Hybrid Warfare and Its Metaphors

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According to Roberto Esposito, modernity is marked by an immunitary logic in which defending against contagion is a central preoccupation. To immunize is to seek the negative protection of life; it is intended to safeguard life through the introduction of the pathogen from which protection is sought. Though immunization is normally associated with the health sciences, for Esposito it is constitutive of the entanglement of biology and politics.1 One aspect of this interconnection was insightfully investigated by Susan Sontag in her exploration of the medical discourses surrounding disease. Concerns about the spread of syphilis and tuberculosis during and at the close of the First World War led to public education campaigns in which disease was cast as an invasion of the body. At this time, “military metaphors became a credible and precise means of conceptualizing disease.”2Though it was in her initial analysis of the discourse surrounding cancer that Sontag discovered the military metaphor, she later ruminated that infectious disease—the prime modern example being HIV/AIDS, which is said to come from “outside,” to “hide” within cells and to “elude detection”—is the example par excellence of the militaristic framing of disease.3Indeed, it is the permanent vulnerability to infection from an outside agent that renders infectious disease permissible to a violent imaginary involving a struggle to the death, a battle, a war. Yet just as disease is fantasized as an enemy and its treatment a fight, the inverse is also apparent: in some instances warfare is articulated though the lexicon of medicine and therapy. Some forms of warfare cast the enemy as a disease of the social body against which protection can be procured. This essay considers the interconnection between biology and politics by examining how, in military thought, the metaphors of infectious disease and its treatment and prevention—culminating in the paradigm of immunity, as Esposito calls it—are deployed to characterize insurgency and its remedy.

To claim that war is articulated through lexicon of medicine and therapy is counter to the reasonable view that war is a destructive battle to the death. Yet, although war is always destructive, almost all wars of today are not only rationalized on humanitarian grounds but call for the integration of humanitarian means into the struggle at hand. In recent years new counterinsurgency doctrines have emerged among the U.S., UK, and Canadian militaries that claim such credentials. Though building on lessons of the past, twenty-first-century counterinsurgency is a unique entity. As the form of conflict it confronts is said to be hybrid in character, involving the convergence of combatants and noncombatants, kinetic and nonkinetic, physical and psychological weaponry—it proposes a similarly hybrid model of warfare that calls on military and civilian expertise, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, that form a wide network of contemporary internationalism. Indeed, a key marker of contemporary counterinsurgency is its incorporation of the aspirations and techniques of mainstream international development and humanitarianism into the battlespace of war.4 Unlike the general thrust of conventional warfare which promises, rather straightforwardly, an economy of fatality and destruction, modern counterinsurgency evinces an elaborate politics of life. Though death lingers in the corpus of counterinsurgency, it posits an ideal of its own which emphasizes the betterment of the population in whose midst it is exercised. Thus the use of medical discourse in counterinsurgency is formative in articulating a politics of life and regeneration, amid the death and destruction that accompanies war.

The characteristics of modern counterinsurgency add to the increasingly prominent role of the life sciences in shaping the politics of international security. Interdisciplinary, international research has begun to explore the ways in which security is being redefined as a medical problem and deepening connections between the psychiatric sciences and modes of warfare.5 Security, it has been shown, is sought through the science of health. Not only is modernity marked by the centrality of scientific conceptual frameworks to the development of Western warfare but, more specifically, biological accounts of humanity can be said to correspond to the relentless waging of war on behalf of life itself.6 This essay offers a modest consideration of these themes by tracing the use of biomedical metaphors of infectious disease to characterize the problem of insurgency among a population and how it can be prevented or defeated. Of particular significance is how the metaphors of infectious disease and its treatment express the goal of immunizing local populations against becoming insurgents. The paradigm of immunity captures how counterinsurgency is conceptualized as a therapeutic exercise of social recovery and resilience-building among populations to the growth of insurgency.

The discussion which follows investigates counterinsurgency as a form of hybrid warfare that simultaneously enacts targeted killing while making the population “live.” First, it proposes that counterinsurgency conducts a strategization of culture within the schema of war in which population-focused operations in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan represent a sociology of knowledge that fits within the general framework of orientalism, and what Patrick Porter has dubbed “military orientalism” in particular.7 Though “knowing the population” has a long history in Western engagement with others, it also characterizes contemporary anxieties about global interconnectedness. In the midst of protracted conflict, cultural knowledge is designed to create more versatile soldiers who can perform acts of death while also supporting life. Metaphors of disease, treatment, and immunity that are used to characterize the insurgency-counterinsurgency dynamic elucidate the hybrid character of modern war. These are examined in the second section. Though population-centric warfare has been regarded as more humane, it is then argued that the biopolitics of counterinsurgency articulates the basic precepts of “race war,” outlined by Foucault in his 1976 lectures at the Collège de France, as the link between what must live and what must die.8 In elaborating the contours of counterinsurgency as a contemporary manifestation of race war, the third section of the essay draws on Roberto Esposito’s paradigm of immunity to problematize the claim that hybrid methods represent an ethical turn in military interventionism. The final section argues that, rather than denoting an ethical turn, hybrid warfare draws upon the authority and apparent benevolence of medical metaphors to declare, rather than demonstrate, the moral urgency of the long-term, socially corrective intervention that it prescribes. Hybrid warfare lays bare and deepens distinctions between forms of life at the heart of Western modernity. It is concluded that the immunitary logic is driven not by a desire to strengthen subject populations per se but a desire to reinforce Western imperviousness to the demands and requirements of “other” peoples in global relations.


The Military Orientalism of “Human Terrains”

If recent shifts in military strategy are any guide, it would appear that cultural awareness is today’s rendition of the fundamental principle of warfare to “know thy enemy.”9 With the introduction of the Human Terrain System (HTS) in late 2006, cultural awareness has come to play a prominent role in Western counterterrorism efforts. Human terrain teams are embedded social scientists, tasked with providing relevant sociocultural information to army brigade leadership as well as helping to advance diplomatic relations with locals and their leaders. The basic rationale for human terrain teams is the belief that “the human dimension is the very essence of irregular warfare environments.” As such, “understanding local cultural, political, social, economic, and religious factors” is considered “crucial to successful counterinsurgency and stability operations, and ultimately, to success in the war on terror.”10Cultural knowledge has a special premium in counterinsurgency warfare.

Given the close proximity posited here between cultural knowledge and military success, the HTS has become a key feature in protracted operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast to conventional military optics, situational awareness and intelligence in the doctrines of modern counterinsurgency are references to open-source ethnography, cultural understanding, and social milieu. In an effort to mainstream cultural understanding among the ranks, so-called smart cards, designed to convey rudimentary knowledge of local peoples, have been widely distributed to soldiers on mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. While counterterrorism approaches are primarily focused on the enemy-centric paradigm of “search and destroy,” counterinsurgency methods evince a notable interest in the demography and character of local populations. Two basic assumptions guide this cultural turn: first, that greater knowledge of local cultures will make the actions of locals and insurgents more predictable; and second, that more effective communication will generate more positive relations between locals and coalition forces, improving military outcomes. From these assumptions it is clear that efforts to understand the cultural milieu are closely entwined with gaining an immediate strategic advantage of understanding an “insurgent environment” and the longer-term goal of raising public support for the mission, for coalition actors and foreign agencies, and, most of all, for the nascent local governments that are heavily supported by external means.11

