Security Theatre

Security Theatre

At the Or Gallery, 555 Hamilton Street, Vancouver: Security Theatre, an exhibition featuring works by Karl Burke, Harun Farocki, An-My Lê and the Bureau of Inverse Technology.

Security Theatre revolves around methods of simulation and documentation and their hold on respective truth claims about modern war. Specifically, this exhibition looks at how modern warfare is rationalised, remembered and portrayed across image based media such as electronic games, video and photography. The exhibition examines how these systems manifest and evolve into the 21st century, which sees war increasingly fought by proxy and through remote digital means. While claims of possessing the humanist high ground remain tied to the Western Bloc, they are no longer linked to the policy of deterrence seen in the 20th century, but instead are tied to myths of precision and expedience in a preemptive first strike context. Just as there were efforts in the 20th century to socialise people to the omnipresent threats of nuclearism, so too is there an effort to socialise people to the endless need for conflict underwritten by the ubiquitous threat of terrorist states and actors. This requires the creation of dissociative mental states. While the past mass dissociation of the Cold War addressed the need to prevent nuclear war by preparing for it, today’s dissociation follows the need to prevent terrorism by engaging in it. The technology used and the social conditions required were developed incrementally with the aid of experts in various fields, with the aim of gaining either tacit or explicit endorsement of so-called “security policies” which are largely maintained through obfuscation and manipulation. The artists included use media and techniques that provide an intrinsic sense of objective documentation when making reference to armed conflict and related events, which interpret and manage expectations of modern war.

The exhibition opens on 13 May and runs to 18 June; the gallery is open 1200-1700 Tuesday-Saturday, and admission is free.  More information (including profiles of the artists) here.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”

Eyal Weizman‘s stunning Wall Exchange, “Forensic Architecture”, which he presented at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver earlier this month, is now up on YouTube here and embedded below.

If you are puzzled by my riff on Joni Mitchell, start around 46:10 (though you’ll miss a lot if you do…).

And while we’re on the subject of clouds, you’ll find a remarkable analysis of a different sort of militarized cloud in Tung-Hui Hu‘s A Prehistory of the Cloud from MIT:

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

Hu shows that the cloud grew out of such older networks as railroad tracks, sewer lines, and television circuits. He describes key moments in the prehistory of the cloud, from the game “Spacewar” as exemplar of time-sharing computers to Cold War bunkers that were later reused as data centers. Countering the popular perception of a new “cloudlike” political power that is dispersed and immaterial, Hu argues that the cloud grafts digital technologies onto older ways of exerting power over a population. But because we invest the cloud with cultural fantasies about security and participation, we fail to recognize its militarized origins and ideology. Moving between the materiality of the technology itself and its cultural rhetoric, Hu’s account offers a set of new tools for rethinking the contemporary digital environment.

Prehistory of the Cloud

Here is Lisa Parks on what is surely one of the must-reads of the year:

“Hu’s riveting genealogy of the cloud takes us into its precursors and politics, and boldly demonstrates how fantasies of sovereignty, security, and participation are bound up in it. Much more than a data center, the cloud is a diffuse and invisible structure of power that has yielded a data-centric order. Imaginative and lucidly written, this book will be core to digital media studies.”

Gravity modelling

Mediterranean migration crisis (HRW) MAP

The latest issue of Radical Philosophy (192, July/August 2015) is out now, and it includes a short essay by Martina Tazzioli, ‘The politics of counting and the scene of rescue: Border deaths in the Mediterranean’ (see also my post about The Left to Die Boat).  Her commentary adds new dimensions to discussions of the humanitarian present:

