Lisa Hajjar sends news this morning of a new journal and new website from Critical Military Studies. The first issue will be out in 2015, but in the meantime the website is up and running and well worth bookmarking. Details below, and for more about CMS see here :

CMS Journal

Critical Military Studies is a new peer-reviewed, international and interdisciplinary journal publishing scholarly work conceptualizing, critiquing and challenging accepted orthodoxies on all aspects of military power and institutions.

Critical Military Studies will be published by Taylor and Francis and will launch in 2015. The journal aims to create space for the interrogation and destabilization of often taken-for-granted categories related to the military, militarism and militarization. It welcomes original thinking on the contradictions and tensions that are central to the ways in which military institutions and military power work. It analyses how these tensions are reproduced within different societies and geopolitical arenas, and within and beyond academic discourse. Conceptual, empirical and theoretical contributions on experiences of militarization among groups and individuals, and in hitherto underexplored, perhaps even seemingly ‘non-military’ settings are also especially encouraged.

Within this broad framework, the journal particularly welcomes submissions on:

  • The contributions of critical analysis to military studies
  • Comparative and cross-national accounts of militaries, militarism and militarization
  • Social, political, cultural and economic forms of authoritarianism, militarism and militarization
  • Race, Empire and Postcolonialism in military studies
  • Gendered and queer analyses
  • Disability and embodiment, including critical studies of military mental health and resilience
  • Legacies of military occupation
  • Geographies and landscapes of militarism and military activities
  • Military strategy (including counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism)
  • Military atrocities
  • Militias, paramilitary groups and private militarised security
  • Child soldiers and military youth programs
  • Military-industrial-complex
  • Conscientious objection, war resistance and peace movements
  • Disaster relief, military humanitarianism, peacekeeping and reconstruction
  • Military education and cadets
  • Military families
  • Social relations in military bases and base towns
  • Science, technology and medicine in militaries and militarism
  • Representation and the cultural (re)production of war, violence and militarism
  • The challenges and opportunities of critical engagement and collaboration with military personnel
  • Veterans and ex-combatants
  • New and critical methodologies in critical military studies

Critical Military Studies provides a rigorous and innovative platform for interdisciplinary debate on the operation of military power. It publishes original theoretical and empirical research articles in three issues each year, including editorial commentary from leading thinkers in the field. The journal also provides a forum for the ongoing development of the field of critical military studies through its Encounters section, fostering multidisciplinary forms of critique such as film and photography, and engaging with policy debates and activism.

Critical Military Studies welcomes submissions from scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines, including political science and international relations, conflict and peace studies, sociology, human geography, anthropology, history, psychology, economics, philosophy, religious studies, law and criminology, media and cultural studies, modern languages, science and technology studies,  medicine, postcolonial studies, and gender and sexuality studies, among others.

For general inquiries please contact editor@criticalmilitarystudies.org or editorialassistant@criticalmilitarystudies.org. For inquiries on the encounters section please contact encounters@criticalmilitarystudies.org

This is the second post in a short series on British drones: for the first, see here.

RAF Drone Pilots

Newly graduated RAF drone pilots, the first to be trained solely for remote flight
Source: SWNS

Late last year the MoD launched a PR defensive to try to change the negative perception toward drones, much of which was done in the name of transparency and public accountability. In December RAF Waddington took the unprecedented step of allowing the media into the base. The ‘opening up’ of Waddington didn’t tell us much more than we already knew, however. Journalists were taken into a hanger where they could see many different kinds of drones, from the small ‘Black Hornet’ to the Watchkeeper. They were allowed inside the ‘cockpit’ to see and talk to pilots flying simulation missions. The BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Beale asked a pilot whether he fired a Hellfire missile and he responded yes, adding “It’s not something I like to talk about very often”. The MoD also released a series of images and videos, all of which portray the technological brilliance of drones without any of the bloodshed. The following video gives a good impression of what the MoD wanted the journalists (and  by extension, the public) to see (see also the BBC coverage here and C4 News here):

And this footage, released by the RAF and re-named on Youtube, has been carefully selected from thousands of hours to show us what the Reapers can see. It’s carefully choreographed, and we witness the RAF diverting a missile after it has been  fired to avoid ‘collateral damage’: the message is clear enough.

