War, law and visibilities

Two more forthcoming books on war.

Coming in May from Cambridge University Press, a book Richard Falk hails as ‘the most significant book on international law published in the last decade’, International law and New Wars by Christine Chinkin and Mary Kaldor:

International Law and New Wars examines how international law fails to address the contemporary experience of what are known as ‘new wars’ – instances of armed conflict and violence in places such as Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. International law, largely constructed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, rests to a great extent on the outmoded concept of war drawn from European experience – inter-state clashes involving battles between regular and identifiable armed forces. The book shows how different approaches are associated with different interpretations of international law, and, in some cases, this has dangerously weakened the legal restraints on war established after 1945. It puts forward a practical case for what it defines as second generation human security and the implications this carries for international law.

At 595 pages it’s clearly a blockbuster.  Here is the detailed Contents list:

Part I. Conceptual Framework:
1. Introduction
2. Sovereignty and the authority to use force
3. The relevance of international law
Part II. Jus ad Bellum:
4. Self-defence as a justification for war: the geopolitical and war on terror models
5. The humanitarian model for recourse to use force
Part III. Jus in Bello:
6. How force is used
7. Weapons
Part IV. Jus Post-Bellum:
8. ‘Post-conflict’ and governance
9. The liberal peace: peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding
10. Justice and accountability
Part V. The Way Forward:
11. Second generation human security
12. What does human security require of international law?

Coming in June from Rutgers University Press, In/Visible War: the culture of war in twenty-first century Americaedited by John Louis Lucaites and Jon Simons:

In/Visible War addresses a paradox of twenty-first century American warfare. The contemporary visual American experience of war is ubiquitous, and yet war is simultaneously invisible or absent; we lack a lived sense that “America” is at war. This paradox of in/visibility concerns the gap between the experiences of war zones and the visual, mediated experience of war in public, popular culture, which absents and renders invisible the former. Large portions of the domestic public experience war only at a distance. For these citizens, war seems abstract, or may even seem to have disappeared altogether due to a relative absence of visual images of casualties. Perhaps even more significantly, wars can be fought without sacrifice by the vast majority of Americans.
Yet, the normalization of twenty-first century war also renders it highly visible. War is made visible through popular, commercial, mediated culture. The spectacle of war occupies the contemporary public sphere in the forms of celebrations at athletic events and in films, video games, and other media, coming together as MIME, the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network.

Here’s the main Contents List:

Part I: Seeing War

Chapter 1: How Photojournalism Has Framed the War in Afghanistan – David Campbell Chapter 2: Returning Soldiers and the In/visibility of Combat Trauma – Christopher J. Gilbert and John Louis Lucaites Chapter 3: (Re)fashioning PTSD’s Warrior Project – Jeremy G. Gordon Chapter 4: Unremarkable Suffering: Banality, Spectatorship, and War’s In/visibilities – Rebecca A. Adelman and Wendy Kozol “War Is Fun,” a Photo-Essay – Nina Berman Chapter 5: Laying bin Laden to Rest: A Case Study of Terrorism and the Politics of Visibility – Jody Madeira

Part II: Not Seeing War

Chapter 6: Digital War and the Public Mind: Call of Duty Reloaded, Decoded – Roger Stahl Chapter 7: A Cinema of Consolation: Post-9/11 Super Invasion Fantasy – De Witt Douglas Kilgore Chapter 8: Differential Configurations: In/visibility through the Lens of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) – Claudia Breger Chapter 9: Canine Rescue, Civilian Casualties, and the Long Gulf War – Purnima BosePart III:

Theorizing the In/visibility of War 

Chapter 10: The In/visibility of Liberal Peace: Perpetual Peace and Enduring Freedom – Jon Simons Chapter 11: Why War? Baudrillard, Derrida, and the Absolute Televisual Image – Diane Rubenstein Chapter 12: War in the Twenty-first Century: Visible, Invisible, or Superpositional? – James Der Derian

The nuclear wastelands and cyberwar

I’m in Toronto, enjoying ‘Through Post-Atomic Eyes‘ enormously: wide-ranging yet focused, creative and critical, and above all wonderfully welcoming.  I’m also relieved – I’ve only been wandering in the nuclear wastelands for a matter of months, and being surrounded by scholars and artists who know so much more about these vexed issues has been truly invigorating.  I’ll post the slides from my presentation shortly – in the meantime, see here and here – but while I was searching for images I re-discovered this cover from The Economist:


Since my own presentation tried to sort out the entangled geographies of nuclear weapons and drones, I would be the very last person to object to the continuity conjured up by The Economist‘s apocalyptic vision: in fact yesterday both Joseph Masco and James Bridle in two sparkling presentations emphasised the intimacy of  the connections between computing, nuclear testing and the security state.

