‘Security, Economy, Population’ – A response to Owens and Collier

What are the analytical and political stakes of thinking about political economic practice through the lens of exceptionalism? These I take to be the fundamental questions underlying the very insightful comments by Patricia Owens and Stephen Collier, two scholars whose work I greatly admire, on my Security Dialogue article ‘Security, Economy, Population’.

Best and Collier’s remarks are provocative, thoughtful and, perhaps most importantly, generative of new connections and directions for those who want to rethink the relationship between economy, security and politics today. In this brief response, I would like to pick up on four key challenges that Owens and Collier raise in their comments, and which move the conversation forward in important ways. I will begin by engaging with their appeals to take seriously the social and technocratic character of the relationship between security and economy. In doing so, I will also make a case for why exceptionalism remains a powerful category for understanding the logics of liberal governance. I move on to briefly examine the history of 20th century economic exceptionalism, adding a further layer of complexity to the narrative that Collier elaborates. I will conclude by returning to the question that I explore in the article’s conclusion: arguing for the usefulness of the concept of economic exceptionalism in our attempts to make sense of these troubling times.

Although Owens and Collier articulate their challenges in different terms, both question my narrow focus on crisis forms of exceptionalism. No doubt inspired by her own very important research into the historical emergence of the social and the often-neglected role of oikonomiain contemporary international politics, Owens suggests that we must attend to the ‘social production’ of exceptionalism. She then goes on to argue that the emphasis on exceptions obscures the ways that patterns of exclusion occur ‘all the time’ in economic management, not just at rare moments of crisis. Collier also points towards the ways that emergency-management has been embedded in a wide range of mundane bureaucratic processes—moving it beyond the kind of singular sovereign decisions that scholars of exceptionalism have tended to emphasize.

Both scholars are absolutely correct to identify this lacuna in the article, which focuses on what I describe as emergency exceptionalism. This article is part of a bigger project that seeks to make sense of both emergency and more mundane, technocratic forms of exceptionalism. In the sister-article to this one, ‘Technocratic Exceptionalism: Monetary Policy and the Fear of Democracy’(just published in International Political Sociology), I suggest that we also need to consider the role of everyday economic exceptionalism. In order to illustrate this paradoxical concept, I point to the parallels between border guards and central bankers. Both, I suggest, ‘operate, on a day-to-day basis, in political spaces exempt from many of the norms of liberal democratic politics, and yet have the power to define and constrain them.’In identifying this connection, I am drawing on rich scholarship on the mundane character of security exceptionalism (such as work by Didier Bigo, William Walters, Marieke de Goede and Louise Amoore) that attends to the ways in which exceptionalist politics can operate on a daily basis through a myriad of everyday practices that sort the safe from the unsafe, the included from the excluded.

How does this logic operate in the economic context? It does so by cordoning off a whole host of different aspects of economic policy that are deemed to be too important to be left to the vicissitudes of democratic oversight. As I note in my Security Dialogue article, capitalist economies are highly unstable. We should not be too surprised then to find that, ever since liberal states began to expand the democratic franchise in the 20thcentury, they have had to contend with the fact that the general public has a tendency of voting to constrain the wilder side of the liberal market economy when given the chance. While Karl Polanyi’s proposed resolution of this tension—using democratic authority to constrain the free market— gained some influence in the post-war era, Friedrich Hayek’s neoliberal response won out in the late 1970s. Since then, most liberal states have opted to protect the market by limiting democratic oversight over key economic policies —creating pockets of technocratic exceptionalism in the process. Why should we think these dynamics as a form of exceptionalist politics rather than a more efficient kind of policy-making? There are three compelling reasons to retain this language —in spite of the very real and reasonable concerns that both Owens and Collier flag.

First, these kind of economic practices are exceptionalist because they are immensely political. Monetary policy is a domain that is supposed to be in need of protection from democratic whim because, we are told, the public tends to vote for inflationary policies. Yet, as Kathleen McNamara has demonstrated in her article on the ‘Rational fiction’of central bank independence, this arms-length approach to monetary policy does not in fact improve economic outcomes. Instead, it actively reproduces a set of policies that, by making price stability rather than employment the dominant goal of monetary policy, bears considerable responsibility for growing inequality. Although I would agree with Owens here that the central actors in the story that I am telling are generally political elites, their actions nonetheless reproduce a particular set of class, gender and racial dynamics, and have profound consequences for the lived experiences of ordinary people.

Second, the logic underpinning these economic policies is parallel to the one that I outline in ‘Security, Economy, Population’: both emergency and technocratic forms of exceptionalism are defined by the articulation of an extreme threat, the suspension of normal democratic procedures, and the implementation of the exception through a range of technical practices. In the case of monetary policy, the logic is very clear: the threat of inflation (particularly hyper-inflation) is deemed severe enough to justify the suspension of democratic oversight, which had been the norm in most western countries until the introduction of central bank independence the 1980s. This exception has been implemented through a series of bureaucratic practices, such as inflation targeting, that have minimized the scope for considering their distributive consequences.