If you watched the first video you’ll have seen that the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was present to host the media at Waddington. That same day, the Guardian published a comment by Hammond in which he defended the use of drones. Wishing to put the “myths” about drones “to bed” Hammond began by insisting that we should not call these things drones, but rather “RPAS” or “UAVS”  (I won’t bother spelling those out seen as they’re much more difficult to remember and say than using the term that we’re all familiar with). Why? Because the word drones has a negative connotation, and while this is indeed true, I suspect that changing the name won’t help the MoD’s cause much. What gave drones a bad name was not the name they were given and, in any case, “Reaper” and “Predator” hardly conjure images of bunny rabbits. Hammond went on to argue:

“what highlights the value and dispels the myths about these systems most effectively are the fundamental facts. Over the past few years, Reaper has flown more than 54,000 hours over Afghanistan; in that time, it has fired just 459 precision weapons [and] We know of one highly regrettable incident where civilians were killed by a weapon deployed from a UK Reaper”

Clive Stafford Smith wrote a sharp point-by-point refutation of Hammond’s main claims, and pointed out that the controversy with drones is not so much over British drones in Afghanistan as it is UK complicity in US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere (see here). Stafford Smith has a point but so, perhaps, does Hammond. There has been lots of protest against the British use of drones, and not all of it is coherent about precisely what it is about drones that is so troubling. Again, weapons releases in Afghanistan from conventional aircraft are much higher than those from drones, and I wonder if the same groups that are against drones are in favour strikes from manned jets or helicopters? If so, shouldn’t the debate be about targeting more broadly speaking, or even about the war in Afghanistan more generally? Indeed, as Frédéric Mégret argues in a forthcoming paper on the humanitarian problem with drones:

Drones are, often problematically, the emblematic weapon for a range of other phenomena and so, unsurprisingly, attract much polemic. The challenge, thus, is to find what is problematic specifically with drones as a technology in armed conflict that could not be dealt with better by invoking a larger genus of problems.”

Mégret is no champion of drones. Rather, he takes the history and practice of war and the laws that govern it seriously into account when considering the salience of the contemporary critique against drones, and his observations are every bit as perceptive as they are worrying for those who are against drones:

“As we know from the history of the laws of war, it has often proved particularly problematic to think of any weapon (as opposed to methods of combat) having anything inherent about it. After all, the ICJ [International Court of Justice] could not tell us that there was something inherently incompatible with international humanitarian law about even the use of nuclear weapons.”

If the claim that British drones have killed four civilians is true, while one death is surely too many, it does beg the question as to whether our problem – the British problem – really is about drones. Furthermore, from a legal and operational perspective there is absolutely no sense in banning drones. Any legal restrictions will attend only to how and where these weapons are used, in which case what we need is an articulation of what and where is wrong with their use. In the U.S. case it is strikes outside of the warzone that have proven the most controversial and the U.N. and several states agree that deploying drones in non warzone areas is illegal. However, this critique leaves untouched those drones deployed inside the warzone and the question then becomes: are drone strikes within the warzone acceptable merely because they are in the warzone?

But I want to end on a different note, and to consider exactly what we have learnt about the Royal Air Force Reapers and their use.Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 3.43.27 PM

In his work on Royal Air Force air shows Matthew Rech has argued that:

“As spectacular evocations of military power, nation and sovereignty, air-shows rely on specific modes of seeing, and specific arrangements of the means of sight (crowd-lines, viewing platforms, cameras), which coalesce to afford particular imaginations of global drama, of warfare, alliance and difference.”