So it seems appropriate that my  e-flânerie should also have led me to a special issue of CyberOrient, edited by Helga Tawil-Souri, is appropriately online now (and open access), devoted to cyberwarfare:

This special issue of CyberOrient engages with the relationships between “cyber” and “real” battlespaces, the mediatization of war, the need to expand our definition of warzones, and the importance of asking who participates in wars, to what ends, using what kinds of technologies, and for what purposes. Taken together, the five essays demonstrate the expansion and blurring of the spaces of war. As importantly, they highlight that even warfare that is “only” fought in the virtual realm is laced with violent intents and real-life repercussions. Not only can we not separate the cyber from the real so neatly, but we must not overlook that no matter how we wish to classify “new” or cyber wars, it is citizens, along with their ways of life and their cultural records, that continue to be by far the largest losers.



Helga Tawil-Souri, Problematizing Cyberwarfare

Donatella Della Ratta, Violence and visibility in contemporary Syria: an ethnography of the “expanded places

Ruth Tsuria, Islamophobia in online Arab media

Emily Fekete, The shifting nature of cyberwarfare in Middle Eastern states

Attila Kovacs, Visual representation, propaganda and cyberspace: the case of the Palestinian Islamist movements

Christoph Günter, Presenting the glossy look of warfare in cyberspace – the Islamic State’s magazine Dabiq

War against the people

I’ve long admired Jeff Halper‘s work with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (though to me, haunted by the passages from The poetics of place that Edward Said invokes in Orientalism,  ‘home demolition’s would carry even more resonance: it’s so much more than buildings that the Israelis so brutally turn to rubble).


Jeff’s classic, even canonical essay on ‘the matrix of control‘ (see also here) was a constant reference point for my chapters on occupied Palestine in The Colonial Present, and on my first visit to the West Bank I was part of a group that Jeff generously spent a day showing the materialities of military occupation and illegal colonisation: you think you know what you’re going to see, but all the reading in the world can’t prepare you for what Israel has done – and continues to do – to the people of Palestine.


So I’m really pleased to hear from Jeff that his new book, War against the people: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification, will be out in September (from Pluto Press in the UK and via the University of Chicago Press in the USA):

Modern warfare has a new form. The days of international combat are fading. So how do major world powers maintain control over their people today?

HALPER War against the peopleWar Against the People is a disturbing insight into the new ways world powers such as the US, Israel, Britain and China forge war today. It is a subliminal war of surveillance and whitewashed terror, conducted through new, high-tech military apparatuses, designed and first used in Israel against the Palestinian population. Including hidden camera systems, sophisticated sensors, information databases on civilian activity, automated targeting systems and, in some cases, unmanned drones, it is used to control the very people the nation’s leaders profess to serve.

Drawing from years of research, as well as investigations and interviews conducted at international arms fairs, Jeff Halper reveals that this practice is much more insidious than was previously thought. As Western governments tighten the grip on their use of private information and claw back individual liberties, War Against the People is a timely reminder that fundamental human rights are being compromised for vast sections of the world, and that this is a subject that should concern everyone.

I’ve noted before the ways in which Israel has used its continuing occupation of Palestine as a laboratory to test new technologies of military violence – and as a series of test cases designed to push the envelope of what is permissible under international humanitarian law and even international human rights law – but here Jeff radicalises the argument to develop a deeply disturbing vision of what he calls ‘securocratic wars in global battlespace’.  It’s vitally necessary to remember that later modern war is not the exclusive artefact of the United States and its military-academic-industrial-media (MAIM) complex, and that what happens in Israel/Palestine has desperately important implications for all of us.