While thought to be a beacon of hope for winning the peace in situations of protracted insurgency, the rush to culture has generated significant debate.12 Proponents of using sociocultural knowledge for strategic purposes claim that it reduces violence and produces stability. Cultural awareness promotes, as one HTS worker argued, “non-lethal operations.”13How such a claim can be empirically verified remains questionable and contested.14 Though the U.S. counterinsurgency manual claims that cultural awareness is designed to decrease violence, a more general evaluation of the use of cultural knowledge in recent years suggests the opposite. Cases on point are the culturally effective torture techniques used on detainees at the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, designed by behavioral science consultation teams and implemented by U.S. military personnel.15 And yet, according to celebrators of the cultural turn, conflict ethnography is the geopolitical cornerstone of conflict management in so-called tribal zones. “To confront an enemy so deeply moored in history and theology,” asserts the military anthropologist and HTS pioneer Montgomery McFate, “the U.S. Armed Forces must adopt an ethnographer’s view of the world: it is not nation-states but cultures that provide the underlying structures of political life.”16

In contrast to this view of culture as a vehicle for attaining military dominance and social control are those who understand culture as a terrain of engagement and inquiry tied to the promotion of diversity and understanding as an end in itself. Hence, for critics, the cultural turn compromises the professional ethics of social science and represents a weaponization of culture for military gain. Indeed, it is incontrovertible that cultural knowledge in counterinsurgency is honed to the goals set by the U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA.17As pledged by members of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, cultural intelligence “breaches relations of openness and trust with studied populations” and “contributes to brutal wars of occupation that entail massive casualties.”18 Not only is there refuted data to support the claim that the HTS has led to a reduction in lethal operations; it could in fact perform the opposite function. From this vantage, counterinsurgency involves an effort to deploy a form of “mercenary anthropology” that is mostly designed to help the army “aim better.”19

Ethical transgressions aside, some have also suggested that culturally focused programming has proven to be operationally incompetent. The HTS has been evaluated as having an insufficient level of cultural expertise, evincing a dearth of appropriate language skills and lacking depth in interactions with local populations due to stringent security protocols.Newsweek, for instance, reported that “of 19 Human Terrain members operating in five teams in Iraq, fewer than a handful can be described loosely as Middle East experts.”20 As Hugh Gusterson points out, compounding language and expertise problems, “the shallowness and brevity of the HTS teams’ interactions with locals and the positionality of the ethnographers in the interactions being transacted” render their relations to the field “more like a hybrid tourist and interrogator than . . . a bona fide anthropologist.”21 Despite the apparent focus of the HTS on the incorporation of anthropology, as of April 2009 only eleven of 417 HTS employees were accredited to the discipline. One conclusion to draw from these shortcomings is that the utility of HTS is perhaps tied more to confidence than competence. Indeed, if there is a value to cultural programming in warfare it may be found less in the quality of the expertise generated for counterinsurgency and more in the feelings of confidence and preparedness that cultural knowledge devices produce among counterinsurgents.22

Such a show of confidence can be found in the reasoning of David Kilcullen, who stands at the forefront of conflict ethnography. Despite problems on the ground, he argues that counterinsurgency, as a new way forward, is “revolutionary.”23 For Kilcullen, unlike classical counterinsurgency, in which efforts were designed to maintain the colonial status quo, contemporary counterinsurgency is a movement against regressive forces that wish to return to the past. While it may be the case that there are new and perhaps apparently innovative programs associated with contemporary counterinsurgency, preoccupation with devising culturally oriented strategies of warfare has a long tradition in the production of orientalism.24 As Edward Said argued, Western and European knowledge of the peoples and places of the Global South has long been steeped in a whole economy of representation that ascribes to the “Oriental” world an identity—geographically, politically, culturally—through “complex series of knowledgeable manipulations.”25 Knowledge of the so-called Orient and its peoples, in other words, led to its construction as a formation of Western knowledge, Western learning, and Western empire. Whole systems of thought, official knowledges and classifications, scientific and intellectual data were developed through its constitution and production. Notably, that which is marked as Oriental spans multiple regions, peoples, histories, and cultures and yet at the same time is meant to be precisely unifying in naturalizing a distinction between worlds, marking the Eastern and Southern world as enduringly separate and distinct from the Western and Northern “non-oriental” world.

The reemergence of counterinsurgency and its attendant focus on sociocultural knowledge evince a particular strain of the quest for knowledge of “others” and its manipulation into useable military intelligence. Indeed, culture is taken to intimately shape, indeed to define and determine, conflict and war.26 This view was clearly conveyed by U.S. Special Forces operator Steve Fondacaro, project manager of the Human Terrain System. As he noted, “We’re great at killing people and breaking things. But, if we want to be relevant in the 21st century, we have to adapt . . . This is competition for the support of the population. So we’ve got to understand how the society is hardwired.”27 It is worth pausing to reflect upon the idea expressed here: that Western military action must include ascertaining the intimate complexity of the societies among which wars are waged. The relationship between culture and conflict, as suggested by Fondacaro, is viewed as unidirectional: war and conflict do not for the most part shape cultures, but rather culture determines the character of war. Winning the war requires not martial dexterity but unearthing the “authentic” characteristics of the population. With this rebranding of warfare it is as though it were more an effort to resolve a misunderstanding than win a contest. But, of course, the objective is not merely to end conflict but to ensure that one side is victorious. The purpose of knowing the people is to ensure a particular outcome for particular stakeholders; culture unlocks the key to military success. This outlook is indebted to the “new barbarism” thesis which emphasizes the idea that conflict can be sourced to the cultural values of societies.28 In one view, conflict is, accordingly, described as an unleashing of destructive antagonisms germane to the development of a particular cultural identity. It is a view that is also closely connected to the tribal conflict that Samuel Huntington located on a global scale between civilizations which he named the “ultimate human tribes.”29 From this vantage, the fault lines of war correspond rather directly to cultural dissonance.

Assuming that the analysis of culture will determine why and how others fight deflects attention away from the role of external actors in shaping violence in particular locales. It risks truncating the colonial legacy, structural global inequality, and Western interventionism as factors which shape conflicts of the present. The fact that cross-cultural communication stands in for what many interpret as a colonization of the twenty-first century is “itself testimony to the depoliticization of war, invasion and resistance to occupation.”30 It is also an indication of the failure of interventionary actors to factor their own actions into the dynamic of conflict. The view that the West is merely a “responder” to much global violence is a sign of the general paucity of reflexivity.31 Hence, the so-called traditional cultures which coalition actors confront in present-day Afghanistan and Iraq are seen as analytically credible in themselves. And yet it is well-documented that interventionary actors are implicated in fomenting sectarian disputes that have deepened violence. As Derek Gregory has argued, U.S. policy involved reactivating and institutionalizing sectarianism in designs for the “new Iraq.”32 Alongside the deflection of Western culpability also lies an instrumental calculation in which the interest in culture is not designed to subject contemporary practices of intervention to ethical review or even, it would seem, strategic accuracy but to contain the effects of the long, if not “unending war” that characterizes global inequality.33 Cultural programming in this context is primarily a racializing practice, concerned with managing perceived social difference as it currently defines the geopolitical status quo. The purpose of knowing the population is less about facilitating genuine cultural understanding than the quest to create a more versatile soldier—one who knows not only how to kill but when to do so. That perfecting the “kill chain” is inextricably tied to cultural awareness is also the marker of hybridity in warfare; that is, warfare in which any and all forms of engagement are programmed toward the achievement of one strategic outcome. In this respect, the appropriation of culture in conflict settings might provide insight not only into why “others” fight, but why we do.

