Agamben, Hobbes, and Rethinking Security in the Messianic Key

By Sergei Prozorov

Contemporary critical security studies increasingly turns to the problematic of political theology. This interest and inquiry into the theological origins of today’s political concepts and categories enables more effective critical interventions in contemporary politics. “Messianism” is one of the less explored aspects of political theology in security studies.

While its connotations of a fundamental rupture and the coming of something radically other appear to be of little relevance to the problematic of security, this article explores the implications of rethinking security in the messianic key.

In my recent Security Dialogue piece, “Like a thief in the night: Agamben, Hobbes and the messianic transvaluation of security,” I focus on Agamben’s reinterpretation of Hobbes’s Leviathan in Stasis, which restores an eschatological dimension to this foundational text of modern security politics. Hobbes’s commonwealth has been traditionally read as a secularized version of the katechon, a force that restrains the state of nature while drawing on its resources. Instead, Agamben argues that for Hobbes, the state is neither the analogue of God’s kingdom on earth nor the katechon that delays its arrival, but the profane power that will disappear when the kingdom of God is established on earth.

Drawing of frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan- c. 1650 Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

The Hobbesian state is thus in principle incapable of attaining the peace and security that it claims to provide, perpetually producing insecurity and violence in the guise of protection.

Rather than read Hobbes’s theory in the familiar terms of the exchange of liberty for security, Agamben insists that the Hobbesian commonwealth ensures no such trade-off and the Leviathan and Behemoth, order and disorder, remain entwined to the point of indistinction in every secular order. The Hobbesian state is thus in principle incapable of attaining the peace and security that it claims to provide, perpetually producing insecurity and violence in the guise of protection.

This diagnosis is confirmed by the contemporary transformations in the governmental rationalities of security that increasingly problematize the costs and inefficiency of security apparatuses and seek to devolve both the costs and provision of security to the subjects themselves through privatization, responsibilization and the ethics of resilience. And yet, the privatization, devolution or abolition of many of the security functions of the state do not entail its withering away. It is as if Leviathan not only learned to coexist with Behemoth, but also succeeded in making this coexistence the basis of something like an ‘ethics’ of eternal insecurity.

If pure security is unattainable, should critical security studies simply renounce security altogether? I argue that this would be counter-productive, since it is only from the perspective of security that the state could be judged and found wanting. The messianic approach affirms neither a pure security that cannot be attained nor the insecurity that no one could possibly want, but rather security from security, safety from the harm that comes with being secured by the Leviathan that always uncannily resembles Behemoth. Security is something that we desire and demand but, having seen that our demands lead to nothing more than insecurity, we are now content to be secure from it. Messianic security thus is a modest and transient – but still perfectly real – experience of relief from being secured.

Robot Wars

By Ian G. R. Shaw

There isn’t a day goes by without predictions—wild, wacky, and horrifying—about the future of warfare. Robots stand at the centre of so many of these prophecies.

Although robots have existed for decades, and even longer in the human imagination, recent leaps in artificial intelligence (AI) promise to break with old limits. Robots that are no longer soldered to factory floors, are now crawling on the ground, whizzing in the sky in swarms, or skimming the seas. Robots are thus set to rewire the exercise and spaces of state (and non-state) power. The who, or rather, the what, of warfare is shifting. What’s not yet clear is how.

In 2013, the US Navy’s X-47B became the first autonomous drone to land on an aircraft carrier. Photo by Timothy Walker. Wikimedia Commons

Academics have written extensively on how drone warfare has transformed sovereignty, territory, and power. But autonomous robots—rather than simply remotely piloted systems—are qualitatively different from the Predator and Reaper drones of the war on terror. Autonomous AI enables robots to act for themselves, severing their dependency on humans. Will these future robots revolutionize the battlespace and upturn the logics of organized violence? Or will they simply exacerbate pre-existing modes, geographies, and infrastructures of world politics? And how will the US military project its dominance in the robotic age? These types of questions motivated me to write my recent Security Dialogue article, “Robot Wars: US Empire and Geopolitics in the Robotic Age.

How are robots changing the fields of reality in which power and violence are exercised?

