War and Militarization
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter provides an overview of how warfare and militarization, as historical processes, have mutated and changed in parallel with and intersecting processes of globalization. Given the contradictory trajectory of less lethal wars that break out increasingly more frequently and last longer, it is necessary to revisit accepted definitions of war. The chapter provides insight into how to think about war as a conceptual problem rather than a discrete empirical phenomenon. Attempts to simplify war for the purposes of measuring it have created significant shortcomings in the fields of international relations, security studies, and war studies. This chapter does not attempt to develop a replacement definition. Instead, it is argued that the changing nature of war should be treated as a problematic for research and investigation rather than trying to settle on another definition of war that fails to keep up with the dynamic and complex character of empirical reality.
A vital part of global studies is understanding the role that warfare has played in global political life and how it is changing in intensity and form. The complexity of these issues in the scope and character of combat significantly complicate how we understand the global generally and specifically how we investigate other frames of analysis, from economics to politics and culture.
In 1919, British Major General J. F. C. Fuller wrote (as cited in Fuller 1984),
In war, more especially modern wars, in which weapons change rapidly, one thing is certain, and this is—that no army of fifty years before any date selected would stand “a dog’s chance” against the army existing at the date, not even were it composed entirely of Winkelrieds and Marshal Neys. (p. 62)
This was an accurate assessment of the strategic thinking about modern warfare in the first half of the twentieth century. Like modernism, modern warfare followed a progressivist telos in which each successive stage of development was to be an irreversible improvement on the stage that proceeds it. Technological change was a line moving forever upwards, never turning around or declining. Under that paradigm of military thought, weaponry and fighting style were thought to follow a simple linear diffusion model in which “competition produces a tendency towards sameness in competitors” (Kenneth Waltz as cited in Goldman and Eliason 2003: 8). Technic and technique were thought to be innovated by the great powers, generally with the support of heavy industrial and capital-intensive “Science.” Advances then defused from center to periphery or were actively transferred from center to periphery as dictated by the security or financial interests of European and American metropoles (Goldman and Eliason 2003: 8). This description of the linear diffusion pattern and the advantage of modernity was roughly accurate in describing military development and patterns of war, with a few notable exceptions, throughout the early modern and modern period, reaching its peak during World War II.
I do not argue that there was a period or break after which a modernist approach to war ceased to be operative. But I do suggest that the acceleration and intensification of globalization, particularly in the spread of technical knowledge and the means of destruction, culminated in a period in which there was and continues to be a precipitous decline in the strategic value of force and a parallel fragmentation and proliferation of collective violence. (p. 384) This transition did not happen all at once, neither is there one sufficient explanation of a “break.” However, there were several necessary conditions that entered into a relay of positive feedbacks resulting in a severe mutation of global warfare.
In this chapter, I sketch out how I have come to understand this historical transformation as a process, and its trajectory, given the trajectory of the contemporary state in which we find ourselves. Along the way, I hope to provide some insight on how to think about the problem of war as well as the shortcomings of existing concepts and definitions of war used in the fields of international relations, security studies, and war studies. I do not try to develop a replacement definition. Instead, I argue throughout the chapter that the changing nature of war should itself be treated as a problematic for research and investigation rather than trying to settle on another definition of war that fails to keep up with the dynamic character of empirical reality.
I first introduce the problem of what Mary Kaldor (2012) describes as “new wars” or a form of conflict endemic to globalization. I then lay out the attributes I think best distinguish contemporary war from earlier forms of war. Next, I develop what I call late globalization as a period in which key characteristics of globalization and warfare become increasingly indistinguishable. Finally, I extend the analysis of late globalization, particularly its algorithmic character, to describe the possible near future of warfare.
Old Wars, Cold Wars, New Wars?
The question of whether the post-Cold War period, or what I more loosely periodize as late globalization, has created “new wars” of a categorical or conceptually different type has been hotly debated in international relations, security studies, and war studies (Kaldor 2012). The crux of this fight has been about the nature of conflicts and what is driving the nature of conflicts that emerge after the loss of bipolar hegemonic ordering. Although a rigorous academic debate, unlike many other academic fights, the opposing sides of this argument bleed directly into policymaking and military planning throughout the world. What Gerard Toal described as a sense of “geopolitical vertigo” after the Cold War has been further amplified by the September 11, 2001 (9/11), terrorist attacks in the United States; the 7/7 attacks in London; the attacks in Mumbai, India; the favela wars in Brazil; the cartel wars in northern Mexico; as well as the bloody so-called “ethnic conflicts” that dominated the 1990s, such as the Rwandan genocide and the Balkan conflict (Tuathail and Dalby 1998). The vertigo endures in the form of a continuing impasse in ideological and strategic thinking about the structure of global order (Milevski 2016).