Third, once we recognize this exceptionalist pattern in the economic context, we can also begin to make connections with the growing literature in legal and security studies on the rise of legislative exceptionalism. As Andrew Neal, John Ferejohn and Pasquale Pasquino have noted in the British and American cases, respectively, in recent decades we have seen far fewer cases in which formal emergency powers are invoked to respond to crises, and far more reliance on legislative measures—such as the PATRIOT Act in the US and the Defense Against Terrorism Acts in the UK. While this kind of legislative exceptionalism has the advantage of some initial democratic oversight (even if it is usually an extremely rushed form), it blurs the line between the norm and the exception and is more liable to be normalized over time, as what was once an exceptional power (of surveillance, for example) becomes routine.

If economic exceptionalism can take these different forms—emergency, technocratic, legislative —then what are its historical patterns? This question takes me back to the fascinating historical discussion that Collier introduces, when he discusses the efforts by American policymakers in the 1930s to reduce that government’s reliance on emergency powers by creating more technocratic capacity. While this historical account is compelling, we should not be too quick to assume a linear path between the 1930s and today. In my own recent research into anti-inflation policies in the 1970s, I was struck by the extent to which liberal democratic governments continued to make use of formal emergency powers in this era —as President Nixon did in 1971 when he imposed wage and price controls, and as Prime Minister Heath did in Britain in 1973-74 when he imposed a three-day work week in response to the coalminers’ strikes. It is only in the early 1980s, with the election of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that we see a clear rejection of such policies and embrace of a more technocratic kind of exceptionalism in monetary policy—in which the explicitly political, negotiated solutions to inflation that were the norm in the 1970s are replaced by monetary rules.

Although I am still in the process of making sense of this puzzle, it is clear that the relationship among different forms of exceptionalism is complex and dynamic—and far from linear. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, for example, central banks were able to create new exceptionalist powers in the context of the emergency precisely because of their technocratic exemption from full democratic accountability. At the same time, the remarkable expansion of their powers after the crisis ultimately made people more aware of their unelected and largely unaccountable status, raising questions about the sustainability of their technocratic exceptionalism. At Judith Butler reminds us, the exceptional and the governmental are intricately linked in contemporary society.

This brings us at last to the present moment of political disquiet. Both Collier and Owen, in different ways, question the category of economic exceptionalism not only in analytic but also in normative terms, asking whether it helps us understand the present moment or obscures its dangers. As I have written elsewhere, there was a moment in the early days of Trump’s election that I wondered whether I had been wrong to argue for greater democratic accountability for central banks. After all, shouldn’t we all be relieved that there are at least some areas of economic life that are protected from Trump’s political interference? Yet, if we want to understand how we produced a western world of inflated asset prices, declining real middle-class incomes and spiralling wealth inequality, then we do have to pay attention to the technocratic practices that ensured that price stability would trump all other economic goals, whatever the costs to the many (and benefits to the few). And, if we want to understand why there is so much disillusionment with expert authority —particularly economic authority— then we also have to pay attention the specious economic ideas that have been championed by a neoliberal elite as too important to be subject to debate. And when we ask ourselves what has led to the impoverishment of contemporary democratic debate, then we need to pay attention to the systematic effort by our leaders to exclude politically salient issues from the agenda in the name of economic necessity.

The language of economic exceptionalism is powerful not only because it allows us to analyze the complex tensions within liberal modes of governance, but also because it enables us to diagnose some of the sources of the current democratic crisis—and to call for their transformation.

Jacqueline Best is Professor at School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa. The Security Dialogue blogpost on her article discussed in these rejoinders and response can be found here.

The Good Drone

Edited by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert. Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, 202 pp.:  9780367000844 (hbk)

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert’s collected volume entitled ‘The Good Drone’ highlights the materiality of the drone in the context of humanitarian applications and questions. While the book primarily deals with the question of materiality in the context of humanitarian applications, the drone’s history as a military technology and its symbolic significance is not neglected. By asking the contributing authors what it means for a drone to be good, the editors invite them to assess whether drones can be good at all, as well as how this might vary across applications and contexts. As is often seen with emerging technologies of surveillance, there is a Janus faced quality (Lyon 1994) to drones. As Sandvik and Jumbert argue in their introduction, “drones are not ‘pre-destined’ to be good or bad, but are tools that can be used in good or bad ways” (p.14). This collection adds to the emerging literature on the use of drones outside of the battlespace, and specifically, in humanitarian applications. A major contribution of this collection, while considering the positive and negative aspects of the drone, is to warn against “the drone as a technological fantasy, and drone utopianism” (p. 6), which the authors accomplish in a balanced way. The contents from chapter to chapter build well on each other, from the shifting context of drones from military to civil contexts and each engage with the specific complexities of the drone in humanitarian applications.

The first chapter by Krasmann begins by contextualizing the drone in its killing context and takes a biopolitical stance arguing that the drone contributes to the protection of the social body by making it visible. Krasmann ultimately argues that the precision nature of the drone in war is exactly what makes it troublesome for use in humanitarian spaces. Building on the suitability for drones in humanitarian spaces, the next chapter asks whether they are bound to codify life numerically as they do in war zones. Karlsrud and Rosen conclude that while drones can be useful, key issues must first be addressed around data collection and use-policies must be put in place before their wholescale adoption in humanitarian contexts. In chapter three, Liden and Sandvik assess whether humanitarian drones are a cure-all for protecting civilians. Based on the notion of the right to protect, this chapter introduces the positive aspects of drone use but highlights the need to address harms that might arise with persistent drone surveillance and data collection in spaces of discontent. Overall, the first three chapters engage with important questions around the perception of drones by individuals who are subject to them on the ground, as well as the ways that the technical capabilities of drones might lend themselves to ‘function creep.’ While none of the authors negate the positive aspects of drones for humanitarian operations, they argue that much consideration and thought must be put into assuring their appropriate use.

