into Europe; the Israeli-Palestinian border that divides the Middle East, along with the embattled frontiers of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and Jordan; the Line of Control between the Indian state of Kashmir and Azad or free Kashmir on the Pakistani side; the Taiwan Strait where relations between China and Taiwan are increasingly strained as the Pearl River Delta has rapidly ascended to the role of China’s economic gateway for the flow of foreign capital, supported by the traditional centers of Hong Kong and Shanghai and the paradigmatic transformations of the Chinese metropolis also characterized by urbanities of labor and surveillance.

You can find full details of the associated meetings (‘conversations’), videos and more at the project website here.

Second is Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s Museum of Non-Participation.   This is a travelling project that started in Islamabad in 2007.  The two artists watched the demonstrations by the Lawyers’ Movement against the dismissal of the Chief Justice by the Musharaf regime and the violent response by the military/police from a window in the National Art Gallery – more about the protests here and here – and went on to develop a multi-sited, multi-voiced project that has been staged in Karachi, in London’s Bethnal Green and elsewhere.  One of its central aims is to contest the dominant narrative (and geographical imagination) of Pakistan as a ‘rogue state’ and to find (in part, I think, through a contrapuntal rendering of London and Karachi) ‘other languages and other voices’ to convey everyday life under the sign of the postcolonial.

ASAP explains:

The Museum of Non Participation began as a critique and ultimately exploration of the political agency of the Museum through what the artists call the space of the NON… which is at once a radical critique of the Museum which often and has historically stood by as a mute witness [and [a redefinition] of [its] traditional architectural typology, transforming it from a shelter that houses objects to a literal sign that travels around.

You can download a detailed (30pp) feature from Kaleidoscope here.

The Museum was in Vancouver this month, where it included a screening of Deep State (2012) , a film developed in collaboration with China Miéville (and my thanks to Jorge Amigo for the notice). Here is a preview:

The film takes its title from the Turkish term ‘Derin Devlet’, meaning ‘state within the state’. Although its existence is impossible to verify, this shadowy nexus of special interests and covert relationships is the place where real power is said to reside, and where fundamental decisions are made – decisions that often run counter to the outward impression of democracy.

Amorphous and unseen, the influence of this deep state is glimpsed at regular points throughout the film – most clearly surfacing in its reflexive responses to popular protest, and in legislated acts of violence and containment, but also rumbling and reverberating, deeper down, in an eternally recurring call-and-response between rhetorical positions and counter-languages, in which a raised fist, a thrown rock, a crowd surge, an occupation provoke a corresponding reaction in the form of a police charge, a baton attack, a pepper spray, assassinations.
There’s an interview with Mirza and Butler about the film here, where Mirza explains that when she read Miéville’s The city in the city she was struck by the ‘condition of unseeing in the midst of seeing’ which is at the heart of the book. Miéville’s extraordinary combination of a radical reading of international law  – in his Between equal rights: a Marxist theory of international law (2006) and also, for example, here –and what he calls his ‘weird fiction’ was not only a ‘compelling combination’ but also a creative platform from which to develop a script and then the screenplay. Michael Turner provides both a sympathetic account of the Museum project and a spirited critique of the Vancouver screening here (there’s also a constructive response: scroll down).
You can, I hope, see why these two projects – from borderlands to international law – interest me.  They are also vivid examples of the connections Alan Ingram is so deftly pursuing between contemporary art and what he calls ‘experimental geopolitics’ (a term I find much more appealing than critical geopoltiics….)

Geography strikes back!

Jeremy Crampton has already trailed the launch of Robert D. Kaplan‘s new book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (Random House, 2012) over at Open Geography.  

Kaplan has long been a correspondent for The Atlantic; from 2006 to 2008, he was the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, and since 2008 he has been a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.  He is currently Chief Geopolitical Analyst for Stratfor, which claims that its analysts use ‘a unique, intel-based approach to study world affairs’, and yet where Revenge is praised for its revelation of ‘timeless truths and natural facts’ (for which you presumably don’t need ‘intel’).

