About CTlab's virtual symposia: CTlab symposia enable informed discussion regardless of the physical location and distribution of participants. They can be conducted ad hoc, in response to emerging and topical issues, or on any number of planned topics. Proceedings remain available for public viewing via this web page, and are also compiled, for ease of reading and distribution,  into a single PDF document. If you have an idea for a symposium that's consistent with CTlab interests, drop us a line so we can discuss it.


« Response to Martin Coward - Ethico-Political Considerations | Main | Rephrasing the Question: the Affect Underlying the Metaphor »

Chaoplexic Urbanism, The Laws of War, and the Rhetoric of Science

I have been reading the contributions of all the participants with great interest and have endeavoured to respond to the different questions and issues as best I could. However, I would for now like to turn the tables a little and throw out some questions/prompts of my own, picking up some of the existing threads as well as hopefully further broadening the debate.

Since the symposium is also explicitly concerned with cities, I think we should bring the urban question back to the fore. In my answer to Martin Coward, I somewhat shied away from the topic but would now like to offer some tentative thoughts that I hope might provide a springboard for further discussion. Martin rightly noted that the nature of the urban battlespace is itself playing a role in shaping contemporary forms of warfare. What I would like to add to that is that chaoplexity is also increasingly manifest in the development of architectural theory and practice as well as the way in which we think of urban spaces and dynamics in general. The totalising modernist conceptions of architecture of a Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe have given way to more organic and localised projects concerned with the various feedback dynamics with the existing human or natural environment. Geographers and urban planners are increasingly focusing on the self-organising dynamics of cities (such as in this recent book by Stephen Marshall) rather than advocating utopian top-down reorganisation of urban environments. This recently posted item on CTlab is further evidence of this evolution. Simultaneously (and perhaps not coincidentally) we seem to be seeing major cities gaining growing autonomy from the states which have dominated them in the past few centuries - notably in the way some cities conduct forms of direct diplomacy with other cities, and more generally the increasing density and intensity of links between world cities that bypass the state. I would be curious to hear the views of participants on this and more broadly the relevance of the urban environment to the direction armed conflict is taking.

The legal aspect of the emerging modalities of war is one that I have not really considered but which in all likelihood will be of great importance in shaping them, all the more in the case of a particularly legalistic culture such as that of the United States. Typically law is that of states and yet we are talking about a growing involvement of non-state actors that, furthermore, frequently don’t adhere to the existing conventions. What does this mean for the future of laws of war that I understand have been to a large extent founded on notions of reciprocity? I would also be interested in hearing about whether the decentralisation of the chain of command which chaoplexic warfare advocates poses any problems for the present laws of war and the procedures for their enforcement - and if so, how these might be resolved.

Finally a point prompted by Craig Hayden’s thoughtful contribution and that I raise as a potential objection against my own thesis. How seriously should we take the rhetoric of complexity or of science more generally, at least within the military? While there is no doubt that a core of military theoreticians believe quite sincerely in the application of scientific ideas to war, does any of their substantive content survive the politics and doublespeak of the military bureaucracy? In my chapter on cybernetic warfare, I do note that the language of systems analysis was often used to merely validate decisions that had been taken on other grounds (internal politics, industrial interests), thus potentially reducing it to a mere scientific veneer. The way in which network-centric warfare has half-heartedly adopted chaoplexity in such a way that it remains compatible with the habit for large procurement budgets and many existing entrenched interests is more grist to that particular mill. While conceding some genuine validity to this point, I would still argue that these practices nonetheless testify to the very prestige accorded to scientific method and discourse, a prestige and dominance over other discourses that could not be such if these did not have some real past and present effects on perceived military effectiveness (all the more with their close association to technology). Nevertheless I think it is a point worth raising and which others may want to run with.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.