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 (], 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 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 (], 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 (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC 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.

Conspiracy and Foreign Policy

The spectre of conspiracy looms large in politics and international affairs. We hear of covert Russian interferences in the 2016 US Presidential Elections or of renewed intrigue surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy over half a century ago. Intelligence dossiers, anonymous sources, secret meetings and suspicious connections make up the political world we live in.

By Christopher DOMBRES [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Conspiracies, in short, are a common aspect of international relations.  They feature in the rise and fall of governments and the pursuit of diplomatic negotiations.  Conspiracies have triggered wars and are at the centre of of many security issues.  Take, as a prominent example, the secret plotting and hidden networks behind terrorism, as well as the clandestine actions deployed to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

While common to world politics, conspiracies are, at the same time, often seen as paranoid perceptions about far-fetched scenarios.  Of all the ways an idea can be discredited, labelling it a ‘conspiracy’ ranks amongst the most effective. Images of delusion and irrationality immediately come to mind.Which conspiracies are real and which are paranoid?  And who decides? Answering this question is not as obvious as it seems. Yes, some claims about conspiracies are difficult to take seriously. Take the alleged involvement of the US government in 9/11. Other claims are less controversial, such as Al Qaeda’s many conspiracies to commit a terrorist act.

But the division between legitimate and far-fetched conspiracies is not as straightforward as it seems. In a new article in Security Dialogue, we show how the legitimacy of a conspiracy claim is closely linked to questions of power. Focusing on multiple conspiracies associated with 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, we show that the publicly perceived credibility of a conspiracy narrative is primarily linked to the authority of the actor advancing it and the context in which it is advanced.

On the one hand, US officials identified a range of conspiracies and presented them as legitimate and rational, even though some, such as Iraq’s supposedly covert development of Weapons of Mass Destruction or the alleged secret alliance between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, are now widely considered false. On the other hand, conspiracies circulating in the Arab-Muslim world were dismissed in US policy circles and media commentary.  They were presented as irrational and pathological, even though some, like those concerned with the surreptitious operation of US power in the Middle East, were based on credible concerns.

Our analysis demonstrates that conspiracies and the narrative that surrounds them lie at the heart of foreign policy.  Identifying a phenomena as a conspiracy is an act of power: it can either present a situation as in need of a robust policy response, or it can delegitimize and dismiss a set of concerns that might otherwise be seen as credible and important. This is why analysing how some conspiracy narratives are positioned as paranoid, while others are taken as common sense, provides insights into the relationship between power, legitimacy and foreign policy.

The Crystal Peace: Civilian Militarism and Wake Civil Society in Colombia

In my special issue article “Building Civilian Militarism: Colombia, Internal War, and Militarization in a mid-term Perspective,” I talk about how civilian militarism became a large part of Colombian society over their years of internal conflict and how, within this context, Columbian civil society will be a key player in the success of the current post-conflict process.

Members of the FARC greet the crowd after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez signed a peace accord as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat in a plaza outside the Cartagena Indias Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, on September 26, 2016, while attending a peace ceremony between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that ended a five-decade conflict. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State from United States (Members of the FARC Greet the Crowd) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In late 2016, the internal war officially ended thanks to an intense process of peace dialogues between the Colombian Government under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos, and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). However, not everything has been peaceful or happy since then. The peace negotiations took place after more than 50 years of rough and dirty war, which affected thousands of Colombians and left deep scars of fear, mayhem, mistrust and anxiety in the local populations. All in a society counter-intuitively characterized by a middle-range of democratic function and a relatively stable economy- both rather uncommon by regional standards.

During the peace talks and after the signing ceremony, several sectors of civilian elite Colombian society indicated opposition to the agreement, particularly on points regarding the place of former FARC combatants in politics, the Truth Commission, and land reform. There have even been calls to destroy the pact and take military action against FARC and remaining insurgency groups at the same time that right-wing criminal groups have earned conciliatory goodwill instead. Thus, dissent around the peace treaty has been fierce from some quarters, and has become a hot topic in the political debates around the 2018 presidential election campaigns. In this respect, an elite- but significant- part of Columbian society are openly challenging the negotiated peace treaty’s legitimacy as a form of conflict resolution after decades of suffering felt by more marginalized and vulnerable groups. This contradiction is highlighted by Yolanda Perea, one of the victims of the internal war who lamented that “those who oppose to the peace in Colombia, are the same, who watch the war on t.v.”