Chapters four and five deal with the introduction of drones in the domestic realm for patrolling and public order. Jumbert’s chapter questions the official reasons for the introduction of drones for surveillance patrols along EU borders. She argues that the discourse surrounding the introduction of drones has positioned them as an asset in assisting with migrant rescue, whereas the project is really more about increasing the reach of the border and extending the areas under near-constant surveillance. This typical border agenda is made clearer when the author links the introduction of drones back to broader EU border projects where the goal is ultimately to keep in the good and desirable elements and keep out the bad, undesirable things, people or otherwise. Sandvik builds on these biopolitical questions and analyzes the domestic use of the drone for policing purposes. The problem uncovered by Sandvik is the framing of drones in the domestic space for policing and public order purposes, in that the question has become more about how to make drones more effective rather than whether drones should be introduced in the first instance. Echoing the other chapters, these two chapters highlight the concerns for data collection, privacy and surveillance, despite the potentially beneficial applications.

The next two chapters assess the use of drones for commercial and research purposes, looking at their adoption for precision agriculture and wildlife monitoring. Bolman’s chapter on agricultural drones engages with the strategies of normalization employed by industry to make drones seem necessary for farmers. He notes that precision agriculture has always adjusted alongside new technologies and drones are not unique in this sense; but he argues that the drone contributes to a Foucauldian articulation of neoliberal man. In this sense, farmers are repurposed as purely economic actors, in order to help accelerate the commercialization of drones, land speculation, and surveillance in ways that serve to exacerbate global resource inequality. Chapter seven highlights the role of the drone in the world of conservation science and speaks to its flexibility – which is important for this kind of research. Using the case of studying orangutans in Indonesia, Wich, Scott, and Pin Koh address the privacy concerns that arise in these remote contexts. Their recommendation is that prospective drone operations are preceded by engagement with local communities, proper protections for data, and addressing ethical quandaries that arise around data regarding illegal activities like illicit logging and poaching.

The concluding chapter by Kaufmann brings all of the topics full circle by engaging once more with the question of materiality and how a drone’s sensing abilities imitate human bodies and the kind of power this can have in humanitarian and emergency situations. Kaufmann emphasizes how technologies alter “relationships, practices, and epistemologies of emergency governance,” in the ways they interact with human beings (p. 169).

Aiming to “chart a path between determinism and constructivism,” (p.5) all of the authors engage with questions about whether the drone is neutral and what impacts it has when adopted in particular spaces. Throughout, there is a flow in the way most of the authors contest and contextualize the technological capabilities of drones within broader political and social arrangements. By engaging with the drone in the spaces where they are deployed, most of the authors challenge and question the technological optimism that has accompanied the advent of drones in the domestic space. Overall, this text adds to emerging literature on the use of drones outside of the battlespace and pushes readers to think about whether or not drones should be used across various applications just because they can be used.

Does terrorism work?

Does Terrorism Work? A History by Richard English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 368pp., £25.00 (h/b), ISBN 9780199607853

The renewed proliferation of terrorism studies that rapidly followed the 9/11 attacks has been well-documented, and the post-9/11 wave that is now nearly two decades old, has focused predominantly on an elusive, universally-accepted definition of terrorism. Efforts to understand the utility of terrorism represent a flourishing debate that faithfully provides us with a kaleidoscope of answers. Richard English’s Does Terrorism Work? takes up this inherently controversial question by addressing four empirical cases: al-Qaeda, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), Hamas and Palestinian Terrorism, and the Basque nationalist and separatist group known as the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) or Basque Homeland and Freedom.

English’s exploration of these and other groups delivers a fascinating account of what constitutes success in the practice and management of terrorism. The primary questions raised in English’s inquiry are timely and carry a striking exigency. Prefacing his book’s intricate analysis, English addresses skepticism about the ability of experts to point to clear answers with precision, especially given that many of the challenges confronting such questions are rooted in the murkiness of subjectivity. If we are to inquire about the efficacy of terrorism, then it follows that one must ask: “for whom?” English spotlights this barrier prior to his case studies, showing that the same thorny concern has repeatedly impeded attempts to explore these issues. Having provided his own definitional approach and, after confronting the obvious difficulties in addressing the overarching question, English sets the tone of the book as one of historical engagement.

