SSWG e-Conference Series Archive:
"The Future of Fighting"

Conference VII Transcript:
"The New Warfare"

Original e-Conference date: June 14, 2012
(oldest comments first)


Hi everyone, and welcome to the CIC and CDFAI's Future of Fighting discussion, "The Security Critique," Professor James Der Derian of Brown University, and Noah Richler, author of What We Talk About When We Talk about War. I am an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa and the moderator of the Future of Fighting Series. I will be moderating this discussion - and the five that follow. We’re looking forward to bringing in questions from the online public, so please add them to the live-chat or, for those on Twitter, use #CICLive.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 1:59 PM


And we're live, talking war and security with Noah Richler and James Der Derian. Tweet your questions w #CICLive. bit.ly
by TheCIC via twitter June 14 at 2:00 PM


Online, good to go.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:00 PM


Hello, Professor Der Derian!
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:01 PM


Greetings all...
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:02 PM


Je suis içi aussi - here too, says another Montrealer.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:02 PM


Professor, could you explain the importance of imagery in contemporary warfare and the manner in which war is understood.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:02 PM


Hello, Mr Richler!
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:03 PM


Mr Richler, in line with the idea of imagery and war, how would you describe the way in which Canadians see and understand war and the role of the military today?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:03 PM


Sure. I think a war of images and images of war have taken over the infosphere. Indeed, we could say that this century as well as the last has been defined images, or as Walter Benjamin put it, 'history now decays into images.' Think of....the first herky-jerky films of the First World War, the agit-prop of the Russian Revolution, the creative and destructive aesthetics of the German and Italian fascist movements, We see how power, first capturing reality through photography, radio, and film, then proceeded to capture the state.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:05 PM


If I may speak to James (I may say James, Professor?) I wonder first of all how the "virtual" nature of modern warfare is in fact different from, say, wars being fought out of view at the fringes of Empire in the 19th century? There is a certain arrogance in believing our own present is actually sui generis.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:06 PM


Phillip Gara here, I co-directed the short video Virtuous War with James Der Derian.
by Phillip Gara June 14 at 2:06 PM


Professor, I will let you address Noah's question.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:07 PM


I also have another of my own: what medium captures the images of war today? How has the imagery, or the manner in which we encounter the images, changed?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:08 PM


Mais bien sur. Wars at one level have always been virtual, through a range of representations, but also because the reality of war is just too unbelievable to render into a transparent medium. But what is different now than from the past is...
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:09 PM
Hello, Phillip! Thanks for joining us.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:09 PM


..the fact that we now have the technical ability to reproduce the reality of war with a very high fidelity, and that the means of reproduction begin to blur and blend to the means of simulation and representation which are used to prepare for and execute violence. I can give examples...
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:11 PM


As for the Canadian stance vis-a-vis the country's participation in the war in Afghanistan, I would say that it has in fact been fought by an astonishingly small number - 90 000 soldiers and reservists in a population of close to 35 000 000 is a but under a half of one per cent versus eight and nine in the First and Second World Wars, numbers that multiply significantly if you accept, for instance, that if each soldier has four loved ones who can claim to be intimately involved, then close to half the population were involved in those wars versus just over one per cent in this one. We have deluded ourselves to the point of describing ourselves as a "warrior nation" and this has only been possible because the majority has not been fighting - and certain parties have taken advantage of that phenomenon for objectives that have little to do with "nation-building" in Afghanistan and everything to do with that impetus at home.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:11 PM


JDD, I wonder if you can offer some reflections to Noah's closing call for 'coming to terms with "security"'--how true is it that, as he suggests, 'the best institutional and logistical measures to make it happen' can actually be found? Why are we to believe that "security" is a desirable thing?
by Keith Stanski June 14 at 2:11 PM


The numbers are shockingly similar with the Long War, with less than 1% of the population directly involved..
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:12 PM


We have a question for you, Professor: Why are we to believe that "security" is a desirable thing?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:12 PM


I don't mean to hop about, this medium and its exciting possibilities are exciting to me though I am new to it. When you say "reproduce the reality of war," James, what reality is being reproduced? The Hollywood excitement of it, convincing as that may be, or the horror of a lover or a child lost? Apologies if I am being obtuse. (I watched your excellent video.) Each has a very different motivational effect on the general population.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:14 PM


Mr Richler, would you say that's the reason that the CF have become such a respected institution, because they are involved in missions that most Canadians would not sign up for? Do Canadians take a vicarious pride through their military?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:15 PM


Security carries a very pick metaphysical punch, absorbing all kinds of fears and hopes. Great power accrues to the definer of that concept: are we secured by borders/territory? Financial wealth? Concealed handguns. What makes us feel safe says alot about who that 'us' might be and what is needed make us safe.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:15 PM