He’s quite right, of course, and his work has prompted me to think about recent MoD and RAF disclosures and the public displays of ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’ at Waddington as a kind of late-modern air show that stands in for a public debate on the broader issues of targeting and drone warfare.  This is a show that we haven’t had to travel to because it has come to us, and not like the televised air-show, because this time it’s on the evening news. “Here’s our smallest drone, and there our biggest. Oh look, there’s Philip Hammond!” The MoD showed us the latest technologies, and let us talk to the personnel, inviting us – through the cameras – into the show rooms and into the control rooms. We even got real footage and to talk to the pilots (they were all men, but women were there showing off the latest procurements) who actually fly the missions over Afghanistan. No Red Arrows or B-52′s flew above, against a blue sky, and members of the public weren’t admitted, but then again modern warfare has changed and if drones are the future, why are containers any less sexy than, er… cockpits? Why should militaries and air forces be reticent to show us drones when for years they have enjoyed showing off the latest in (declassified) aviation and weaponry? Unlike conventional air-shows there’s nothing spectacular about the media air-show tours around Waddington, and where once stood the mighty and powerful now sits the miniature and understated. Just as the RAF are careful to point out that there is very little difference between conventional aircraft and drones – manned and remotely piloted – the late modern air show tells us that there’s nothing out of the ordinary to see here. By all means, we are invited to look around, but we might not be as impressed as we once were. As a way of seeing, it is no less constructed than the conventional air show, and like the air show, the latest PR offensive by the MoD glosses over what these weapons systems do when they’re not being shown off to aviation enthusiasts and children alike.

Containers at RAF Waddington where pilots fly missions over Afghanistan

Incidentally, the one thing we did learn from going into Waddington is that the pilots who fly the missions in Afghanistan have access to a legal adviser 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I have made several attempts to talk to the RAF Legal Service Branch (also sometimes referred to as the Directorate of Legal Services) about the role that legal advisers play in the RAF but they have declined my requests for interviews and will provide no information on the matter. After first telling me that the problem was a shortage of staff, I later received clarification that they could not meet with me because they could not tell me anything that was not already on the public record, and that if it was on the public record I had no need to speak with them.

In short, I was told to go to the Royal Reaper air show – and that is where I remain – unable to tell anyone anything that we didn’t already know…

Earlier this week I blogged about Trevor Paglen’s new work over at Intercept, and now Joseph Lee (via Gab Olah) send news of a talk Paglen gave at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin last December. It’s remarkably perceptive and provides insight into the digital and logistical mechanics of his photography as well as his take on secrecy. He insists that secrecy is not merely what we don’t know, but rather a way of seeing and a way of organising society that always leaves a trace in the non-secret world. And, as ever, his visuals are stunning: well worth the full 50 minutes.

For more on Paglen and his other work see commentaries from geographicalimaginations here and here, or Paglen’s site here.

Data and weapons releases

This is the first in a short series of posts about British drones.

Source: dronewars.net

Source: dronewars.net

Earlier this month the Ministry of Defence provided new figures detailing the number and type of weapons fired – sorry, “released” – by British Royal Air Force Reaper drones in Afghanistan since May 2008 to April 2013. The data was released to Chris Cole at Drone Wars UK in response to a FoI request and this is the first time that we have been able to see a breakdown of the data month-by-month. A separate FoI response provided the total number of weapon releases in 2013 and Drone Wars UK has usefully done the calculations for us and has produced the graph (above) and table (below). In total this amounts to 455 weapons – we’re talking GBU-12 bombs and Hellfire missiles –  fired by British Reapers in Afghanistan to the end of 2013. Seen in the context of all drone strikes in Afghanistan the number is actually quite high. The Combined-Forces-Airpower-Statistics  from 2009 to 2012 (note the difference in dates here) put the number of weapons releases from ISAF drones at 1,160. We need to be careful with these numbers, however, as the relatively low statistics of drone weapons releases by ISAF is only a fraction of the total number of weapons fired by conventional ISAF aircraft: i.e. around 4-5,000 per year from 2009-2012 – see the colourful slide below.

