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Book Review: The Violence of the Image: Photography and International Conflict, edited by Liam Kennedy and Caitlin Patrick

Famous photographer James Nachtwey in the documentary movie “War Photographer”. Image: Christian Frei Switzerland/Flickr

This book review was originally published by LSE Review of Books on 10 November, 2014.

Recognizing the evolution of the nature of war, this book examines the role of photojournalism in representations of violence that accompany various modern and contemporary conflicts. The book, stretching eleven chapters, surveys the depictions of violence in photographic practice under (post-)colonial, complex humanitarian and cosmopolitan frameworks. Of note is the diversity of authors and the array of disciplinary lenses they represent. The book is relevant within a range of subjects as well as to practitioners. » More

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Aircraft Stories: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Part I)

Joint strike fighter of the US Navy, courtesy of Mark Schierbecker/wikimedia

This article was originally published May 16 2014 by The Disorder of Things.

How big is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter? By one set of measures, it is three times bigger than the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, ten times bigger than either the Apollo Project or the International Space Station or Hurricane Katrina, or one hundred times bigger than the Panama Canal. These comparisons are only moderately outlandish. US$1.45 trillion is the Pentagon’s own December 2010 estimate of lifetime operating and supporting costs for the 2,443 copies of the F-35 currently on order by the United States government, which we can then compare to the known price tags, in 2007 dollars, of these five projects.[1] Costs—also variously prefaced as procurement, actual, sunk, fly-away, upgrade, true and so on—and their contestations are central to a discourse of accountancy that surrounds all projects that require large-scale mobilization of public power. But enormous as they are, these numbers still cannot capture the size of this particular weapons program. To understand just how big the F-35 is, I wish to suggest in this two-part post, we ought to conceive it as a proper assemblage—a heterogeneous association of human and nonhuman elements that is at once split, processual, emergent, and, most importantly, constitutive of the modern international. » More

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Why 2014 in Asia Will Not be a Repeat of 1914 in Europe

Photo: Jectre/flickr.

The Jeremiah prophets are coming out of the woodwork to predict that there will be an outbreak of war between the major powers in Asia, just like in Europe 100 years ago. The idea is that a rising China will inevitably go to war with the United States, either directly or through conflict with Japan.

Some commentators are even suggesting that the Sarajevo incident that provoked World War I will be replicated between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has likened this situation to what he calls ‘a 21st-century maritime redux of the Balkans a century ago — a tinderbox on water’. My colleague Hugh White recently proclaimed that the risk of war between China and Japan is now very real. » More

War Is a Video Game and We’re Losing

Photo: David Hoffmann/flickr.

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 20 March 2014.

It is often said that the rise of military robotics and cyber warfare is turning war into a “videogame.” But this thesis—which blames technology for a supposed loss of moral seriousness about war—gets the causation wrong. It isn’t bloodless technology that really makes war videogame-like. Rather, videogames are simple and deterministic in that they mirror the ways a cross-section of national security experts think about war. It seems that as hard as we try to be treat war as “tragic, inefficient, and uncertain,” we end up getting our military analysis from the same mental place that’s engaged by a shopping trip to GameSpot. We might as well use this to our advantage by diversifying our unconscious war(games) rather than playing the same titles over and over again.One of the most common tropes in both military analysis and popular culture is the danger of war becoming a “videogame.” From Matthew Broderick’s “game” with a military supercomputer in WarGames to Robert Gates’ recent criticism of drone warfare, there is a strong tendency to equate technology with both dehumanization as well as an overly stilted and abstract view of conflict. While this sort of rhetoric is primarily deployed to critique drones and other standoff technologies, it also is used to bash mathematical or computational methods of analysis. Quoth Gates:

For too many people—including defense “experts,” members of Congress, executive branch officials and ordinary citizens—war has become a kind of videogame or action movie: bloodless, painless and odorless. But my years at the Pentagon left me even more skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories or doctrines that suggest that war is anything other than tragic, inefficient and uncertain.

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Conflict in the Central African Republic: It’s Not Just about Religion

 Refugees in the Central African Republic

Photo: SSgt Ryan Crane/Wikimedia Commons.

The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left humanitarian organisations, international peacekeepers and observers frantically searching for solutions to stop the conflict. Now, to make matters worse,the Afghan Taliban and the notorious al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – which, together with its allies, occupied northern Mali in 2012 – have denounced what it describes as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims in the CAR. AQIM also issued a warning against France for its alleged complicity in the violence, saying the ‘supposed peacekeepers’ have launched a ‘crusade against Islam’ and that France will be punished for doing so. Given that ordinary Muslims in the CAR are clearly being targeted and tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing the country, should this threat be taken seriously?

David Zounmenou, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) believes that AQIM is still smarting after its defeat against France in Mali last year and that their warnings are not to be taken lightly. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also met last week to discuss the situation in the CAR and has pleaded for dialogue and national reconciliation – another sign that the crisis has now taken a decidedly religious turn. Yet, Zounmenou strongly warns against casting the conflict in the CAR in the same mould as other crises in Africa that are rooted in conflict between locals and radical Islamist groups, such as in Mali or Somalia. » More

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