Security" is a fascinating and fundamental concept. We are in fact most "secure" when others, and not just ourselves, do not feel threatened. That is the state of being that we should be striving for, as it will reinforce our physical security (when it is warranted) as much as weapons. This is not hippy-dippy thinking, as some Canadian militarists would call it; it is common sense
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:17 PM


In line with that idea of security as a reflection of ourselves, what are we trying to express with the concepts of humanitarian intervention, responsibility to protect, and international security?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:17 PM


Running with Noah's first question...If 19th century Imperial wars were primarily geopolitical - for example the scramble for Africa, or the British and French in Asia and the Middle East - does Virtuous War represent a simmilar effort for suzrainety in the contemporary world which no longer is dominated by geopolitical interests?
by Phillip Gara June 14 at 2:18 PM


A question from Phillip: Running with Noah's first question...If 19th century Imperial wars were primarily geopolitical - for example the scramble for Africa, or the British and French in Asia and the Middle East - does Virtuous War represent a simmilar effort for suzrainety in the contemporary world which no longer is dominated by geopolitical interests?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:19 PM


I'll go back to Noah's very important question, because I think too many images/representations of war are censored, left out. This creates a hierarchy of loss, 9/11 given more importance, who is more worthy of mourning, who’s life matters more? Starting in 1991, with CNN coverage of the Gulf War, of surgical bombing, if you don’t die on camera you don’t really die: Kurds in north, on camera, count, Shia in south don’t.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:19 PM


I would say that there is a battle on in the country at the moment for just how Canadians should feel the "vicarious pride" that they most certainly do, often with cause. Are Canadians simply "warriors," so that our ability in the field is what is being celebrated, or can the case be made (as I try to do) that in fact the defining aspect of the country's century long participation in conflicts that have not taken place, through accident of geography and history, on the country's borders proper (the War of 1812 was not fought by "Canada," the state was not born yet) and that we have always gone to bat for some greater, less narrow and self-interested idea of "security" - for Motherland, Empire, the Allies, then the UN, peacekeeping missions and more recently NATO?
by Noah Richler edited by Cameron Tulk June 14 at 2:20 PM


I think most Canadian foreign and defence policy academics would agree with you on that one, Mr Richler. Canada's involvement in wars has been tied to our identity as a colony, an ally, and perhaps more recently, to an idea we have about what it is to be a 'serious' country.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:23 PM


Barely 20 minutes in and Canada's (OK, England's) invasion of 1812 already a topic!! But seriously, why did those occasion - which included the burning of the White House - now serve as a punchline to a joke (as Obama delivered last week) rather than as a persistent grievance?
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:24 PM


Professor, in line with that link between death and representation, what do you make of the current situation in Syria and the international community's response to it?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:25 PM


Re 1812: perhaps because both sides think they won!
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:26 PM


If most of the media attention goes to things like "shock and awe" what recent conflicts, or aftermath from the wars have been completely missed by the media?
by Phillip Gara June 14 at 2:27 PM


At various international forums, I've heard the Canadian military described as 'warriors for peace'. Certainly an important part of the national myth, and much more appealing one than 'virtual warriors', which I fear is becoming more and more the operational myth for the US military.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:27 PM


(A couple of comments behind and trying to catch up!) Philip, I have in this moment only an inversed way of answering the suzerainty question, one that I plainly have to think about more, which is to say that there is case to be made for a more ardently made, possibly even "missionary" case for the defence, but also advance and propagation of - let's forget about oil and economic interests and those muddying complaints for a moment - the Western "values" upon which our sense of geopolitical interests is predicated. The irony of the virtual as you and James have conveyed it, is that it substitutes for authentic causes and the rigour and sobriety with which we may contemplate these, and be ready to defend them. I completely agree with your prediction of how borders are going to matter less and less (though not for a long time, not at all), but the truth of geopolitical interests is that they are still the reflection, by and large, of values held in specific parts of the world. For the time being.
by Noah Richler edited by Cameron Tulk June 14 at 2:28 PM


There is an interesting and persistent disconnect between how Canadians see their armed forces and how the military sees itself. It's quite persistent, too.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:30 PM


Did Obama credit Canada or the British with sacking the White House? If you look at The Economist, a couple of weeks back, Canada is not mentioned: Britons sacked the White House in a war that mag decides is the moment when the U.S. navy established itself. In the myths of those two countries, genuine opponents, the Canadian myth, useful as it has been here (no longer, as in my father, the novelist Mordecai Richler's nve;, "Solomon Gursky Was Here," is Canada "a holding tank of disgruntled peoples," United Empire Loyalist losers or Jews fleeing pogroms, etc. We are tough guys! You have to respect the power of story...
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:31 PM


About the power of story and the importance of image: is it ever possible to present our worlds differently? Can we ever arrive at objective history or will we always rely on intersubjective story? Likewise, can we ever go beyond the image to the reality, unless we are living it ourselves?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:34 PM


Short of sending in the Hulk, I think Syria has no easy solution. Humanitarian intervention, defensive corridors or - my favorite Holbrook-ism - 'bombing for peace' are feel-good slogans, under the circumstances of an imminent civil war. Here I follow J-S Mill: the only legitimate intervention in a civil war is a counter-intervention - and our Sec of State's recent claim about Hind helicopters being sent by Russia does not pass the test.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:34 PM


The "warriors for peace" description is interesting, not least as it was used in one of its more extraordinary instances by the reservist, Captain Trevor Greene, now resident in B.C., who removed his helmet at a Kandahar village meeting with tribal elders March 4th, 2006, and was subsequently struck by a young Afghan who plunged an axe into the back of his head. Unbelievably, with the aid of his amazing wife Debbie, Trevor has been making a recovery. (The pair published a memoir last month called "March Forth", Harper Collins, very moving). It is interesting, not least, because Greene published an editorial recently, in the Toronto Star, in which he basically wonders how to explain to his daughter that the "open, tolerant" society he thought he was fighting for does not, under its present government, exist. I say this in passing.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:34 PM


Professor, what do you make of R2P? Is that a new form of legitimate intervention?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:35 PM


Dr. Der Derian: Are US/European and Canadian efforts to develop the "peacekeeping" capacities of African militaries part of part of your thesis on virtuous war? And are these efforts also undermining long term local initiatives to create deal with security issues?
by terrar June 14 at 2:36 PM


Antoine has a question: re US/European and Canadian efforts to develop the "peacekeeping" capacities of African militaries part of part of your thesis on virtuous war? And are these efforts also undermining long term local initiatives to create deal with security issues?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:37 PM

This I would like to put directly to James, as I do not pretend to be more than a thoughtful witness. (Hopefully some of the thoughts are productive). Many deride the whole humanitarian enterprise, especially in Canada, though I am one who believes that the only trenchant criticism is that we have not, as nation or as whatever is that thing called "the international community" put enough resources to make the decent (UN) idea practicable. We have patted ourselves on the back for an easy war in Libya, fought from the air and without a mess of casualties - against the sort of army experts have been telling us we would rarely be fighting again; i.e. in uniform, not mixed in with the general population - though it is now that the case for some sort of interventionary conflict resolution force could be made (I don;t like the word "peacekeeping," it is now so caricatured it plays too easily into the hands of its detractors), a force to keep a peace in a situation in which there is some sort of prospect of it lasting - and of a degree of local appreciation as a result. Syria is nowhere near that place, yet.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:41 PM


Lots of good questions. First, on R2P and the lingering issue of humanitarian intervention. In the 80s was trained as a realist, while engaged in peace activism. That dichotomy (bipolarity?) sticks with me, albeit I try to dress it up as a Gramsician strategy ('pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will'). I think the bar for intervention should be very high, with crimes against humanity being the touchstone, not only because of a long and sorry history of great power interventions dressed us as doing good, but because of an equally long history of unintended consequences that go hand in hand with every intervention....
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:42 PM


The very question that Antoine is posing, and the thought which James has put into the phenomenon and effect of "virtual war" show that humanitarian efforts towards conflict resolution - peace "keeping," peace "building" and peace "making," one could say - are part and parcel of a profound, evolving science. This is why I resent the caricature of all such work (as blue-helmeted peacekeeping of the problematic and sometimes failed 1990s variety) as if it has not and cannot evolve. But I would say that a first principle rests upon decisions actors make about the viability and inevitability of a mounting need for international co-operation on an ever-larger scale. Narrow nationalists hate this prospect and revile it, for the sovereignty they imagine it costs them. But surely we must keep an open mind if we are to responsibly imagine how we are to contend in that world, already upon us.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:44 PM


Noah, would you support higher military budgets to give the Canadian armed forces an independent peace operations capacity?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:44 PM


Noah and James, question relating to intervention and humanitarianism, would "first world" countries do better focusing on other issues than war, (military operations other than war) was the framework in the late 90s - but to focus on things like climate change, refugee flows, pandemics and first response? Could there ever be a type of response that was not dominated by a military or kinetic perspective?
by Phillip Gara June 14 at 2:46 PM


Phillip has a question: would "first world" countries do better focusing on other issues than war, (military operations other than war) was the framework in the late 90s - but to focus on things like climate change, refugee flows, pandemics and first response? Could there ever be a type of response that was not dominated by a military or kinetic perspective?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:47 PM