Source: dronewars.net

Source: dronewars.net

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Click to make me big

This is some of what we do know, but what those statistics importantly do not include is a) RAF pilots who flew Reaper drones that they borrowed from the U.S. Air Force, and b) UK personnel embedded with USAF on operations in Afghanistan (and Libya). Drone Wars UK tried to get answers to both, but on February 4th 2013 the MoD sent them the following response, clarifying a but avoiding b:

Of the 2,150 missions flown by UK personnel, there were 271 missions in Afghanistan when UK personnel utilised a US Reaper as a UK Reaper was unavailable.  During these missions, UK personnel released 39 weapons.  I am withholding information about weapons released by UK personnel embedded with the United States Air Force on operations in Afghanistan and Libya under Section 27 [of the Freedom of Information Act].

Drone Wars UK reports that RAF pilots have flown US Reaper or Predator drones a further 1,800 times while embedded with the USAF.  The actual number of weapons fired from drones either by British pilots or using British drones is thus likely to be significantly higher than those statistics that have been provided to the House of Parliament and disclosed publicly. Compounding the problem is that we have no information about weapons fired in Libya and the MoD has claimed that “information is not held for operations in Iraq.” Drone Wars UK point out that the latter is “bizarre”, but it’s more than that: it is either untrue or else requires immediate explanation, not least because it is a requirement under international law to investigate cases of wrongdoing – and that can’t be done without keeping track of who and how many are killed during each strike.

We know a few other things about Britain’s drones and their use:

  1. DronesRAF Squadron 13 are now flown from the UK in RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. Since late 2007, when the UK first purchased five Reapers, the RAF flew missions out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, but in October 2012 it moved operations to the UK. In 2010 the RAF purchased a further five drones, bringing the total to ten. On April 30th 2013 the RAF 13 squadron (formerly 39 squadron) conducted their first strike in Afghanistan from Britain.  War on Want has been leading protests outside of the RAF base since 2012, one of which lead to the conviction of protesters over the destruction of a fence. The defendants ‘not-guilty’ plea reasoned that they were attempting to prevent far worse crimes from occurring in Afghanistan.
Protesting drones at RAF Waddington Source: the Guardian

Protesting drones at RAF Waddington
Source: the Guardian

  1. The British military has over 500 drones, but at present only the Reeper is armed. This is in keeping with the MoD’s strategic vision for 1/3 of the RAF to consist of ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ by 2030. Other surveillance drones, such as the Watchkeeper are being tested at Aberporth in Wales: thanks to Pete Adey for alerting me to this.
Drone test site map. Aberporth, Wales Source: http://www.bepj.org.uk/

Drone test site map: ‘Danger Area 202′. Aberporth, Wales
Source: http://www.bepj.org.uk/

  1. The MoD insists that British drone strikes have killed very few civilians. In fact, the MoD has confirmed only one UK strike that involved civilian casualties. In a letter to Chris Duncan of Speak Campaign in October 2012, the MoD said:

“We are aware of only once incident where individuals not classified as insurgents have been killed by a UK Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System. On 25 March 2011 a Reaper operating in support of ISAD forces was tasked to engage and destroy two pick up trucks. The strike resulted in the deaths of two insurgents and the destruction of a significant quantity of explosives being carried on the trucks but, sadly, four Afghan civilians were also killed and a further two Afghan civilians were injured. In line with current ISAF procedures, an ISAF investigation was conducted to establish if any lessons could be learned or if errors in operational procedures could be identified. In that case, the report concluded that the actions of the Reaper crew had been in accordance with extant procedures and UK Rules of Engagement.”

And that was that. The study has not been made public.