You can get a sense of Kaplan’s core argument in the new book from an essay published under the same lead title in Foreign Policy in May/June 2009 –  though it doesn’t appear among the ‘Article Highlights’ on his website – which the Center for a New American Security called ‘eye-opening’.  Really.  Kaplan returned to the same theme in a ‘Saturday Essay’ in today’s Wall Street Journal called “Geography strikes back”: read it here (do scroll through the comments, but you may need a stiff drink as you do) and watch a WSJ video presentation here.  If that isn’t enough, Robert Merry cheers Kaplan on in The National Interest here.

Here’s the (eye-)opening paragraph from the WSJ:

If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don’t read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up—consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government’s aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all.

Hard to know where to begin, really.  For Kaplan location is absolute not relative – he is right to deride flat-earthers like Thomas Friedman, but immediately adds a qualification: ‘Technology has collapsed distance, but it has hardly negated geography’ – which is partly why his opening paragraph can represent maps as transparent windows into the world: ‘just the maps, ma’am.’ Forty years of critical cartography dismissed in a dizzying infatuation with The Map as Fact.

The geography that Kaplan seeks to resurrect is obdurately physical: he instructs us that the Carpathian Mountains ‘still separate’ the Balkans from Central Europe (as though ‘the Balkans’ and ‘Central Europe’ are written on the surface of the earth, just there, not political and cultural constructions).  Similarly, the friction of distance is, for him, a physical calibration whereas, as I’ve tried to argue in several recent posts, the tyranny that is exercised over distance is shot through with political, economic and cultural formations.

clutch of commentators have pointed out in what Foreign Policy called ‘the revenge of the geographers‘ that Kaplan’s geography is a perversely but proudly Victorian slash (the mot juste) Edwardian one, in which a combination of global geopolitics and environmentalism drives strategic state action (for another powerful critique, see Kyle Grayson at Chasing Dragons here and here and here).

From this optic Kaplan reads ‘culture’ more or less directly – and with a confidence that beggars belief – from ‘nature’ (what he calls “the physical facts-on-the-ground”).  Both, astonishingly, are “timeless”.  It’s not only the Carpathian Mountains that haven’t moved very much:

…we descend from Afghanistan’s high tableland to Pakistan’s steamy Indus River Valley. But the change of terrain is so gradual that, rather than being effectively separated by an international border, Afghanistan and Pakistan comprise the same Indo-Islamic world. From a geographical view, it seems naive to think that American diplomacy or military activity alone could divide these long-interconnected lands into two well-functioning states.

At one in an ‘Indo-Islamic world’ (sic) that is the creature of a common bio-physical geography.

But my favourite is this gem:

Even so seemingly modern a crisis as Europe’s financial woes is an expression of timeless geography. It is no accident that the capital cities of today’s European Union (Brussels, Maastricht, Strasbourg, The Hague) helped to form the heart of Charlemagne’s ninth-century empire. With the end of the classical world of Greece and Rome, history moved north. There, in the rich soils of protected forest clearings and along a shattered coastline open to the Atlantic, medieval Europe developed the informal power relations of feudalism and learned to take advantage of technologies like movable type.

Not surprisingly, Kaplan doesn’t suggest what the solution to the current crisis might be.  An appeal to the Pope is obviously out, so unless those tectonic plates get a move on, it’s hard to see how there can be one. Perhaps that accounts for the ‘Fate’ in the sub-title.

Kaplan’s website provides a couple of revealing pre-publication reviews.  Henry Kissinger agrees with the central thesis: ‘Geography has been the predominant factor in determining the fate of nations, from pharaonic Egypt to the Arab Spring.’  As we academics instruct our students, ‘Discuss’.  And the other, by Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group, says that ‘Kaplan wields geography like a scalpel’.  How very true.  But mind the blood.