The current conflictual political climate is very disturbing for a society that seeks to move from a state of war to a state of peace. The situation can be understood by looking at the ongoing relationship and dynamics between Columbian civilian-militarism and a weak civil society. Both were present during the war and seem to have been a byproduct of widespread violence and insecurity, and the lack of leadership by political elites in building democracy over the years. On the one hand, civilian-militarism comes out of the tendency by Colombian political authorities to try to solve security problems through a hardline position supported by the armed forces and by taking measures to militarize police institutions and other aspects of society. For example, during the peace dialogues the Colombian Armed Forces had delegates in the negotiations and the current vice president of Colombia is a former top general of the highly militarized Colombian Police.

On the other hand, the fear and chaos produced by widespread violence and insecurity during the war, also contributed to this civilian-militarism through an ongoing justification of “national security logics”, which undermined attempts to consolidate a strong civil society in Colombia. Moreover, the negligence –or lack of interest- by political authorities to empower and protect civil society´s leaders became a normal aspect of Colombian society. Thus, to be a human rights´ activist, a journalist, a political dissident, a critical scholar, or even a normal citizen seeking to claim rights have become high-risk activities in Colombia, which is a clear disincentive against the formation of a strong civil society. This has fostered a general indifference among regular citizens and has contributed to the ongoing weakness of civil society actors in the current post-conflict process. Unfortunately, to keep the Colombian peace process alive, the active involvement of a strong (non-elite) civil society is required to support the peace agreement. It is thus very important to empower a broader civil society to play a role in demanding steady and progressive processes of demilitarization without ignoring the treatment of post-conflict threats to peace, or the possibility of new roles for the military and the police.

Doing security or doing military in Israel- why does it matter?

When you visit Israel for the first time you see uniforms everywhere and you might mistake the many soldiers on the streets for police officers or private security guards.  If you can tell them apart, you might even ask: “hey, aren’t they all doing the same thing?”

This is a common thought process and in many ways these different actors tend to be seen as one and the same and all part of an important national security effort to defend Israel and its population. However, when I started to talk to private security professionals in Israel, I was surprised by something that they kept on telling me.  They told me that no matter how important it was that a security guard had been through military service, it was even more important to have him[1] unlearn his military skills in order to for him to be able to learn new security-related skills. As a curious researcher, this made me very interested in the relationships between military identities and private security identities in Israel. Why was it so important to emphasize the differences between the soldier and the security guard, and what did it mean for those professionals?

Time to mull over identity. Photocredit: Israel Defense Forces (Relaxation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I realized that security actors in Israel go back and forth between these different identities, sometimes emphasizing their military careers and sometimes emphasizing how security work requires much more than just a military background. This back and forth takes place in a society that is very militarized, meaning that the military is not only materially present (it is commonplace to see soldiers in the streets and military vehicles on the road), but that “things military” seep into every corner of society and its members’ minds. This is because in Israeli society, completion of a (combat) military service is crucial in order to be seen as a “good citizen.”

When the military is so important for a society, former members of this institution, such as generals, officers and the like, need to show that they are still worthy. What I saw during my fieldwork was that private security professionals would emphasize that completing a military service was crucial for new recruits, but not for the reasons I expected.  The military skills of shooting and patrolling, for example, were seen as not useful at all for good security work, in which other tactics were needed and different guns were used.

With all of this in mind, in my Open Access article I demonstrate how Israeli security professionals show us a new kind of militarism that is not solely dependent on a completed (high level) military career but also on (private) security skills.  By emphasizing the added value of their work in the private sector, these actors can further secure their status in a militarized society like Israel. In this way we can understand more about how military service and security work- as well as the relationships between them- influence our societies in ways we might not be aware of.

[1] High level security guards are almost always men

‘Ideal Perpetrators’ How we decide who is accountable for mass violence: A study of the French National Railways

In the wake of mass violence, holding every complicit person or group accountable is impossible. Rwanda discovered this after its 1994 genocide with an estimated 1,000,000 collaborators. Many still try to make sense of accountability for the Holocaust.

