Looks Interesting: November/December 2020

I am attempting to keep track of all the articles I come across that look interesting, that I’ll probably never read, but might read more of them if I keep track of them.

Settle and conquer: the ultimate counterinsurgency success

By Matthew J. Flynn in Small Wars & Insurgencies

American westward expansion so thoroughly undermined Native people and cultures that it has earned a place in history as the ultimate counterinsurgency success. The creation of a new American reality did not arise from a punitive act of waging war on an adversary so much as from an unkept promise of assimilation of the Native culture into the new nation. This process left all parties swapping missions of insurgent and counterinsurgent, until the young nation no longer needed Natives to enable settlement. Then, conquest arose as an inaccurate label masking a failed military effort to wage ‘total war.’ That narrative was established when the civilian tide of frontiersmen, militia, explorers, and pioneers teamed with soldiers to control ‘Indian country.’ That demographic end state became a broken analogy that dictates American efforts at counterinsurgency today.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2020.1829871

Bletchley park and big science: industrialising the secret war, 1939-1945

By Christopher Smith in Journal of Intelligence History

During the Second World War, Bletchley Park, the headquarters of the Government Code and Cypher School, was the epicentre of a vast scientific enterprise which succeeded in reading enciphered Axis wireless traffic on an industrialised scale. Typically, this important intelligence agency has been depicted as a collegiate organisation with a clear Senior Common Room culture. This article argues that Bletchley Park is better understood as major mechanised, military orientated scientific enterprise with vast numbers of employees, a considerable budget and was subject to careful and professionally managed wartime media control which extended for many years into the post-war period. Each of these facets respectively represents each of the five ‘M’s of ‘Big Science’. As such, the agency can in fact, be viewed and understood as an example of quasi-Big Science.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/16161262.2020.1826807

Probabilities towards death: bugsplat, algorithmic assassinations, and ethical due care

By John R. Emery in Critical Military Studies

This article explores the principle of due care in war and the myth that improved battlefield technology makes Western warfare inherently more ethical. The discursive construction – which I term virtuous chaoplexic militarism – of the US as ethical by virtue of its utilization of technologically advanced modes of killing, seeks to dissolve the ethico-political dilemmas of war into quantifiable problems to-be-solved. This article illustrates this dissolution by outlining the transformation within US military decision-making from an ethics of practical judgement to a computational techno-ethics. To do this, I evaluate two concrete cases of US algorithms of militarism. The first case traces the rise of collateral damage estimation algorithms, colloquially known as bugsplat. I examine how bugsplat is programmed, its fundamental design flaws, and its practical exploitation by commanders to erroneously tick the box of ethical due care. The second case explores the SKYNET machine-learning algorithm that was designed to construct ‘legitimate targets’ for US drone strikes via heterogeneous correlations of SIM card metadata. While drone strikes are widely praised for their capacity to individualize targeting, the algorithmic process of SKYNET ultimately erodes the individual subjectivity that is foundational for ethics of war through data constructions of ‘terroristness.’ As both cases demonstrate, the ultimate goal of this virtuous chaoplexic militarism is to render the ethico-political dilemmas of killing quantifiable, predictable, and solvable. There exists an urgent need to interrogate socio-technical interactions in the military setting; and specifically, the degree to which practical judgement has been outsourced to a morally problematic computational techno-ethics.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/23337486.2020.1809251

The problem of the missing dead

By Sophia Dawkins in Journal of Peace Research

This article examines what scholars can learn about civilian killings from newswire data in situations of non-random missingness. It contributes to this understanding by offering a unique view of the data-generation process in the South Sudanese civil war. Drawing on 40 hours of interviews with 32 human rights advocates, humanitarian workers, and journalists who produce ACLED and UCDP-GED’s source data, the article illustrates how non-random missingness leads to biases of inconsistent magnitude and direction. The article finds that newswire data for contexts like South Sudan suffer from a self-fulfilling narrative bias, where journalists select stories and human rights investigators target incidents that conform to international views of what a conflict is about. This is compounded by the way agencies allocate resources to monitor specific locations and types of violence to fit strategic priorities. These biases have two implications: first, in the most volatile conflicts, point estimates about violence using newswire data may be impossible, and most claims of precision may be false; secondly, body counts reveal little if divorced from circumstance. The article presents a challenge to political methodologists by asking whether social scientists can build better cross-national fatality measures given the biases inherent in the data-generation process.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0022343320962159

