US-Jordanian military collaboration and the politics of commercial security

While Jordan – also in light of the threat posed by the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in neighbouring Iraq and Syria – has become one of the largest recipients of US military aid worldwide, research on the nature and effects of US-Jordanian military collaboration remains scarce. Funded through US$ 99 million in US military assistance, the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre (KASOTC), located just north of Amman, lies at the centre of the latter. Established by the US Department of Defense, operated by the US private business ViaGlobal, and owned by the Jordanian army, KASOTC illustrates well the increasing blurring of boundaries between military and business. The centre thus not only offers a base for the training of Jordanian and international Special Forces units, but also for stunt training of actors, military adventure holidays, and corporate leadership programs. With an artificial refugee camp and a fake Afghan village at the core of its simulation of a ‘typical terrorist environment’, KASOTC also demonstrates that the politics of commercial security at the centre is fundamentally based on deeply problematic judgements about the worth of human subjects.photo by D. Myles Cullen (released)

Simulating war

In a recent Security Dialogue article entitled ‘Simulating, marketing, and playing war: US-Jordanian military collaboration and the politics of commercial security’, I attempt to explore in more depth the ways in which US-Jordanian military collaboration at KASOTC operates, and what it comes to entail. I argue that at KASOTC market policies and moral politics vividly interact, as commercial security markets are moralized and imagined moral hierarchies marketized. I suggest that US-Jordanian military collaboration at the centre reinforces a clear distinction between the seemingly apolitical customer, who simulates, markets, and plays war, and marginalized groups, who are simulated as a threat and/or excluded as a potential customer. The politics of commercial security at KASOTC is thus shown to evolve around the hierarchical integration of different identity groups depending on their ability to market the deeply problematic assumptions attached to themselves and/or others.

Jordanian Special Operators give a demostration of an aircraft takedown during a visit from Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., at a military facility outside Amman, Jordan, Apr. 26, 2010. Army photo by D. Myles Cullen (released)

Marketing war

Based on own observations at the centre, qualitative interviews with employees of KASOTC, and the study of leaked embassy cables, I provide an ethnographically informed discussion of US-Jordanian military collaboration as it occurs in its natural setting. Among others, I explore what kind of (in-)security the latter produces for whom and via which processes. Also, I question whether a clear line can be drawn between a ‘new’ human security and an ‘old’ neoliberal mode of governance. Finally, I demonstrate that although US-Jordanian military collaboration at KASOTC may strengthen the Jordanian military’s coercive capacity, it also constructs Jordanians at large as either passive objects waiting to be secured, or directly as security threats.

Playing war

My argument in the article is that processes of commercialization in US-Jordanian military collaboration directly presuppose, create, and reinforce what I call marketable images of ‘the enemy’. These fundamentally evolve around the creation of non-Western insecurities, which means the relegation of marginalized lives to a position of lesser value, and the elevation of others to that of manager, protector, and customer. My emphasis on the vivid interaction of market policies and moral politics is important, as it demonstrates that a critique of prevalent constructions of certain identities and spaces as security threats necessarily needs to situate itself within a larger critique also of the neoliberal economic logics that in the case of KASOTC allow affluent customers to simulate and play war, while those less fortunate have to suffer from its deadly realities.

 

The Kurdish Peace Process in Turkey and Ontological Insecurity

From 2009 to 2015, Turkey’s Kurdish issue has been marked by successive initiatives aiming to end violence. However, following the June 2015 elections in Turkey, the peace process abruptly came to a halt, with the conflict escalating almost on a daily basis with armed confrontations between the PKK and the Turkish military and police forces. Our article on “Ontological insecurity in asymmetric conflicts: Reflections on agonistic peace in Turkey’s Kurdish issue” introduces and develops the concepts of ontological asymmetry and agonistic peace to make better sense of the failure of the 2009-15 peace process and offer remedies for the future.

All conflicts over time become embroiled in a certain set of self-conceptions and narratives vis-à-vis the Other. Ontological asymmetry develops in conflicts when one party is better able to have its narratives recognized and validated. Ontological asymmetry is common in ethnic conflicts because such conflicts often pit state parties with secure existence against ethnic groups with contested status and illegitimate standing. Whereas majority groups can rely on established historical and official discourses to maintain their self-narratives, minority groups face constant challenges.