Contemporary conflicts are transdimensional in character. By transdimensional, I mean that although the conflicts are local in character, they are connected by interest, solidarity, blood, or curiosity to other distant spaces that in turn reinforce and resupply those local conflicts in ways that defy settled definitions of civil wars, proxy wars, or internationalized conflicts. In particular, security practices and practitioners and military hardware move from place to place with little regard to national or allied allegiance in tandem with increasingly feverish commitments to national security. I concur with Kaldor (2012), who writes that in “new wars,” the “distinction between internal and external, between aggression (p. 385) (attacks from abroad) and repression (attacks from inside the country), or even between local and global, are difficult to sustain” (loc. 230–231).
In addition to the complex spatial character of contemporary conflicts, there is also a vexing temporal element in which old fights take on a contemporary significance made possible by real-time constituencies created in vast media-saturated “imagined communities” that are significantly influenced by constant Twitter updates, even if some of those constituencies have little or no actual historical connection. Making use of Walter Benjamin’s thinking on literature, Benedict Anderson (1991) theorizes that the virtual simultaneity of print media creates imagined communities essential to the making of national culture. However, the social media age no longer requires “imagination” to create the verisimilitude of simultaneity. Mediated experience is for all practical purposes now simultaneous, and the result has not always been amplified versions of the same nationalism Anderson theorized. Instead, the complex territoriality of affiliation, attention, and identification created by social networks fractializes constituencies that more and less overlap with existing nation-states. The possibility of real-time diaspora and even the production of new publics, sometimes temporary, complicates questions of nationalism, patriotism, and partisanship (Glezos 2016). In some cases, the consumption model of old media is transformed by new media platforms to allow forms of direct, nonterritorial participation, as in the case of GoFundMe accounts for military equipment or real-time technical or medical assistance in conflict areas via digital networks (Grove 2015).
In contradistinction to the more technology-driven narrative for transformation, Kaldor (2012) insists that identity politics in postcolonial states are the heart of so-called new wars. I find Kaldor’s emphasis on identity and cosmopolitanism unpersuasive as a historically unique attribute of what makes “new wars” new. Furthermore, I do not accept the cartography of her diagnosis, which sees new wars as native to postcolonial or post-Soviet states. I argue that the shift by states and other forms of organization from war to security and the subsequent breakdown in the distinctions between combat and policing drive the proliferation of what Kaldor calls “new wars.” I concur with Kaldor that these wars are characterized by heavy civilian casualties, crime networks, blurry lines of enmity, complex humanitarian crises, and indiscernibly civil and internationalized participants. But the claim that identity and fundamentalism are key attributes of “new” conflict is, I think, unsustainable. After all, historically, all wars have had identity at their core. One need only look at the vile racial depictions of enemies by all sides in World War II and its material double of flagrant civilian bombing, or the Japanese use of Korean prisoners for rape and medical experimentation, to see the virulence of identity politics in twentieth-century great power conflicts (Harris 2002; Lindqvist 2011). Further back in the history of Europe, the common use of rape and disfigurement in the Thirty Years War, and the indiscriminate warfare against Native American civilians and non-combatants in the United States until the early twentieth century are just a few examples of the intensity of identity politics in other periods of global history. I am not sure how one distinguishes these racially motivated atrocities as somehow distinct from the identity politics of Bosnia or the Congo. As McNeill (2009) and others have noted about the critical role of French nationalism in the rise of Napoleon, it is difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize soldiers to fight without the mobilization of identity politics.
Rather than blame a new “tribalism” as Kaldor (2012) does, what I see unifying contemporary conflicts is an archipelago or assemblage of security and insecurity. By an assemblage, I mean a loose and diverse ecological web of policing practices that are shared at conventions (p. 386) and state-sponsored international training exchanges; global arms dealers; criminal organizations; private interests and attention to threats now seen as interdependent; the structural transformations of travel, communication, and destructive capability; and at the same time the increasing marketization/monetization via arms sales and other security resources that support the conflicts that global intervention and attention create.