To be sure, the cultures of interest in counterinsurgency are taken to be relevant and significant primarily in terms of how they can be differentiated from the norms and values of Western culture. While this might appear as a practical consequence of the obvious social location of the HTS and other cultural programming, Western culture is nevertheless positioned as the default norm against which other ways of being and other realities are measured.34 Rather than simply an assessment of the other, the rush to culture is, therefore, very much about the construction of the self. Much in the way that Huntington’s thesis is a reflection of the crisis of strategic thinking in Western foreign policy after the end of the Cold War, the rush to culture is a sign of the crisis in Western ways of war in global politics. Recent doctrines of counterinsurgency (e.g., U.S., UK, Canada) are asserted as a policy acknowledgment of the failure of the dominant mode of Western warfare to succeed through a cocktail of stealth detection, firepower, and “shock and awe” tactics.35 They emerged in the face of growing insurgencies and popular discontent that Western counterterrorism effectively fomented. Indeed, today’s hybrid warfare is connected to “anxiety over the vulnerability of [Western] power.”36 It represents not simply a policy step-change but a discursive strategy of sociopolitical defense in an interconnected world marked by vast, hemispheric inequality. As such, the mobilization of cultural knowledge provides opportunities for narrative construction over the superiority of Western culture and practice. It provides the tool by which to explain insurgent tactics and resistance in terms of the “nature” of the enemy and as distinct from the values and heroism asserted about the West. Despite the complexity that waging war among the population entails, the social difference that marks cultural programming is testament to the enduring principle that the efficacy of armies always relies on exposure to enemies.


Metaphors of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

Metaphors help to render strange and unfamiliar places and spaces familiar and knowable.37Yet metaphors are not only ways of transforming complex ideas into a more digestible form; more profoundly they are strategies to create meaning. As Paul Chilton puts it,

Metaphorical processes are one of the most important means by which human minds form concepts of, and reason about, their spatial and temporal environments. This is especially the case for conceptualization of abstract, unfamiliar, or complex domains. Such domains would include, for instance, social and political institutions, international relations, strategic doctrines.38

As forms of cognition, metaphors are always designed with a political purpose in mind. They are crafted so as to produce a particular way of understanding the source and solution to a difficult problem.

Specifically pathologizing metaphors is always part of an ameliorative campaign “whose goals are cast as defeat of an `enemy,'” whether or not that enemy is easy to identify, or whether it is more of a social phenomenon than a human subject.39 As Mark Neocleous has pointed out, the metaphor of disease conveys a kind of “dis-ease” among hegemonic actors with political opposition that they encounter.40 Indeed, during the Cold War communism was deemed to be a “malignant parasite,” and the Soviet Union was said to be afflicted by “germs of a creeping disease.”41 During the Vietnam War, Walter Rostow’s “stages of economic growth” were valuable to counterinsurgency thinking in situating rogue actors in the thesis of modernization. Communist guerrilla movements were characterized as a “disease of the transition to modernization . . . rooted in the pathology of economic development.”42Proponents of this view argued that, as a consequence, U.S. strategy should not be counterrevolutionary in the sense of preventing economic and political growth but rather ought to suppress the supposed subversion of that process by communists.

Today, metaphors of infectious disease and its prevention or remedy remain instrumental to the construction of counterinsurgency as a strategic form of political engagement designed to discredit the opposition and take hold of the forces of social organization. It is, however, true that military doctrine is generally assumed to be a practical “how-to” set of guidelines, not a treatise on contemporary politics. Yet, in contrast to such an instrumental view, examining the metaphors used to characterize insurgency and its “treatment” is an important means of exploring how the world is envisioned by strategic thinkers as structured by good and evil, health and illness, cure and contagion, self and other. In addition, rather than an isolated realm of thought and action, cross-pollination between modes of warfare and trends in civilian domains of scientific inquiry is ongoing.43 In terms of the human or social sciences, there is similarly a long history of correspondence between cultural inquiry and (colonial) warfare.44 As such, the metaphors used to articulate counterinsurgency are both politically and historically significant.

The place of culture in contemporary counterinsurgency is part of the wider integration of “non-kinetic” operations. According to David Kilcullen, at least 80 percent of counterinsurgency should be nonmilitary. In contrast to the dominant role usually played by military force in conflict settings, hybrid warfare demands a softer approach. Cultural and political diplomats; linguists; intelligence personnel trained to ascertain open-source ethnographies of local peoples; technical, development, and humanitarian assistance specialists; and civilians trained in stabilization and reconstruction have particular emphasis.45 As such, counterinsurgency can aptly be described as war by other means. It is designed to subdue “war amongst the people,” which is a political problem unsolvable by military means alone.46 Such a step-change is rather ironic, given the astronomical military spending and weapons stockpiles among the United States and many of its coalition allies. However, received wisdom that international terrorism can be defeated through military force has been determined counterproductive among circles of the military intelligentsia that have guided this aspect of U.S. policy in the Middle East.47 In contrast to conventional military doctrines that have focused on overwhelming the adversary through firepower and technological savvy, modern counterinsurgency has been conceived of as “armed social work.”48 It pivots around a therapeutic discourse that presents interventionary warfare as a process of social reconstruction and betterment.49 Rather than emphasize crushing the enemy directly, counterinsurgency methods seek to disempower the enemy through indirect means by focusing on protecting and managing the life of the population. This is not to suggest that there is no intentional killing in counterinsurgency. As David Petraeus, who sits at the helm of this shift in military strategy, has clarified, the U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine FM 3–24 “doesn’t say that the best weapons don’t shoot . . . it says sometimes the best weapons don’t shoot.”50 It does, however, suggest that the strategy of counterinsurgency is distinct from conventional warfare.

The simultaneity of hybrid warfare as a military approach that employs both coercive and noncoercive tactics is captured by the medical, indeed, therapeutic discourse around which it is articulated. As Derek Gregory notes, U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine conveys its biopolitical credentials by offering a tripartite medical analogy that emphasizes rehabilitation of the social body alongside the task of defeating insurgent enemies:

– “Stop the bleeding”: “similar to emergency first aid for the patient. The goal is to protect the population, break the insurgents’ initiative and set the conditions for further engagement.”

– “Inpatient care—recovery”: “efforts aimed at assisting the patient through long-term recovery or restoration of health—which in this case means achieving stability . . . through providing security, expanding effective governance, providing essential services and achieving incremental success in meeting public expectations.”

– “Outpatient care—movement to self-sufficiency”: “expansion of stability operations across contested regions, ideally using HN forces.”51

Biomedical analogy is neither isolated nor sardonic among articulations of the methodology of hybrid warfare. The Canadian Forces have found the metaphor of disease so illustrative of insurgency that they included a diagram in their doctrine (see figure 1). In articulating insurgency as a “communicable disease,” treatment requires a “holistic and systemic approach” emphasizing risk reduction, behavioral modification, and environmental management. Treatment of “infected” persons involves isolation and quarantine. Inoculation of at-risk but technically “uninfected” persons requires information operations and efforts to resolve “legitimate” grievances. Understanding the environment and cultural milieu of the population is meant to help counterinsurgents gain access to the “root causes” of the insurgency, making it possible to combine forms of persuasion and dissuasion to insurgents and their supporters. And, of course, those who are unreachable by such means “may have to be captured, killed or marginalized to the point that they are ineffective.”52 The best-case scenario is to resolve the insurgency, rather than simply defeat insurgents.

