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<nettime> Melinda Cooper: The Catastrophic Enemy
geert lovink on Thu, 20 Feb 2003 08:40:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Melinda Cooper: The Catastrophic Enemy

(posted to nettime with permission of the author /geert)

From: "Melinda COOPER" <Melinda.COOPER {AT} scmp.mq.edu.au>


By Melinda Cooper

 Theorists of defence have begun to redefine the cartography of war
precisely in line with the shifting contours of world order we discussed
earlier. This transformation is already made explicit in a collection of
works edited in the US in 1997, called Complexity, Global Politics and
National Security, where defence theorists respond to the "non linear"
approaches to world economics with an equally "non linear" theory of
warfare. This and other studies of its kind can be situated in the context
of the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) of the 90s, a policy
reform initiated in the US that sought to rethink warfare in line with
contemporary developments in information technology, business organization
and complexity theory.[i]

In the post-Cold War period, one theorist argues, war must be refigured in
terms of "other non linear dynamical systems such as . commerce."[ii] Taking
the liberal imperative of security to its extreme conclusion, these
theorists envisage war as a police intervention of global reach, one which
operates within the space of global economic flows, and at the same speed,
in order to secure and foster its freedom of movement. War, it is suggested,
needs to be understood as a constant and ubiquitous capacity to adapt to
crisis, as uncertain and uncontrollable as its space of manoeuvre and, we
must assume, as permanently mobilized as the threat of financial crisis.

It is no accident then that recent defence theory is beginning to refigure
the enemy precisely in the form of catastrophic risk rather than the
sovereign exception or justus hostis, with its exclusive reference to the
political order of the state. Even before September 11, defence theorists
had begun to develop the concept of "catastrophic terrorism" as the
paradigmatic threat of the post-Cold War era, with its breakdown of
sovereign state confrontation. In a text written after September 11, the
specialist in terrorism studies, Ashton B. Carter, sets out a point by point
distinction between the logistics of war, understood in the traditional (and
Schmittian) sense of war between sovereign states or civil war within the
state, and terroristic threats. For Carter, the terrorist is neither the
internal enemy of civil war or the external state. "Neither model" he
writes, "encompasses the transnational drifter that is characteristic of the
Al-Quaeda operative."[iii]

Perhaps then, he suggests, terrorism should be treated not as warfare in the
traditional sense but as a crime (Schmitt, for example, was already pointing
to the trend towards the criminalization of the enemy in the wake of the
Second World War). But here again the concept of crime implies a particular
juridical model of responsibility, the imputation of guilt and the
pronouncement of punishment, whereas what is at issue, according to Carter,
is something more akin to a risk than a crime. The concept of catastrophic
terrorism, in other words, assumes that the threat is somehow ineradicable
and can therefore be at best anticipated, calculated and prevented rather
than definitively purged. This last consideration leads Carter to raise the
question whether terrorism should be considered as a catastrophe of the same
order as a natural emergency, and he points out that early in the Bush
administration, the task of responding to catastrophic terrorism was
actually assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, this
response too, he argues, fails to grasp the precise nature of the risk at
hand. If the terrorist threat is catastrophic, Carter seems to suggest, it
is of the order of a social catastrophe, one that becomes effective
precisely in the space of relations defined by global capital flow.

In the last instance, Carter raises the question whether terrorism thus
defined (and defence against terrorism) can be considered as war in the
traditional sense of the term. If we turn to Schmitt's political philosophy,
the response can only be negative, since he defines war solely in relation
to the juridical order of the state.