We find that one notable shortcoming of Turkey’s 2009-15 peace process has been its inattentiveness to the implications of this ontological asymmetry. The non-recognition of the identity narratives of minority groups renders peace processes both easier to initiate and harder to conclude. During the 2009-2015 peace process, this was demonstrated in cyclical patterns of ambitious peace initiatives receiving greater support among the Kurdish public but giving way, at the first sign of crisis, to a rapid and dramatic return to violence, which neither side acted to stem.

A successful resolution of conflict requires that parties attain ontological as well as physical security.  Ontological security requires the development of new self-narratives where the Other is no longer the enemy.  We find that the peace process in Turkey has not included conscious measures to construct new narratives and has not opened venues for different narratives to coexist and challenge the established conflict narratives. Because both parties perceive the other’s narratives as existential threats, attempts to enforce agreement and reconciliation proved difficult and counter-productive. For future peace attempts, we propose the pursuit of an agonistic peace, characterized by the co-existence of multiple and contestatory narratives, accommodation, and understanding.

Knowledge of practice: Border security fairs in Europe and North America

In my recently published article on Security Dialogue, I focus on how professionals working in the border security industry ‘know’ border security practices. I investigate how border security professionals shape and circulate knowledge of border security practices at their main events – fairs and expos. In the article the reader is brought to four border security fairs across Europe and North America, one of which is the largest border security fair in the industry, Eagle Eye Exposition’s Annual Border Security Expo.

The first fair I attended in Budapest, at the World Border Security Congress, introduced me to a number of state-of-the-art technologies of border security and surveillance, such as sensors, scanners, and detectors, radars, biometric devices, drones, and even fence-mounted devices, among many others. I learned that these devices are materializations of particular forms of knowledge that is used in practice for social control and surveillance. There were also mostly men at the fairs, where I concluded that gender norms structure knowledge of border security practice.

At the fairs we sat through many conference events, including a number of presentations and discussions. It is primarily through these presentations that knowledge is disseminating and circulated, and often I found this knowledge was scarce or shared behind closed doors. So not all knowledge about border security is easily accessed. A number of these presentations used representations of future threats, provoking a palpable unease in the audiences. These images of a threatening future were used to promote certain solutions to security problems. These solutions were often technological, and the presentations were used to facilitate the selling of a product.

I also encountered a number of contradictions at play at the fairs, which raised some important questions about how we respond ethically and politically to knowledge about border security practices. By scrutinizing these fairs we can lay the groundwork for alternative knowledges and alternative practices which can allow us to respond to the deadly effects of border security.

Trouble in Paradise: Contesting Security in Bali

Civil militarism is a widespread phenomenon in Indonesia.  Ethnic and religious militia groups now proliferate across the country, and are particularly evident in the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. While the Indonesian government has sought to enact repressive laws governing the existence of militarized ‘societal organizations’ in an effort to exert some formal control, these groups have continued to grow in number, and in Bali have taken on roles traditionally viewed as within the exclusive remit of the state.

In our recently published article in Security Dialogue, we argue that these groups pose a challenge not only to the state itself, but to the way in which dominant accounts of international relations conceive of security and security agency, in particular the distinction between state and non-state actors. While some Balinese militia groups are allegedly linked to criminal networks, and often involved in inter group conflicts, they also claim to play an active role in their communities as security agents– providing physical protection to their communities and safeguarding the values of these communities. In the process, these groups ultimately take on roles traditionally understood as residing exclusively with formal government. By the same token they do not directly challenge the existence or legitimacy of the state but rather make claims to perform and enact security alongside it. In this sense, they are part of a complicated and crowded security sector in the Balinese context, one that challenges abstract accounts of security in international relations associated with the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Based on six months field research with militia groups in Bali, the article engages with existing debates on the role of non-state actors as security providers before suggesting the utility of viewing the role of militia groups in Bali through the lens of security contestation. Simply, in putting forward an alternative vision of the community in need of protection and the best means of protecting it, militia groups in Bali are engaged in a form of contestation over the exclusive role of the state as security provider, and over the nature of the community itself. Enabled by processes of democratization and decentralization in Indonesia, they are neither agents of state security nor attempting to supplant the state. Rather, they challenge the role of the state as sole security provider, challenge and redefine the contours of political community in Bali, and ultimately serve to point to the limits of traditional accounts of security and security agency in international relations thought.