  1. As detailed in the Snowden files, but reported as early as 2010, it is alleged that the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) provides “locational intelligence” to US authorities for use in drone strikes in various places, including Pakistan (see here - and click on the first link). The UK Government has reused to confirm or deny whether it shares such intelligence. The question was put to the UK courts recently by Noor Khan, a Pakistani who lost his father, a local elder, to a 2011 drone strike in North Waziristan. But unfortunately we’re still none the wiser. The Court of Appeal in London ruled on January 20th 2014 that despite Mr Khan’s arguments being “persuasive,” they accepted the British Government’s claims that the case should not proceed as “a finding by our court that the notional UK operator of a drone bomb which caused a death was guilty of murder would inevitably be understood…by the US as a condemnation of the US.” The lawyers at Leigh Day & Co and legal charity Reprive who supported and represented Khan saw the decision as a worrying intrusion of geo-strategic politics into the court: “It is shameful that the risk of embarrassing the US has trumped British justice in this case”, reported Kat Craig, legal director Reprieve. The one thing the British Government has committed to concerning drone strikes in Pakistan is a an opinion poll in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the popularity of drone strikes in the region. According to those surveys,  the number of respondents in the tribal areas who believed drone strikes were “never justified” rose from 59% in 2010 to 63% in 2011, and again it is Kat Craig who stole the comment of the year on this:

” The UK should not need to carry out polling to determine that a campaign of illegal killing is wrong,”

But we don’t know much else. For a succinct overview of the basic facts about the use of British drones that we still don’t know see here. Importantly, we don’t know if the RAF conducts pre-planned targeted killings with its drones, or whether all strikes are close air support (protecting troops on the ground). Releasing data about weapons ‘releases’ doesn’t tell us anything about the way that these weapons are being used, the circumstances of their use or how many they are killing and injuring. If anything, relinquishing this data is a way of masquerading both the cause and effect of weapons releases and it raises more questions than it answers.

And for the little more that we do know, stay tuned.



Source: Trevor Paglen

A week ago, First Look Media – FLM – went live with its first publication, The Intercept. If you haven’t already checked it out, you must. FLM is founded and funded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of ebay, but names much more recognizable to this blog founded Intercept : Glen Greenwald (formerly at the Guardian); Jeremy Scahill (formerly at the Nation) and Laura Poitras (the documentary film-maker). Their initial focus will be on covering the NSA story so this will be the new space to watch for future revelations from the Snowden files:

“Our focus in this very initial stage will be overwhelmingly on the NSA story. We will use all forms of digital media for our reporting. We will publish original source documents on which our reporting is based. We will have reporters in Washington covering reactions to these revelations and the ongoing reform efforts.”Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 11.51.42 AM

The first stories do not disappoint. Scahill and Greenwald published a story that finally links the NSA files to the U.S. global “kill/capture” program, but their principal source is actually two former drone pilots who flew JSOC missions and who spoke out against the way that the NSA/CIA/JSOC is using geo-location  data – so called “SIGINT” (signals intelligence) as opposed to HUMINT (human intelligence) – to track and kill the ‘enemy’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Except they’re actually tracking cell phone sim cards and while NSA intelligence has become vital in this regard it is not clear at all whether it is helping the agencies actually kill the ‘right’ people and as they report, quoting the anonymous drone pilot:

“Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.””

Derek Gregory has much more on all of this and puts the recent revelations in context of what we already knew (see here), and I have little to add to his analysis save for one point about what this kind of  journalism and what these revelations mean for scholars like me working on these issues. My own work focuses on the role of military lawyers – ‘Judge Advocates’ – in these operations, and although there has been very little so far by way of leaks specifically related to the military lawyer, the wider revelations about US targeted killing (and these go back to Wikileaks) are vital to understanding the targeting apparatus and how it works. For example and in fact unrelated to the NSA revelations is the transcript of a US drone strike in Afghanistan on February 21 2010 that was released under FOIA to the L.A. Times in 2011. In that conversation between the drone pilots, intelligence and ground crews, no lawyer is present. We don’t know if the strike was given prior legal approval or whether there is another transcript that includes the opinion of the legal adviser. We also don’t know whether it is standard operating procedure for the lawyer not to have ‘live’ direct contact with pilots at the time of a strike, or whether the situation has changed since 2011. Nonetheless, such transcripts raise obvious legal questions – the trigger happy pilots end up firing at civilians despite the fact that there was no clear indication that they were ‘combatants’ – and cast doubt on the fact that targeting follows water-tight legal procedures. We wonder what a lawyer would have said: would s/he have approved the strike or would s/he have advised against it, in which case further questions follow: what happens when commanders and pilots go against the legal advice they are given? Such transcripts show us that, as the drone pilot in Scahill and Greenwald’s story reported:

This isn’t a science. This is an art.’”