Perhaps one way of responding to this question would be to revive the
concept of the state-of-emergency which Schmitt distinguishes from the state
of exception. The translator, Georges Schwab, notes that in Schmitt's
political philosophy, the "exception presupposes a constitutional order,"
that of the sovereign state and the Ius publicum Europeum governing
international relations, whereas "a state of emergency need not have an
existing order."[iv] For Schmitt, the emergency corresponds to a
pre-juridical chaos, not even included in the law in the mode of exception.
"There is no norm applicable to chaos," he writes in the Political Theology,
no politics of the emergency.[v] The exception, on the other hand, is
"distinguishable from a juristic chaos," for although law recedes when the
exception is declared, the order of the state survives as a pure force of

It is precisely this equation between the decision, war and the state,
however, that recent defence theory is putting into question. It is no
accident that contemporary theories of non-linear dynamics are developing
the intuition that chaos itself doesn't exclude order, that the disorder of
economic chaos is what must needs to be theorized according to its own laws.
If Schmitt's formulations seem inadequate to our contemporary predicament it
is because the autonomisation of economic exchange from the decisional power
of the state is such that we appear to have entered into a state of
generalized chaos irrecuperable within the juridical order of the sovereign,
but nevertheless theorizable on its own terms.[vii] This is a situation in
which the economic accident, the element of ontological risk at the core of
the liberal philosophy of freedom, becomes catastrophic. The project of
global economic deregulation could be characterized, in the first instance,
as the generalization of a permanent state of economic emergency. But in
spite of Schmitt this process needs to be understood as something other than
a pre-political, pre-juridical chaos. The globalisation of economic risk
would not have been possible without the reinvention of juridical and
political forms and even a transformation of the conditions of war. As
contemporary theorists of non-linear dynamics have discovered, chaos is not
without its laws.

What is notable about the terrorism as a figure of enmity is the fact that
it is defined first and foremost in terms of affective terms, by the intense
fear it engenders, rather than the juridical language of the justa causa or
justis hostis of the medieval and modern periods. As Luhmann has noted, in
the discourse of classical liberalism, fear enters into the constitutive
space of politics; fear can't be prohibited or suspended by the protection
of a juridical order, rather it is fear that justifies the institution of
laws and the declaration of war.[viii] As Ewald notes, the catastrophic risk
of neoliberalism "[has an allusive, insidious potential existence that
renders it simultaneously present and absent, doubtful and suspicious.
Assumed to be everywhere, it founds a politics of prevention. The term
prevention does not indicate simply a practice based on the maxim that an
ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but also the assumption that
if prevention is necessary it is because danger exists - it exists in a
virtual state before being actualised in an offense, injury, or accident."
[ix] War, we are told, needs to become preemptive, if we are to counter the
risk of terror, even if it is only a presumed threat. It is because we are
afraid that the necessity of war is unanswerable. Your insecurity requires

The catastrophic threat of terrorism, and the response it meets with, are
indeed forms of war, but war which declares itself first and foremost as a
state-of-emergency in excess of the juridical authority of the state, rather
than the sovereign state-of-exception. Even the threatened war against Iraq,
which would seem to evoke the most traditional concepts of the justa causa
and all the paraphernalia of sovereign war, draws its legitimacy from the
declaration of a prior state of emergency - the so-called war on terror.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, the "insecurity of our times"
has come to justify everything from the war against the Taliban in
Afghanistan to "low intensity" warfare against internal "terrorist threats"
around the world, to the introduction of exceptional police powers in almost
all nation-states, to a planned preemptive strike on Iraq. A return to
events preceding September 11, however, might help us to establish another
chronology. In March 2000, the euphoria of the New Economy, encapsulating
neoliberalism's flight into ever-increasing growth, came crashing to the
ground when the dotcom stocks collapsed. At the end of 2000, a massive
mobilization of anti-capitalist protestors in Seattle brought the WTO
meeting to a halt - an event which brought the anti-IMF riots to the North
and signified the emergence of a truly transnational opposition to
neoliberal globalism. It was in this atmosphere of impending political and
economic crisis, announcing the decline of the neoliberal triumphalism of
the 80s and 90s, that Bush came to power.