I’ve long been fascinated with robots. Whether good or bad, our cultural perception of robots is suffused by decades of science-fiction. Think Terminator, or Robocop, or Ex-Machina. These kinds of fictional robots, with steel skeletons and artificial flesh, fascinate us precisely because they press against our humanity. As these humanoids get closer to who we are, the ethical and moral quandaries only intensify. And on the battlespaces of the future, these quandaries may indeed be commonplace. But we are not there yet. We remain at the dawn of war in the robotic age. Which is why it’s so interesting to investigate the futurologies conjured by the US defense community. What’s important is not whether these military futures will actualize—but the type of work they do now: facilitating research, investment, and pre-emptive strategic changes.

My article attempts to theorize the looming robot wars. As a political geographer, I’m keenly interested in what we might call a spatial or worldly understanding of robots. That is, on a deep ontological level, I ask: How are robots changing the fields of reality in which power and violence are exercised? To answer this, I construct what I term a “a more-than-human geopolitics” to examine how robots are materializing new security worlds. This framework narrows to focus on how robots are shifting the logics and infrastructures of US empire. The term empire highlights the dominance of the US military in world politics—together with the geohistories of the US as an empire-state. But what of empire in age of robotic proxies?

A swarm of swallows. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia Commons.

I answer this by constructing three spatial concepts: (1) Swarm-space; (2) Roboworld; and (3) the Autogenic Battle-Site. Animated by advanced and autonomous AI, an important new robotic geography will be the non-linear swarm-spaces of miniaturized drones cooperating in emergent, atmospheric formations. Mass, it appears, is back: yet mass in future conflicts mirrors the swarms of bees, fish, ants, and birds in the natural world. After exploring the planetary basing strategies of drones in Roboworld, the final part of the paper examines the autogenic battle-site. This is the name I give to the robotic battlespace of the future: where robots don’t simply respond to the directions of pilots, but autonomously generate, target, and neutralize threat conditions in real-time.

In short, robots will materialize new geographies of state violence. This evolves conflict from the discrete battlefields of old wars, the eventful battlespaces of new wars, to the robotic battle-sites of swarm wars. In the conclusion of the paper—A Robot Empire—I discuss some of the consequences that robot wars will have for accountability. The risk is that democracy is alienated from the act of killing—on the loop, but no longer in the loop. An empire of indifference fought by imperial robots.

War-Making, International Law and Environmental Infrastructure

By: Jeannie L Sowers, Erika Weinthal, and Neda Zawahri

The extensive targeting of civilian water and energy infrastructures by a range of state and non-state actors, including regional powers and armed groups, has marked the post-2011 wars in the Middle East and North Africa. The effects on human welfare and ecosystems are long-term and poorly understood.

Our recent SD article, “Targeting Environmental Infrastructures, International Law, and Civilians in the New Middle Eastern Wars,” draws upon an original database to analyze the targeting of environmental infrastructures in the conflict zones of Syria, Yemen, and Libya. We define environmental infrastructures as systems of providing water, energy, waste, and sanitation that sustain human livelihoods and well-being. These basic services and infrastructures serve as the bedrock of human security, particularly in urban areas. Through mapping the targeting of infrastructure, we demonstrate that targeting environmental infrastructure is an increasingly prevalent form of war-making in the region, with long-term adverse implications for state capacity, human security, and conflict resolution.

Our work’s distinct contribution is that it highlights the implications of the indirect targeting of civilians. Indeed, the targeting of environmental infrastructures has emerged as a central aim of the parties in these conflicts, rather than as an unintended consequence. Warring parties in the MENA have increasingly targeted water and energy infrastructures with justifications that these are tactical weapons of warfare, dual-use objects, or mere ‘collateral damage.’ Our work indicates that targeting infrastructure allows militias and state security forces to displace urban populations, punish civilians perceived as sympathetic to the enemy, and gain access to the infrastructures that underpin modern life.

Tishrin Dam in Syria- Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

Targeting environmental infrastructure is an increasingly prevalent form of war-making in the region, with long-term adverse implications for state capacity, human security, and conflict resolution.