In focusing on the transformation of the technology and political economy of war, I do not want to ignore identity. As discussed previously, identity is amplified and reinvented in ways that mirror the novelty of the new media of contemporary life. However, unlike Kaldor (2012), I resist the idea that “identity” is a problem confined to the “failed states” of the lingering colonial cartographic imagination that always finds “tribal hatred” in Africa or the Middle East. Ethnonationalist violence is a global problem that thrives in the violent streets and ballot booths of the United States and Europe. Thus, rather than pathologize the conflict in the Congo as a difference in kind, it is, I think, more valuable to see how identity is mutating and finding new points of connection through religious and civilizational identification rather than just the nineteenth-century categories of nationalism. Christian nationalism in the United States and Flemish nationalism in Belgium are useful examples of how nineteenth-century forms of national consciousness can mutate to accommodate contemporary revivals of religious or local imaginaries.1
Late Globalization and the Persistence of War
Any list of major drivers would have to include the unprecedented industrialization and commercialization of light arms during each of the world wars, the truly globalized network of arms dealers that developed throughout competitive security assistance programs during the Cold War, and the global arms bazaar that metastasized after the Cold War into a multibillion-dollar market with almost no regulations (Feinstein 2011). Of course, these state-led markets did not just drive globalization. They were in turn transformed by globalization as the flow of licit and illicit currency, the expansion of commercial markets, and the denationalization of commercial interests intensified (Nordstrom 2007). The nascent global market in low-cost, automatic, light weapons also amplified anti-colonial struggles, which further drove the creation of new clients, markets, and conflicts. As an example of this exchange back and forth between globalization and war, the AK-47 reverberated through nearly every major rebellion and independence movement. After its invention in 1946, the AK-47 helped create a new global network for the trafficking of licit and illicit small arms and images, proliferating as a symbol of national independence (Bolton, Sakamoto, and Griffiths 2012). The rifle even made its way onto the flag of Mozambique, further reinforcing the “brand” of the already nearly ubiquitous weapon (Forrer 2013).
The emergence of the postcolonial political order also changed the security infrastructure of dispossession, and the transnationalism of financial interests itself created new demands for warlike capabilities outside of the state (Abrahamsen and Williams 2007; Sassen 2010). European and North American states that could once take whatever they wanted from colonies now had to rely on corporations and trade agreements, which were variously (p. 387) themselves reliant on state military intervention and private military forces or what James Ferguson (2006) calls the “governing of extraction.” What takes place between the end of World War II and September 11, 2001, is a flattening of the access to modes of warlike violence and a saturation of capability such that better and worse weapons platforms and fighting capability lose their footing (Krause 1995). It is worth noting that the declining efficacy of great powers was apparent much earlier. Signs of the “leveling effect” of martial globalization were already evident in the Chinese Communist Revolution (1946), Korean War (1950), and the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu (1954), and it was undeniable by the time of the Algerian and Vietnamese wars of independence (1962 and 1975, respectively).
Without overstating the point, it can confidently be stated that after World War II the value of force, as a currency for compelling opponents to accept one’s own will, declines continuously (Clausewitz 1989). Unfortunately, the resulting era of cheap violence, although being somewhat antagonistic to colonial control and extreme international hierarchy, does not lead to a decline in the use of violence. Despite the claims of Goldstein, Mueller, and Pinker that war is on the decline, I argue instead that the declining value of force merely shifts what kinds of wars we fight (Goldstein 2012; Mueller 2007; Pinker 2012). To point to the absence of great power wars after World War II or the decline of traditional battle deaths after the Cold War is a bit like celebrating the decline of catapults after the discovery of gunpowder. War is not disappearing; it is changing.
It would be naive and presentist to assert that the transformation of warfare is simply the result of globalization, as neither process has that kind of unilinear causal explanation. War has always been a process of globalization, and it is difficult to name a period of globalization not intimately intertwined with warfare in the sense that both concepts give name to simultaneous processes of territorialization and deterritorialization, the erasing and drawing of new lines, the breaking and making of new relations, and creation and destruction across space–time (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). However, there is a difference that makes a difference in the contemporary relationship between war—what I call late globalization.2
By late globalization, I mean the period of renewed ethnonationalism, wall building, border militarization, authoritarian electoral success, right and left agendas against market liberalization, declining demand for global supply chains and commercial shipping, the crumbling of the European Union and other regional fora, and a multinational backlash against international institutions such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court—all taking place simultaneously with unprecedented numbers of people on the move, drone programs premised on a universal jurisdiction, an unregulated global market in arms, a global slave trade eclipsing the height of the Middle Passage, and the first truly non-sovereign currencies with the rise of blockchain platforms such as Bitcoin (Bob 2012; Nickel 2014). In the wake of Brexit and the intensification of hostility against cosmopolitan ideals, the popular press is awash in headlines that read “Is Globalization Over?” Like the premature declarations of the end of the state and the end of history, globalization can continue, indeed even accelerate, with the intensification of processes of territorialization and provincialization. Reality shows that these logical contradictions are not material contradictions.