English presents the four types of success that a terrorist group or organization can achieve: “strategic victory,” “partial strategic victory,” “tactical success,” and “rewards of struggle” that lie beyond the scope of a group’s main objectives (p. 30). This fourfold framework grounds his analysis for each case. In Chapter 1, English demonstrates that although al-Qaeda failed in its stated central goal to expel the United States from the Middle East, the terrorist network nevertheless succeeded in some of its secondary objectives, including a range of tactical successes that have been undeniable to observers. The PIRA case, introduced in Chapter 2 serves up a more complex tour and English explains how PIRA’s actions could be interpreted as having gone “beyond terrorism” (p. 95). Violence, which was just one of many means used by them, was indeed instrumental in PIRA’s accomplishments but not to the extent that had been expected, even by the group itself. The case of Hamas in turn, presented in Chapter 3, tests the guiding question of English’s work. Short of achieving its central goal, Hamas’ violent strides still nurtured the development of conditions less favorable to the Israelis over a protracted period. As English writes, “[t]hey have had some success in determining the political agenda (damaging a peace process which they despised), and they have gained some interim concessions as well as huge publicity” (p. 182). In Chapter 4, English shows how the echo of reward in Spain benefitted the ETA in the Basque region on a number of fronts, with a surge of support across a broader community of radical nationalists.

Does Terrorism Work? presents readers with a detailed engagement of terrorism and terrorist struggles, sidestepping easy answers to a complex phenomenon. The subjective character of terrorism ultimately accommodates a difference of opinion regarding the capacity of groups and organizations to realize their political goals through the mobilization of radical violence. Readers will find that to assess the outcomes of terrorism, one must shift one’s lens to see acts from a terrorist’s point of view. English’s work goes a long way in accommodating this perspective by incorporating data obtained through interviews with former terrorist operatives. These interviews bring the intimacy of perpetrator motivations to the reader, illustrating with detail the stated rationale behind indiscriminate acts of violence. English sustains this subjectivity while underscoring the importance of its critical context.

Ultimately, Does Terrorism Work? offers a nuanced account of terrorist practices over the course of numerous decades. Although there have been instances where terrorism has served a group’s central and strategic aims to laudable effect, English corroborates what other leading terrorism scholars have revealed through their own research: that terrorism rarely produces the desired results of terrorist groups and organizations save for a few notable cases. Hence, in his conclusion English argues that rather than attempting to counter a group’s central grandiose objective, it makes more sense to pragmatically concentrate on areas where terrorists are more likely to succeed. This is because the so-called terrorist crisis of today stems, in part, from the relationship that governments share with terrorists in their misguided responses and counter-terrorism policies. Does Terrorism Work? Is a marvelous piece of scholarship in spite of producing some pockets of ambiguity. Horizon-expanding and masterfully-written, this work will likely make an unequivocal contribution to classrooms and be well-received by anyone interested in history, sociology, and terrorism and political violence, for many years.



Anxiety, fantasy and ideology in the social construction of a ‘Muslim problem’

‘I’ve been warning my party of its “Muslim problem” for far too long’, wrote Baroness Warsi in July 2018, calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the UK’s ruling Conservative Party. Warsi subverted a term coined a year earlier when Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor of the Sun, published a column in that paper posing the question: ‘What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?’. Kavanagh’s article triggered an inquiry by the UK media regulator (of which Kavanagh was a board member), whose ruling concurred with the Muslim Council of Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews that his words ‘could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust’ but nevertheless failed to uphold the complaint.

Meanwhile, another sometime Sun columnist and radio presenter, Katie Hopkins, known for anti-Muslim hate speech called for a ‘final solution’ after the 2017 Manchester bombing, a term repeated by an Australian senator in his August 2018 maiden speech, in which he declared Muslims ‘a problem’ for Australia. Alongside these uses of Nazi terminology, ‘mainstream’ politicians offer succour to the Islamophobic far right with tirades against aspects of perceived Muslim-ness. Former Mayor of London and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, also in August 2018, wrote about feeling ‘perfectly entitled’ to ask that Muslim women constituents remove items of their clothing in his office, ridiculing burqa-wearers as ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ (terms used in street abuse[1] of Muslim women). And all of these cases follow the government’s (2016) Casey Review; commissioned as a general ‘review into integration and opportunity’, the final report was obsessively preoccupied with the lives of Muslim others.

This widespread and multi-faceted problematisation of British Muslims exceeds post-9/11 ‘securitisation’ framings, and is taking place against a backdrop of rising Islamophobic hate crime and an international context that includes President Donald Turmp’s ban on people from certain majority-Muslim countries from even entering the United States.

So does the UK have a ‘Muslim problem’ and if so, what is it? Our new Security Dialogue article, explores the ideological functions served by media scandals around British Muslims relating to ‘grooming gangs’; the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in Birmingham schools; and halal food scandals epitomised by the Sun’s ‘Halal secret of Pizza Express’ headline.

What does it mean to say that these scandals serve ‘ideological’ functions? Our article draws upon the Lacanian, psychoanalysis-infused concept of ideology developed by Slavoj Zizek, to argue that the ideological functions of a media scandal are the powerful ways that it structures social fantasies. Wherever we find anxiety-inducing social tensions and contradictions – such as those around systematic sexual abuse, deregulated education, or the industrialised production of meat – we find fantasy narratives displacing or managing these anxieties.

The UK’s real ‘Muslim problem’ is that political and media elites fixate upon British Muslims, while publics voraciously consume Muslim ‘plot’ narratives as a means of displacing ethical responsibility for social antagonisms onto a minority ‘other’. As our article shows, this has created a ‘conceptual Muslim’ like the Nazi ‘conceptual Jew’ – a monstrous figure that can be blamed for our lack of cohesive national selfhood at times of economic and political crises: the Great Recession, austerity and Brexit. Such ideological fantasies of ‘problems’ are of course extremely dangerous since they can sustain violently racist policy ‘solutions’.

