Social Control Not Just Aim of Drone Surveillance, But of Drone Strikes, Too

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In a Boston Review article titled The Sound of Terror: Phenomenology of a Drone Strike, Nasser Hussain attempts to

… provide a phenomenology of drone strikes, examining both how the world appears through the lens of a drone camera and the experience of the people on the ground. What is it like to watch a drone’s footage, or to wait below for it to strike? What does the drone’s camera capture, and what does it occlude?

The piece struck me as not only a little too academic, but scattershot, for its own good. Hussain did, however, shed light on an aspect of drones about which many of us are ignorant. He writes [emphasis added]:

Asymmetric war is typically a conflict between a regular army and a guerilla force, but could describe any conflict in which one side cannot retaliate in kind. The lasting insight of [German philosopher, jurist, and political theorist Carl] Schmitt’s evaluation of air power in The Nomos of the Earth (1950) is that the technological imbalance inherent in the use of air power transforms conflicts by adding an element of policing. … Schmitt saw with prescient clarity that air war would … intensify the problem of unequal sides, and allow the dominant side to re-label enemies as criminals. Schmitt understood that air power would create a world in which those who command the sky could police and punish those who do not.

Hussain then quotes Schmitt.

If the weapons [of each side] are conspicuously unequal, then the mutual concept of war conceived of in terms of an equal plane is lacking. To war on both sides belongs a certain chance of victory. Once that ceases to be the case, the opponent becomes nothing more than an object of violent measures.

Hussain then writes: “Aerial bombing of those who have no chance to retaliate is not a war but an unequal exchange, which by its very nature accelerates the process through which war becomes a policing action and the adversary becomes a criminal or a mere object of violent reprisal.” He re-emphasizes that: “Policing action both begins and ends with the criminalization of the enemy.”

When the United States attacked Iraq and Afghanistan, I found myself stumbling over these events as the Iraq “War” and the Afghanistan “War.” True, they may satisfy a technical definition for war. But, both because the states neither directly attacked nor provoked the United States, each “war” is more accurately described as an invasion and siege. I’m sure Iraqis and Afghans would agree.