In his particular focus on the “syndrome” that characterizes the “accidental guerrilla,” David Kilcullen offers a more sophisticated medical discourse to demonstrate the problem that counterinsurgency confronts.53 Insurgency is characterized in this narrative as a virus or bacteria that plagues the social body, whose immune system is already compromised. The first stage is the infection itself, where the takfiri group establishes a “safe haven” composed of local cells, support systems, intelligence and information-gathering networks and local alliances. In the second stage, contagion sets in as the “extremist group’s influence spreads and it begins to affect the country at large, other countries in the same region, and in some cases (enabled by the tools of globalization . . . ) other regions in the world.” This “critical stage,” during which violence “bleeds out” into an interconnected world, leads to the next stage, intervention, in which external authorities must take action. Intervention can take various forms—aid, development, education, and governance to promote the population’s well-being and strengthen its resilience against the insurgency.54 At some point violence may also be initiated, and it may be long-term and persistent or episodic and repetitive; it may involve local actors or exclusively foreign ones. The design of the mission is crucial in determining the character of the interventionary phase. Indeed, the distinguishing feature of counterinsurgency in this narrative is that it departs from the overwhelming and episodic violence that characterizes other forms of military intervention in an attempt to break the cyclical nature of the accidental guerrilla syndrome. Rather than seek to simply wipe out the insurgents, whatever the cost, counterinsurgency methods tend more toward carefully targeted violence in order to avoid alienating the population, whose support is deemed critical to achieving long-term stability. In keeping with the metaphor, the means used to take out the contagion must avoid unnecessarily diminishing the social body’s vitality.

Rejection, the final phase, is evidence of the failure of the interventionary method to end the insurgency or even that it has fomented the same, likely because it has emphasized a poorly suited approach of classical warfare rather than a hybrid counterinsurgency approach. According to Kilcullen, the insurgencies that erupted in Afghanistan and Iraq following Western military operations are indicative of the rejection phase. Rather than receive the support of the population, such methods produce “accidental guerrillas”—local peoples who join the insurgency because they oppose the foreign presence rather than because they support takfiri ideology. It “looks a lot like a social version of an immune response in which the body rejects the intrusion of a foreign object.” Much like the body’s rejection of a remedy that serves an ultimately restorative purpose, such as “a pin in a broken bone or a stent in a blocked blood vessel,” elements of the population, or in Kilcullen’s words “societal antibodies,” see the foreign intrusion and “emerge to attack the intervening presence, and attempt to drive it out.”55 While the intention of the intervening force may have been to rescue the population from the scourge of extremism, it ends up at war with the whole of society. It is, therefore, precisely the immune response of indigenous people to foreign intervention that counterinsurgency is designed to subdue. In the narrative of the accidental guerrilla as a cyclical medical problem, counterinsurgency is the intervening therapy that can break the cycle.

The biomedical analogies used to articulate the challenges faced by counterinsurgents convey an important message: that defeating adversaries is best achieved through the knowledge and management of the host population. It is the nonmilitary methods germane to a hybrid model of warfare that are designed to facilitate much of this process. In fact, in place of the autoimmune response of the population to outside interference by interventionary forces, efforts to make that same population resistant to the insurgent cause come to the fore. And where direct reference to disease and immunity is lacking (as in the U.S. counterinsurgency manual), emphasis is placed on the restoration of the body, that is, the production of resilience within the population. The general goal is to “make local communities self-defending,” not against the foreign intervention but against indigenous insurgency. Hybrid warfare must “inoculate the Afghan population against the Taliban and prevent their return.”56 The immune response that counterinsurgency operations hope to generate is the population’s rejection of the insurgency, evacuating its means of social, economic, and political support. Hence, to take the metaphor further, what is critical is to “train and shape `healthy’ parts of the body, but not the cancerous growth.”57 Indeed, the point of intelligence collection in counterinsurgency is to learn the peoples’ interests, attitudes, and cultural environment in order to identify divisions between the insurgents, the people, and the host government so as to “conduct operations that expands splits between the insurgents and the populace or lessens divides between the [host nation] government and the people.”58 Just as the “infection” of terrorism is understood “as part of the social pathology of broader social breakdown, state weakness and humanitarian crisis,” the “health” of the population is critical to social renewal, political stability, and reconstruction.59 In other words, hybrid warfare places human existence and social order at the center of operations. It requires cultivating those social relations applicable to the formation of a new social order while extinguishing those that resist, or, in other words, dividing the good from the bad.


Race, War and Modernity

That medical and biological metaphor is central to articulating the challenge of counterinsurgency is not incidental, but rather emblematic of Western modernity’s attachment to the paradigm of immunization. Amid the terminal aura attached to biological and medical discourse when articulated through military dogma, the orientation of hybrid warfare to manage living environments is congruent with basic tenets of Enlightenment politics that treat human existence and collectivity as “objects of planning and administration,” much like garden vegetation that must be tended to grow amid the excision of weeds, or living organisms that “could not be left to their own devices.”60 Much like weeding the garden, the approach is designed to “brush the enemy out of the way” and “root out insurgent infrastructure.”61 Indeed, gardening and medicine are one and the same functional activity “of separating and setting apart useful elements destined to live and thrive, from harmful and morbid ones which ought to be exterminated.”62 Exterminating undesirable elements is intimately connected to the fostering of that which is desirable. This dual objective has been identified as a distinguishing feature of racism, one that is not, as commonly asserted, primarily concerned with prejudicial or xenophobic feelings but rather conveys an institutional orientation to protect or attain a stringent social order. Bauman elaborates:

Racism stands apart by a practice of which it is a part and which it rationalizes: a practice that combines strategies of architecture and gardening with that of medicine—in the service of an artificial social order, through cutting out the elements of the present reality that neither fit the visualized perfect reality, nor can be changed so that they do.63

Alongside the process of cutting out, “racism manifests the conviction that a certain category of people cannot be incorporated into the rational order, whatever the effort.”64 This view resonates with a biopolitical understanding of racism as “the break between what must live and what must die.” Such a break requires separating out groups within a population and casting war in biological terms that causes the death of the other to hinge upon the life of the self. “In order to live you must destroy your enemies,” claims this logic.65 As a general paradigm of self-preservation, racism thus positions the relation of war as an internal struggle over ways of life.66

What is notable about the biopolitical formation of racism is, first, that it simultaneously involves the protection of life with killing, and second, justifies killing in terms of the improvement and health of the population. In a certain vein this framework posits a Darwinian social evolutionism in which the struggle for social existence is seen to mimic the forces that structure the natural world. Though sociological analysis of societies has led to extensive discrediting of the extrapolation of Darwinism to the social world, the decontextualized and reductive pilfering of social and cultural theory by the architects of modern counterinsurgency has been well documented.67 Accordingly, conflict in human societies is seen as part of an evolutionary progress in which the most adapted and resilient species will survive, accompanied by the death of those who lack the requisite requirements or stand in the way of “progress.” Rather than leave death to chance, the designers of counterinsurgency campaigns mean to ensure a particular outcome by aiming for the death of some in order to safeguard and enhance the life of others. In this respect, racism is modeled on hybrid war in general. It “articulates the will to destroy the adversary with the risk that it might kill those whose lives it had, by definition, to protect, manage and multiply.”68