[1] Following the research for this article, we are currently engaged in a research project on the ‘intersectional politics of austerity and Islamophobia’, supported by the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University. In a research interview with a victim of Islamophobic abuse, just weeks before Johnson’s article was published, a participant outlining his family’s experiences of street abuse told us: ‘a guy called my wife a letterbox, because she wears the Niqab’.

The politics of identifying potential terrorists

Is it possible to identify someone who might, one day, go on to commit an act of terrorism? And if it is, is it possible to intervene in order to disrupt or mitigate this potential? These questions have been central to state responses to the “war on terror” and have led to the creation of new security practices focussed on the problem of radicalisation – understood as the process by which an individual becomes involved in terrorist violence.

The UK’s “Prevent” strategy represents the cutting-edge of global counter-radicalisation practice. Central to Prevent is “Channel,” the institutional space in which vulnerabilities to radicalisation are reported, and where decisions are made on whether and how to intervene. First trialled in 2007, Channel has grown to become a central pillar of the UK’s response to terrorism. Controversially, in 2015, engaging with the Channel process became a statutory duty for many authorities, encompassing those who work in, for instance, education, healthcare and social work. Therefore, those who work in these fields must now pay ‘due regard’ to those who might be “vulnerable to radicalisation,” vigilant to this potential, and reporting concerns where they arise.

Yet, as I demonstrate in this article, this process of identification is not as unproblematic and apolitical as government guidance suggests. Rather, Channel guidance and training produces a visualisation of the potential future terrorist. And this visualisation is political, reproducing assumptions concerning who is seen as a threat. In exploring the mechanisms through which a vision of the potential future terrorist is produced my article, recently published in Security Dialogue, contributes to a broader understanding of how security can often function through the visualisation of threats.

Key to many security regimes is the production of an optics of that which is risky, requiring securing, and that which is not. In my article I show that security often functions through what I call “regimes of (in)visibility,” which are constituted by security guidance and training. Who does this training and guidance make visible? Who does not require attention, becoming invisible? In locating the production of the security gaze as central to British counter-radicalisation efforts, what emerges is an account of Prevent that seeks to restructure the gaze of relevant professionals towards new threats. It is a desire to transform how millions of workers with Prevent responsibilities see and engage with their environments.

The question at the heart of Channel is, therefore, what gaze does it seek to produce? As has been widely discussed in the context of British counter-terrorism, it is a gaze that is concerned with identity and the vexed question of “Britishness.” With extremism being defined in opposition to “British values,” and with many “vulnerability indicators” highlighting questions of identity and religiosity, it is a security gaze directed towards those seen to not cohere. In this way, it is a gaze that cannot escape existing ideas concerning who is seen to unproblematically belong within “Britishness” and who is not. It is a gaze that is thus often attuned to those who are identified as Muslim.

In addition though, by locating vulnerability to radicalisation within a wider safeguarding framework, Channel mobilises an already existent pastoral gaze. In doing so, it integrates pre-existing safeguarding concerns within this counter-radicalisation framework. In producing the visible world anew, the gaze Channel seeks to attune one that therefore sits at the intersection of concerns of vulnerability and care, and those of extremism, values and ‘Britishness’, producing new subjects of risk. Channel thus represents a central site in the production of who is seen to be risky, requiring attention, and who is seen to be secure within the war on terror.

Moreover, as the article concludes, what we see emerging with Channel is a novel ambition that seeks to embed security at the heart of everyday social relations. If part of the human condition is change over time – of becoming – then the promise held by Channel is that, with the right training, becoming that is becoming dangerous can be made visible in the present, can be identified, and, ultimately, can be mediated before such danger manifests. Channel can thus be read as a strategy of (in)visibilisation at the forefront of visibilising life itself as a process of (potentially dangerous) becoming. It is the frontline of a profound merging of a politics of care and a politics of identity, enabling new subjects and objects of risk to be identified, and with significant implications for our understanding of how contemporary life must be secured.

Liquid Warfare: AFRICOM and its pop-up militarization

In recent years, an expanding conglomerate of armed actors is engaged in training operations, targeted killings and manhunts, often outside conventional war zones across the Middle East and Africa. These Western state-led operations mark a shift away from ‘boots-on-the-ground’ deployments towards light-footprint military interventions, and involve a combination of drone strikes and airstrikes, special forces, private contractors and military-to-military (M2M) training.  Established in 2008, the US Africa command (AFRICOM) has spearheaded this form of military engagement in Africa. AFRICOM special forces, for instance, share military bases and engage in training ‘African partners’. Although not an entirely new phenomenon, the reliance on countering security threats at a distance through military partnerships is on the rise across Africa, and cynically results in having local partners doing most of the killing and dying across shadowy, and dispersed battle zones.

Attribution for jpg: By US Army Africa from Vicenza, Italy (U.S. Army Africa ‘Train the Trainers’ in Ghana 05) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Largely, these military interventions remain hidden from Western publics. And if they incidentally appear on our screens, constant accusations of tampering with evidence, a lack of clarity on who is involved and why, and the repeated claim that interventions are ‘precise and clean’, blurs any political debate on civilian casualties, responsibility, and accountability. Moreover, the remote nature of this new form of warfare has allowed Western parties to physically withdraw from the battlefield. Returning An important by-product of the militarization of the region is the worsening of local security dynamics, including retaliation attacks against civilians.body bags are increasingly a thing of the past, and so too An important by-product of the militarization of the region is the worsening of local security dynamics, including retaliation attacks against civilians.is public outcry and scrutiny.