Many commentators have claimed – I think wrongly – that one of the new characteristics of war in the twenty-first century is that it has become ‘war amongst the people’: as though No Man’s Land on the Western Front was somehow roped off from the gas attacks and shells that assaulted farms, villages and towns behind the front lines, for example, and air raids were limited to exclusively military-industrial targets.  Even if we confine ourselves to the trajectory of ostensibly modern warfare and track forward through the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia…. the story is the same: modern war has long been fought amongst the people (though increasingly amongst ‘their’ people).  The deconstruction of the battlefield, as Frédéric Mégret calls it, is clearly visible in Palestine and is inseparable from its globalization.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that ‘war amongst the people’ should so easily turn into what Jeff describes as ‘war against the people’.

Here is the list of contents:

Introduction : How Does Israel Get Away With It?

Part I: The Global Pacification Industry
1. Enforcing Hegemony: Securocratic Wars in Global Battlespace

Part II: A Pivotal Israel
2. Why Israel? The Thrust Into Global Involvement
3. Niche-Filling in a Global Matrix of Control

Part III: Weaponry of Hybrid Warfare and Securocratic Control (Niche 1)
4. Niche 1: Weaponry of Hybrid Warfare and Securocratic Control
5. Dominant Maneuver
6. Precision Engagement

Part IV: Securitization and “Sufficient Pacification” (Niche 2)
7. Niche 2: The Securocratic Dimension: A Model of “Sufficient Pacification”
8. Operational Doctrines and Tactics

Part V: Serving Hegemons Throughout the World-System
9. Serving the Hegemons on the Peripheries: The “Near” Periphery
10. Security Politics on the “Far” Periphery
11. The Private Sector

Part VI: Domestic Securitization and Policing
12. Serving the Core’s Ruling Classes “At Home”

Conclusions: Mounting Counterhegemonic Challenges and Resisting Pacification
Resisting Capitalist Hegemony and Pacification: The Need for Infrastructure
Resistance to Pacification: Focusing on the MISSILE Complex

Unlawful combatants

Unlawful combatantsI know several friends are interested (critically) in Carl Schmitt‘s Theory of the Partisan (see also Jan-Werner Müller‘s commentary here), but Sibylle Scheipers has now provided an indispensable genealogy of these often shadowy figures and their late modern incarnations: Unlawful Combatants: a genealogy of the irregular fighter (Oxford, 2015).

Unlawful Combatants brings the study of irregular warfare back into the centre of war studies. The experience of recent and current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria showed that the status and the treatment of irregular fighters is one of the most central and intricate practical problems of contemporary warfare. Yet, the current literature in strategic studies and international relations more broadly does not problematize the dichotomy between the regular and the irregular. Rather, it tends to take it for granted and even reproduces it by depicting irregular warfare as a deviation from the norm of conventional, inter-state warfare. In this context, irregular warfare is often referred to as the ‘new wars’ and is associated with the erosion of statehood and sovereignty more generally. This obscures the fact that irregulars such as rebels, guerrillas, insurgents and terrorist groups have a far more ambiguous relationship to the state than the dichotomy between the state and ‘non-state’ actors implies. They often originate from states, are supported by states and/or aspire to statehood themselves.

The ambiguous relationship between irregular fighters and the state is the focus of the book. It explores how the category of the irregular fighter evolved as the conceptual opposite of the regular armed forces, and how this emergence was tied to the evolution of the nation state and its conscripted mass armies at the end of the eighteenth century. It traces the development of the dichotomy of the irregular and the regular, which found its foremost expression in the modern law of armed conflict, into the twenty-first century and provides a critique of the concept of the ‘unlawful combatant’ as it emerged in the framework of the ‘war on terror’.

Here is the Contents list:

1: Introduction
2: The Making of the Irregular Fighter, 1740-1815
3: The Nineteenth Century: Rebels, Rifles, and the Laws of War
4: The Second World War: Anti-Partisan Warfare, Genocide, and the Rebirth of the Auxiliary Fighter
5: Wars in the Colonies: Orientalism and the Social Production of Colonial Subjects
6: Irregular Fighters in the Twenty-first Century: Between ‘Unlawful Combatants’ and ‘Rebel’ Auxiliaries
7: Conclusion

The book is a product of the Changing Character of War programme at the University of Oxford, where Sibylle was Director of Studies until she moved to St Andrews in 2011.