Over the years individuals (Adolf Eichmann, Klaus Barbie, and others) have faced trial and in the 1990s a slew of corporations (banks, insurance companies, and others) found themselves interrogated over their roles during Holocaust. Ultimately, only a few face trial. How are these few selected? Are they the guiltiest and does their conviction contribute to long-term security?

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright supports convicting the leaders and expunging the collective; holding everyone accountable prevents the society from moving forward. Scholars share Albright’s concern; John Braithwaite expressed concern about ‘shaming machines’ and Martha Minow about ‘blame cycles’ which promote revenge and potentially lead back into violence.

Those held accountable are not always the guiltiest or the most likely to promote future violence. They embody certain attributes helping them stand for the collective.  They serve as ‘ideal perpetrators.’ Criminologist Nils Christie wrote about the ‘ideal victim’ as someone purely innocent and free from blame. As an example, Christie offers an old lady coming home mid-Saturday after caring for her sick granddaughter and getting mugged. Now, we need a perpetrator purely evil enough to complete the scene.

An ‘ideal victim’ Source: Béria L. Rodríguez [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

To complement Christie’s work, I provide a framework for ideal perpetrators. They are 1) perceived as strong, 2) abstractable (inhuman), 3) representative of the nature of the crime, and 4) have a champion-opponent, someone who keeps them in the news.

To demonstrate, I use the example of the French National Railways (SNCF), which for the past decade has found itself embroiled in lawsuits and legislative battles in the U.S. over its role in the World War II deportation of Jewish deportees towards death camps.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-027-1477-19 / Vennemann, Wolfgang / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons

This article, published in Security Dialogue, side-steps the question of the SNCF’s guilt (addressed more fully in my forthcoming book), focuses on why the SNCF remains in the news while other culpable actors hide in the shadows (i.e. the French police who conducted the round-ups and corporations like IBM and Ford).

When we focus on one perpetrator, many other guilty parties hide in the shadows, like the guard in the photo above. Furthermore, by isolating the perpetrators always as someone or something outside ourselves, we skip the important work of considering how we, our policies, our societal values, etc. contribute to mass violence. Without this work, we will likely find ourselves in conflict again.

Scholar Vivienne Jabri argues the creation of these victim and perpetrator groups is violence. Once we begin to exclude members of society, we begin the process of legitimizing violence against them. We then become the agents of suffering and the cycle continues. If the processes of separating victims and perpetrators is violence, is it not vital to understand how we select our perpetrators?

Further reading:

Albright, Madeline, Conversation after presentation From Words to Action, the Responsibility to Protect, The United States Holocaust Museum, July 23, 2013.

Braithwaite J (2004) Restorative justice: Theories and worries. Visiting Experts’ Papers: 123rd International Senior Seminar, Resource Material Series 63: 47-56.

Christie N (1986) The ideal victim. In: Fattah EA (ed.) From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. London, UK: Macmillan, 17-30.

Federman, Sarah. The Last Trains to Auschwitz: The French National Railways’ Role in the Holocaust and the Struggle to Make Amends. (Under review)

Jabri V (1996) Discourses on Violence: Conflict Analysis Reconsidered. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Minow M (1999) Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.



“Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis” (2017)- Reviewed by Bohdana Kurylo

Elizaveta Gaufman, Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, 222 pp.: 9783319432007 (hbk)

Book Review by Bohdana Kurylo

The transformation of the Russian state under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, which has culminated in the current crisis in Ukraine, has been of great interest to security studies scholars. Hence, it is surprising that inquiry into Russia’s security politics has mostly remained the domain of neorealist approaches. In this light, Elizaveta Gaufman’s book, Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and The Ukraine Crisis, is a welcome contribution. The question that guides Gaufman’s inquiry, which reflects a concern shared by other second-generation securitisation scholars, asks: ‘under what conditions are threat narratives successful?’ (p. 4). In other words, what types of threat-framing are most likely to lead the audience to accept a specific threat construct?

Gaufman argues that the securitising move is successful if it is grounded in an existential threat and personification, whereby the threat is attached to an individual or a group. Importantly, the threat narrative must resonate with previous threat constructs, which are stored in the collective memory, and be broadcasted on the governmental level. Gaufman uses Halbwachs’ (1980) concept of collective memory to refer to a ‘shared pool of information held in the memories of two or more members of a group’. Given that the audience at stake is the general public, looking at social network discourses- or digital memory- was helpful for investigating whether the official discourse had gained support at the grass-roots level.