The exclusive focus on the modalities of rescue has overshadowed the peculiar politics of life that underpins military-humanitarian operations: migrants seeking asylum become lives to rescue and their freedom – of movement and of choosing a safe place to stay – is dislodged from the outset. The mechanisms of capture and containment of unauthorized movements act simultaneously through border restrictions that cause border deaths and through the humanitarian channelling system. The risks to life that people who seek asylum in Europe take, being forced to cross the Mediterranean ‘illegally’, and rescue politics are not opposite mechanisms of migration government. This means that humanitarian measures hold a specific political technology over migrant lives by rescuing, sorting and channelling migrants, one in which people escaping wars can seek asylum only by first becoming shipwrecked persons to rescue. Humanitarian and security measures are thus two intertwined political technologies of migration governmentality.

mapsmania

The map above is drawn from the Migrants Files, a database recording the deaths of more than 29,000 migrants who have tried to seek refuge in Europe since 200.  But Martina’s commentary details what she calls the ‘politics of counting’ and in doing so she enlarges the scope of those (other) projects that seek to move behind the statistical toll of wars and other forms of military and paramilitary violence to identify and name their otherwise nameless casualties:

If border deaths are accounted for through a logic of counting, something remains undetectable from the political perspective of the northern shore of the Mediterranean. Moving beyond the logic of counting means refusing to look at border deaths from the standpoint of this governmental gaze – migration agencies or states – and taking into account what border deaths are for the friends and the relatives of the missing migrants. This means engaging in a decolonial move that challenges the logic of recognition that sustains political campaigns and research projects aiming to count and identify dead migrants. By moving from the northern to the southern shore of the Mediterranean we realize that these uncounted deaths not only have a name but are fully known by their friends and relatives. Rather than producing a more exact border deaths population database, it is a question of bringing into visibility the reality of what the visa regime and the European mechanisms of border control generate: the ‘disappearance’ of women and men who die without being detected but who are counted as ‘missing’ in the countries of origin or of transit by those who know them. The logic of identification – giving a name to corpses found at sea – risks, paradoxically, reproducing the hierarchy that assumes dead migrants are people who, in order to exist, have to be recognized, counted and named from the northern shore of the Mediterranean. A politics that accounts for border deaths without reproducing this space of governmentality attends to what exists beyond counting and identification: unaccountable deaths represent the unquantifiable ‘cost’ of borders that cannot be assessed from the northern shore of the Mediterranean and that requires taking into account those people – friends and relatives – for whom they are missing persons.

HRW Med Migration Crisis JPEG

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report on The Mediterranean Migration Crisis: Why People Flee, What the EU Should Do; the map at the head of this post identifies sample migration routes derived from the interviews carried out by HRW for its report:

The report draws on Human Rights Watch’s extensive work on the human rights situation in the four main sending countries as well as interviews with Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans, and Somalis who crossed the Mediterranean in May 2015. Human Rights Watch staff interviewed over 150 recently-arrived migrants and asylum seekers in Italy (Lampedusa, Catania, and Milan) and Greece (the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos).

Note: For those who had the good fortune to escape spatial science in the 1960s and 70s, and who might well be puzzled by my title, gravity models were (and probably still are) one of the canonical forms of migration modelling.  Martina’s commentary is an urgent reminder of the gravity that lies behind the politics of calibration and calculation.

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).

ICAHD

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.

the-matrix-of-control

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

Disposable futures

EVANS and GIROUX Disposable futures

News from Brad Evans of a new book co-authored with Henry Giroux, Disposable futures: the seductions of violence in the age of spectacle (out next month from City Lights).

Disposable Futures makes the case that we have not just become desensitized to violence, but rather, that we are being taught to desire it.

From movies and other commercial entertainment to “extreme” weather and acts of terror, authors Brad Evans and Henry Giroux examine how a contemporary politics of spectacle–and disposability–curates what is seen and what is not, what is represented and what is ignored, and ultimately, whose lives matter and whose do not.

Disposable Futures explores the connections between a range of contemporary phenomena: mass surveillance, the militarization of police, the impact of violence in film and video games, increasing disparities in wealth, and representations of ISIS and the ongoing terror wars. Throughout, Evans and Giroux champion the significance of public education, social movements and ideas that rebel against the status quo in order render violence intolerable.