As further observed in the so-called ‘new wars’ of the 1990s, we suggest that intermittent periods of rebuilding and reconstruction of infrastructure are often not durable, as regional and domestic conflicts fester even when intensified periods of violence subside. Repeated cycles of infrastructure destruction mean long-term ‘de-development’ of these areas, with attendant health impacts and ecosystem damage. The repeated targeting of environmental infrastructure thus reflects the multiplicity of war-making forces involved in these conflicts. As highlighted in the ‘new wars’ literature, the agents of war include not only domestic and foreign militaries, state security forces, and hired ranks of thugs and mercenaries, but also client and proxy forces supported by regional and global powers. The variety of actors involved complicates attempts at humanitarian assistance and creates norms of conflict in which all parties employ indiscriminate and punitive tactics.

Lastly, despite international humanitarian law and international environmental law that prohibit attacks on civilian infrastructure essential for human survival or that cause damage to the natural environment, international law has acted neither as a deterrent nor as a means to prosecute perpetrators. Sparked by the increasing prevalence of ‘degenerate wars,’ international law has indeed articulated mechanisms to protect both civilian and environmental infrastructures over the last half century. Nevertheless, given the conflicting interests of regional and great powers in the area, such legal norms and mechanisms have proven to be ineffectual in these conflicts. Our research thus sheds light on some of the gaps in international law regarding environmental infrastructures, especially regarding dual-use infrastructure.

The Political Economic Logic of Liberal Exceptionalism

By Jacqueline Best

These are interesting times for scholars interested in the concept of “exceptionalism” and emergency.

As I have pointed to in my recent article in Security Dialogue, “Security, economy, population: The political economic logic of liberal exceptionalism,” prior to the recent wave of right-leaning election wins it seemed that we were entering into a post-exceptionalist moment.

Yet, even before the recent rise of the extreme right in the United States and across Europe, there was already evidence of the persistence of exceptionalism, particularly in the context of the 2008 global financial crisis. Before we give up on exceptionalism as a useful concept, we should consider the possibilities of reworking it by recognizing its political economic dimensions.

Sign of the Times Foreclosure by Respres- CC by 2.0 Wikimedia Creative Commons

Emergency actions were defined as responses to the imminent threat of an economic meltdown, which transformed their unusual policy reactions from a political choice into an economic necessity. This necessity became the justification for treating the issue as an exceptional problem … a kind of economic exceptionalism similar to the process of “securitization” that we see in the security arena.

When Western governments responded to the financial crisis in 2008, they did so in terms of exceptionalism. American President George W. Bush appealed to the “extraordinary” threat of global and national financial meltdown in order to justify bailing out AIG and other firms, while the British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne invoked the dire threat of the loss of economic sovereignty (as had occurred in Greece) in order to justify an “emergency budget” of austerity measures.

In both of these cases, we can see a similar logic at work: emergency actions were defined as responses to the imminent threat of an economic meltdown, which transformed their unusual policy reactions from a political choice into an economic necessity. This necessity became the justification for treating the issue as an exceptional problem that needed to be removed from the usual political process, suspending certain economic and democratic norms—a kind of economic exceptionalism similar to the process of “securitization” that we see in the security arena.

This is not a new phenomenon. Both the United Kingdom and the United States made extensive use of emergency powers to address economic crises, including widespread efforts to put down strikes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, while President Roosevelt used the Trading with the Enemy Act to push through key measures of the New Deal.

Why do governments rely on economic exceptionalism? Foucault’s later lectures on security, biopolitics and population give us some clues. With the development of liberal forms of government starting in the eighteenth century, he suggests that “security” and “political economy” became linked in a very particular way. This was because a new form of power emerged “that has the population as its target, political economy as its major form of knowledge, and apparatuses of security as its essential technical instrument.”[i]

Today, efforts to govern and secure modern populations continue to rely heavily on political economic thinking and practice. Yet free market economies bring instability as well as growth. There is a core tension in contemporary liberalism between the capacity of free markets to foster the good life, and their tendency to massively disrupt that same good life through periodic crises.