Conflicts without borders

In Finland last month I gave a presentation on Law, violence and b/ordering, in which I began by making two preliminary points about border crossings and (para)military violence: trans-border incursions and transgressions have been facilitated by (i) new stealth technologies deployed by state actors and (ii)  the rise of new non-state and para-state actors.  Here are the relevant slides:

GREGORY 2 Law, violence and b:ordering.001

GREGORY 2 Law, violence and b:ordering.002

GREGORY 2 Law, violence and b:ordering.003

GREGORY Law, violence and b:ordering.003

I derived the map showing the advance of IS(IS)/ISIL from the Institute for the Study of War; say what you like about their politics (this is the Kagans we are talking about), their maps and summaries are extremely helpful.

Now Public Intelligence has just published a series of (unclassified) maps of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan produced by the Humanitarian Information Unit of the US State Department called Conflicts Without Borders:

‘Conflicts Without Borders refers to a conflict in one country that draws in other governments and non-state actors, exacerbates stresses and conflicts in the neighbouring countries, and generates displacement across borders.’

That’s a definition to think about; there are obvious ironies in the US offering a definition that I suspect is intended to exclude its own part in initiating conflicts (if so, it doesn’t work), and there is the interesting attribution of causal powers to conflicts (which ‘draw in’ other actors like so many black holes).

This map series is dated 9 October 2014; the maps provide a Regional Overview (the first map below) and then show Northern Syria and Turkey, Western Syria and Lebanon, Southern Syria and Jordan and Eastern Syria and Iraq (the second map below).


DoS-Iraq and Syria-ISIL

You can access a single summary map for late June here (shown below):

DoS Iraq Syria Conflict June 2014

Peace in our time

I’ve talked about charting armed conflict around the world before.  Max Rosen has a series of data visualisations – ‘Our World in Data‘ – including several on war and peace.  They include this one, drawn from multiple sources and collated (and designed) by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, showing global war deaths – the size of the bubble refers to the proportion of the world population killed:


There are of course all sorts of problems in this sort of exercise – calculating ‘war deaths’ is a political and intellectual minefield of its own – but you can find the sources used for the graphic here (click on the button on the right).

You can also download the Hague Centre’s graphics in a single pdf, ‘Peace and Conflict across time’, here (again, click on the button on the right): the display arranges the graphics into two sets – ‘Decline of Conflict’ and ‘Drivers of Peace’.  No doubt Stephen Pinker would approve.

Max provides a more detailed analysis of conflicts post-1945 here, including this image (which extends only to 2004), and which is precisely the sort of thing that has licensed the debates over the decline of inter-state wars and the rise of (often transnational) ‘new wars’:

State-based armed conflicts

Before cheering the demise of inter-state war, however, we need to reflect on the multiple ways in which states and their advanced militaries are able to inflict violence by stealth (including cyber-attack), by proxy and by other other means (including economic warfare)…

The Days of the Roundtable

I’m very pleased (and relieved) to say that I’ve received two new grants for my work.

The first is an Insight Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council for my project on Medical-military machines and casualties of war 1914-2014.  I’ve provided an illustrated version of the substance of the application under the DOWNLOADS tab.  The plan is to explore the human geographies of evacuation and treatment of casualties, both combatant and civilian, in four major combat zones: the Western Front 1914-1918; the Western Desert, 1942-1943; Vietnam; and Afghanistan.  Since submitting my application, though, I’ve also become interested in the medical geographies (what my good friend Omar Dewachi calls the ‘therapeutic geographies‘) in which people suffering from both war-related injuries and chronic diseases in Syria make their precarious journeys into Lebanon and Jordan for treatment.  All that in four years…

PRT Farah Conducts Medical Evacuation Training with Charlie Co., 2-211th Aviation Regiment at Forward Operating Base Farah

The second is a grant from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC to support an International Research Roundtable in May 2015 on The contours of later modern war.  This will be an invitation-only event (the grant provides for travel and accommodation for each participant), but here is the pitch.  I wrote this in an hour just before leaving for Glasgow, so forgive the rough edges:


Commentators often insist that in recent years the nature of war has been transformed. Military historians who address this question display a fine-grained sensitivity to the details of armed conflict, but the imaginative (theoretical) framework they deploy usually returns to Clausewitz’s nineteenth-century theses On War. Philosophers and social scientists work with a more refined theoretical apparatus, though too often this seems to be confined to annotations of Foucault’s Paris lectures in the 1970s, and yet – unlike Foucault himself – they typically show little interest in the specifities and materialities of armed conflict. The Roundtable seeks to finesse this impasse by bringing together a group of scholars, each of whom has demonstrated both a theoretical and an empirical sensibility, to consider crucial questions about the transformations of modern war.