Together, the remoteness and elusiveness of contemporary interventionist warfare renders it invisible to those not at the receiving end of the violence. The result being that Western intervening states no longer invest energy into publicly legitimizing their reasons for military intervention beyond the catch-all cliché of (national) security.

In our article for Security Dialogue (free access), we aim to ‘make visible’ and ‘make strange’ these new forms of warfare.  We present a framework to study why and importantly how Western states are engaging in remote warfare and how this has political consequences. More specifically, based on online investigation and years of field work in east Africa, we examined how AFRICOM engaged in security cooperation with regional allies in name of defeating The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and arresting its commander Joseph Kony. Our main conclusion is that the deployment of 100 AFRICOM special operation forces to train roughly 3000 African Union troops to ‘hunt down Kony’ between 2011 and 2017 under operation Observant Compass never corresponded with the LRA security threat on the ground. At the time AFRICOM began its militarization campaign, the LRA was already in serious decline (an estimated 250 armed fighters).  The target centered man-hunt did, however, allow AFRICOM to establish operational capabilities and ‘know how’ for a mobile military footing in a volatile and resource rich region. Under the cloak of ‘hunting down Kony’ AFRICOM has built an archipelago of pop-up military bases in Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central Africa Republic, serving as hubs for surveillance, airlift, intelligence and reconnaissance operations across Africa. This emphasis on assembling a flexible infrastructure of partnerships and operational capabilities shows how AFRICOM is primarily about the monitoring, and, if necessary, disrupting and containing of potential risks to US  interests.

An important by-product of the militarization of the region is the worsening of local security dynamics, including retaliation attacks against civilians. While African Union soldiers reportedly have looted resources and preyed on locals, military elites have secured anti-democratic regimes through forging alliances with AFRICOM.  None of the actors involved in what we have named the ‘Kony military assemblage’ is held accountable for the lives lost and damage done under operation Observant Compass. Meanwhile, US military attention and resources have shifted to the Sahel and Magreb region where similar arrangements are being rolled out (particularly in Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger).

The fluidity of these military arrangements has radically upset conventional ties between war, space and time. The major technique of remote warfare is the rejection not just of  territorial conquest, but also of winning ‘hearts and minds’, along with the related responsibilities and costs of order and nation building. Instead, what is at its core is disruption, access and containment. Warfare has become liquid: temporally open-ended, as well as spatially dispersed and mobile. A slippery and mutable form of organized violence, through which people are harmed and killed, but which remains elusive and unaccounted for.

Jolle Demmers and Lauren Gould are based at the Cnetre for Conflicts Studies, Utrecht University, the Netherlands


Challenging Everyday Nuclear Insecurity

Founded in 1982, Faslane Peace Camp in Scotland clams to be the longest lived of its kind. Crammed into a small roadside verge, the brightly coloured and ramshackle caravans of the camp are located just a few hundred yards from the razor-wire fences of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, home to the British Trident nuclear weapons system. I argue in a recent article that the anti-nuclear activists who live at the camp expose the reproduction of nuclear weapons in everyday life – and point to how we might think and do security differently.

These days, nuclear weapons are often in the headlines. At first glance, the UK parliamentary debates on the renewal of the Trident system, the gilded halls in which the international nuclear weapons ban was negotiated, or the media circus of the Korean nuclear summit seem far removed from the local spaces and mundane routines of ‘the everyday’. Accordingly, nuclear politics has been barely touched by the recent wave of critical scholarship on ‘everyday security’. Nonetheless, pioneering feminists like Carol Cohn and Cynthia Enloe have long pointed out how nuclear weapons are both maintained and contested in everyday life, in part through gendered performances, labour, and symbolism. Following this line of analysis, and borrowing also from Cristina Rowley and Jutta Weldes, I conceive of the campers at Faslane as ‘everyday security practitioners’, attempting to do security differently by reconstructing gender identity, domestic space, and care work – in public view and in juxtaposition to the base.

‘Visitors welcome’, author’s own photo

So what can we learn about everyday nuclear (in)security from the Faslane Peace Campers? The dominant notion of nuclear deterrence assumes that insecurity is caused by external threats and by uncertainty, and that security is achieved through state possession of nuclear technologies that ensure rational enemies will decide it is not in their interests to attack. In contrast, campers see nuclear weapons as a key source of insecurity, particularly to the everyday lives of people living in close proximity to them. Campers also blur the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and accept the inevitability of a degree of uncertainty in daily life. They pursue greater security by actively confronting the everyday reproduction of nuclear weapons, both through direct action against the adjacent base and through information-gathering and educational activities. Moreover, they strive to create an alternative everyday in the camp, one which is not only more secure but more liberatory, by being gender-equal, collectively organised and ecologically sustainable.