References to biology and contagion in counterinsurgency thinking are not emblematic of the long task of much political philosophy to in some way resolve the “natural” condition of humanity but instead relate a vision of politics as a field of nature. Politics is posited as biopolitics. Amid the protracted wars that animate the global war on terror, it is at least possible to escape traditional understandings of conflict as some kind of clash of civilizations or play of irresolvable enmity by starting with a biopolitical frame. Biopolitics captures the double movement of a politics that takes hold of life while also enacting death, a movement exemplified in hybrid warfare. The link between these two modes has been usefully documented through the lineage of the “immunization paradigm” offered by Esposito.69 For Esposito the template of immunity captures both the positive, life-supporting aspect of biopolitics alongside its death (or thanopolitical) impulse. Much research that maps the biopolitics of our age has struggled to understand its dual, indeed hermeneutic, character, which Esposito attends to:

The advantage of the immunitary model lies precisely in the circumstance that these two modalities, these two effects of sense—positive and negative, preservative and destructive—finally find an internal articulation, a semantic juncture that organizes them into causal relations (albeit of a negative kind). This means that the negation doesn’t take the form of the violent subordination that power imposes on life, but rather is the intrinsically antinomic mode by which life preserves itself through power.70

Immunization, simply put, is the negative protection of life. In safeguarding and ensuring life, it simultaneously diminishes or negates the ability of that life to expand.71 Immunity here should not be confused with “autoimmunity” as signaling a condition in which the (social) body attacks itself in quasi-suicidal fashion. Indeed, Derrida ruminated on the concept of autoimmunity to theorize, among other things, the 9/11 “non-event” as the latest rendition in a reciprocal game of destruction in which the causes and consequences of violence have become indistinguishable.72 For Esposito, in contrast to Derrida’s primarily negative formulation, the template of immunity is generated by the introduction of an artificial, intrinsically destructive agent, so as to produce a life-generating effect. Into the social body, just like the physical body, the very pathogen from which protection is sought is introduced “by blocking or contradicting natural development.”73 To gain immunity, exposure to the very substance that one must defend against is required.

In this respect, immunization is a source of both liberation and deprivation.74 The seeds of such a movement can be traced back to Hobbes, for whom self-preservation was necessarily subordinated to an external, constitutive power, namely, sovereign power. Indeed, Hobbes’s Leviathan is at once premised on self-preservation and sacrifice. Nietzsche made more explicit use of the immunitary principle in offering up an interpretation of the whole of modern civilization as the defensive repression of insatiable vital power.75 As the cellular components of life had come to be viewed as inherently conflictual rather than harmonious for Nietzsche, the health of the self was no longer a given. It had to be achieved.76 Moreover, in transferring the focus of analysis from the soul to the body, the soul came to be theorized as “the immunitary form that protects and imprisons the body.”77 Hence, modern formations of knowledge/power, in Foucault’s parlance, play the role of protective containment.

The metaphor of immunization captures the process by which counterinsurgents attempt to establish protective containment. According to the principle of immunity, it is deemed necessary that one must in some way “sample death,” by being subjected, albeit in limited form, to the very contagion that would otherwise cause one’s demise.78 The “patient,” in other words, is to be exposed to the same disease from which he or she is to be protected. From the perspective of counterinsurgency, limited and carefully targeted warfare amid the population is designed to play exactly this role. Counterinsurgency is not waged on some battlefield separate from civilian life but rather is waged within and through the population. And so it is this taking hold of the life of the population that makes possible a reduction of the capacity of the insurgency to grow. The purpose is to strengthen and control the social body by developing the tools of political rule (namely, the provision of economic incentives or disincentives, coercive force, legitimating ideology, and traditional authority) more effectively than their counterparts.79 Counterinsurgency, at heart, is about the selective provision of security, the “ability to selectively provide security—or take it away.”80 Thus, though blame is squarely placed on insurgents for using the population as a “human shield,” counterinsurgents, by their own logic, accrue equal or possibly greater strategic benefit. The political competition for the population requires that force be used, but always and only with precision. Untargeted raids threaten to extinguish (physically) and alienate (politically) the very subject of the competition. The action taken, it follows, must not encourage the “disease” but rather eliminate the possibility that it can fully materialize. The injection of violence and/or the sanctioning of violence by insurgents when it could be stopped, alongside the strategic use of political and economic incentive or disincentive, are tools by which to avoid or minimize a case of full-blown insurgency. The population’s rejection of the insurgency is thus meant to be procured precisely on the basis of its subjection to the ravages of war. In biopolitical terms, the protection of its life is inseparable from killing, and killing is but one piece of the protection and improvement of life.


Disease and Complexity

Though the object of criticism for some time, the lexicon of warfare continues to animate discourses surrounding infectious disease. Military metaphors lead to a medical “arms race,” a belief that disease can be eradicated through technology, and to the reinforcement of modes of hierarchy and dominance in the medical profession.81 Of course, there is an obvious contradiction between the professional raison d’être, namely, to save lives, and the tendency to describe that work through metaphors (dating back to the nineteenth century) associated with violence and mortality.82 Yet despite this apparent nonsense, metaphors of warfare have proliferated in healthcare:

In the medical world, we now bombard with tumours that invade healthy tissue; we declare war against cancer; we battle death. We even describe the body’s own immune system militaristically. For instance, we speak of immune defenses breaking down and of T-cells tracking invaders. The medical establishment is described as a military command, with cutting-edge researchers in the vanguard against disease and public health workers in the trenches.83

One reason for the enduring connection between the treatment of disease and metaphors of war may be the simple fact that when a disease of the body is discovered, an attractive course of action is to mobilize a full frontal assault. Yet in contrast to the logics of control and single-mindedness that the discourse of war in medicine indelibly generates, the role of biomedical metaphors of infectious disease and immunity in counterinsurgency produces a converse discursive effect. Rather than the hierarchical, short-term, and tactically oriented thinking that comes with conventional militarism, the medical metaphor in counterinsurgency conveys complexity and sustained engagement for the “long war.” In contrast to the dehumanization that comes with treating the patient’s body as a battlefield, the cultural anatomy of the population—its structure, values, and networks—becomes an object of inquiry and management. Counterinsurgency, some have suggested, represents a humanization of warfare in which the goals of liberal counterinsurgents are the same as those who tirelessly work in the field of humanitarian assistance to save lives.84

In structural terms, contemporary counterinsurgency has emerged not simply from evolving trends in military organization but from the latest trends in science. Modernity—and modern war is no exception—is marked by the centrality of science. As Antoine Bousquet documents, military strategists have done their part to develop the intellectual and organizational tools “that have proven so effective in predicting and dominating the natural world.”85 Since the mid-1970s—informed by military failure in Vietnam, the development of nonlinear mathematics, and the extension of cybernetic analysis to formulate ideas of self-organization—there have surfaced the theories of chaos and complexity, or what Bousquet terms “chaoplexity.” This turn of events contributed to the emergence of the network as the “new social morphology of our societies.”86 Following in suit at the close of the 1990s, the Pentagon adopted the doctrine of “network-centric warfare,” emphasizing “swarming” and “self-synchronization.”87 Since “it takes a network to beat a network,” central thinkers in U.S. Central Command have duly noted that “the actors that have truly excelled at adopting loose, decentralized organizational structures are the jihadist networks and insurgent movements that tied down the net-enabled U.S. army in Afghanistan and Iraq.”88 The shift toward the model of the network in chaoplexic notions included an emphasis on information (carried over from the previous dominance of cybernetics in science), nonlinearity (bottom-up approaches), and positive feedback in military thought. Breaking with the rigidity of command and control, greater efforts were made to distribute information across the battlefield. The lessons of Vietnam suggested that poorly adapted command techniques were “completely at variance with realities on the ground.”89 In an effort to improve military outcomes, concepts of adaptation, flexibility, and emergence came to the fore. In the new social morphology of the network, the chaos encountered on the battlefield came to be viewed not as a threat to order but as its condition of possibility.