Late globalization is a way of describing a global system expanding, deepening, and thickening but with relations better characterized by inter-vulnerability rather than interdependence and heterogeneous fracturing, and diversification rather than flattening and homogenization. More succinctly, in the past two decades, the dark side of globalization (p. 388) has been vastly outpacing or at least showing itself to be semi-autonomous of ideologically progressive components of globalism. The cosmopolitanism of the Kantian variety is being eclipsed by a martial cosmopolitanism that thrives on particularistic and ethnonationalist identities and actors, while also globalizing the networks and supply lines of destructive capability, and the interests that globalize seemingly local conflicts. Therefore, it should not surprise us that the character of warfare is also taking on a depth of complexity, mutation, and unpredictability correspondent to late globalization. Warfare, like globalization more broadly, cannot be measured by agreed upon attributes derived from historical patterns. Some patterns still persist, but they are not sufficiently isomorphic to describe the current condition.
There are, of course, other stories to tell about globalization. Globalization also includes historical changes to our conceptions of human rights; globalization has played a significant role in making powerful social movements against the inevitability of war and violence; and globalization equally includes global labor movements, as it does the conditions those movements militate against. This chapter is not meant to be to the exclusion of those countervailing and more positive forces of globalization. However, there has been significantly more interest and scholarship on both the social and the political character of globalization, with much less scholarly work put into understanding the intimate role that war plays in the process of globalization (Barkawi 2006).
Why War Still Matters
There is a growing consensus among academics that available data point to war declining globally. The basis for this claim is well-founded if the question can be answered quantitatively, where the measurement is restricted to the number of battlefield deaths generated in a traditionally defined battle. Kaldor (2012) concludes in her study of war and globalization that all three of the major war databases from which Goldstein and Pinker draw their conclusion “are based on ‘old war’ assumptions.3 For violence to be counted as a war, there has to be a state involved at least on one side and there has to be a certain number of battle deaths” (Loc. 4602–4604). I concur, and I view the problem of counting as twofold, at least. First, there are qualitative or intensive changes in warfare that are not themselves quantifiable within the existing framework of battlefield deaths but still suggest that war is expanding in a deleterious way. Land use, percentage of gross domestic product (GDP),4 drain on human and intellectual capital, militarization and weaponization into every area of science and research, basing and deployment-related sexual violence, environmental damage, energy consumption, territorialization, and the rigidification of borders all suggest that the size and scope of war are beyond the narrow indicator of battlefield deaths (Dalby 2002; Enloe 2014; Goldstein 2005; Jones 2017; Klare, 2012; Moreno 2012).
Second, even if we are concerned first and foremost with human casualties from direct acts of lethal violence, our numbers are unhelpfully obscured by the definition of battlefield deaths. Consider, for instance, the 80,000 civilian deaths from Mexican cartel wars since 2006 (Hernández 2013). These deaths are the result of military conflicts between non-state groups and the Mexican state. The fights are over territory and legitimacy, and the intensity of violence is far beyond what any useful category of criminal activity could contain. Like (p. 389) the Favela wars of Brazil, the Mexican cartel wars represent a pattern of conflict not captured by existing and accepted definitions of war (Wacquant 2008). Furthermore, the problem of counting casualties is also now a weapon of warfare. The significance of lawfare, the clever neologism for the strategic and tactical opportunities and constraints of international norms and human rights, means that undercounting is often a highly politicized and even militarized practice (Kittrie 2016). Controversies regarding the casualties in both Persian Gulf Wars and the ongoing US drone program are two examples in which war is fought by other means via methodological fights over sampling eras, demography projections, accusations of politically motivated reporting, and even the ideological commitments of coroners (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War 2015). Reports concerning the numbers killed swing between multiple orders of magnitude. Therefore, even if battlefield deaths were a critical indicator of war’s ebb and flow, there are very good reasons ethically and methodologically to broaden the scope of our inquiry.