To ban or not to ban a terrorist organisation? That is not the only question

Lee Jarvis and Tim Legrand report on their research into how the UK Parliament debates whether or not to extend its list of proscribed terrorist organisations that is based on their article ‘I am somewhat puzzled’: Questions, audiences and securitization in the proscription of terrorist organizations’ published in Security Dialogue Vol 48, Issue 2, 2017

The United Kingdom – like many states around the world and several International Organisations – maintains a list of banned terrorist groups. Seventy-one organisations are presently listed in this way within the UK, making it a criminal offence to belong to or support any of these. This power – known as proscription – is set out in the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000, and empowers the Home Secretary to present to Parliament an order specifying that she believes a specific organization promotes, encourages, or glorifies terrorism, or, indeed, is ‘otherwise concerned in terrorism’. Both Houses of Parliament must debate and assent to any new additions to this list, though they may not amend any proscription orders.

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Dialogue for Freedom, Security and Peace

Security Dialogue is a scholarly journal devoted to thinking clearly, systematically, and critically about world politics and the conditions that facilitate security and peace. Freedom and truth are core values of both the academic project and of democracy: we believe that constant, reflexive dialogue is the only viable path towards peace, equality, and justice within and between societies. Academic freedoms of speech and mobility are essential to modern politics, and are reflected in the legal and institutional frameworks of international relations, such as the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the 1945 Charter of the United Nations.

On January 27, 2017, US President Trump issued an Executive Order that suspended the refugee resettlement and the issuance of visas from seven identified Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) for at least 90 days. We are always concerned when emergencies or crises are invoked to justify radical executive action, including the curtailing of freedoms of mobility, particularly in this case when the justification is clouded, muddled, misleading, or simply perpendicular to the facts. We, as the editorial team of Security Dialogue, have never been moved to comment on specific policies or world events before now, and so it is reasonable to ask what makes this Executive Order worthy of comment when we have remained silent about equally offensive and oppressive policies and events, for instance, the Russian invasion of Crimea, the genocide of the Yazidi’s in Iraq or genocide in Darfur, the Syrian civil war and consequent displacement of millions, and Erdogan’s sweeping restrictions on Turkish academics. We are connected to the community of international relations scholars, and take the production of facts and their verification very seriously. Part of what strikes us as important and different is the blatant indifference to facts upon which the travel ‘ban’ rests, and the vitriolic and divisive hyperbole that fuels it.

Further, the ban is not justified in terms of historical precedent or immediate political context, and cannot fulfil its stated purpose to increase the national security of the United States. More than that, the exclusion of individuals identified by national origin (and effectively, religion) or refugee status which is accorded by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and to whom the United States owes obligations under that empowering legislation and specifically contradicts US domestic law, indicates a significant departure from the hallmarks of the contemporary global order, that is the predisposition towards freedom of mobility and international human rights. We are therefore also deeply concerned about the continuing impact of this shift as well as the harms caused immediately by this Executive Order.

As scholars of international relations, we can already see the chilling effect that this policy has on our own academic community. We stand with our colleagues who are and will be affected by this ban both directly and indirectly, and will devote our energies to promoting the values and conditions of openness, exchange, and dialogue that we view as crucial for achieving security.

Editor, Mark B Salter, University of Ottawa

Associate Editors, Claudia Aradau, King’s College London; Marieke deGoede, University of Amsterdam; Emily Gilbert, University of Toronto; Anna Leander, Copenhagen Business School, Anna Stavrianakis, University of Sussex; Maria Stern, University of Gothenburg

Editorial office, Marit Moe-Pryce, Peace Research Institute Oslo; Can Mutlu, Acadia University; Adam Sandor, University of Ottawa

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Security Dialogue aims to combine cutting-edge advances in theory with new empirical findings across a range of fields relevant to the study of security. The journal is edited at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

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