Governing border security infrastructures: Maintaining large-scale information systems

By Giorgios Glouftsios in Security Dialogue

Keywords: Border security, information systems, maintenance, Michel Foucault, New Materialisms

This article explores the maintenance of large-scale information systems that are used for, among other purposes, border security in the European Union. My argument is that information systems do not always operate according to their design scripts. They materialize as unruly, unstable and failing infrastructures that are governed through maintenance in order to correct any identified functional anomalies and address potential future failures by adapting them to emerging technologies and the service needs of end-users (e.g. border guards, police). To conceptualize the maintenance labour through which information systems are governed, I synthesize ideas developed in Michel Foucault’s work on biopolitics and governmentality with contributions that explore the agentic forces and proclivities of technoscientific matter. By unearthing the very mechanics of maintenance processes, I make two contributions to the literature that interrogates the digitization and smartening of border security. First, I demonstrate that attending to maintenance permits a more complete understanding of the agency of information systems. Second, I broaden the research agenda that explores border security as practice by directing attention towards the often invisible, but politically significant, labour of maintainers who, by rendering information systems functional, sustain the power to govern international mobility by digital means.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0967010620957230

The third eye: Canada’s development of autonomous signals intelligence to contribute to Five Eyes intelligence sharing

By Maria A. Robson in Intelligence and National Security


Canada established independent signals intelligence in 1946, after years of British and American guidance. The dominant driver was inclusion in postwar intelligence sharing. Wartime intelligence negotiations depict Canadians framing themselves relative to their allies, seeking to shake off a ‘younger brother’ mindset and to migrate from British-led models towards autonomous intelligence sharing with the Americans. This paper traces the origins of autonomous Canadian signals intelligence in the context of postwar intelligence sharing with the United States and United Kingdom, demonstrating Canada’s prioritization of capabilities that would ensure inclusion in the intelligence-sharing partnership known today as Five Eyes.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2020.1768477

Of intelligence oversight and the challenge of surveillance corporatism

By Peter Gill in Intelligence and National Security


This article examines the experience of oversight during the last fifty years in order to inform current debates in both the older and newer democracies. First, there is a discussion of certain key concepts: intelligence governance including control, authorisation and oversight; second, the difficulties facing oversight, specifically, how these can be alleviated by a structure involving both parliamentary and specialist bodies and, third, the challenges presented by the structures of surveillance corporatism and its reliance on bulk collection. It is concluded that this new intelligence architecture requires a form of decentred regulation of and by state and corporate actors.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2020.1783875

Just war theory after colonialism and the war on terror: reexamining non-combatant immunity

By Gabriel Mares in International Theory

Keywords: civilians; just war theory; liability; non-combatant immunity; postcolonialism

I challenge a recent trend in just war theory – that civilians might be complicit with terrorists and lose non-combatant immunity – by reversing the gun sights and asking whether colonizing populations complicit with empire might compromise their non-combatant status. Employing colonial settlers as a thought experiment, I demonstrate the logic of expanded civilian culpability that has been proposed in the wake of the War on Terror would be unacceptable in other scenarios, and that these revisionist proposals are in service of ends incompatible with just war. In the process, I identify an important ambiguity regarding the performativity of non-combatant status, and show how this is used to aggressively expand civilian culpability for violence.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1752971920000482

The Wane of Command: Evidence on Drone Strikes and Control within Terrorist Organizations