In May 2001, the Bush administration released its international energy
policy paper, known as the Cheney report. Pointing to the growing reliance
of the US on foreign oil supplies, the report called for a strengthening of
the US presence in the Middle East as well as the diversification of supply
sources to other oil-producing regions around the world. In the same year, a
report coordinated by the Minister of Defence called for increased
investment in the "RMA." In the wake of September 11, the defence and
oil-supply strategies of the Bush administration have become increasingly
difficult to distinguish. In the name of the "war on terror" the US military
has proceeded to carry out precisely those incursions into Middle Eastern
and Central Asian oil producing regions that the trade and foreign policy
report of May 2001 had foreseen. As one commentator has pointed out, the
three security priorities of the US government - increased military
capacity, the search for new sources of oil and the war against terrorism -
have now merged into one strategic objective.[x] This convergence of
military and economic interests should no doubt be seen as a response to the
crisis-ridden new economy. In this respect, the fate of the energy giant
Enron, the major fundraiser to Bush's election campaign, is exemplary. The
authors of the Cheney report had initiated dealings with Enron prior to its
publication, promising it a major share in US-controlled oil regions. Enron
was the very model of the new economy success story:

It was the symbol of the New Economy and of the deregulation of both finance
and energy markets. Its former CEO, Jeffrey K. Skilling, promoted the idea
that assets were not what made a company valuable. Instead what counted was
a company's intellectual capital. He sold the idea of Enron as a nimble,
highly-leveraged, "asset-light" company engaged in aggressive internet-based
trading. The point is that this huge and highly regarded company did not
make anything. Nor did it perform a service like distributing energy. It was
in essence a purely speculative enterprise, making money through trading
made possible by the deregulation of a basic consumer need (electricity)."

Unfortunately, a sudden turn in the market brought Enron crashing to the
ground before the US manoeuvres in the Middle East could secure its future.
The "war on terror" can be interpreted as a preemptive response to the
fragility of the New Economy, an attempt to divert looming crisis by turning
the beleaguered information sectors to defence purposes and tightening the
strong-hold on oil reserves in order to insure the future of the
"asset-light" multinational. The situation is one in which the state of
permanent crisis induced by economic deregulation dictates the imperialist
strategy of land appropriation. As Christian Marazzi puts it, "war is the
continuation of the New Economy by other means."[xii] Since September 11 in
particular, it has become clear that the generalisation of economic crisis
through the 80s and 90s has found its counterpart in the "war on terror,"
the declaration of an all-pervasive and seemingly unending state of military
emergency, permanently mobilized against a catastrophic, and alarmingly
volatile threat.


[i] For a detailed and penetrating analysis of the RMA, see Dillon and Reid,
2001, 58-66. Dillon and Reid note that, "[w]hereas for Clausewitz, war was
the extension of politics by other means, for these new strategists the
practice of war has become the extension of that form of wealth creation
which also operates around information as a generative principle and prized
commodity. Successful organization of war mimics successful organization of
profit. (.) Just as successful organization for profit is dependent upon the
radical relationality of effective network organization, so also is the
effective use of lethal military force. Biopolitical economy is war pursued
by other means." (64-65)

[ii] John F. Schmitt 1997, 220.

[iii] 2002, 7.

[iv] Translator's footnote, in Schmitt 1985, 5.

[v] 1985, 13.

[vi] 1985, 14, 12.

[vii] The assertion that the world (dis)order of neo-liberalism can be
described as "chaos" has become a commonplace of recent political theory.
But here again the antinomy between liberal and sovereigntist conceptions of
"chaos" needs to be highlighted. Alain Joxe's recent book Empire of Disorder
is notable for having revived a strictly Hobbesian vision of chaos, a move
which in turn leads him to call for a strictly Hobbesian and Schmittian
solution to our current predicament. "In the absence of a declared enemy,
the most formidable enemy one must face in politics is disorder. Chaos comes
first; the ordered world is second and always under threat" (118); ". order
is always necessary because it provides protection" (122).

[viii] Luhmann .

[ix] 1993, 221-222.

[x] Michael Klare 2002, 17.

[xi] "Notes from the Editors," Monthly Review, Volume 53, Number 9.

[xii] 2002, 154.

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