It is not just war that has the potential to threaten the very existence of a liberal state or the global system of states. We should therefore not be surprised if, like wars, economic crises also tend to push politics into the register of exceptionalism, as we have seen in recent years.

[i]    Foucault, M. (2007). Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978. London, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 144. Emphasis added.


Making the Invisible Visible – Satellites, Visual Technologies and Environmental Security

By Delf Rothe

How can satellites promise to predict future environmental risks and threats?

Global warming and resulting environmental changes are unfolding at an ever-faster pace. Natural disasters threaten the well-being of communities across the globe and debates around whether environmental change can (or should) be considered security risks are more topical than ever.

Seeing environmental risks

My recent article in Security Dialogue, ‘Seeing like a Satellite: Remote Sensing and the Ontological Politics of Environmental Security,’ offers a new perspective on environmental security. This perspective focuses on the crucial role of visual technologies, such as satellite observation, for the identification of environmental risks and threats as well as the definition of appropriate coping measures. The article traces how satellite observation technology and the idea of environmental change as a security problem itself, both emerged in the same context of a militarization of the geosciences during the Cold War. Satellite technology rendered large-scale environmental change visible, thereby allowing the emergence of a global conscience for problems such as climate change, the ozone hole, and deforestation, among others. At the same time, the fusion of military and research needs established novel relations between actors in the security and the environmental fields. While satellite technology remained firmly in the hand of the superpowers’ militaries, environmental security at that time also had its focus primarily on nation states in the context of ‘threats’ like looming resource conflicts or an influx of environmental migrants.


Weather Satellite- Public Domain Wikimedia Commons



In the aftermath of the Cold War the opening of satellite technology to a range of nongovernmental actors like environmental and development NGOs and researchers went along with a redefinition of environmental security in general.





A redefinition of environmental security

In the aftermath of the Cold War however, the opening of satellite technology to a range of nongovernmental actors like environmental and development NGOs and researchers went along with a redefinition of environmental security in general. Today, NGOs are using satellite imagery in their work to provide protection to local populations and ecosystems against natural disasters and environmental changes – thereby shifting the focus of environmental security from nation states to local communities. Further, an emerging commercial intelligence industry around global players like Google or DigitalGlobe promises to make future environmental risks predictable through what the article calls ‘big environmental data’ – the collection, harmonization and analysis of a broad range of data sources.


Evaluating the shift

As I note in my article, the question of how to evaluate these developments is not easy to answer. The shift of environmental security thinking away from nation states towards the protection of endangered communities, as well as the growing availability of satellite data, are certainly welcome changes. NGOs’ access to high-resolution imagery also provides them with the means to monitor and control populations at a distance. However, in a commercialized satellite intelligence market imagery is far from being freely available. Instead of military secrecy, it is now property-rights regimes and the heavy price tag on satellite images that can limit access to that data. Finally, the promise of ‘big environmental data’, with the goal of rendering the future predictable, draws on a problematic understanding of societies as quantifiable structures that misses the complexities of socio-environmental relations.

Impunity, the Postcolony and the Promise of Justice

By Henrique Furtado

Impunity’ figures in 9 out of 10 lists of the biggest difficulties faced by societies in the so called Third World. Ask anyone for a quick synthesis of the ‘problem’ with African, Asian, Latin American countries and impunity – the absence of punishment for those who violate moral, legal or social codes – will certainly be there, side by side with ‘corruption’, ‘backwardness’ and ‘underdevelopment’. Impunity is a pressing issue in a country pervaded by violence such as Brazil. Currently figuring as the most lethal democracy of the world in absolute numbers, Brazil has witnessed roughly 60,000 assassinations (the same number of American soldiers lost in Vietnam) on average, per year, for the past two decades. The levels of violence in the country trump those of far more discussed international conflicts.


In a recent article published in Security Dialogue entitled On Demons and Dreamers: Violence, silence and the politics of impunity in the Brazilian truth commission, I discuss how the way we understand impunity in the present depends on the way we remember violence in the past. In this sense, Brazil is quite an emblematic case. From 1964 to 1985, an anti-communist military dictatorship ruled in Brazil waging a ‘dirty war’ to defend Western capitalism. Under the military regime, agents of the state were responsible for arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances. Different claims from human rights activists range from 434 to almost 10,000 fatal victims. More than three decades have passed since the end of the dictatorship and, despite some commendable attempts, none of these crimes were properly punished. Worse, citizen security in the country remains militarised.