By Anouk S. Rigterink in American Political Science Review


This paper investigates how counterterrorism targeting terrorist leaders affects terrorist attacks. This effect is theoretically ambiguous and depends on whether terrorist groups are modeled as unitary actors or not. The paper exploits a natural experiment provided by strikes by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) “hitting” and “missing” terrorist leaders in Pakistan. Results suggest that terrorist groups increase the number of attacks they commit after a drone “hit” on their leader compared with after a “miss.” This increase is statistically significant for 3 out of 6 months after a hit, when it ranges between 47.7% and 70.3%. Additional analysis of heterogenous effects across groups and leaders, and the impact of drone hits on the type of attack, terrorist group infighting, and splintering, suggest that principal-agent problems—(new) terrorist leaders struggling to control and discipline their operatives—account for these results better than alternative theoretical explanations.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055420000908

Infrastructure and Chinese power

By Selina Ho in International Affairs


China’s increasing material capabilities stand at the heart of the US–China power transition debate. The focus on material power reflects a realist definition of power based on the possession of resources. However, material capabilities do not necessarily translate into influence and do not always determine outcomes. Non-material power matters at least as much as material capabilities. This article argues that China under President Xi Jinping views power differently from previous generations of Chinese leaders. While material power remains important, Xi has paid greater attention to strengthening Chinese non-material power, in particular structural power and discursive power. This article examines Chinese structural and discursive power, the third and fourth faces of power, through the lens of Xi’s mega-infrastructure vision, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It argues that power, both material and non-material, is embedded in infrastructure. Specifically, the article uses case-studies of Chinese construction of high-speed railways in Laos and Indonesia to illustrate the effects of Chinese structural and discursive power. Based on field work and in-depth interviews, the cases show that China is relatively successful in wielding structural and discursive power in Laos and Indonesia, despite the differences in the two countries’ political systems, and economic and population sizes. Chinese domination, however, does not mean that subordinate states do not have agency. For instance, there is resistance against the narrative of a pre-eminent Chinese civilization in Chinese discourse, as the Indonesia case demonstrates. Exploring the different facets of Chinese power is critical for a proper understanding of how China strives to shape the structure and discourse of the global order.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiaa171

Managing ‘dangerous populations’: How colonial emergency laws shape citizenship

By Yael Berda in Security Dialogue

Keywords: Bureaucracy, citizenship, colonialism, emergency laws, India, Israel/Palestine

This article traces the historical foundations of current security legislation as the matrix of citizenship. Examining Israel’s new Counter-Terrorism Law against the backdrop of security legislation in India, its main proposition is that these laws and their effects are rooted in colonial emergency regulations and the bureaucratic mechanisms for population control developed therein, rather than in the ‘global war on terror’. The article offers an organizational vantage point from which to understand the development of population-classification practices in terms of an ‘axis of suspicion’ that conflates ‘political risk’ with ‘security risk’. Through an account of the formalization of emergency laws, it explains the effects of colonial bureaucracies of security upon independent regimes seeking legitimacy as new democracies by tracing decisions regarding the use of an inherited arsenal of colonial and settler-colonial practices of security laws for population management, particularly mobility restrictions, surveillance and political control. One of the most important of these effects is the shaping of the citizenship of targeted populations by security laws.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0967010620901908

The proliferation of drones to violent nonstate actors

By Kerry Chávez and Ori Swed in Defence Studies


Scholarship on the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) mainly focuses on states’ use, sidestepping the consequential proliferation of drone technology to violent nonstate actors (VNSAs). Meanwhile, an increasing corpus of media, military, and policy publications underscores the latter’s importance. The source of the gap is that existing proliferation models overlook civilian drone technologies. Applying supply- and demand-side proliferation models, we confirm conventional wisdom that military-grade drones are not likely to proliferate to VNSAs. Including civilian drones inverts proliferation logic across the boards. Shifting from cost-prohibitive, inaccessible, and technically complex military technologies to cheap, simple civilian platforms, we demonstrate that VNSAs have the resources, capacity, and interest to effectively incorporate drone programs to advance their aims. Furthermore, in context of state and nonstate actors’ security environments and normative constraints, the proliferation of civilian drones matters for international security. Norm-abiding states need expensive, high-performance, norm-enabling drones. For norm-defying VNSAs, civilian platforms are sufficient, even efficient, to advance their agendas.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14702436.2020.1848426

The sixth RMA wave: Disruption in Military Affairs?