We should not idealise the camp. My research participants were up-front about the frustrations and challenges of everyday life on site, and of their long and as-yet unsuccessful struggle to remove Trident from Faslane. It remains difficult to sustain numbers, leading to periodic concerns that the camp may have to close. Yet it would be wrong to dismiss the significance of the camp. After all, campers have repeatedly disrupted the daily routines of the nuclear state; they have also provided infrastructure for the wider Scottish opposition to nuclear weapons, as well as a resonant symbol of that opposition. The reconstruction of gender, domestic space and domestic labour at the camp plays a crucial role in all this. As demonstrated by protests at the Undersea Defence Technology conference in Glasgow in June of this year, the ‘Generation Y’  Youth Peace academy in July, and the Nae Nukes international rally in September, opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland is not going away any time soon. Scholars of ‘everyday security’ would thus do well to pay more attention to ‘everyday security practitioners’ like those at Faslane Peace Camp, and to their distinctive challenge to the nuclear state and deterrence doctrine.

We researched Russian trolls and figured out exactly how they neutralise certain news

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Russian “troll factories” have been making headlines for some time. First, as the Kremlin’s digital guardians in the Russian blogosphere. Then, as subversive cyber-squads meddling with US elections.

While there has been much sensationalist talk about troll brigades, there have also been thorough investigations of first party sources and genuine leaks. Indeed, some (mostly former) Russian trolls have been willing to talk.

We now know that at least some of those who have come out from the shadows were not taking the political agenda they were tasked with promoting all that seriously. We also know, in some detail, the internal organisation and work schedule of the so-called “troll farmInternet Research Agency – where most whistleblowers used to work. As well as quantity-oriented commenters and bloggers, the agency employed skilled researchers who spoke foreign languages and undertook high-quality investigative work.

A few statistical analyses of large samples of trolling posts also show that institutionalised political trolling and the use of bots have become a consolidated practice that significantly affect the online public sphere.

What has been shrouded in mystery so far, however, is how institutionalised, industrialised political trolling works on a daily basis. We have also lacked a proper understanding of how it affects the state’s relations with society generally, and security processes in particular.

Net Troll By JNL, via Wikimedia Commons

Neutralising trolls

For our recently published research, we wanted to understand what pro-Kremlin trolling does and how it works in the Russian blogosphere. We analysed how investigative journalism of trolling gets trolled, worked our way through the trolling trails generated after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov – Russia’s unofficial opposition leader – and interviewed a former employee of Internet Research Agency in a series of online chats.

During this research we found a distinct phenomenon which we called “neutrollization”. This authoritarian practice co-opts trolling as an, in principle, anti-establishment (if inflammatory) activity, and turns it into a method of regime consolidation.

Neutrollization prevents civil society’s attempts to expose the regime as a security threat by creating conditions where political mobilisation becomes absurd, so any risk to the regime is neutralised. Meaningful political engagement only “feeds the troll” – that is, it gets sucked into the trolling spiral of ironising the public sphere.

Trolls in action

Unlike conventional operations of propaganda, neutrollization does not advocate a distinct political agenda. Pro-Kremlin trolls generate a stupefying noise through internet activism which seems to originate from citizens. They spread various conspiratorial theories and create a quasi-political, yet completely hollow, public space with a multitude of diverse but prefabricated opinions that jam the web.

This is precisely how some sections of the Russian blogosphere were neutralised after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. In March 2015, newspapers Moy Rayon and Novaya Gazeta leaked a list of more than 500 troll accounts, together with instructions that the trolls had been given on how to approach the event. The papers also published lists of corresponding key words that the trolls were told to use in order to facilitate searchability.

The instructions included proliferating the view that the murder of Nemtsov was a provocation and that it was not beneficial to the official authorities. Trolls were also told to broadcast the alleged PR benefit to the opposition of the death of their comrade, and the involvement of Ukrainian persons in the assassination. In addition, they were told to criticise Westerners’ interference in Russian internal affairs, and to suggest that the murder was being used as an excuse to put pressure on the Russian Federation.

The objective, in other words, was not to put the blame on any concrete political opponent. The interest was not in finding an actual assassin. The logic was to imbue the discussions with such contradiction and filth that any bona fide user felt disillusioned and despondent. This flooding effect deters the audience from taking anything seriously.

Vitally, neutrollization plays on citizens’ own critical faculties by first drawing them in and then confusing them. It is not about merely pulling the wool over their eyes, and it has little to do with coercion or silencing. Instead, it exploits and twists the idea of self-expression and citizenry action in a way that leads to withdrawal from politics.

Unlike the more common forms of propaganda – which see mass media encouraging support for the political system – neutrollization encourages cynicism. All the while trolls preserve the semblance of sincerity and authenticity by following instructions. They cannot be “convinced” as their task is to implode any meaningful conversation.

This position makes it near impossible to blow a whistle on a troll. But exposing trolls as professionals of nihilism is insufficient anyway. They are but precarious labour in a powerful political strategy.

The ConversationNeutrollization isn’t limited to within Russia’s borders. It is increasing internationally, too. The deployment of bots to disrupt political dialogue is just one example of the spillover. And while this does not have the same power as an operation backed by the trolled nation’s own government, this strategy can wreak havoc.