The conceptual myopia in the study of warfare is compounded by a systemic bias of the field of international relations that sees little history and a lot of state-centric structure in the arrangement of global order. I do not want to argue that we should leave the state behind as outmoded, as many globalization theorists declared it in the wake of the Cold War. The state has to be brought back into a changing context. If international relations theory once thought of the globe as a kind desert landscape populated by a single homogeneous species of war, one wielding states competing for advantage, balance, or cooperation (depending on one’s theoretical leanings), the picture developed here involves a richer ecosystem (Grove 2014). The state is one among a veritable rainforest of species. Some are relatively similar to states, such as terrorist organizations with institutionalized goals and human leadership. Others involve more alien and less analogous features, such as mobs, uprisings, insurgencies, global warming, industrial catastrophes, emergent pandemic diseases, computer viruses, solar flares, glitches, and other assemblages whose organization or control is less directed but sustainable and competitively superior to the state form.
It is also the case that states the world over are in productive and ambivalent relationships with a number of private militias that carry out the illegitimate violence that is often part and parcel of the state’s official strategies, despite the seeming contradiction with the Weberian drive to maintain a monopoly over violence (Brown 2014). Achille Mbembe (2001) refers to the “privatization of public violence” as “private indirect government.” In what Mbembe calls the postcolony, the “emasculation” of African state sovereignty results in a competitive market for security in which states dependent on exporting natural resources rely on militia groups to focus their profitable collaboration with multinational corporations (Mitchell 2013). Private security takes over when the state withdraws, often with sensationally excessive violence. The Janjaweed militias of Southern Sudan are emblematic of what Mbembe (2003) calls necropower, or the inversion of biopolitics in which sovereignty and governmentality deploy the management of death and killing, rather than liberal governance.
These indirect and increasingly nebulous relationships between states and non-state “security providers” are an attempt to hack the system rather than directly order it. Hacking is a vital concept for thinking about this difference between “ordering” a system that often fails, such as nation-building through force or the introduction of alien institutions versus capitalizing on an order, nudging it, and amplifying those characteristics that benefit the persistence of the state or organization, as in the case of privatized public violence.
(p. 390) There is, of course, no equilibrium nor Archimedean point on which a state gains total authority or an order breaks entirely from the state. However, dynamic equilibria shifting between creative state intervention and withdrawal in the making of warlike ordering and disordering practices are a defining characteristic of war in late globalization. The almost two decades-long slow wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led by the United States, Russian incursions into the Ukraine, and Israel’s periodic destabilization of Lebanon are emblematic of a possessive investment in disorder. The adaptability or, more appropriately, elasticity (and perhaps plasticity) of a given organization or state relates to its success in taking advantage of a given order or disorder. To develop a theory of plasticity for institutional behavior, Karl Deutsch (1963) argues against the conventional wisdom on political power in international politics. Deutsch theorizes that power is in fact pathological, leading to sclerotic and brittle states and organizations. The logic behind his claim is that material power reduces the necessity of states and institutions to learn and adapt because the ability to martial force allows those institutions to cheat or forestall otherwise necessary changes in norms and practices. According to Deutsch, successful institutions are those that have “integrity,” which he defines as the ability to modulate their plasticity or adaptability. Too much plasticity and one has no identity; too little plasticity and the global environment leaves one behind, and decline sets in as the efficacy of force inevitably diminishes.
In the case of disorder, often “terrorist” or insurgent groups more successfully surf the more turbulent subsystems via loose, plastic connections and organizational structures. However, if the logic of the previous argument follows, the “terrorist” groups’ affinity or attraction to disorder carries little chance of nudging or steering the self-organized, emergent order toward calmer waters (enmity or agonism that is less violent or destructive) in that their “adaptive advantage” is mutually dependent on the disorder relative to hegemonic global order (Kilcullen 2010).
