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.

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