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Saturday
06Dec

Four Questions

Antoine, first my thanks for inviting me to participate in such an interesting symposium. Your ideas (and the responses it is provoking in the course of this event) are both sophisticated and stimulating. At this stage I have to confess to being – for reasons too boring to enter into at length – only part of the way through The Scientific Way of War, though I read your IA piece and take this as an overview of sorts. I note this by way of apology for any errors that may appear in what follows. I also note it as a way of indicating that I am sure that my comments will develop over the next few days as I read further.

That said, at this initial stage I have four questions I would like to pose:

1. You note in your first post today that methodologically “[f]rom the very start, [you were] keen to consider both the ideational and material aspects of [your] designated area of research without ever reducing one to the other. Neither did [you] want to imply that scientific discourse (understood as practices as well as linguistic statements) was a master discourse that shaped all others.” And yet there is in your thesis, it seems to me, an assumption of the primacy of reason over the material. It seems to me that scientific discourses might be said to be elements of wider material assemblages. Scientific reason is thus only part of a story that is wider than these discourses suggest. Thus, for example the clock could be said to be part of a wider social assemblage in which regular division is a necessity (specifically the assemblage associated with the industrial revolution in Britain) . This might lead us to ask whether it is this desire for regularity, rather than the scientific discourse of mechanics, that influences military thinking. I think my question thus is whether it is the explicit narratives of specific scientific theories that produce the doctrinal formations you are describing, or whether these scientific discourses are prominent extrusions of deeper social assemblages.

2. Your choices of scientific discourses come from what might be called theoretical physics. Ultimately these are all mathematisations of material processes. Why did you choose these discourses rather than other prominent ones in the sciences- e.g., the life sciences' recent transformation by the mapping of the genome. I am aware that the military has in a way chosen these examples for you by the way that they have appeared in doctrinal documents. But is this not to take the military narrative at face value? Might the biopolitics that have emerged in the era of genome science have had invisible and yet important consequences for military doctrine not reflected in actual military documents?

3. Like Martin Senn I am concerned about the consequences of chaoplexic war. The devolution of capabilities to local levels may in some cases give us negotiation with tribal elders. But it also gives us Fallujah – under the rubric that individual teams of infantry/marines can take the initiative (which usually involves deploying massive firepower) to fulfill overall goals. In this sense chaoplexic war seems to embrace the chaos of war in way that runs counter to the emancipator ideal that we might find ways to legally tame the beast of war such that its effects might be reduced if not eliminated.

4. I would also like to bring the city back into focus as John Matthew Barlow puts it. More specifically – and I will post on this again in the next few days – I would like to suggest that we need to ask about the specificity of the city. There is an assumption that the city will be an arena for future chaoplexic war. But this is not just a simple matter of probability. The metropolis of the era of global urbanization comprises a very distinct milieu and will inflect war in distinctive ways. In this sense we might come back to my first question and ask whether the next regime of war will not be one modeled on scientific discourse, but rather one that is shaped by what we understand to be the specific characteristics of the city in the present period. This begs the question of what we think is specific to contemporary urbanity. I would be interested in your comments on this.

    Martin Coward is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex, UK. His research focuses on post-structuralist theory and political violence. He is author of Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction (Routledge, 2008).


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