A similar relationship may exist between states in which a state is invested in the persistent disorder of other states, as in the case of Africa, in which a persistent disorder benefited the expropriation of resources as well as proxy conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is important that tumult, combat, violence, and even genocide not be seen as chaos in the sense that there is no consistency or patterning to them. In all these cases, the possibility of persistence and regularity arises, but they are often undesirable because of the suffering they engender. However, these orders are regularly in intimate connection with even the most “stable” liberal order. States that become dependent on disordering practices are unlikely to be capable of institutionalizing those practices sustainably. The enormous cost of these long-term conflicts in the case of the United States is exemplary. The geopolitics of sabotage and managed disorder have run up an enormous strategic and financial debt, as well as having long-term corrosive effects on the democratic institutions engaged in them. If we consider that the ecology of Saddam Hussein, the Mujahedin, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS/Daesh, and Boko Haram is also the same ecological order of Cold War covert operations, regime-change and nation-building policies, as well as state-based security assistance in the form of arms and training and then the privatized arms market, then we begin to see how unsustainable disordering practices are.5 Following Deutsch (1963), power can delay the necessity of change and adaptation, but in doing so power becomes pathological and self-destructive, or what Deutsch calls a “self-destroying system” (pp. 249–250). Late globalization is riddled with the consequences of these practices throughout the Middle East and increasingly in Europe and the Asia–Pacific region.
(p. 391) The Future Present: Algorithmic Geopolitics
The age of the internet was, like globalization, prophesied to be the end of history. The internet was to be a place where information wanted to be free and therefore the barriers of entry to the market and government would be horizontalized, thus creating unforeseen opportunities for democratization and entrepreneurship.6 It is difficult to imagine late globalization without speed-of-light financial trading, global telecommunication networks, real-time news coverage, and just-in-time production. The internet and the vast infrastructure of wires, fiber-optic cables, and satellites that enable it are the fabric of late globalization. The hope for a global democratic public sphere and equitable market place has been significantly curtailed by Twitter demagoguery, legions of misogynistic and racist trolls, infrastructure sabotage, DDoS attacks, and increasingly geopolitically motivated hacking and cyberwarfare.
The ubiquity of the internet and digital communications such as email and SMS texting have also ushered nearly ubiquitous surveillance in democratic and authoritarian states alike (Deibert 2013). Again, surveillance and codebreaking are not new to states or even democratic states. Many of the agencies and technologies, even the computers themselves, that enable monitoring of all cell phone and internet traffic were developed by the Allied forces during the fight against fascism. Alan Turning’s Enigma machine was created to break Nazi codes, and John Von Neumann used the first computer, which he built from scratch, to model nuclear explosions and strategy alike (Dyson 2012). Again, what is characteristic of war in the age of late globalization is the scale and intensity of what is now a full-blown algorithmic geopolitics. The inter-vulnerability of digital networks has created both new capabilities for the mobilization of violence and a target-rich environment for new kinds of attack. There is no stable high ground when the means of destruction (i.e., networks) is also the access point and vulnerable to attack. The result is an escalating war of all against all that includes states, corporations, organizations, and individuals, with varying degrees of equivalent capability.
Even the lines of enmity are quite blurry, as is demonstrated in the fights over figures such as Edward Snowden and groups such as Wikileaks and Anonymous. Are these groups “fronts” for geopolitical interests such as Russia? Are traditional geopolitical powers simply taking advantage of a naive faith in leak-based transparency? Are these organizations themselves shifting alliances and allegiances? Or do these organizations lack the consistency of interest and leadership to make those determinations in the first place? Gabriella Coleman (2015) has made the strongest case for a post-leadership model of Anonymous. According to Coleman’s analysis, there is consistency in the organization established through shared codes of conduct rather than centralized leadership or agenda setting. The blurriness of capability and enmity is not due to conceptual error or insufficient data. Rather, the blurriness is in the empirical. Warfare in late globalization, particularly digital warfare and digitally augmented warfare such as drones and other automated weapons platforms, is messy and getting messier. Kaldor (2012) makes a similar point that “new concepts are always fuzzy” (Loc. 4529–4529). However, I emphasize that the lack of conceptual clarity is because of the real empirical complexity rather than the newness of the concept (Kaldor, 2012).
(p. 392) Ian Shaw (2016) has identified the US war in Vietnam as a critical juncture for the development of electronic and drone warfare. Weaponized versions of the Firebee drone were deployed, but according to Shaw, more important was the development by the CIA’s Phoenix program of techniques of targeted assassinations. Furthermore, the inclusion of the electromagnetic spectrum as a critical component of the theory of “full-spectrum dominance” was critical to the development of contemporary drone warfare, as well as cyberwar. The NATO engagement in Bosnia and later Kosovo also made use of the now emblematic Predator drone. However, the rapid proliferation in the development and deployment of unmanned vehicles did not take place until after the 9/11 improvised bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Similarly, although surveillance capability improved consistently throughout the twentieth century, the use and capability took an exponential leap after 9/11, led in no small part by the US government, and then rapidly globalized through US-based firms (Deibert 2013).