You can read the preface and an excerpt from the first chapter here, and you can get a taste of their argument from their op-ed for Truthout in June 2014 here, where they explain why they decided

‘…to develop a paradigm that focused on the intensification of what we called the politics of disposability. This requires taking our analysis beyond 20th century frames of analysis to look at the ways in which more and more individuals and groups are now considered excess by the onslaught of global forces that no longer offer the possibility of alternative futures. It talks precisely to those contemporary forms of disposability that have become so normalized; the burden of the guilt is placed on the shoulders of the victims, while the most pernicious of systemic abuses continues to hide things in plain sight. And it develops a critical angle of vision that goes well beyond the mere authentication of lives as simply born vulnerable to question the systemic design for oppression and exploitation that produces humans as some expendable category…

‘There is something, however, more at stake here than the contemporary plight of those millions forced to live in intolerable conditions. What makes the contemporary forms of disposability so abhorrent is precisely the way it shapes disposable futures. The future now appears to us as a terrain of endemic catastrophe and disorder from which there is no viable escape except to draw upon the logics of those predatory formations that put us there in the first place. Devoid of any alternative image of the world, we are merely requested to see the world as predestined and catastrophically fated. Frederic Jameson‘s claim then that it is easier to “imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism” is more than a reflection on the poverty of contemporary imaginations. It is revealing of the nihilism of our times that forces us to accept that the only world conceivable is the one we are currently forced to endure: a world that is brutally reproduced and forces us all to become witness to its spectacles of violence that demand we accept that all things are ultimately insecure by design. In this suffocating climate, the best we can hope for is to be connected to some fragile and precarious life support system that may be withdrawn from us at any moment. Hope has dissolved into the pathology of social and civil death and the quest for mere survival. For if there is a clear lesson to living in these times, it is precisely that the lights can go out at any given moment, without any lasting concern for social responsibility. This is simply the natural order of things (so we are told) and we need to adapt our thinking accordingly.’

And, as always, you can find much more on these themes over at Brad’s History of Violence project (and particularly the Disposable Life series of lectures here).

Future imperfect and tense

A clutch of forthcoming books on war that seek, in different ways, to illuminate dimensions of what I’ve been calling ‘later modern war’:

Antonia ChayesBorderless Wars (due in August at an eye-popping price from Cambridge University Press):

9781107109346In 2011, Nasser Al-Awlaki, a terrorist on the US ‘kill list’ in Yemen, was targeted by the CIA. A week later, a military strike killed his son. The following year, the US Ambassador to Pakistan resigned, undermined by CIA-conducted drone strikes of which he had no knowledge or control. The demands of the new, borderless ‘gray area’ conflict have cast civilians and military into unaccustomed roles with inadequate legal underpinning. As the Department of Homeland Security defends against cyber threats and civilian contractors work in paramilitary roles abroad, the legal boundaries of war demand to be outlined. In this book, former Under Secretary of the Air Force Antonia Chayes examines these new ‘gray areas’ in counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism and cyber warfare. Her innovative solutions for role definition and transparency will establish new guidelines in a rapidly evolving military-legal environment.

Christopher Coker‘s Future War (due in September from Polity):

COKER Future WarWill tomorrow’s wars be dominated by autonomous drones, land robots and warriors wired into a cybernetic network which can read their thoughts? Will war be fought with greater or lesser humanity? Will it be played out in cyberspace and further afield in Low Earth Orbit? Or will it be fought more intensely still in the sprawling cities of the developing world, the grim black holes of social exclusion on our increasingly unequal planet? Will the Great Powers reinvent conflict between themselves or is war destined to become much ‘smaller’ both in terms of its actors and the beliefs for which they will be willing to kill?

In this illuminating new book Christopher Coker takes us on an incredible journey into the future of warfare. Focusing on contemporary trends that are changing the nature and dynamics of armed conflict, he shows how conflict will continue to evolve in ways that are unlikely to render our century any less bloody than the last. With insights from philosophy, cutting-edge scientific research and popular culture, Future War is a compelling and thought-provoking meditation on the shape of war to come.