The Resistance Memorial, São Paulo/ Taken by author

… the way we understand impunity in the present depends on the way we remember violence in the past…

The transition to democracy in Brazil was defined by a pact of forgetfulness. The elites decided to ‘let bygones be bygones’ and the mass of self-proclaimed liberal good-citizens, who stood as silent bystanders while rights were violated, applauded. This pact of silence, forgetfulness and impunity helped to create a myth among activists, politicians, and social scientists that Brazil lived under a ‘culture of impunity’. In other words, the absence of criminal accountability for perpetrators of violations of human rights in the past was supposed to explain the absurd levels of violence witnessed in the present. As the logic goes, the amnesty of perpetrators led to an abnormal banalisation of violations of human rights. This myth, wholeheartedly supported by the Brazilian truth commission, is part of what I call the ‘politics of impunity’: the belief that violations of human rights in postcolonial societies are abnormal vis a vis the protection of civil rights in ‘healthy’ liberal societies.

In my article I explain how the Brazilian truth commission rightfully defended the punishment of those who participated in systematic acts of state terror in the past. But, more importantly, I also argue that this will never, in and on itself, resolve the systemic problem of violence in Brazil. The military are of course guilty of perpetrating violations of human rights in the past, but they are not guilty of creating a whole ‘culture’ where the lives of certain groups are treated as disposable. A culture that could be easily normalised by a few parsimonious measures of transitional justice. Most victims of violent crime in Brazil today are non-white, young males from deprived communities. Paradoxically, and against the idea of a ‘culture of impunity’, they also form the bulk of the country’s massive prison population. These groups are victimised (and continuously punished) by a system of inequalities (racism, sexism, dispossession) that far transcends the scope of the military dictatorship and that was not sufficiently discussed by the Brazilian truth commission. These inequalities are not specific to the postcolony, they are most certainly not unique to Brazil and they will never be overcome. At least not if we continue to talk about the impunity of the military without fundamentally addressing the violent system they were fighting for.


“Dimming the Sun” and the Implications of a ‘Plan B’ to Prevent Global Warming

By Olaf Corry

What security problems are likely to be involved in developing and using technology to deliberately modify the global climate ?

Some argue that effective global action to prevent global warming is too difficult politically, and that ‘dimming the sun’ should be explored. The idea is that a possible way to reduce climate risks is by limiting the amount of solar radiation that actually reaches the earth. One model involves continuously spraying aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect more light back out into space, and in the process lowering global temperatures. Rather than being seen as a replacement for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such ideas have been presented as a ‘Plan B’ that should be considered to allow extra time for greenhouse gases to be dealt with.

However, there are risks involved in using such high-leverage geoengineering technologies. My article, recently published in Security Dialogue, argues that the ability of geoengineering to reduce climate risks depends, ultimately, not just on technological innovations and avoiding ‘moral hazard’ but, rather,  also depends on avoiding the potential for a new type of  ‘security hazard’ to emerge.


Well-ordered global politics must therefore be a key component in any such ‘Plan B’ to cool the Earth…  any imagined future comprehensive framework for cooperation on geoengineering rests on some fairly optimistic assumptions about the rationality and temperateness of leaders, and on the effectiveness of global governance in general.

Global Temperatures in 2015- NASA- Public Domain under Wikimedia Commons.

First, even if no major unexpected effects ensue, diverging interests and risk profiles would make the use (or non-use) of geoengineering intensely political. Even keen supporters of stratospheric aerosol injection warn strongly against deployment without adequate global agreements, accountability and oversight. ‘Rogue’ or inadequately governed climate engineering outside a comprehensive agreement could exacerbate threats to international peace and stability. Well-ordered global politics must therefore be a key component in any such ‘Plan B’ to cool the Earth. Although theoretically cheaper than decarbonizing the global economy, any imagined future comprehensive framework for cooperation on geoengineering rests on some fairly optimistic assumptions about the rationality and temperateness of leaders, and on the effectiveness of global governance in general. Incentives to cooperate exist but so do incentives to go it alone, to override objections, to deny compensation to ‘losers’, to geoengineer in somebody’s interests more than others’, or to abuse the technology in other ways.