Revealing analytical parentage to modern counterinsurgency, complexity theorists evince a notable appreciation for articulating their worldview through biological metaphors. Part of the appreciation for decentralization and information dissemination is the ensemble of “`dynamically reconfigurable packs, swarms, or other organizations of highly specialized components that work together like the cells of our bodies’ and will be `less mechanical and more organic. Less engineered and more “grown.'””90 Underpinned by the regime of “chaoplexity,” war today is increasingly viewed as a “complex adaptive system where nonlinear variables continuously interact.”91 In particular, complex adaptive systems have become central to the execution of counterinsurgency, away from opponent-centric to population-centric warfare.92 For its part, counterinsurgency must be understood as part of the effort to come to terms with the complexity of waging warfare when the population is central. The chaos encountered—marked by opaque enemies, composite environments, and a decisive cultural milieu, all of which are often difficult to translate into operational terms—is now seen as negotiable through the incorporation of equally complex forms of civil-military cooperation. Rather than the battlefield being understood as a system composed of identifiable adversaries, a duel of force, rules of engagement, and delimited by the moment of victory, it is reinterpreted as a dynamic network of interconnections, contingency, and change. As the actors, the tactics, and the rules are in flux, it is living systems, rather than a mechanical grid or predetermined rotations, that characterize attempts to produce a model of warfare defined by nonlinearity and hybridity. The biomedical metaphor of disease makes clear that, in spite of the complexity involved, the direction forward is starkly clear and morally legitimate. Likewise, the use of war metaphor in medical discourse implies that, when a disease is encountered, war ought to be waged. Biomedical metaphor claims the holistic capacity to excise disease (insurgency) while healing the (social) body and nurturing its defenses, permitting an institutional fantasy of mastery in a sea of uncertainty.

The actual or potential malaise of a living system serves as a useful model for interventionary action. It provides an interpretation of the physical connection, yet political separation, between the population and the insurgency that justify and promote hybrid warfare. Accordingly, when cast as an infectious disease, insurgency is taken to be merely destructive, while the actions of interventionary actors are cast as ameliorative. Guerrillas are said to rely on terror rather than genuine popular support. Like a virus which “invades” the body, its only task is to debilitate and destroy. In contrast, the work of government and pro-government forces is claimed to be tasked with the opposite, the much larger, holistic goal to build and protect.93 Hence, the task of counterinsurgents is primarily viewed as a technical problem in which the loyalty of the population can be won, or at least support for the insurgency can be made less appealing. Where there is support for the insurgency among the population, not only is that support deemed to be contingent on terror but it is considered to be evidence of “grievances” rather than the possibility of a political commitment to the vision (if a nonreductive one is offered) of the insurgency.94 This is not to discount that there are genuine grievances but to note that the emphasis on grievances suggests that the population is currently being “bought off” in one direction and therefore can be bought off in another direction. In this vein, McFate argues that the civilian population is akin to a rational, self-maximizing actor, destined to obey whichever side “makes it in its interest to obey.”95 Much like the framing of indigenous insurgency during the Vietnam War, the logical extension of this view is the idea that the insurgency is mostly controlled from abroad (i.e., takfiriideology), or by fringe elements that have no intrinsic connection to the people.96 The people are assumed to have no authentic attachment to insurgency; it merely afflicts them.

The union of these points is embodied in the idea of the accidental guerrilla. The people do not intend to be guerrillas, but find themselves as such. The body does not concertedly “want” the disease, but sometimes it “happens.” This view underpins the wider issue: that the agency of the people cannot be acknowledged. Any support for the insurgency is a symptom, an uncontrollable effect, of the chaos of war. The population, thus, has no volition of its own. It is misled, threatened with or already “infected” by the insurgency. The response, therefore, must be a pastiche of coercive and noncoercive tactics designed to produce favorable conditions that will result in the desired behavior, a set of tactics suitable to a complex adaptive system.97 Though the guiding problem of insurgency and its supposed remedy both hold to the model of complexity, this viewpoint aims to provide a way of identifying, and excising, the enemy within the social network. Indeed, for the sake of coherence and dexterity, armies rely on exposure to their enemies.98



Claims that counterinsurgency is concerned with understanding the culture of local peoples, addressing their grievances, and producing a functioning government that adheres to the rule of law must be understood in terms of the strategic intentions that give rise to these goals. Absent from the enterprise of counterinsurgency is evidence of a genuine commitment to fostering, let alone acknowledging, the self-determination of the people on whose behalf it is supposedly waged. Indeed, the biopolitical imperative here requires the sacrifice of some for the supposed good of the whole. The immunitary principle, while articulated in counterinsurgency as a means to save local people from the scourge of terrorism and failed states, sacrifices those whom it is visited upon to their “simple biological layer.”99 Their deaths, while regrettable, are politically superfluous. Such a meaning was recently reaffirmed in a recent exchange between General Petraeus and Hamid Karzai over the continued deaths of Afghan civilians in NATO operations.100 Unlike the lost soldiers from Western and NATO countries in the battlefields of the war on terror, there are no obituaries for civilian casualties. As Judith Butler notes, “If there were to be an obituary, there would have had to be a life worth valuing and preserving, a life that qualifies for recognition.”101

Though it is not surprising, nor should it be, that war which stakes a claim to the credentials of social work is still a coercive enterprise, acknowledging it as such puts the immunitary exercise of counterinsurgency in a certain light. The idea of infectious disease and the possibility of recovery and immunity from it illuminate the broader dynamic of North-South relations at play in the struggle between insurgency and counterinsurgency. Indeed, the drive for immunity is relational. Immunization from infectious disease is never simply about the patient or the “object” of intervention; it is also about the “self” who administers it. Such relationality speaks to the “crisis” of the immunitary paradigm, in which efforts to maintain and advance a particular order are confronted by continuous resistance that is endemic to the dynamic itself.102 The immunitary paradigm encompasses not simply the drive to inoculate a host population against insurgent warfare; it is also one piece of a broader strategy of protecting the West from “dangerous” and dispossessed others. The immunitary paradigm, if taken in its historical and political context, is intrinsically tied to Western self-preservation. Interventionary warfare thus presents the excess of defense, the culmination of the security principle in guiding so many of the interactions that the North commences with the South.

Indeed, there is an estrangement from and indifference to “others” in this quest for self-preservation which is conveyed in the etymology of immunity. Immunitas is the inverse or negative form of communitas: “If communitas is that relation, which in binding its members to an obligation of reciprocal donation, jeopardizes individual identity, immunitas is the condition of dispensation from such an obligation and therefore the defense against the expropriating features of communitas.”103 Both immunity and community are etymologically linked to the Latin munus, meaning duty, obligation, and office, the root of “common” and “community.” Immunity’s link to munus thus inheres precisely in its negation: it represents the moral indifference, perhaps selfish irresponsibility, which characterizes modern individualism. While community signifies relations of division (of duties) and sharing, immunity signifies the “nonbeing” or the “not-having” anything in common. Yet rather than simply being the alterity of community, immunity presupposes community in negating it. “One can say that generally immunitas, to the degree that it protects the one who bears it from risky contact with those who lack it, restores its own borders that were jeopardized by the common,” writes Esposito.104 The structural connection between modernity and immunity lies precisely in its substitution of communal organization for defensive and individualistic ways of being. As Donna Haraway has noted, the immune system is entwined with modernity’s maintenance and production of the separation and categorical prominence of self and other.105 Of course, this is not to suggest that modernity is entirely reducible to the paradigm of immunity. Self-preservation always coincides with civilization to some extent. Yet, as Esposito argues, immunity is traceable to the origins of Western modernity in which self-defense, indeed the problem of safeguarding life, became a strategic obsession.106