Brian Massumi‘s Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception (due in September from Duke University Press):

MASSUMI OntopowerColor coded terror alerts, invasion, drone war, rampant surveillance: all manifestations of the type of new power Brian Massumi theorizes in Ontopower. Through an in-depth examination of the War on Terror and the culture of crisis, Massumi identifies the emergence of preemption, which he characterizes as the operative logic of our time. Security threats, regardless of the existence of credible intelligence, are now felt into reality. Whereas nations once waited for a clear and present danger to emerge before using force, a threat’s felt reality now demands launching a preemptive strike. Power refocuses on what may emerge, as that potential presents itself to feeling. This affective logic of potential washes back from the war front to become the dominant mode of power on the home front as well. This is ontopower—the mode of power embodying the logic of preemption across the full spectrum of force, from the “hard” (military intervention) to the “soft” (surveillance). With Ontopower, Massumi provides an original theory of power that explains not only current practices of war but the culture of insecurity permeating our contemporary neoliberal condition.

Wastelands

Global Peace Index 2015 JPEG The Institute for Economics and Peace has issued its Global Peace Index for 2014.  There are all sorts of problems in calculating indices like these – and interpreting them (as you can see if you read some of the press releases and reports surrounding the publication of the GPI) – and in this case:

The Global Peace Index is a composite index comprised of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that gauge the level of peace in 162 countries. These indicators can be grouped into three broad themes: the level of safety and security in a society, the number of international and domestic conflicts and the degree of militarisation.

Crunching the numbers,  the Institute concludes that

Syria remains the world’s least peaceful country, followed by Iraq and Afghanistan. The country that suffered the most severe deterioration in peace was Libya, which now ranks 149th of 162 countries. Ukraine suffered the second largest deterioration…

Its President, Steve Killelea, explained that:

2014 was marked by contradictory trends: on the one hand many countries in the OECD achieved historically high levels of peace, while on the other, strife-torn nations, especially in the Middle East, became more violent.

What the Report doesn’t pursue are the close links between those two trends; and when you look at the map you will soon realise that being ‘peaceful’ is not the same thing as not being belligerent… But the Report does emphasise the absurdist cost of all this violence (while noting that much more is at stake than money): ‘The economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.’ You can download the full Report here or find the interactive map (screenshot at the head of this post) here. UNHCR World at War 2014 JPEG On the same day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published different maps in World at War that provide a radically different calculus of the cost of such violence.  Writing in the New York Times Somini Sengupta reports:

Nearly 60 million people have been driven from their homes by war and persecution, an unprecedented global exodus that has burdened fragile countries with waves of newcomers and littered deserts and seas with the bodies of those who died trying to reach safety. 0745631649The new figures, released Thursday by the United Nations refugee agency, paint a staggering picture of a world where new conflicts are erupting and old ones are refusing to subside, driving up the total number of displaced people to a record 59.5 million by the end of 2014, the most recent year tallied. Half of the displaced are children. Nearly 14 million people were newly displaced in 2014, according to the annual report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In other words, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes every day and “seek protection elsewhere” last year, the report found. That included 11 million people who scattered within the borders of their own countries, the highest figure ever recorded in the agency’s 50-year history. Tens of millions of others fled in previous years and remain stuck, sometimes for decades, unable to go home or find a permanent new one, according to the refugee agency. They include the more than 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the 1.5 million Afghans still living in Pakistan.

Populations of concern to UNHCR to end 2014 And the map reveals a starkly different bi-polar geography to the division highlighted by the GPI:

When refugees flee their own countries, most of them wind up in the world’s less-developed nations, with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan hosting the largest numbers. One in four refugees now finds shelter in the world’s poorest countries, with Ethiopia and Kenya taking many more refugees than, say, Britain and France. As the report states, “the global distribution of refugees remains heavily skewed away from wealthier nations and towards the less wealthy.”

Refugees hosted 2014 JPEG You can download World at War here.