The point is that transcripts like these – and leaks like those being reported by Intercept - fill in important parts of the picture; they confirm and provide evidence for things we think we thought we knew but could not prove (what would scholarship be without such evidence?) and often tell us things that we simply did not know. In the process we are able to learn how this thing that I have called the ‘targeting machine‘ works. (Incidentally, I’m working on a paper by that name where I’m trying to work my way through theories of the apparatus and the assemblage to understand the role that law plays in the targeting machine). Another classic example is Jeremy Scahill’s most recent book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. It’s a book rich in empirical detail, informed by interviews with a variety of sources that most scholars could never dream to get their hands on, whether because we lack the contacts, the skills or (and?) the resources to do so.  Journalists can go to places that I (we) cannot, and I mean this literally . Unfortunately some of these journalists – and I’m thinking here especially of Greenwald – cannot go to places we may go to: the UK and US governments have both indicated that he would likely be arrested if he flew to either of those places, and others have made calls that he should face punishment. If we need any convincing of the importance of new ventures like Intercept we should re-watch the now infamous video of the day that the UK Government forced the Guardian to destroy the Snowden hard drives.  I have come to rely on critical journalism for my research and it may turn out that critical journalism needs us as scholars, and not only to speak in favour of what they do (assuming, of course that ‘we’ do), but to demonstrate via our own work the importance of their work.

One person successfully straddling that artful line between the academy and journalism is geographer and artist Trevor Paglen who provides the second story at Intercept. His question: ‘What does a surveillance state look like?’ is answered in his classic visual aesthetic, and for his latest project he has taken to the skies of Maryland and Virginia in a helicopter to photograph key sites of the U.S. security state. See the video and seductive-yet-somehow-troubling images far above and below.



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Somehow I  missed the release of the new Oxford University Press London Review of International Law journal last September (Thanks Frédéric Mégret for the heads-up). I’m very excited about this and from the journals’ blurb here’s the first reason why:

The London Review of International Law publishes highest-quality scholarship on international law from around the world. Reflecting the pace and reach of developments in the field, the London Review seeks to capture the ways in which received ideas are being challenged and reshaped by new subject-matters, new participants, new conceptual apparatuses and new cross-disciplinary connections. Central aims of the London Review are to encourage imaginative thinking, inspire innovative analysis, and promote excellence in writing. While no area of international legal interest is excluded, the London Review prioritises non-doctrinal scholarship, including theory, history and socio-legal studies.

There are many great international law journals. The American Journal of International Law, European Journal International Law, NYU Journal of International Law & Politics,  Georgetown JIL, Chicago JIL, and Stanford JIL  are, among others, the ones I tend to read the most. There are also several wonderful non-doctrinal, critical law (as in non-international law) journals: Law and Critique, Critical Legal StudiesGriffith Law Review, Journal of Law and Social Justice (formerly Third World Law Journal) and Socio Legal Studies are some of my favourites. But there are fewer journals that combine both a resolute focus on international law and approach it through a decidedly critical lens that also celebrates the inter and cross-disciplinary. I’m not saying they don’t exist, because clearly they do, but I have often felt that many of the international law journals are doctrinally pedantic and require a certain form of legal-ese which can be difficult to read and write for those of us who don’t have formal training in Law (hello Geographers…and nearly everyone else!).

The editorial board (here) features an array of stunning scholars who have done so much to develop and theorise the field of critical (international) legal studies and in the opening pages of the journal, homage is paid – via a wonderful reference to Edward Said’s Beginnings – to the past that has made this beginning possible:

“[...] Said perhaps does well to remind us that there is more to a beginning than simply a point in time (the journal starts now), an action (it hereby comes into being) and a phase or part (this issue is its earliest manifestation). [...] The old Germanic root-word of the English ‘to begin’ is ‘ginnan’, meaning ‘to open’ or ‘open up’. Open up what, trained to do so by whom, drawing impetus and inspiration from where? This project plainly does not originate with itself.”