..Gaufman goes beyond securitisation theory’s narrow fixation on the adoption of extraordinary measures in order to ascertain the ‘success’ of a securitising act. Instead, the author shows that audience response can be a more precise indicator of successful securitisation..

Apart from securitisation theory, the book combines enemy image research and memory studies to analyse threat narratives in Putin’s Russia. The presence of ‘the Ukraine crisis’ in the book’s title is rather misleading as it informs only one chapter. In fact, the book’s horizon is much broader, giving equal attention to at least five more different threat narratives. Having established its theoretical framework and methodology in chapters 1-4, the book moves on to discuss threat narratives with regard to the USA; fascism discourse in relation to the Ukraine crisis; Russia’s ‘spiritual bonds’; homosexuality; migration; and a cluster of specious non-existential ‘threats’, such as China and Russia’s Jewish population.

Gaufman goes beyond securitisation theory’s narrow fixation on the adoption of extraordinary measures in order to ascertain the ‘success’ of a securitising act. Instead, the author shows that audience response can be a more precise indicator of successful securitisation. In other words, the securitising move is successful provided that the audience re-articulates and co-constructs the threat narrative. Conceptualising the embeddedness of threat narratives at the audience level helps problematise the notion of the audience, addressing a major theoretical and methodological limitation of securitisation theory. Highlighting the importance of collective memory reveals the significance of the audience as a securitisation actor, whose role is usually hidden behind the speech of the securitiser. The book’s significant discovery is that the very authority to define the threat belongs to the audience ‘because it is the level to which prejudice is consigned’ (p. 40). Even in authoritarian contexts, such as Russia, the official security discourse ‘needs to be congruent with what society has to say about security’ (p. 21).

Gaufman also makes an interesting point that securitisation can be represented in the form of a spiral, originating from a speech act and culminating into extraordinary measures. The latter can, in turn, initiate another cycle of threat construction. In so doing, securitisation can be self-perpetuating and consist of multiple cycles. The idea implies that securitisation processes are more complex than usually conceived, but the author does not develop it further. Nonetheless, precisely this idea could allow the analysis to go deeper by uncovering the continuity and change of securitisation as a historical process.

As such, rather than being seen as a recent development initiated by Putin, securitisation related to the Ukraine crisis can be seen as just one of the many cycles of securitisation that have occurred through the centuries. For example, the perception of the Euromaidan as a fascist movement is essentially based on the original construction of fascism as a security issue. It might be that the resulting collective memory also functions as a binding force that makes securitisation a continuous process in history, albeit periodically dormant. Consequently, focusing predominantly on Putin’s Russia captures only one cycle of securitisation. A stronger historical perspective dissecting the continuity of securitisation could complement the book’s empirical findings. This would require concentrating on fewer case studies instead of trying to cover so many at the expense of their depth.

Furthermore, the book only briefly mentions the notion of mnemonic security – ‘protecting a certain flow of historical narratives’ – stating that it can function as a legitimation strategy (p. 6). Arguably, more attention could have been given to how securitisation may be used in the service of mnemonic security. The latter can be vital for salvaging society’s recognition of the sovereign as sovereign, especially when it comes to Putin’s Russia (Heath-Kelly, 2016). In other words, can securitisation be initiated in order to rewrite memory rather than memory be used to legitimise securitisation?

While addressing these sorts of questions would have strengthened the book’s contribution, it nevertheless offers a framework of analysis that can be applied to various threat narratives in democratic and non-democratic contexts alike. Bringing collective memory into the study of securitisation shows the need to understand the culture-specific embeddedness of threat constructs, as opposed to the many de-contextualised analyses of securitisation. Future research might consider expanding this framework beyond the focus on threats. One might analyse how collective memory impacts the construction of the referent object, the responses of the audience, security measures and the very meaning of security. Ultimately, given its security focus, this review cannot do justice to the book’s vast contribution to the fields of Russian politics, memory studies and digital humanities, which deserves a separate discussion.


Halbwachs, M., 1980. The Collective Memory. New York: Harper & Row Colophon.

Heath-Kelly, C., 2016. Death and Security: Memory and Mortality at the Bombsite. Manchester: Manchester University Press.