The Biopolitics of Asymmetry: Interrogating the Humanity of Drone Warfare

In response to a speech given by Obama in 2013 on his administration’s counterterrorism policy, popularly referred to as his “drone speech,” General William Nash commented that Obama “has begun the transition from a perpetual war to a more normalized security framework.” I address this normalization of the categorization and control of life within a global threatscape. Much of the debate at policy level, in academia, and on the flickering screens of media outlets surrounding the contemporary fixture of the counterterror arsenal, the drone, focuses upon the legal and ethical implications. Administration officials continually stress the need for “transparency” and the president’s wish that the United States hold itself to “the highest possible standards” in the conduct of a just, humanitarian war—reminding us this is indeed a war, against an organization and its affiliates.

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The Cyberwar at Home: Integration of Security and Counter-Terrorism Initiatives into Household and Personal Mobile Systems

Recent initiatives to utilize household and personal mobile technologies to further specific security, surveillance, and counter-terrorism objectives pose significant challenges to civil liberties and personal well-being. The social and political statuses of these technological systems are just emerging: they are rapidly being infused into home settings and mobile devices, apparently under the control of users but under at least the partial monitoring and operation of various governmental and corporate entities. Individuals are being increasingly surveilled by sets of security-related mechanisms in their home automation and mobile communications devices as well as by other manifestations of the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

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Asymmetry and the Reimagining of Political Theology

If the phrase “asymmetrical warfare” is taken to connote scenarios where “one side is possessed of overwhelming power with respect to its adversary,” together with manifold embodiments “of asymmetry in media representations, ideology, religion, sub- and supra-national actors, the environment and even psychology,” then there would appear little doubt that today’s world is pervaded by such conflict. Necessarily, the unique historical conditions of the present, globalizing era—with its fragmenting as well as revanchist states, and its dizzying technological accelerations—are evoked by “new wars” that embroil a proliferation of non-state actors, along with states who believe that they should rightly monopolize (or be immune from, as the case may be) such asymmetrical modalities as nuclear arsenals, mercenary forces, drones, cyberattacks, and propaganda innovations.

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What Is Asymmetry in Asymmetrical Warfare?

The definition of asymmetry in asymmetrical warfare could, it seems, contribute to illuminating the link between war and politics, or war and peace. For Clausewitz, “War is a simple continuation of politics by other means.” Now, we could ask: what is the politics of asymmetrical warfare? Still following Clausewitz, war is “a wide-scale duel” and, as a duel or fight, war “takes two distinct forms: attack and defense.” Additionally, for Clausewitz, politics would be a form of “wide-scale commerce” between states. In his book Drone Theory, the French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou defines asymmetrical warfare as cynegetic (in other words, a form of hunt). He uses as an illustration the name of a recent model of unmanned vehicle: “the Predator,” le prédateur. But how can asymmetrical warfare be considered as war if the fight dynamic is absent? And if asymmetrical warfare is a manhunt, how could politics as commerce be possible?

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Lawfare and the End of History

This paper focuses on the modern practice of using law, both national and international, to achieve policy goals and political ends that usually are the result of tactical military action. Lawfare, as this practice is referred to, is now a crucial tactic in the modern era of international relations, where war is largely carried out in a far from traditional manner. Lawfare, then, is a unique form of irregular warfare that can be employed by nations against one another and against insurgents in asymmetrical conflicts at home and abroad. This new reliance on irregular and asymmetrical warfare generally and lawfare specifically is reflective of Hegel’s view of the end of history, particularly as articulated by Alexandre Kojève. Basically, that as individuals gain equal recognition, the mode of satisfying desire will necessarily take the form of law and bureaucracy.

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The Force of Resistance: Religious Events and Political Discourse

Although a frustrating incalculable for the engineers of government, religion must be acknowledged as that without which the techniques and technologies of human subjectivity would not exist. I am not here arguing for the adoption of certain religious practices or beliefs, but simply qualifying the centrality of the political by insisting on the necessity of the religious. I maintain that the asymmetry characteristic of all civilizations stems from ruptures that I describe as religious, or evental—terms that I maintain are equivalent. To probe the intricacies of asymmetrical warfare in the twenty-first century is to ask, “Whence and whither the Event?”

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