Contemporary counterinsurgency thinking proposes hybrid warfare as a method of defeating insurgents through population-centric operations. Despite the focus on “life” at the heart of counterinsurgency, the global disparity of vulnerability in modern warfare—to poverty, violence, and suffering—is reinforced rather than mitigated by population-centric operations. Efforts to incorporate cultural knowledge constitute local peoples as a “terrain” to be acted upon; they are rendered the object of war. Despite being operationally challenged, the strategic quest for knowledge of the “other” is a means of marking enduring difference for military gain. Indeed, the biomedical metaphor designed to clarify the challenges that western militaries now confront indicate the contours of a much deeper and more enduring conflict. As the immunity paradigm shows, the designs to inoculate host populations from participation in and support for insurgent warfare are not primarily concerned with the protection of distant peoples subjected to protracted conflict; nor are they expressions of a more ethical mode of warfare. Rather, they are an expression of the broader quest, coinciding with Western modernity, for immunity from the demands and requirements of “other” people in contemporary global relations.



1. Roberto Esposito, Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life (Cambridge: Polity, 2011).

2. Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 97.

3. Ibid., 105.

4. Colleen Bell, “Civilianising Warfare: Ways of War and Peace in Contemporary Counterinsurgency,” Journal of International Relations and Development 14, no. 2 (2011): 309–32.

5. Stephan Elbe, Security and Global Health: Towards the Medicalization of Insecurity(Cambridge: Polity, 2010); Alison Howell, Madness in International Relations: Psychology, Security and the Global Governance of Mental Health (London: Routledge, 2011).

6. Antoine Bousquet, The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Michael Dillon and Julian Reid,The Liberal Way of War: Killing to Make Life Live (London: Taylor and Francis, 2009).

7. Patrick Porter, Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes (London: Hurst, 2009).

8. Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003).

9. Sun-Tzu, The Art of Warfare, trans. Roger Ames (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993).

10. Nathan Finney, Human Terrain Team Handbook (Fort Leavenworth, Ks.: Human Terrain System, 2008), 3.

11. U.S. Army and Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency: Field Manual 3–24 (Washington, D.C., 2006), chap. 3; National Defence, Counterinsurgency Operations: B-GL-323–004/FP 003. Land Force (Department of National Defence: Ottawa, 2008), chaps. 2–3; UK Ministry of Defence, Counterinsurgency Operations: Strategic and Operational Guidelines, rev. ed. (London: Ministry of Defence, 2007), chap. 6.

12. Lindsay Beyerstein, “Anthropologists on the Frontlines,” In These Times, November 30, 2007; Anna Mulrine, “The Culture Wars: The Pentagon Deploys Social Scientists to Help Understand Iraq’s `Human Terrain,'” U.S. News and World Report, November 30, 2007; David Rohde, “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones,” New York Times, October 5, 2007;Anthropology Today 23, no. 3 (2007).

13. Discussion with anonymous member of the Human Terrain System, e-mail communication, August 21, 2009.

14. David Kilcullen asserts that “in the 18 months of the Surge to date, the new counterinsurgency approach has saved 12,000–16,000 Iraqis and hundreds of American lives.” David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 269. How he has arrived at these numbers and how they might be verified is unclear. As reported by David Rohde in the New York Times, Colonel Martin Schweitzer has claimed that the HTS is responsible for a 60 percent reduction in deaths, though the figure later turned out to be an unverified “estimate” (and unverifiable given shifting variables), to which he later admitted. See Rohde, “Army Enlists Anthropology”; Hugh Gusterson, “Human Terrain Teams and the Militarization of Anthropological Conscience: A Mediation on the Futility of Ethical Discourse” (paper presented at conference of the International Studies Association, Montreal, March 18, 2011). Meanwhile other news agencies reported increased civilian deaths in 2008: Karen DeYoung, “More Troops Headed to Afghanistan,” Washington Post, February 18, 2009. More importantly, even a straightforward reduction of violent deaths in a given period is only one aspect of the wider remit of death and suffering endured by peoples in Iraq and Afghanistan that can be sourced to the “War on Terror” campaign. See Neta Crawford et al., “The Real `Surge’ of 2007: Non-Combatant Death in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs website, January 22, 2008, http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/resources/articles–papers–reports/0003.html (accessed January 26, 2012), for a counterperspective on so-called reductions in civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

15. Roberto J. González, “We Must Fight the Militarization of Anthropology,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2, 2007; George Lucas, “The Morality of `Military Anthropology,'” Journal of Military Ethics 7, no. 3 (2008): 165–85.

16. Montgomery McFate, “The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture,” Joint Forces Quarterly 38 (Summer 2005): 43.

17. González, “Militarization of Anthropology.”

18. Network of Concerned Anthropologists, “Pledge of Non-Participation in Counterinsurgency,” http://sites.google.com/site/concernedanthropologists/internationalpledge (accessed March 24, 2010); see also American Anthropological Association Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities, “Final Report on the Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program,” October 14, 2009, http://wwwd.aaanet.org/cmtes/commissions/CEAUSSIC/upload/CEAUSSIC–HTS–Final–Report.pdf (accessed January 26, 2012).

19. González, “Militarization of Anthropology”; Sahlins quoted in Kurt Jacobsen, “Are We Just There to Help the Army Aim Better?” Guardian, May 13, 2008.

20. Dan Ephron and Silvia Spring, “A Gun in One Hand, a Pen in the Other,” Newsweek, April 12, 2008.

21. Gusterson, “Human Terrain Teams,” 19, 23. For example, HTS members are instructed to limit conversations with local people to seven minutes to minimize the risk of getting sniped. Jason Motlagh, “Should Anthropologists Help Contain the Taliban?” Time, July 1, 2010.

22. Tariq Barkawi and Joseph Ansorge, “Monograph, Manuals and Smart Cards: Power, Knowledge and Form in `Small Wars,'” (paper presented at conference of the International Studies Association, Montreal, March 18, 2011).

23. David Kilcullen, “Counter-Insurgency Redux,” Survival 48, no. 4 (2006): 113.

24. Porter, Military Orientalism.

25. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 40.

26. Finney, Human Terrain Team Handbook , chaps. 2 and 4; U.S. Army and Marine Corps,Counterinsurgency, chap. 3; David Beall, “The Development and Fate of Local Knowledge in Modern Counterinsurgencies: An Overview of the Military’s Best Efforts to Understand the Operating Environment in Iraq and Afghanistan” (paper presented at Mars Turns to Minerva: The Military, Social Science and War in the 21st Century, Cambridge University, July 8, 2009).

27. Quoted in Noah Shachtman, “Army Social Scientists Calm Afghanistan, Make Enemies at Home,” Wired blog, November 29, 2007, http://www.wired.com/politics/security/news/2007/11/human–terrain (accessed January 26, 2012).

28. Paul Richards, Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone(Oxford: Currey, 1996).

29. Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993): 22–50.

30. Vivienne Jabri, War and the Transformation of Global Politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 140; also see Derek Gregory, “`Rush to the Intimate’: Counterinsurgency and the Cultural Turn,” Radical Philosophy 150 (July/August 2008): 1–23.

31. Colleen Bell, “Fighting the War and Winning the Peace: Three Critiques of Canada’s Role in Afghanistan,” in Canadian Foreign Policy in Critical Perspective, ed. J. Marshall Beier and Lana Wylie (Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press, 2010), 58–71.