Moreover, by making the global weather something somebody ‘does’ to somebody else, high-leverage geoengineering potentially risks introducing friend-enemy dynamics into climate politics as a whole. Not only might this make geoengineering effectively unavailable as a Plan B, but by making climate politics part of existing geopolitical rivalries and security dynamics it also risks making Plan A (greenhouse gas emissions reduction) even more difficult to achieve. ‘Security’ is a special category of politics in which so-called ‘normal’ rules and methods are often set aside in favour of exceptional ones due to existential threats, real or otherwise. Such ‘exceptional’ measures could and usually do include violence, secrecy, and a variety of undemocratic measures justified for ‘security reasons’. States deploying geoengineering may, via the climate, appear as existential threats to others. Even ‘random’ weather events could become geopolitically contentious.

Research and further exploration of these technologies should not be ruled out, but the ‘security hazard’ associated with geoengineering should be taken seriously when assessing whether or not new technologies are likely, ultimately, to reduce or exacerbate risks associated with climate change.


Can Peace be Tied up in Patriarchal Fantasies?

Is peace a gender-neutral term? Can peace be tied up in patriarchal fantasies? What is masculinity nostalgia and how does it shape ideals of post-war peace?

Our recent article published in Security Dialogue answers these questions through a case study analysis of Palestinian peace activists. We asked peace activists to talk about how war and occupation might impact their ability to live up to gender norms. One interview in particular stands out for us. When asked about his experiences at checkpoints, a male peace activists told us:

you feel that, OK you can take the humiliation if you are on your own but you don’t want your family or your wife to… see that humiliation or…it affects your ego, it effects your dignity, so you know how it is so especially for men here they feel very proud about their dignity and think maybe macho or something…  To destroy the dignity especially of men by even having young girls, female soldiers interrogate you and sometimes humiliate you at checkpoints. (Interviewee 6)

For us, this interview illustrates the complex way that war and occupation not only cause trauma and humiliation, but cause particular forms of stress related to gender norms. For this man, the humiliation of checkpoints was made worse when his family was there to witness and when young female soldiers performed interrogations. The interviewee went on to explain that both these factors exacerbate the humiliation because they thwart his ability to perform his expected role as a father, protector, and leader of the family.


Through this and other interviews, we observed how war and occupation- particularly checkpoints, changes to the local economy, the presence of occupying forces, and loss of land- can disrupt and produce new gender norms. We were particularly interested in civilian masculinities and the ways in which masculinities might be impacted by conflict and insecurity. The goal was not to downplay or trivialise the very real everyday forms of violence and oppression experienced by men and women in Palestine. We were also not attempting to create a new typology of military masculinities, or assuming that expressions of masculinity nostalgia are fixed categories that will remain relevant for all time. Our main goal was to listen to civilian men how map how they see war and occupation impacting their gender identities.

Perhaps the most interesting finding- to us- was that male peace activists saw war and occupation as limiting their ability to fulfil their ‘traditional’ gender roles as fathers, breadwinners, and landowners. For them, peace was not only about the absence of war, but also about them returning to what they saw as their rightful place as head of the household, primary breadwinner, and patriarchal leader. Peace is often defined simply as the absence of war or as a gender-neutral and positive ideal. However, some ideals of peace and security assume and are dependent upon ‘the return’ of men to their presumed rightful places at the head of households and as economic providers. In turn, masculinity nostalgia emphasizes the ways that yearnings for peace and security can be interwoven with yearnings for patriarchal gendered orders.

By Czech160 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These interviews helped us to develop the concept of masculinity nostalgia. Nostalgia is generally understood as a longing for the past, or for a set of relationships and experiences associated with the past. Masculinity nostalgia mythologizes peace as a time of patriarchal power, authority, and gender certainty. Masculinity nostalgia is both the yearning for an idealized, secure and peaceful time in which gender roles were presumed to have been clear and uncontested, and a quest for the loss of patriarchal power and gender authority that is associated with insecurity, war and occupation. We argue that gender norms and identities are often impossible ideals that individuals- even in peacetime- struggle to live up to. Masculinity nostalgia seemed almost like a coping mechanism. It allowed men and women to idealise peace as a time when finally- one might be able to successfully perform masculinity.

Conflict and occupation have altered the economic and political environment in the West Bank. Checkpoints, significant changes in industry and economic relations, and migration and displacement have all impacted daily life for Palestinians. Our research shows that these fluctuations in daily life, impact men and women’s capacity to perform and live up to gender norms and ideals. In particular, men are finding it increasingly difficult to perform masculine models of fatherhood, land owners, and breadwinners. These shifts create a particularly perplexing situation: at the same time as it has becomes ever more impossible to perform models of masculinity, there are continued expressions of masculinity nostalgia for these very models of masculinity. In other words, there is both a lamenting of one’s inability to perform masculine ideals coupled with a yearning for these very ideals. The most unique findings of our research are the ways that masculinity nostalgia associates peace, security, and the ‘return to normal’ with men’s ability to reclaim their presumed rightful place in society. This ‘rightful place’ is understood as a time and place where men are in control of both the domestic and national sphere; as the ultimate benefactors of patriarchy. Therefore, masculinity nostalgia emphasizes the ways that yearnings for peace and security can be interwoven with yearnings for patriarchal gendered orders.

The transactional politics of border control in the Aegean

The images of migrants and refugees trying to reach the European mainland by boat are well known. Much less is known about how border surveillance at sea actually takes place. The research for our article ‘Surveillance at sea: The transactional politics of border control in the Aegean’ brought us to the Greek islands Chios and Lesbos. How do Greek coast guards, Frontex officials and military police forces of EU-member states guard the Agean?

By Irish Defence Forces [CCBY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Interviews with coast guards, migrants and their representatives, local authorities and NGOs and field work on a patrol vessel made us aware border control at sea consists of a huge patchwork of practices and techniques. Observations of patrol vessels are shared with authorities on the islands but also with the national coordination center in Athens and the Frontex headquarters (by now called the ‘European Border and Coast Guard Agency’) in Warsaw. Satellite images and information collected by radar travels through a network of professionals and officials. The resulting ‘vision’ of a critical situation in which an unknown boat reaches Greek waters and a decision with regard to a possible intervention has to be made is the outcome of many different hands with many different technologies.

What we found missing in this picture is one crucial group of actors: the migrants themselves. Migrants are not passive objects but form an active part of the scene and create that scene to a certain extent. However, many descriptions of surveillance do not grant them with agentive capacities.

Lambro Halmatic 60 class lifeboat SAR-513, SX6579, of the Hellenic Coast Guard at Marina Zeas CG station. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Copyright (C) 2007 K. Krallis SV1XV

Our research found that the ‘situational awareness’ of border surveillance that ought to provide modes of intervention in a meeting of Hellenic Coast Guard vessels with boats that carry migrants is confronted with people who can prove hard to tow away. Or they can prove recalcitrant to the extent that they enact a change of the definition of the surveillance situation into that of a Search and Rescue missions (SAR). Although the implementation of new technologies often promises to subdue such recalcitrance, our analysis showed how recalcitrance is generated by the interplay of visual technology and the being seen (by migrants) of mobile forms of surveillance technology. Moving between border protection and SAR is a way of dealing with the very resistance that objects perform when being rendered relatable.

The conclusion of our research is that there is an intimate relationship between the visualization of critical events at sea and the actions that are or are not undertaken. These events can only be understood by taking the active role of migrants themselves into account as they affect the situation. As a result, the policy distinction between border surveillance at sea and search and rescue operations is hard to maintain. Therefor, we conclude a conceptual perspective is required that questions the boundary between border surveillance and ‘Search and Rescue’ at sea and allows for a deeper engagement between the subjects and objects of surveillance and visualization.

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 by D. Myles Cullen (released)

Source: SM KASOTC. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy.

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.