Civil Wars Everywhere
EXCERPT FROM A DIALOGUE WITH SYLVERE LOTRINGER
Alain Joxe is the leading French
specialist in strategic issues. He is the head of a group in sociology
of defense at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en sciences sociales and
founded the Centre International de Recherches sur la Paix (CIRPES
International Center for Research on Peace). The complete
12,000 word version of this dialogue is contained in Alain Joxe,
The Empire of Disorder (New York: Semiotext[e] 2002)
SHAPING THE WORLD
Given the current state of things, everything
that is connected with free trade, with economic neo-liberalism,
goes Americas way.
The State officially intervenes in favor of free trade, but to them
it seems like a non-intervention. If you add a little historical
depth and political culture here, from the European perspective,
you will find it to be a pretty limited way of seeing things. It
is obvious, and all the American leaders say so, that this intervention
is intended to "shape" [mettre en forme] social and political
forms. Shaping is the catchword of the moment: "to shape the
world," "to shape Europe"
And if this is not
politics, what is it?
Politics does not disappear, it is merely relegated to "shaping"
the political world so that it is favorable to direct action by
corporations. This version of things is certainly not prohibited,
but you cannot say that it is a non-political policy. It is politics.
It is social politics, economic politics, but also military politics.
And there is the shaping carried out by a military presence. "Making
the state," at the same time, means making the army, the politics
and the conditions of the economy. In the encounter between a European
project for the Balkans and an American project for the Balkans,
normally, there should have been a nice debate that would have been
on shaping what do we mean by "shaping."
If there is no agreement on what we mean by shaping, there will
be confusions, even open conflicts, and in any case, broken-down
peace in the projection zones.
Exactly. The United States yet has to find
their shape. At the moment it might happen through the war in Iraq,
Kosovo, etc., or independently of real conflicts in the field. It
might not even be shaping a military conception of political strategy.
Yes, but we have to suspend our judgement about that topic a bit.
If you say that the military is very important, you have to say
that it is absolutely fundamental because it represents the threat
of death. And the threat of death is essential for creating power.
But the problem is that this threat of death is not aimed at conquering.
The Americans refuse to take a territory by military means and install
their troops to resolve political problems.
What they want is the world.
They want the world, but they dont want to invade the world.
Their military action is therefore intended to manage the world
by using this threat. But to do what? When the economy is the objective,
you could say that the objective is not exactly to create the reign
of a pure free market in the world, because what would reign would
be a march open under a threat and regulated by that threat. Of
course, if you say that to Americans, they wont recognize
their generous, democratic country; but strategically, that is what
comes down the pipeline. This worries even the American military.
Even now, in reference to Kosovo, they are saying: we are being
sent to do a mission, we do not know why. What is this "military
revolution"? And they will never be able to specify why it
is if it is the way I said. Obviously a democracy like the United
States could never say: "This is our strategy." However,
if the overt strategy is to bring dictatorships to an end and to
establish democracy throughout the world - because that is what
it is being said - then they should say: Listen, were sending
our armies, but they are there to re-establish democracy against
regimes like the Milosevic regime, who is a fascist, etc.
But you cannot say that this strategy interested
them very much when there were dictatorships all over Latin America.
Well, it is hard to comprehend why they have taken such a late interest
in it. In fact, the mystery is still greater now that we can see
their material interests. The lignite in Kosovo still does not interest
the American system, what interests them is American interests as
they have developed over the past ten years. In other words, their
interest in showing their military leadership and in saying that
it is good for them, means that military leadership is essential
for the economy. But this interest is global; the local relationship
is not always explicit. It cannot really be seen in Kosovo since
its presence is not directly predatory.
Couldnt we talk in terms of the attempt
to erect a new system of deterrence - since you are a specialist
in deterrence - something that wouldnt be on par with an atomic
threat, but would be the threat of this unbeatable technological
and computerized force?
Yes, it is a sort of threat of coercion through a form of ubiquitous,
"detailist" presence. Foucault could be relevant here,
obviously, because you have both the capability of reconnaissance
and of targeting. And in this case, there is a sort of paranoia,
of complete domination of every scale of the planet, the macro,
meso, micro levels, etc. Local demonstrations of reconnaissance
and targeting capabilities have a global strategic value.
A few months ago Kissenger bluntly stated
in the Le Nouvel Observateur: "We have chosen to know
everything, be aware of everything." So they have ten thousand
people in Washington who analyze everyday all the images, all the
messages for the Pentagon. Or at least that is the picture they
paint for us.
Yes and no. If I wasnt convinced that Kissinger were a very
intelligent man, I would say that he was crazy. So if he says that,
he cannot be serious. I think he is kidding.
It is a form of deterrence
People have to think that they
can control everything, that is part of deterrence, isnt it?
Im not so sure. Deterrence cannot rely
on absolute security alone, it must rely on the capability of punishing
the things you were not able to control. So if you think you can
control everything, you will have to punish absolutely minuscule
things all the time and thats really tiring you not
only need observers, satellite decoders but also a lot of cops
You always need enemies
Just a second. In principle the enemies will be ironed out of the
smooth world of harmonic trade. But that leads to a state system
of control or all repression would have to become automatic.
You automate information and it will say: Over there, there
is a Mafioso stringing up his neighbor, and I send a self-guided
dart to punish him, to paralyze him. And then we are off into
a sci-fi world and wild imaginings
Just a moment. Try to compare nuclear deterrence
and the system of electronic and computerized repression as we can
picture it or imagine it today.
Nuclear deterrence works, if it does, because you burn your own
boats. One says: Excuse me, you are threatening us in such a way
that I prefer dying and taking you down with me. De Gaulle said
to Kruschev: "We shall die together, Mister Secretary General."
So once you get to that point, you can start talking politics. The
common threat of a major explosion leads to a preference for negotiation.
That is why the Cold War was: a constant negotiation. You take Czechoslovakia,
alright, were going to do what we want in Yugoslavia, or elsewhere.
The war never happened because there was a common interest that
was symbolized and latently fulfilled in the nuclear explosion that
could not have been measured.
Paul Virilio called this state terrorism
when civil populations are held hostage by means of reciprocal threats.
And then it changed a bit near the end when precision weapons began
to appear that allowed to envisage the possibility of ultra-rapid
operations that were highly efficient but not nuclear. Now, nuclear
arms are no longer a deterrent because there is no more East-West
opposition and we are in the detallist era. Yet in spite of everything,
you could say that if the United States does not want to wear itself
out, which really is the primary part of imperial preoccupations,
and I think that they have them we cant control everything,
we cant dominate everyone, etc. then I think that Kissenger
was being facetious. He said it, but as a way of saying: "See
what I mean, theyre crazy." Because he is someone who
is slightly more capable of considering diplomacy as an art and
not a science. And that is where we are: he is more of a European
to a certain extent, for better or worse.
He is the one who said at the beginning of the Gulf War, but always
with a touch of humor, that in any case the decision to start a
war instead of an embargo was necessarily made when a certain number
of soldiers had been reached and they had to be moved around
because you cannot leave soldiers in the desert with low Coca-Cola
supplies for too long, they have to go in shifts and you
cannot move them around without reducing their numbers. There were
too many of them to relieve them all in equal amounts without draining
all the NATO troops. So they had to use them before withdrawing
them because otherwise it would seem like a retreat, and then their
leverage would have disappeared. That is a detailed strategy. And
then he said that from the moment when twenty thousand men more
were sent or fifty thousand more, they could not pull out because
they had to be used before a certain date. Afterwards, they would
have had to be withdrawn without using them and the embargo would
not have been credible.
And all that despite the aerial forces, the
high-precision weaponry, etc.
Yes, because the United States had in some way to create an interest
sui generis in the success of this military expedition. They could
have made it the success of a military presence if they hadnt
sent so many men, but since they did, they were forced to use them
because otherwise they would have had to withdraw some for no reason.
And the threat itself was not enough? Because
it was real.
The threat would have been sufficient if it had remained constant.
But if you accept to reduce the contingent before using it
Yes, but the contingent was only one of the
many factors involved in the Gulf: there were also boats, the air
If we are reasoning in terms of deterrence, that does not work.
There is something psychological involved. If you send an expeditionary
force and you reduce its numbers without obtaining anything, your
naval blockade loses credibility as well. Moreover, a naval blockade
has never been very effective. They find ways around it, especially
since Iraq is not even an island, there are holes everywhere. Psychologically,
the idea that he would say: alright, they are too strong, we will
negotiate that idea could not occur if the blockade was maintained
alone with a contingent that would continue to grow smaller. But
informational and technological deterrence is also psychological
Then they didnt have a choice. They
had to attack immediately.
No, as soon as you know that on a certain day you have to reduce
the number of troops, you have to attack before. And that is exactly
what happened. And he said it in September, in other words before
it was theoretically decided to attack.
Returning to the notion of deterrence: in order to have a deterrence
that replaces nuclear deterrence, first there has to be a threat;
then there has to be a real danger. And there have to be some room
It is common these days to study deterrence using the tools Tom
Shelling forged under the term "coercion." Shelling is
a game and nuclear strategy theorist, but he also conceived of the
post-nuclear or para-nuclear starting with the Vietnam War. When
the bombing started in Vietnam, everyone thought that the message
of these bombings, limited but targeted, would force the Vietnamese
to think and say: "OK, under these conditions we will negotiate."
That is "coercion" thinking, in other words a pressure
that is sufficiently well done to obtain precise results.
It did not work in Vietnam, maybe because the North Vietnamese
were communists. Now that there are no more communists, this pressure
should work and above all, they did not have this electronic
time, progress has been made since then but there was a return
to Shellings thought. These schemas are rational from a certain
point of view, from the point of view of strategy on the scale of
universal history, but this does not hide the fact that it did not
work. Now they think that maybe it could work since the atom is
no longer part of the game, because precision electronics, etc.,
have been improved, satellite observation can observe details down
to the metric level, so we should see a system as perfect as Benthams
Panopticon being established, or more what we could call "Panopolitics"
This system is a dream, and dreams are not reality.
DETERRENCE OF THE
But does it [the panoptic system] constitute
a system of deterrence?
Personally, I dont think so at all. Why? Deterrence from something
means having an undertaking that corresponds to an ambition, a relationship
of forces, etc. But what will be important in considering deterrence
is the deterrence of the people.
All peoples in general. In the Third World, those who are stuck
in the polarized society, between accelerated poverty and accelerated
wealth. The entire economic strategy will have to be revisited if
you want to deter people from revolting. How can you keep people
from rising up if they are dying of hunger? Deterrence strategy
cannot solve that, they will die, thats all, but they will
not have been defeated. You can only defeat the living. Obviously,
you can destroy an entire people, but if you do, you cannot call
it a victory. If a victory has no goal, it simply ends up being
a massacre, though I do not think that is the aim of American civilization
and culture. It becomes the objective by accident, in a way, because
of the extraordinary increases in precision for targeting and electronics,
so in part due to general technological progress.
And it becomes the objective because there are no designated enemies,
and thus the enemies who remain cannot be named. So they look for
a name, a name like "narcotics traffickers," or Islam
but this is not even sure to work, since the Americans work
very closely with the Saudi Wadabits. Not Islam, then, but the enemy
cannot quite be found. If we look at what we are trying to get rid
of: disorder, disturbance, well, this disorder and these disturbances
are caused in part by American economic strategies. The reasoning
does not quite bite its tail, and I think that the United States
is capable of examining it closer.
But can you find a military form, or shape
the military, without having an enemy? Isnt that a bit of
a vicious circle. I think it is the current problem.
It is a vicious circle, but you can move around the vicious circle,
and one sees how: if you launch humanitarian expeditions to save
widows and orphans, little children whose arms are cut off, etc.,
then there will be expeditions, and the particularly atrocious things
going on in Liberia, in Sierra Leone certainly have to be stopped.
And yet the cause is not really located in these countries, but
in the fact that there have been no efforts made to develop them.
If people are dying of hunger, they are ready to do anything they
can to take control of a diamond mine. Since a formal state does
not exist and redistribution is replaced by corruption
These are all political problems. If you do not have a political
program, you let these things continue as Americans are doing. They
say: the situation is regrettable, but that we are not imperialists.
Then the state is not given a shape; only the economy is given a
form, a destructive form. If we had some political programs, we
would have to approach the problem of social republics, something
the Americans do not do. The only person who opposes the Republic
to the Empire there is Patrick Buchanan he opposes what he
calls the "Republic," speaking of the Republican extremist
right-wing, to the Democratic Empire, which is not at all what I
want to talk about. Buchanan is part of that American tradition
that sees the United States as a country blessed by the gods, you
find there everything you need, so there is no reason to open up
to global commerce or depend on it, etc. This dream has been erased
in practice for so many years that Americans do not realize that
they survive thanks to forms of commerce that offer them credit,
and so they think that they do not need anyone else. If there are
so many tragedies now, it is precisely because instead of remaining
a normal nation they wanted to rule the world.
The imperial idea is: let it pass, laissez
faire. Democracy promoted through the economy.
Yes, the President of the United States has a dual role: preside
over the United States and dominate the world. That dual function
has been around for quite some time.
There is nonetheless a certain shaping on
the economic level, since the economy now rules everything. To the
extent that it produces democracy, it is thought to be capable of
eliminating conflict, etc.
But shaping the economy induces shaping a certain repression. Until
now, this repression did not reveal itself overtly as repression
because it took the form of state crises and Balkanization
Of course, the United States gets along fine because it has the
pipe flowing in its direction, but elsewhere. And repression also
appears in the form of the restoration of democracy. Restoring democracy
is better than dictatorship in the end. So the free-market economy
undergoes a certain number of transitions in order to coincide with
the restoration of democracy, as happened, for example, in Brazil
and in Argentina. But this is not the rule. It happens in some countries
because they have a history that fits the model that is presented
as general. In fact this model is particular to certain countries.
Now you have the restoration of democracy in Chile at the same
time as a form of crisis that may devalue democracy, even though
it is a profoundly democratic country. In Colombia, however, they
might have a chance in that they are facing both the harshest economic
deregulation measures and the harshest phase of war. So that when
things start going better economically, in five or ten years, and
democracy and peace are restored, then it will work. That strategy
is extremely cruel. It might be an unspoken part of the American
system. When we look at it from an European perspective as a historical
fact, we seem like the bad guys to American public opinion, which
is utterly lacking in historical perspective. In France, we have
committed mistakes of this type, as in Algeria. If we had restored
democracy at the same time as we introduced the Constantine plan,
okay. If we had established the Constantine plan and it did not
work and on top of that democracy was not allowed
In Algeria it was "pacification"
with economic measures in tow.
Thats right. The idea that we pacified first and then we have
a development plan. But the development plan was a plan, therefore
a liberal sin . Maybe the Americans will tell us: because you wanted
a controlled economy, whereas what we do is liberalism. Just looking
at Algeria today, it has been subjected to liberalism without democracy,
and it is not clear, the violence unleashed over there, unfortunately.
Its rather a dictatorship plus armed groups. And then there
is petroleum involved, so we know the American interest is real.
I think that in Europe we tend to make up fewer stories, even though
we speak less.
Americans make nice speeches, pretty radical ones at times. American
NGOs are highly critical of the way in which the American government
acts, but on the decision-making level of the government, they are
not taken into account. NGOs are active, but they have not kept
war from breaking out in Colombia. So I think the problem is to
have a greater awareness of the relation between the global economic
system and the military system. Because the military system in fact
cannot resolve the problems of the economic system. It cannot, and
all its refinements will never allow it to deal with things on a
sufficient level of prevention
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