The Global War on Terrorism laid out by George W. Bush in the 2002 National Security Strategy Directive represented a paradigm shift in the attentiveness and responsiveness to danger by states on a global scale (Ansorge 2016). Contrary to its name, the global scope of the War on Terrorism belied the extraordinarily local focus of the monitoring and targeting of infrastructure and human beings determined to be threatening. Individuals and small groups with assumed loose networks and therefore global mobility became the focus of the new war.
Despite President Barack Obama’s insistence during both of his administrations that the Global War on Terrorism was over, in practical terms, US policy has pursued an unprecedented integration of travel, financial, criminal justice, and military surveillance via bilateral relationships, as well as alliance structures such as NATO, the Five Eyes, and international organizations such as the United Nations, which account in part for the rapid mirroring of capabilities and practices throughout the world (Bamford 2012; Shirkman 2013). The micro-level at which danger is now being pursued, combined with the very real mobility of money, weapons, and combatants and the newly available funding doled out by the US Department of Homeland Security, has transformed law enforcement agencies at federal, state, and local levels into combatants in the new war. Although the civil–military distinction is maintained legally, the armaments and broad-sweeping emergency powers of the police closely resemble military force (Balko 2013). In addition, although the intensity of force and surveillance is somewhat elastic in relationship to crises, the general trend is moving toward a securitization of state functions at all levels of government. As the methods, means, and targets of different agencies and departments overlap, the pressure and support for the expansion of capabilities running the gambit from state-sponsored hacking to the deployment of drones no longer distinguish between home and abroad, citizen and stranger, in the way that states classically have done so. The US Department of Defense has for some time transferred technology directly to police departments, but the level of sophistication and destructive capability has significantly increased since the transfer program was established in 1997 (US Department of Defense, 2007). Although the United States has certainly been a forerunner in the transition from war to security, countries such as Israel, China, and Russia have certainly provided a global model kept apace with the United States in the blurring of military actions and policing, along with the blurring of changes in policy and practices that reflect increasingly little distinction between security operations at home and abroad. In fact, in many ways, Russia and China have outpaced the United States in their (p. 393) ability to adapt and take advantage of the multidimensional strategy space made possible by algorithmic geopolitics (McLeary 2015).
Beyond great powers, countries such as France are also heading toward a state of indiscernibility between domestic policing, immigration, and foreign military operations in the development and deployment of digital warfare techniques. Anthropologist Didier Fassin (2013) has described at length the militarization of French policing techniques, particularly in the highly racialized spaces of the banlieues around Paris. However, I doubt even Fassin knew how prescient his critique would be. The French response to the November 2015 Paris attacks by individuals claiming allegiance to the Islamic State escalated to open combat in many of the same neighborhoods Fassin studied. Under the auspices of martial law, warlike combat was soon directed toward refugees, culminating in the burning and dismantling of one of the largest makeshift refugee camps in Calais, euphemistically known as “the Jungle.” Since the Paris and Nice attacks, martial law has become a chronic feature of French life (Zaretsky 2016). The United States is leading the world in the development of domestic digital surveillance and drone deployment, but UK and French surveillance systems and the use of digital warfare techniques by Russia and China against their own citizens as well as foreign adversaries reflect Kenneth Waltz’s claim that competitors mirror one another (Goldman 2005). The problem, of course, for the neorealist focus on state mirroring is that the nation-states are being joined by insurgent groups, corporations, and individuals in the use of drones, digital surveillance, and warlike operations (Bamford 2016; Opray 2016). David Kilcullen (2015) describes at length how the 2008 Mumbai attackers made use of open source surveillance techniques such as news media, civilian GPS, and public digital communication networks such as Skype and Instant Messenger to organize an invasion that took the full capacity of the Indian state to bring to an end. The globalization of threats in the form of increasingly small and diverse enemies, as well as the mobility of those enemies, resonates with the hyper-attention of states and non-states alike (Peters et al. 2011). The result is a continuing demand for the development and deployment of digital warfare capability in the network of the internet and the physical world. The size and scope of the massive $2 billion National Security Agency (NSA) data center in Utah give some scale to the intensity of the demand, but so does the now trillion-dollar industry of cybersecurity (Bamford 2012). Industry projections estimate that cybersecurity will be a $6 trillion a year market by 2021 (Morgan, 2016). Similar projections in growth are forecasted for private security in the physical world, as the global markets for private military and private policing continue to expand (Stevens 2004).
In part, the expansion of agencies such as the NSA is as important as the robots and networks themselves in that the goals and capabilities of digital warfare are shaped by the availability and interpretability of useable data information. The trail of email, consumer purchases, wire transfers, websites visited, books read, blogs commented on, and places visited with one’s cell phone or other trackable devices come to define all individuals more than their citizenship or the content of their political positions. Individuals take the form of meta-data, IP addresses, account numbers, and GPS coordinates. We live, as one commentator described it, as data shadows in our globalized world (Schneirer 2008). There is a dense ecosystem created by data generation, data collection, the autonomous algorithms that sort and make sense of the data and the demand to further narrow those interpretations within the confines of state security interests, creating what Ansorge (2016) calls “hyper-legibility.” Unlike mere visibility, legibility requires that those doing the surveilling know (p. 394) what they are seeing. To make sense or make legible the sheer volume of what can be seen requires increasing reliance on forms of inhuman and unaccountable sorting practices, the consequences of which vary from being denied a credit card to being targeted by a drone (Chamayou 2015).
Conclusion: Late Globalization and Transdimensional Warfare
Although war and globalization have always been dynamic partners in expansion and innovation, the beginning of the twenty-first century has witnessed a kind of phase shift in which the diversity of actors, capabilities, locations, durations, and lethalities of war are multiplying and speciating rather than converging or diffusing. Therefore, the argument over whether there is “more” or “less” war after the Cold War is, I believe, the wrong question, not because the frequency or lethality of war is not morally or strategically significant but, rather, because the question itself lacks the conceptual rigor to describe the complexity of the empirical world. Any consensus on the definition of war at this moment is an unhelpful reductionism (Bousquet 2016). Rather than being theoretically useful, a consensus on war merely so that it can be counted rather than described will lead us to intellectually wander back to “old war thinking” (Kaldor 2012, Loc. 127). The period of late globalization we have now entered is characteristically nonsystemic. The level of turbulence exceeds the capacity to settle conceptually. I do not suggest that we do away either with the debates over what constitutes war or with the concept itself. The conceptual debate is generative, if it is empirically engaged, of the attentiveness that is necessary to keep war’s mutating expansion from becoming normal or acceptable. Instead, there is more value than ever in describing and mapping the ways in which older, blunter definitions of war infiltrate other, more mundane activities such as waste siting, tourism, or energy policy (Lisle 2016). Rather than being a measurable, discrete phenomenon, war in the age of late globalization should be a problematic—that is, a site for investigation and research about the shifting terrain of politics, violence, mobility, technology, and commerce.
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(1.) William Connolly (2008) describes the strange ambivalence between evangelical nationalism in the United States, free market ideology, and older forms of patriotism forming what he calls the “evangelical–capitalist resonance machine.”
(2.) The concept of lateness is inspired by Elizabeth Povinelli (2011) to draw attention to the long, slow aftermath of settler-led violent globalization, and its character is not fully captured by Foucault’s notion of biopower.
(3.) Goldstein concludes that the declining number of battlefield deaths, particularly since the end of the Cold War, suggests that international institutions such as the U.N. are having a systemic effect on the prevalence of war in the international system. Pinker goes a step further to suggest a kind of moral evolution on the part of the human race as, he argues, a general decline in violence such as violent crime in addition to the decline in inter-state warfare
(4.) The percentage of GDP spent on the military has decreased since the end of the Cold War but has been steadily increasing since 2001. However, the decline after the Cold War, like the decline in battle deaths, does not accurately reflect the shift from military expenditures to “security” expenditures. It is worth considering that the measured decline in spending may instead reflect changes in spending because the security infrastructure of most developed countries vastly overshadows their militaries in size and cost. (See http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?end=2015&start=1988&view=chart&year=2015.)
(5.) This narrative is reconstructed much more elegantly in Bacevich’s (2016) America’s War. Rashid Khalidi (2009) extends this analysis back to the beginning of the Cold War and adds the additional role of the Soviet Union in making the expanding disorder of the present.