By Michael Raska in Journal of Strategic Studies

Keywords: Revolution in Military Affairs; military innovation; future warfare; emerging technologies; disruptive defence innovation; strategic competition; East Asia

The Revolution in Military Affairs, its concepts, processes, and debates, have evolved in five ‘IT-RMA waves’ since the 1980s. None of them, however, have fully achieved their intended outcomes as their ambitious premises have exceeded available technologies, budgetary resources, and operational capabilities of a given era. This paper argues that a new ‘artificial intelligence-driven RMA’ wave differs in the political, strategic, technological, and operational diffusion paths and patterns. While the AI-RMA may affect select countries and regions disproportionately, its technological advances coupled with an ongoing strategic competition is sufficiently broad to stipulate significant military changes across geopolitical lines.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2020.1848818

Power and International Relations: a temporal view

By Daniel Drezner in European Journal of International Relations

Keywords: Power, International Relations, realism, constructivism, critical theory, liberalism

International Relations scholars are certain about two facts: power is the defining concept of the discipline and there is no consensus about what that concept means. One explanation for this problematic state of the field is that most International Relations scholars freight their analyses of power with hidden assumptions about time. Temporality is an essential component of political analysis, as a burgeoning literature has begun to explore. This paper argues that there are two latent presumptions about time that fundamentally affect how scholars conceptualize power in world politics. First, scholars are rarely explicit in defining the temporal scope of their key causal processes. The longer the implicit temporal scope, the more expansive their definition and operationalization of power can be. Second, there is considerable variation of beliefs about the temporal returns to power: does exercising or accumulating power generate positive or negative feedback effects over time? Relying on canonical works in the field, this paper examines the hidden assumptions that different paradigms make about power and time. Illuminating these assumptions clarifies the root of cross-paradigmatic disagreements about international politics and suggests some interesting pathways for future theoretical and empirical work.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1354066120969800

Climate Change and Order: Mapping the Scope of International Relations in Studying Climate Politics

By Isha Sharma in International Studies

Keywords: Order, Robert Cox, problem-solving, critical theory, climate change

As globalization gained currency in international politics, multilateral negotiations increasingly expanded their scope to include environmental issues. Still, the political dimension of environmental change remains underrepresented in international relations (IR) theorization. This article aims to focus on the theoretical fortification in the mainstream IR when it comes to transboundary environmental threats. Since the threats of climate change and environmental degradation cannot be contained within the sovereign territories of states, the state-centric conception of the political order in the conventional approaches to IR fails to respond to the threats that are planetary in nature. The article seeks to answer two questions: (a) What are the inadequacies in the realist and liberal concepts of political order vis-à-vis climate change? (b) How to destabilize the conventional assumptions of political order with the aim of making it more receptive to the concerns associated with climate change? To do the latter, the article delves into the work of Robert Cox in order to delineate his intersubjective approach, which combines the material basis of political order with social relations of production. By doing so, this approach also sheds light on the transnational variants of hegemonic power, making it a useful explanatory framework for political implications of climate change.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0020881720965044

Assembling Israeli drone warfare: Loitering surveillance and operational sustainability

By Stefan Borg in Security Dialogue

Keywords: Actor-network theory, IDF, intelligence, ISR, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), warfare

This article examines how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones as they are more popularly known, have changed practices of Israeli warfare. In order to do so, the article proceeds in three steps. First, it traces the emergence and development of the Israeli UAV programme. Second, it examines the main factors that have enabled its expansion. Third, it turns to some of the main implications of UAVs for the way in which the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) wages war. The article argues that the combined tactical use of UAVs employed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks has amounted to a strategic effect: by dramatically enhancing the field of perception, UAVs have enabled the IDF to better control the battle rhythm. UAVs in the Israeli context have enhanced the IDF’s operational sustainability, since one’s own casualties have been virtually eliminated and civilian casualties have been stretched out over, rather than concentrated in, time. Throughout the article, the changing character of the UAV is emphasized. To capture this change and to unravel the interactions among technology, warfare and broader societal forces, the article draws on actor-network theory.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0967010620956796

Digital Coloniser? China and Artificial Intelligence in Africa

By Willem H. Gravett in Survival


By using African countries as laboratories to improve its AI-based technologies, China is also reinforcing African governments’ illiberal and authoritarian tendencies.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2020.1851098

Surveillance, Security, and Liberal Democracy in the Post-COVID World

By Sheena Chestnut Greitens in International Organization


To what extent has the COVID-19 outbreak, and the augmented use of health surveillance technology that has resulted from it, altered international conceptions of civil liberties, privacy, and democracy? This article examines how global patterns of liberal democracy have been and could be affected by the pandemic. In China, the outbreak has strengthened a pre-existing techno-authoritarian project aimed at prevention and control of threats to both public health and public order. Certain features of the international system such as China’s major power status, its global economic role, and its leadership in international organizations suggest that China’s model of illiberal pandemic response could diffuse worldwide. Other factors, however—such as the incomparability of China’s political system to many other countries in the contemporary international system—suggest more limited diffusion potential. To date, the pandemic has largely augmented existing trends, meaning that autocracies have been likely to respond in ways that infringe upon citizen rights, and weak democracies have exhibited some risk of democratic erosion and pandemic-associated autocratization. In these cases, however, factors other than surveillance have been central to processes of democratic decay. Conversely, a large number of consolidated democracies have employed surveillance, but have managed to navigate the initial stages of crisis without significantly compromising democratic standards. In these cases, surveillance technology has been fenced in by democratic institutions and rule of law, and norms, institutions, and public opinion have worked together to facilitate pandemic responses that are (on balance) proportional, limited in time and scope, and subject to democratic oversight. This suggests that international relations may need to separate the pandemic’s effects on democracy from its effects on liberalism, and that care must be taken to identify the precise mechanisms that link pandemic response to various components of liberal democracy.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818320000417

Organizing for performance: coalition effectiveness on the battlefield

By Rosella Cappella Zielinski and Ryan Grauer in European Journal of International Relations

Keywords: Armed forces, conflict, cooperation, multilateralism, war, coalitions

States often fight side-by-side on the battlefield. As detailed in our new dataset, Belligerents in Battle, 178 of the 480 major land battles fought during interstate wars waged between 1900 and 2003 involved at least one multinational coalition. Though coalition partners fight battles together to increase their odds of securing specific objectives, they vary significantly in their capacity to do so. Why? Drawing on organization theory insights, we argue that coalitions’ variable battlefield effectiveness is a function of interactions between their command structures and the resources each partner brings to the fight. Coalitions adopting command structures tailored to simultaneously facilitate the efficient use of partners’ variably sized resource contributions and discourage free-riding, shirking, and other counterproductive actions will fight effectively; those that employ inappropriate command structures will not. Evidence from Anglo-French operations during World War I and Axis operations during World War II strongly supports our claim. For scholars, our argument and findings about the importance of military organizational dynamics for the operation and performance of coalitions raise important new questions and provide potential insights about coalition formation, duration, and termination. For practitioners, it is significant that, since 1990, 36 of 49 of major battles in interstate wars have involved at least one coalition and the majority of those coalitions have been, like the cases we study, ad hoc in nature. Understanding how command arrangements affect performance and getting organization right at the outset of wars is increasingly important.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1354066120903369

Revisiting the expansion thesis: international society and the role of the Dutch East India company as a merchant empire

By Kevin Blachford in European Journal of International Relations

Keywords: International society, European expansion, English School, Grotius, empire

This paper breaks new ground by looking at the role played by merchant empires, such as the Dutch East India Company (VOC), in shaping European interactions with the non-Western world. It offers a critique of the English School’s state-centric narrative of the expansion of international society by looking to how the VOC and its expansion in Asia influenced developments within Europe. As a non-state actor, the VOC developed networks of trade and power, which were intertwined with the Dutch struggle against Iberian hegemony. As this paper shows, the development of international law, sovereign equality and European international society needs to be understood as being constituted through these colonial encounters. Looking to the VOC as a merchant empire presents a more nuanced approach to the expansion narrative that recognises that states, empires and early modern companies developed in a co-evolutionary manner. This critical approach calls for the recognition of international society as an ongoing process formed by the contestation of hybrid cultures.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1354066120932300

The Problem with Killer Robots

By Nathan Gabriel Wood in Journal of Military Ethics

Keywords: Autonomous weapons, necessity, non-lethal weapons, just war theory

Warfare is becoming increasingly automated, from automatic missile defense systems to micro-UAVs (WASPs) that can maneuver through urban environments with ease, and each advance brings with it ethical questions in need of resolving. Proponents of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) provide varied arguments in their favor, ranging from claims that LAWS will be more effective to arguments that they will be more moral warfighters than flesh-and-blood soldiers. However, the arguments only point in favor of autonomous weapons systems, failing to demonstrate why such systems should be lethal. In this paper I argue that if one grants the proponents’ points in favor of LAWS, then, contrary to what might be expected, this leads to the conclusion that it would be both immoral and illegal to deploy lethal autonomous weapons, because the features that speak in favor of LAWS also undermine the need for them to be programmed to take lives. In particular, I argue that such systems, if lethal, would violate the moral and legal principle of necessity, which forbids the use of weapons that impose superfluous injury or unnecessary harm. I conclude by highlighting that the argument is not against autonomous weapons per se, but only against lethal autonomous weapons.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15027570.2020.1849966

The logic of war: an instituting duel

By Pedro Valdés Guía in Defence Studies

Keywords: War studies, operational warfare, strategy (military science), political philosophy

At the origin of every war is an existential conflict and a recourse to violence that opens the “ontic” door of the enemy to transform him. Judgement corresponds to political logic, and violent existential transformation to the logic of war, which is engendered in that political matrix throughout the duration of hostilities. The objective nature of that logic structures the rationale of the theatre in terms of “performative” praxis, with two inseparable aspects: a violence that while destroying one order imposes an alternative one. The subjective nature of that logic is generated in its political matrix throughout the duration of the conflict, determining, in a dynamic way, its most basic formalization. Since war is engendered in politics, it adopts its character, a subjective nature that leads it to seek a peace treaty or a victory. In short, when the war begins, the political totality of each one of the belligerents starts to incorporate a new situation and, therefore, two logics coexist: one engendered in the other, and both conditioning each other. The symbiotic relationship between these two rationalities does not allow politics to dominate it according to the parameters of an instrumental reason.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14702436.2020.1829973

Cyber conflict vs. Cyber Command: hidden dangers in the American military solution to a large-scale intelligence problem

By Jon R. Lindsay in Intelligence and National Security


Is cyber conflict more like war, intelligence, or something else? The stakes of this debate are not simply conceptual but institutional. United States Cyber Command emerged from the American intelligence community, but it has strong legal and organizational imperatives to explain its operations in military terms. Even though cyber operations are essentially a digital manifestation of classic intelligence practice, or secret statecraft, CYBERCOM is emphatically not an intelligence organization. This contradiction between the nature of the problem and the bureaucratic solution has the potential to complicate both intelligence and cybersecurity.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2020.1840746

Michael Polanyi and the epistemology of intelligence analysis

By Owen Ormerod in Intelligence and National Security


Epistemology is at the heart of the intelligence analysis profession. Michael Polanyi’s concepts of ‘tacit knowing’ and ‘personal knowledge’ offers a more precise account for understanding the tacit process of skilfully solving problems of epistemic complexity, along with a deeper appreciation for the personal aspect of knowledge. Examining this conceptual framework offers an opportunity for re-cognizing key features of this profession, especially the personal and tacit dimensions involved in analysis. These examinations aim to contribute towards the training and education of analysts, along with offering the individual analyst a detailed language and logic for reflection and self-exploration regarding their practice.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02684527.2020.1836828