CREVELD Changing face of warThe objective is not to identify a single rupture – the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, the wars conducted in the wake of 9/11 – but to recognize that multiple temporalities are at work so that there are both continuities and contrasts to be identified and understood. Similarly, later modern war cannot be reduced to arguments about the Revolution in Military Affairs and its successor projects, which have indeed changed advanced military operations in all sorts of ways, or to the ‘new wars’ supposedly waged by non-state actors in the rubble of the Cold War and in the peripheries of empire: these twin modalities need to be thought together to provide a more inclusive understanding of the shifting contours of military and paramilitary violence.

In speaking of ‘later modern war’ the intention is to avoid the now tired discussions of the postmodern (what comes after that?), while indicating that the closing decades of the twentieth century witnessed a series of changes – political and legal, social and cultural, scientific and technical, legal and ethical – that started to distance armed conflict from the forms it had assumed during the First and Second World Wars. The term also suggests connections to the logics of what is sometimes called ‘late capitalism’ and to the evolving impositions of neo-liberal political and economic formations.

STRACHAN Changing character of warAdvanced militaries often claim that their conduct of war has become surgical, sensitive and scrupulous. The first of these relies on technical advances in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (much of which now takes the form of geospatial intelligence and high-resolution, near real-time imagery) and on advances in military networks, targeting and weapons systems. The second involves the incorporation of cultural knowledge into asymmetric warfare and counter-insurgency, but it also involves a new sensitivity to public opinion: thus media operations have become central to military campaigns in an attempt to win support from populations both at home and abroad. There is also an increasing sensitivity to casualties, both combatant and civilian, and many commentators have spoken of the humanitarian armature that attends contemporary military interventions as a new ‘military humanism’. Finally, and following directly from these observations, contemporary military power is supposed to be characterized by a heightened ethical awareness and the unprecedented incorporation of international law (and military lawyers) into its operational decisions.


All of these claims invite critical scrutiny, to recover their developing genealogies (how novel are they?) and to evaluate their practical consequences (what are their material effects?). They assume particular importance as interstate wars have declined, and transnational conflicts have become the dominant modality of armed conflict, as ‘war’ bleeds into terrorism, counter-terrorism and new modes of transnational policing. These changes in turn affect the sites and locations of military violence, and these in turn may be transformed not only by geopolitics and military power but also by global environmental change and the political ecologies of war. In short: is the locus of war shifting in decisive ways?


The Roundtable will address these questions through four intersecting and interlocking themes that allow for theoretical interrogation and empirical scrutiny: each of these is a stark signpost but its simplicity allows multiple questions (and the connections between them) to be addressed under each heading. In capsule form these are:

IMAGE – the role of imagery (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance); the images of war that circulate through media, old and new, and their role in public debate;
AGENT – the agents and vectors of military and paramilitary violence; the changing human/technological assemblages through which war is conducted;
VICTIM – the casualties of war (the dead, the wounded, the captured, the displaced); the political, cultural and legal armatures that regulate military and paramilitary violence;
LOCUS – the changing targets, spaces and ecologies of war

When they accept the invitation, each participant will be asked to provide a one-paragraph summary of their present research for posting on a dedicated website. Four weeks before the Roundtable everyone will provide a short (six page maximum) essay, written in an accessible and reference-free form, illustrated as appropriate, and drawing from their work. These may address the theme of the Roundtable in general or in detail, and will be posted on the website. Formal papers will not be presented: the emphasis will on discussion and debate.

There will be four main sessions addressing each of the four key themes:

Day 1:  Arrival

Day 2:

Morning – Walking Seminar (Stanley Park): participants will walk the Seawall as a group but in pairs, changing every 20-30 minutes, to share their research and ideas with one another.