Xymena Kurowska, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, Aberystwyth University and Anatoly Reshetnikov, PhD Researcher, Central European University


A new technology of security, an old logic of suspicion: surveillance of crowds

Crowd surveillance is on the rise. Contemporary emergency and counter-terrorism planning has underlined the vulnerability of crowded places and called for a greater need to understand and manage crowd behaviour in a time of crisis.

Accordingly, in the past few years the research and deployment of crowd surveillance technologies have been initiated across the world – ranging from the UK Cabinet Office’s commissioned study on crowd behaviours, the Transport for London’s GetAheadoftheGames.comduring the 2012 Olympics, to the introduction of the disaster control system in Toshima City, Tokyo. From international sport mega-events to densely populated urban sites, the knowledge of crowd behaviours has increasingly become an important security measure.

Crowd surveillance. Photo credits: Office of Naval Research from Arlington, United States (130220-N-PO203-051) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In my recent article published in Security Dialogue, I discuss what the implication of crowd surveillance to the politics of security is. The introduction of crowd surveillance is not just an intensification of the existing model of surveillance. Conventionally, surveillance is based on the method of individual identification: it monitors and traces suspects as in traditional policing; it recognizes individual bodies as in biometric technologies. In crowd surveillance, by contrast, the detection and prevention of danger does not lie in individual identification; instead, it calculates danger through the classification of crowd behaviours. Consider a recently introduced technology called “crowd behaviour analysis technology” by NEC Corporation, a multinational electronics company that has been one of the major providers of security technologies globally. The technology utilizes algorithms for calculating crowd density and flow and makes crowd movements machine-readable. It detects potential danger through analysing real-time footage from security cameras against the predetermined threshold value of “normal” crowd conditions. “Abnormal” crowd behaviours such as overcrowding and mass stagnation generate an alert and raise a need for security intervention. What it secures is neither the individual body nor the social body of population as a whole, although they are implicit within it. Rather, it is designed to secure the normal distribution of crowd movements in each site. It is a security technology that normalizes the heterogeneity of urban crowds.

Surveillance practices have long been criticized for racial coding, and this is also the case for crowd behaviour analysis. On the surface, crowd surveillance appears a-racial as it does not target particular individuals or social groups; yet, there is the racialized logic of suspicion operational in it nonetheless. In the recent NEC’s booklet, the classification of “abnormal” crowd behaviours is visually illustrated. There are four examples in the illustration, namely, “unusual crowding”, “people forming a circle”, “people fleeing”, and “people loitering in groups”. The first three categories are explained as a sign of accident or emergency, whereas the last category is deemed to be a sign of criminal activity. Noticeably, while figures of people in the first three include men and women who all appear with a light skin colour, people in the last are all men with a dark skin. The illustration racializes a particular crowd behaviour while criminalizing a particular social group. Despite the evolving characters of surveillance and the seemingly indiscriminate nature of mass surveillance, race still appears to persist in the politics of security today.

Peace, Order, and Good Government

Critical infrastructure is widely recognized as an immediate and pressing security concern for liberal democracies. Large, dispersed, and highly complex systems like energy grids and transport systems that support today’s way of life were not designed with security in mind and are highly vulnerable to all sorts of disruptions that can have widespread social and economic impacts. As a consequence, how to protect the systems that underpin the health and wealth of the population has been the subject of longstanding governmental activity.

Critical Infrastructure. By es:user:Alfonso” [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

In our recently published article in Security Dialogue we look at the historical development of what is now known as critical infrastructure protection in Canada. Canada’s approach to critical infrastructure protection has origins in a little-known Cold War civil defence program called the Vital Points Program, which sought to defend industrial facilities necessary for waging conventional war from sabotage and, later, deemed necessary for recovering from a nuclear strike. Based on hundreds of previously unreleased federal records we obtained through Access to Information requests we are able to show how, from 1948 to the late 1990s, federal bureaucrats generated thousands of lists, maps, and typologies of vital points in order to guide the internal security operations of federal police in support of these objectives.

Canada’s vital points program was fashioned within the federal prerogative of exceptional emergency powers enabled by the War Measures Act, itself derived from Canada’s constitutional commitment to ‘peace, order, and good government.’ This prerogative allowed the federal government to compile a taxonomy of vital points largely in secret from other levels of political authority or the concerns of private industry. Indeed, it was not until a moment of political insurrection in 1970 that the provinces or municipal governments were made aware of the program, and only later in the 1970s were some private owner/operators of vital points notified of their inclusion in the vital points ledgers. This approach remained in place until the sweeping powers of the War Measures Act were subject to constitutional and preliminary review under the Emergencies Act in 1988, after which federal authorities were faced with the problem of how to exercise the federal prerogative of assuring peace, order, and good government without recourse to exceptional wartime powers. Since mid-2000 a new framework that we call coordinated preparedness has emerged in response to this problem and which continues to evolve today.

We view the example of critical infrastructure protection in Canada as an instance of the liberalization of emergency powers. The liberalization of emergency powers refers to processes in which security projects employing exceptional emergency powers are refashioned in ways that are made amendable to routine strategies of governance. This dynamic in political power raises questions that have less to do with the suspension of law or the recurrent deployment of illiberal laws as they do with the extension of normal strategies of governance that are productive of new topologies of power. Far from curtailing the exercise of emergency powers, the liberalization of security projects demands critical analysis of new hierarchies of power and exclusion that flow from liberal apparatuses of governance.