I agree pretty much with Noah. The only supra-national body with relative legitimacy (if not moral superiority) to make it happen has no power to make it so. The US military is getting tired, philosophically, politically, physically, of being the 'global cop' (ask a Marine or soldier on 5th, 6th rotation). Defense budgets are on the decrease. Who you gonna' call is going to be an increasingly important issue when the next Syria emerges....
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:48 PM


I'm with James - and Antonio G. (though would rather not his prison days) - "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will," thank you, that perfectly describes me between reading the papers grumpily in the morning and then setting down to write and putting out of my head the idea of being a ridiculous fantasist. But we need to have driving visions! Syria presents the problems of 1990s PK work instantly: no one in their right mind believes it possible to enter that cauldron as it is at the moment, its players unknown and undefined, and yet we are building the knowledge base and accumulating the experience to gauge that situation better. There may well be ways of solving it, in other words.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:48 PM


We're heading into the last ten minutes. Are there issues that we haven't addressed that either of you would like us to discuss?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:50 PM


Absolutely. As I said, the only truly legitimate criticism of the now problematic "Pearsonian" idea of Canadian PK work is that, especially over time, we were insufficiently committed to it. My case for a new, dedicated 'Peace Operations' regiment (and a university in civil society to back up this institutional idea of PK work as an evolving science) is meant to suggest two things: (1) that it is not a one (war) or the other (PK work) option, but that if we believe my interpretation of the history of Canadian Forces work, and that it represents the will of the people - their sense that the chance of Canadian good fortune should be shared - we should commit to making it happen; and (2) that we do so in a way that ups the ante and is a challenge to other states to do the same thing. Then we would have more resources, more forces to do more humanitarian work - when it is practical and believed to be likely to have a good outcome.
by Noah Richler edited by Cameron Tulk June 14 at 2:52 PM


Phil's question shows up at many of the 'Future of War' gatherings. On one side, the argument goes that as the most effective/efficient bureaucracy the military must get involved in these 'non-kinetic' operations; on the other side, the military worries about losing its esprit de corps, raison d'etre, whatever, which is be 'the tip of the spear.' In between, you have a bunch of academics asking what happens when you 'securitize' climate change (as did the highly influential Andrew Marshall, Director of Net Assessment in the Pentagon)? Or worse, 'militarize' immigration issues, as we see on the 'other' border.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 2:53 PM


I would like to ask you, James, if you believe that the maintenance of war as "virtual" is actually possible, and of so for how long? Surely at some point, the very shock of war is that it might transcend that barrier (as it did for a moment on 9/11) and become actual?
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:54 PM


General David Richards, Chief of British Land Forces in Afghanistan for a while, and who directed peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, I think it was - my description of his title may not be quite right - was the first player I met (in about 2006) to "securitize" climate change. he made a good case for it.
by Noah Richler June 14 at 2:56 PM


I'll throw out one last one in these last minutes: what comes after virtual war? Any thoughts?
by pmlagasse June 14 at 2:58 PM


Tough to give a a short answer to that one - maybe it's the nature of the medium, but Noah's questions keep prompting more questions! Right now I see a very big struggle going on behind the scenes, that will have a ripple effect in other militaries, including the Canadians. I see it as between the 'neotraditionalists' (COIN-istas, boots-on-the ground guys) and the 'transformationalists' (RMA, network-centric warfare guys). Two things to keep in mind about the outcome: the defeated learn better than the victorious on how best to fight (or not fight) the 'next war' (think Germany applying/naming an idea that the British actually developed on the Salisbury Plain - 'Blitzkrieg'); and that 'virtual' war like nuclear war works better as a deterrent than as an actual form of warfare.
by James Der Derian June 14 at 3:00 PM


After virtual war? Quantum war. I can explain what that is (or you can buy the book!).
by James Der Derian June 14 at 3:01 PM


I'll definitely buy the book, but how about a hint before we log off!
by pmlagasse June 14 at 3:02 PM


Thanks you both for joining us today and to those who asked questions.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 3:04 PM


Thanks as well to the editors of the CIC who set up this excellent series of web chats on the Future of Fighting.
by pmlagasse June 14 at 3:05 PM


Short version: 'war' phase-shifts with increasing rapidity, from individual, to group to state levels of interaction, and the power of observation (be it overhead from a drone or by social meida) directly effects the behavior of participants/belligerents. Because of the networked nature of global media and war, disparate actors become entangled in non-causal, non-linear fashion, and then....
by James Der Derian June 14 at 3:05 PM


Great! Thank you, Professor!
by pmlagasse June 14 at 3:07 PM

 

 


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