Afternoon – IMAGE (discussion led by four participants)

Day 3:

Morning – AGENT (discussion led by four participants)

Afternoon – VICTIM (discussion led by four participants)

Evening – Public Performance: Either a staged reading of Owen Sheers’ radio play Pink Mist [about soldiers returning from Afghanistan] or George Brant’s Grounded [about a female drone operator], to be followed by public discussion led by scholars on either the Wounds of War or Drone warfare

Day 4:

Morning – Exchanges: small-group discussions (informal) about the key themes and to plan future collaborations and research projects

Afternoon – LOCUS (discussion led by four participants)

Evening – Roundtable Dinner

Day 5:  Dispersal

I also want to invite one or two visual artists to attend the Roundtable, both to take part – the visual is a vital register for both the conduct and the critique of modern war – but also to use the discussions as a provocation for their subsequent work (to be posted on and/or linked via the website).

I’ll keep you posted – I’m immensely grateful to Janis Sarra, Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, and to my colleagues and friends for their support and encouragement.

I’ll keep you posted.

Mapping violent conflict

The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research has published its Conflict Barometer for 2013:

Violent conflicts 2013 HEIDELBERG

The full report can be downloaded here; it includes a detailed explanation of methodology and sources, many more maps, and a series of detailed regional surveys.

There are, of course, many other projects that attempt to monitor the macro-geography of armed conflict that also make their databases available for research, including the Correlates of War project (data from 1816 on), the Armed Conflict Dataset maintained by UCDP/PRIO (see also here; data from 1946 on) – both these are global – and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which provides a much more detailed, sub-regional mapping and claims to be ‘the most comprehensive public collection of political violence data for developing states.’  I’ve pasted an example of their sub-regional mapping below; the original is here, along with others for the DRC and Zimbabwe, while maps plotting the activities of Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and other conflicts are available here and here.


I also greatly admire the Event Data on Conflict and Security (EDACS) produced by Sven Chojnacki and his colleagues in Berlin, and the disaggregated analyses they provide.  Like ACLED, this also includes a remarkably detailed time-space analysis of violence in Somalia:


You can find out more about the project from the special issue of International Interactions 38: 4 (2012) on Event Data in the Study of Conflict.

Urban guerrillas

I’ve noted David Kilcullen‘s adventures into geography before, and the entanglement of his vision of counterinsurgency with the humanitarian present – here and here – and over at Gizmodo Geoff Manaugh (of the always interesting and enviably imaginative BLDGBLOG) has an interesting commentary on Kilcullen’s new book, Out of the Mountains: the coming age of the urban guerrilla (Hurst/Oxford University Press USA, 2013.  An extended excerpt is available here, if you scroll down, and a presentation on “The city as a system: future conflict and urban resilience” from last year is available here.

KILCULLEN Out of the mountains

Back to Geoff:

Kilcullen’s overall thesis is a compelling one: remote desert battlegrounds and impenetrable mountain tribal areas are not, in fact, where we will encounter the violence of tomorrow. For Kilcullen—indeed, for many military theorists writing today—the war in Afghanistan was not the new normal, but a kind of geographic fluke, an anomaly in the otherwise clear trend for conflicts of an increasingly urban nature.

The very title of Kilcullen’s book—Out of the Mountains—suggests this. War is coming down from the wild edges of the world, driving back toward our lights and buildings from the unstructured void of the desert, and arriving, at full force, in the hearts of our cities, in our markets and streets. There, conflict erupts amongst already weak or non-existent governments, in the shadow of brittle infrastructure, and what Mike Davis calls “the nightmare of endless warfare in the slums of the world” in his blurb for Kilcullen’s work, becomes uncomfortably close to reality.

Strictly speaking, Geoff’s commentary derives from a talk Kilcullen gave at the World Policy Institute, one of a large number of public appearances to promote the book on both sides of the Atlantic; here is a transcript of his talk at Chatham House, and here is his presentation to the New America Foundation last month, introduced by Peter Bergen:

Geoff is not completely convinced by it.  Some of the themes will be familiar to most readers – the bleeding of war into crime has been a staple of the ‘new wars’ thesis, for example – and you can hear distant echoes of Saskia Sassen‘s ideas about cities and later modern war.  More particularly, Steve Graham‘s brilliant work on the new military urbanism addresses many of the same issues Kilcullen raises – as Kilcullen notes himself – though he does so in a markedly different vocabulary: Geoff and I have crossed swords over this before, but while he describes “feral cities” as ‘one of my favorite phrases of all time’ I think it’s dehumanizing – though I do understand that’s exactly not Geoff’s intention).