32. Gregory, “`Rush to the Intimate.'”

33. Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending War: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge: Polity, 2007).

34. Andreas Behnke, “The War Machine Redux: Critical Comments on the Epistemology of Counterinsurgency” (paper presented at conference of the Political Studies Association, Edinburgh, March 30, 2010).

35. Bell, “Civilianising Warfare.”

36. Porter, Military Orientalism, 29.

37. For our purposes, there is general equivalence between a conceptual metaphor and analogy in that both are cognitive processes by which meaning is transferred from one (analogue) subject to another (target) subject, with the intended purpose of casting the targeted subject in a certain light.

38. Paul A. Chilton, Security Metaphors: Cold War Discourse from Containment to Common House (New York: Lang, 1996), 48.

39. Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, 99.

40. Mark Neocleous, Critique of Security (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 118.

41. George F. Kennan, quoted in ibid., 118.

42. Quoted in Michael A. Hennessy, Strategy in Vietnam: The Marines and Revolutionary Warfare in I Corps, 1965–1972 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997), 18.

43. Bousquet, Scientific Way of Warfare.

44. Talal Asad, Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (New York: Humanities Press, 1973).

45. Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla, 286; “Counter-Insurgency Redux.”

46. Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Penguin, 2006).

47. United States Army Combined Arms Center, “Counterinsurgency Reader,” special edition of Military Review (October 2006).

48. David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 43.

49. Bell, “Civilianising Warfare.”

50. Quoted in Noah Shachtman, “How Technology Almost Lost the War,” Wired 15, no. 12 (2007), http://www.wired.com/politics/security/magazine/15-12/ff–futurewar (accessed January 26, 2012).

51. U.S. Army and Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency, 5.3–5.6; also see Gregory, “`Rush to the Intimate.'”

52. National Defence, Counterinsurgency Operations, 2–21, 22.

53. Kilcullen’s more sophisticated analogy can partly be explained by the medium, a single-authored book. He was, however, a key contributor to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual.

54. Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla, 35–37.

55. Ibid., 38, 35.

56. Ibid., 112.

57. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), 65.

58. U.S. Army and Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency, 3–14.

59. Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla, 35.

60. Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, 70.

61. Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla, 112.

62. Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, 70.

63. Ibid., 65.

64. Ibid.

65. Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” 254–55.

66. In “Society Must Be Defended,” his lectures at the Collège de France in 1976, Foucault considers the race wars in the seventeenth century among aristocrats whose power was threatened by the building of centralized legal systems. See Mariana Valverde, “Genealogies of European States: Foucauldian Reflection,” Economy and Society 36, no. 1 (2007): 163. This “war of the races,” so to speak, was a historical and political narrative that referred to shared language, lineage, and custom and was distinct from the rise of a strictly biological racism that became dominant in the nineteenth century. See also Mitchell Dean, “Four Theses on the Powers of Life and Death,” Contretemps 5 (2004): 19.

67. Josef Teboho Ansorge, “Spirits of War: A Field Manual,” International Political Sociology4, no. 4 (2010): 362–79; David Price, “Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus’s Counterinsurgency Manual,” Counterpunch, October 30, 2007; David Price, “Faking Scholarship,” in The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual: Or, Notes on Demilitarizing American Society, ed. Network of Concerned Anthropologists (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2009), 59–76.

68. Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended, 258.

69. Esposito, Immunitas; Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

70. Ibid., 46.

71. Ibid.

72. Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides,” in Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, ed. Giovanna Borradori, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 85–136. Much unlike the life-generating character of immunity, Derrida’s theorization of autoimmunity shows how “a self puts an end to itself in order to live on.” Samir Haddad, “Derrida and Democracy at Risk,” Contretemps 4 (2004): 30.

73. Esposito, Bios, 46.

74. Ibid., 48.

75. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London: Penguin, 1985 [1651]); Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1967 [1887]).

76. Alfred I. Tauber, “A Typology of Nietzsche’s Biology,” Biology and Philosophy 9, no. 1 (1994): 25–44; emphasis added.

77. Esposito, Bios, 47.

78. Roberto Esposito and Timothy Campbell, “Interview,” Diacritics 36, no. 2 (2006): 51.

79. Montgomery McFate and Andrea V. Jackson, “The Object beyond War: The Four Political Tools of Political Competition,” Military Review 86, no. 1 (2006): 13–26.

80. Ibid., 13.

81. Annas, quoted in Ann Mongoven, “The War on Disease and the War on Terror: A Dangeous Metaphorical Nexus?” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 15, no. 4 (2006): 407.

82. Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, 66.

83. Mongoven, “War on Disease and Terror,” 404.

84. Hugo Slim, “With or Against? Humanitarian Agencies and Coalition Counter-insurgency,” Refugee Studies Quarterly 23, no. 4 (2004): 34–147.

85. Antoine Bousquet, “Chaoplexic Warfare or the Future of Military Organization,”International Affairs 84, no. 5 (2008): 918.

86. Castells, quoted in ibid., 915.

87. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, “The Advent of Netwar (Revisited),” in Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, ed. Arquilla and Ronfeldt (Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corp., 2001).

88. Bousquet, “Chaoplexic Warfare,” 916.

89. Ibid., 925. See also John A. Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya to Vietnam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

90. Bousquet, “Chaoplexic Warfare,” 928.

91. Gray, quoted in ibid., 927.

92. Tom Pike and Eddie J. Brown, “Populations as Complex Adaptive Systems: A Case Study of Corruption in Afghanistan,” Small Wars Journal, August 26, 2011; Fred Renzi, “Networks: Terra Incognita and the Case for Ethnographic Intelligence,” Military Review 86, no. 5 (2006): 16–22; T. X. Hammes, “Countering Evolved Insurgent Networks,” Military Review86, no. 4 (2006): 18–26.

93. As stated in the U.S. counterinsurgency manual, it “aim[s] to enable a country or regime to provide the security and rule of law that allow establishment of social services and growth of economic activity. COIN thus involves the application of national power in the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure fields and disciplines.” U.S. Army and Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency, 1–1.

94. Eqbal Ahmad, Revolutionary Warfare: How to Tell When the Rebels Have Won (New York: LTTR, 2006 [1965]).

95. McFate and Jackson, “Object beyond War,” 13.

96. See Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla; Ahmad, Revolutionary Warfare.

97. Bousquet, “Chaoplexic Warfare,” 927.

98. I thank Keally McBride for drawing my attention to the question of agency and for recommending Eqbal Ahmad’s important analysis of U.S. counterinsurgency ideology during the Vietnam War. Both were helpful in framing and formulating these points.

99. Esposito and Campbell, “Interview,” 51.

100. Erica Gaston, “The War over Afghan Civilian Casualties,” Foreign Policy, March 8, 2011.

101. Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004), 34.

102. Esposito and Campbell, “Interview,” 53.

103. Esposito, Bios, 50.

104. Ibid.

105. Donna Haraway, “The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Determinations of Self in Immune System Discourse,” differences 1, no. 1 (1989): 3–43.

106. Esposito, Bios, 54.


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About Colleen Bell

Assistant professor of international relations at Brock University. She is author of The Freedom of Security: Governing Canada in the Age of Counter-Terrorism (UBC, 2011) which examines how logics of counterterrorism have become embedded in the politics of freedom in Canada. Currently she is working on a project that examines the role of civilian technologies in modern counterinsurgency. Recent work can be found in the Journal of International Relations and Development and the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding.