Laboratories and assemblages

I’m on my way home from Bergen, where I was taking part in the Norsk Sakprosafestival (loosely, ‘Non-Fiction Festival’).  I gave a sawn-off version of ‘Angry eyes’, followed by a conversation with the ever-interesting Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, and took part in a panel discussion on ‘Freedom’ with Astri Suhrke, Kareem Amer, Jonny Steinberg, Ilan Pappe and Hilde Sandvik.  I had a marvellous time, and I’m deeply grateful to my hosts and especially Oyvind Vagnes for their warm welcome and generous hospitality.  This was the first time the festival has been held outside Oslo, and I hope it continues for many years to come.  It certainly deserves to do so.


Over dinner, Ilan (whose new book is on ‘the largest prisons in the world’, Gaza and the West Bank) reminded me of an excellent film that I’d neglected to write about when it first came out – and given my previous post, and the horror of Gaza over the summer, it’s not too late to do so.

The film is Yotam Feldman‘s The Lab, which was released in North America in August.  Feldman writes:

The Lab is a cinematic investigation into the lure of Israeli weapons in the international arms trade. Why are countries all over the world lining up to buy Israeli arms? And how did such a small country become one of the biggest military exporters in the world? Israeli salesmen and executives in huge arms corporations seem eager to promote their products and pride themselves on their booming business. Profits have never been better — sales are doubling every year, and the potential seems unlimited.

But the product they are selling is unique. Rather than rifles, rockets or bombs, the Israeli companies sell their experience. The long-running conflict with the Palestinians has created a unique and unrivalled laboratory for testing technologies and ideas relating to “asymmetric warfare” — a conflict between a state and civil or irregular resistance. In this manner the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians may be seen as a national asset — rather than a burden…

While making the film, I witnessed the relationship between a network of military generals, politicians and private business; the use of current military operations as a promotional device for private business; the brutal employment of the Israeli experience, and the blurred lines between what is legitimate and forbidden in this line of business.

You can read Jonathan Cook’s characteristically perceptive take on the film’s central argument here, from which I’ve taken the following extract:

The title relates to the film’s central argument: that Israel has rapidly come to rely on the continuing captivity of Palestinians in what are effectively the world’s largest open-air prisons.

The reason is that there are massive profits to be made from testing Israeli military innovations on the more than four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

According to Feldman, that trend began with Operation Defensive Shield, Israel’s re-invasion of the West Bank and Gaza in 2002, which formally reversed the process of Israeli territorial withdrawals initiated by the Oslo accords.

Following that operation, many army officers went into private business, and starting in 2005 Israel’s arms industry started to break new records, at $2 billion a year.

But the biggest surge in sales followed Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza in winter 2008-09, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Record sales in the wake of that attack reached $6 billion.

These military operations, including the most recent against Gaza, last year’s Pillar of Cloud, the film argues, serve as little more than laboratory-style experiments to evaluate and refine the effectiveness of new military approaches, both strategies and weaponry.

Gaza, in particular, has become the shop window for Israel’s military industries, allowing them to develop and market systems for long-term surveillance, control and subjugation of an “enemy” population.

But Feldman’s still sharper point is that this means that the claim ‘we are all Palestinians’ has a greater purchase than most of us realise:

The effects of Israeli theory and technology on other countries can hardly be overestimated. Forces choosing to employ Israeli-cultivated military techniques ultimately begin to alter their political and social circumstances. Therefore, countries all over the world are increasingly “Palestinizing” (or “Israelizing”) their conditions. Both sides — seller and buyer — become partners in the development of a form of future war between the state and civil resistance groups.

War, police and assemblages of intervention

This needs to be added to the mix when we (re)think about contemporary war/police assemblages – which is an appropriate note for me to cheer the publication today of War, police and assemblages of intervention, edited by Jan BachmannColleen Bell and Caroline Holmqvist.

This book reflects on the way in which war and police/policing intersect in contemporary Western-led interventions in the global South. The volume combines empirically oriented work with ground-breaking theoretical insights and aims to collect, for the first time, thoughts on how war and policing converge, amalgamate, diffuse and dissolve in the context both of actual international intervention and in understandings thereof.

The book uses the caption WAR:POLICE to highlight the distinctiveness of this volume in presenting a variety of approaches that share a concern for the assemblage of war-police as a whole. The volume thus serves to bring together critical perspectives on liberal interventionism where the logics of war and police/policing blur and bleed into a complex assemblage of WAR:POLICE. Contributions to this volume offer an understanding of police as a technique of ordering and collectively take issue with accounts of the character of contemporary war that argue that war is simply reduced to policing. In contrast, the contributions show how – both historically and conceptually – the two are ‘always already’ connected. Contributions to this volume come from a variety of disciplines including international relations, war studies, geography, anthropology, and law but share a critical/poststructuralist approach to the study of international intervention, war and policing.

Here’s what it contains (and you can see that The Lab adds a really important dimension to the discussion):

Assemblages of War:Police – An Introduction, Jan Bachmann, University of Gothenburg, Colleen Bell, University of Saskatchewan, Caroline Holmqvist, Swedish National Defence College

Part I: Ordering
1.The Police Power in Counterinsurgencies: Discretion, Patrolling, and Evidence, Colleen Bell, University of Saskatchewan

2. Policing Africa – The US Military and Visions of Crafting ‘Good Order’, Jan Bachmann, University of Gothenburg

3. Security Sector Reform (SSR) and the War:Police Assemblages of International Interventions, Marc Doucet, St. Mary’s University and Miguel de Larrinaga, University of Ottawa

Part II: Othering

4. The Enemy Live: A Genealogy, Laurence McFalls, University of Montreal and Mariella Pandolfi, University of Montreal

5. The Utility of Proxy Detentions in Counterinsurgencies, Laleh Khalili, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

6. Tribal Militias, Neo-Orientalism and the US Military’s Art of Coercion, Oliver Belcher, University of Oulu, Finland

7. Checkpoints and the Gendered Policing of ‘Civilized’ Nation-State Boundaries in Southern Thailand, Ruth Streicher, Free University of Berlin

Part III: Spatializing

8. A Mediterranean Police Assemblage, Barry J Ryan, Keele University

9. Air Power as Police Power, Mark Neocleous, Brunel University

10. Intervention and Ontological Politics: Security, Pathologization, and the Failed State Effect in Goma, Peer Schouten, University of Gothenburg and Kai Koddenbrock, University of Duisburg-Essen

Afterword: War and Crime, Military and Police: The Assemblage of Violence by Security? Didier Bigo, King’s College, University of London and Sciences Po