Geoff is also (I think rightly) sceptical about the aerial-algorithmic intervention that Kilcullen touted at the WPI:

‘During the Q&A, Kilcullen briefly mentioned the work of Crisis Mappers, who have developed tools for visually analyzing urban form using satellite photos. According to Kilcullen, they are able to do this with an astonishing degree of accuracy, diagnosing what parts of cities seem most prone to failure. Whether this is due to empty lots and abandoned buildings or to infrastructural isolation from the rest of the city, the factors that determine “ferality” in the built environment is a kind of aerial application of the Broken Windows theory.

The implication—conceptually fascinating, but by no means convincing, at least for me—was that we could, in theory, develop a visual algorithm for identifying environments tending toward failure, and thus find a way to intervene before things truly fall apart. Teams of architects with their own dedicated satellites could thus scan the cities of the world from above, algorithmically identifying urban regions prone to collapse, then intervening with a neighborhood redesign.’

Have we learned nothing from almost a decade of remote-surveillance ISR and algorithmic counterinsurgency in which maps and metrics substitute for meaning?  And while the attacks in Nairobi confirm the city as a continuing arena of military and paramilitary violence in the twenty-first century, they surely can’t be directly assimilated to a ‘feral city’ thesis (though Kilcullen does his best here)?  We’ll see: I’m part way through the book, and will post a more considered response when I’m done.

The new peace

The text of a lecture given by Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance at the LSE,  at Tufts University on October 2012, when she was awarded the Dr Jean Mayer Global Citizens Award, named for Tufts’ former President and Chancellor.  The lecture also coincided with the publication of the third edition of Kaldor’s New and Old Wars: organized violence in a global era.

She emphasises that this lecture is a work in progress, a way-station en route to a book she is writing with Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law who is also at the LSE.  Building on her discussion of ‘new wars’, and on her collaboration with Shannon Beebe, The ultimate weapon is no weapon: Human security and the new rules of war and peace, Kaldor argues for a ‘new peace’ in these terms:

I am arguing for international law that prohibits the use of force, as in domestic contexts, except in the very limited case of individual self-defence. The only argument for the international use of force is the scaling up of individual self-defence, e.g. genocide or massive violations of human rights. But in this case, the conduct of force is not the same as war-fighting. It is defensive, aimed at protection. Those responsible for the attacks are to be arrested where possible rather than killed. Any international use of force would take place under the authority of a reformed United Nations Security Council. Such an approach would require something like international emergency services rather like in a domestic context, we have police, fire fighters and emergency medical services.

In case this sounds excessively utopian, it is worth noting that something along these lines has been developing in parallel with the War on Terror. All sorts of new techniques have been developed in wars in the Balkans and Africa – safe havens, humanitarian corridors, the establishment of courts to try war crimes. New types of security capabilities are being developed by the European Union and in the thinking about civilian protection in the United Nations. New commitments to humanitarian intervention or Responsibility to Protect have been adopted by the African Union. Many international missions, not all successful of course, have been taking place alongside the War on Terror and have involved a learning experience. We tend to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan because they are so visible but they may well turn out to be exceptions as a consequence of a more traditional war-fighting military intervention.

To put it more simply, in difficult situations like for example Syria, it is important to identify an alternative between old-fashioned military intervention where the aim is to win and where many get killed and there is a risk of escalation, and doing nothing. Or in the case of the War on Terror, it is about taking the problem of terrorism seriously. When terrorists are treated as enemies in a war, they are elevated and legitimised. In the case of the drone attacks, for example, it is not just a problem that mistakes are made and civilians sometimes get killed, more importantly, it escalates the violence. It provides an argument and justification for mobilising more recruits to extremist causes. What I worry about is that the combination of the economic crisis and what is happening the Middle East could portend a spreading protracted new war in large parts of the world.

I think there is a slippage between the first and last paragraphs of this extract: to claim that, in the circumstances Kaldor outlines, ‘the conduct of force is not the same as war-fighting’ is to ring-fence ‘war’ in ways that are increasingly problematic, as that last sentence concedes.  And to assume that a re-calibrated international law can somehow insulate the one from the other is utopian, isn’t it?