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war & Armed Conflict

Politics - War Continued by Other Means

Thomas Atzert & Jost Mueller
22 February 2004

Talking – and writing – about a new form of war, and new types of warfare, didn’t start recently. Actually we can trace back this debate to the gulf war of 1991, it accompanied the wars in former Soviet Union and last but not least those in former Yugoslavia. Much has been written on “revolution in military affairs”, on weapon technologies, on historical and sociological aspects regarding the “new” warfare.

But in doing so, most authors did hardly get out of mere typology: there is warfare led by a bunch of warlord militias, as in Somalia and Afghanistan, and their only objective seems to be a prolongation of the war, because warlord power stems from war. There is war leading to nation building as well as to breaking-up nations, as it is the case with Armenia and Azerbaijan, or again with Yugoslavia. There are civil wars and wars involving nations, not to mention the many undeclared wars of low intensity. And we observe asymmetric wars, as the one in Palestine, as the wars waged against Afghanistan, against Iraq, and the so-called war on terrorism. But we speak of a new form of war; and we do not mean typology, because the latter isn’t able to go beyond a confusing ensemble of motivations and legitimations, searching an historical precedent for every type of war.

The Continuation of Politics

Predominant in all of the debate is an instrumentalist notion of war, taking for true Clausewitz’s famous dictum: “War is regarded as nothing but the continuation of politics by other means.” One can find such an instrumentalism on the side of a bellicist left speaking as advocates of civilisation simultaneously neglecting the destructive forces operating against the promised civil liberties and forcing civil society to militarize its creative potentials. And instrumentalism is to be found on the side of those believing that it would be enough to define the condition of war based upon the categories of political economy and some analysis of geopolitical interests, in order to identify imperialist rivals and different strategic objectives.

We have our doubts, if it may be possible to analyse current international warfare adequately with such arguments, let alone resist it.

A different point of view is provided by Michel Foucault’s displacement of Clausewitz. In order to define the dispositifs of power Foucault writes “that politics is war continued by other means”. Foucault turns Clausewitz’s dictum upside down, describing power as war. This point of view no longer focuses on the relation of objectives and means, but on struggles and relations of power, on lines and dynamisms of social conflict. War establishes an order.

War establishing order

The contemporary imperial wars are part of the passage towards the political order of global capitalism, the sovereign order of Empire. War is neither “means” of expansion of a constituted order nor of its restructuring, war is neither roll back nor containment. War is not the continuation of politics by other means, it becomes the fundament of politics and legitimation. War is actually what Toni Negri calls “guerra ordinativa”.

The resurgence of the concept of bellum iustum (the “just war”) leads towards an understanding of this new form of war. Today the secularized “just war” is a moment of global politics that bears its legitimation in itself. Unlike the conflicts of the second half of the 20th century, the concept of “just war” combines two elements: the legitimacy of the military apparatus as ethically grounded – think of the human rights discourse against rogue states – and the legitimacy (qua its effectiveness) of the military action to establish the desired Order and the so-called peace. The war, just like the enemy, comes to be at once banalized and absolutized, it comes to be reduced to an “object of routine police repression” and, at the same time, presented as an absolute threat to the ethical order.

The synthesis of both moments creates a continuum making it impossible to distinguish between police measure and military action, thus creating a crucial feature for the world order of Empire. The secularized “just war” leads to a diffuse but permanent warfare – the propaganda and the measures in the “war on terrorism” gives us an impression of it. The war itself shows no beginning nor end. Waging war against Iraq was just a stopover in the passage towards a global society of control wiping off step by step remnants of the old East-West conflict. Existing war economies are wiped out, like in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, if they represent an obstacle for the capitalist accumulation or the political order of Empire.

Society of control

Waging war means the destruction of societies and the recomposition of populations, tearing down borders and creating new ones. The new form of war leads to the foundation of global mechanisms of control aiming at the mobility and the productivity of living labour. Thus the war becomes a central element in the formation of the currently developing bio-political mode of production.

At stake is the enforcement of a society of control on a global scale, and to link single political regimes to the world order. At stake is the process of capitalist globalization, and to protect this process against its own risks and crises. At stake is the real subsumption of society under capital.

Most governments have passed legislation that enforce the developing order of war. There is no mass mobilization setting free enthusiasm for the war like in the world wars and colonial wars of the last century. Nevertheless state apparatuses are set up carefully – think of preparing the army for police action in several European countries or tracing down immigrants descending from so-called rogue states. The figureheads today are secularized versions of “God” and “My Country”, it is a regime of panic integrated by the war on terrorism that leads to the authoritarian collectives of today, beyond the vanishing sovereignty of the nation-state, forcing civil society to gather around the catastrophic and Manichaean alternative “us” or “them”, “good” or “evil”.

Imperialism and Empire

Today we witness the decadence of the nation-form of sovereignty and the crisis of the institutions of the nation-state. Nation-states are no longer main actors on the stage of international politics. Imperial world order is a stratified system of rule organized along networks, without any outside or centre. State apparatuses and nation-form are losing their links and the codification of national sovereignty given by international law de facto expires. Yet this decline does not mean that the nation-state disappears without a word: we witness the replacement of the centrality of national sovereignty as it developed in Europe and spread all over the world by colonialism and imperialism.

Yet imperialism is not followed by Empire in the sense of a sequence of ages, both distinctly and positively, the “Age of Empire” does not simply follow the age of imperialism. Obviously the United States lead by George W. Bush Jr. try to pick up the thread of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., heading for imperialist politics. The U.S. was, as Hardt and Negri point out, again and again “tempted to engage in an European-style imperialism”. But the American model of sovereignty based on “white decolonization” marks nonetheless a historical difference in contrast to European nation-state imperialism.

Indeed we should not mix up strategic options of an administration and their think tanks talking of “American Empire” and a “New American Century” with the conditions of world order. The archipelago of Empire has no monocratic centre, but is characterized by relations of rivalry confined by the political requirements of capitalist accumulation on global scale. The constitutional process of the European Union, the rivalry of different countries in this process, and the relations with the United States are to be seen within the realms of imperial sovereignty.

However the Bush administration articulates national interests in waging war against Iraq, it is nor in command over world order, and thus has to follow its zigzag path between multilateralism and unilateralism. There is no chance to reinstall political control by military means. Such strategic objectives aren’t backed economically considering the internationalization of capital under U.S. hegemony after world war II and its crisis starting in the 1970s, and there is – from the point of view of the ruling class – no national bourgeoisie that could play an avant-garde role in global accumulation like the British bourgeoisie did once. The petrol and military industries won’t be able to play that role.

Against the order of war

To resist the war cannot be identified with taking sides for one rival party. Anti-militarist politics will not have to choose imperial from imperialist strategies, but will resist the logic of warfare, the regime of panic that is imposed on civil society. Yet it seems clear that neither pacifism nor NGO-activism alone will be able to do so. But the demonstrations of February 15 and other metropolitan actions against the war in on Iraq showed up the possibilities of leaving behind some restrictions, like the reference on nation-states. The authoritarian dispositifs of the society of control, enforced by the war, are aiming against the lives and the creativeness of the multitudes. Resisting it first of all means resisting global capital and its world order. Thus in effect, we have to go through Empire, to find not merely international but trans-national perspectives of liberation.

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