Clearly indebted to theories of post-colonialism, the journal takes seriously those bodies of scholarship forgotten by so many legal formalists, and with editors like Anne Orford, Antony Angie, Frédéric Mégret, Costas Douzinas, Christine Chinkin, Martti Koskenniemi, David Kennedy and B. S. Chimni, the London Review will no doubt provide a platform for Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and Critical Legal Studies (CLS) scholarship.

The first issue is free and open to all (at least for now) and features impressive essays from Fleur Johns (on big data) and Ralf Michaels (on ‘dreaming law without a state‘) and others. A collection of  four papers respond to Anne Orford’s International Authority and the Responsibility to Protect — a book that has been on my reading list for too long — and at the end Orford has a rejoinder enticingly called ‘international legal method’, where she reflects on the importance of thinking history and politics through the juridical:

 “The book is also a wager that there is something to be gained—theoretically, politically and empirically—by developing a primarily juridical (rather than historical, philosophical, economic or sociological) method as a basis for exploring [...] contemporary international developments. Juridical thinking frames the problems that the book raises, shapes the archival choices made throughout its research and the construction of its narrative, structures its argument and provides its conceptual underpinnings. Of course, this begs the question of just what ‘juridical thinking’ is, where we might look for it, and to which historical figures and authors we might properly make reference in order to develop a legal analysis that is also critical, idiomatically recognisable and politically useful.”

These are important questions, and Samera Esmeir’s quite wonderful Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History has probed me to think more seriously about how we re-approach ‘the legal’ and how we may read the role of the juridical in history. I’ll save this for another post as I’m still working my way through Esmeir’s colonial history of Egypt (though I will say that for those who liked Timothy Mitchell’s Rule of Experts, Juridical Humanity is a must read).

The issue closes with a provoking photo essay on ‘The lawless line‘ by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman and Nicola Perugini of the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) group, an art and architecture collective based in Beit Sahour, Palestine. The images they have produced – a mix of black and white photos and architectural drawings overlaid with thick red ink – are every bit as powerful as they are tragic.

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The essay takes its cue from the political scientist and former major of Jerusalm Meron Benvenisti, and his brilliant question: ‘Who owns the “width of the line?”’. As, Hilal et al show, Benvenisti was referring to the 1948 cease-fire lines between Israel and Jordan and they use it as an opportunity to reflect on the line as an ambiguous space. Exactly what is lawless about it, I’m not sure and they show that the 1948 line (to this we can surely also add the 1967 line, and all the subsequent lines drawn and re-drawn by the Israeli state) divides and disrupts places into two. At the extreme, this division runs literally through the middle of a home, begging the question: to which side of the line does this or that home, or this or that person belong, legally?

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There is no definitive answer, but the remnants of which we witness through the images and, of course, in the destruction of Palestinian homes, as has been so well documented by the Israeli group ICAHD (and for a recent analysis of the parallels between home/space destruction in Palestine-Israel and what is currently happening under Assad in Syria, see Geographical Imaginations here).

But while we’re on the topic of images, the front cover to this first issue of London Review is surely worthy of note. Most law journals don’t have images on the front cover. Even less do they have images like these; the ruins of war. The photo, ‘a bullet-scared outdoor cinema in at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul’  is Simon Norfolk’s and comes from his ‘Afghanistan: Chronotopia‘ (the images are accompanied by wonderful short essays — see below). Norfolk is a landscape photographer with a difference. From his website: his “work over the last ten years has been themed around a probing and stretching of the meaning of the word ‘battelfield’ in all its forms”. Norfolk’s work is of interest then for multiple reasons – what does an iconography of the expanded, infinite battlespace look like?; what can images achieve in the age of the ‘world-as-battlespace’? – but the reproduction of his haunting photo on the front cover of a law journal offers a promising metaphor for the origins and presents of so much of international law. Perhaps we are being invited here to view the great tragic theatre of international law. International law was born of in war and invasion; visually and metaphorically this seems like a better place to ‘begin’ a journal.

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a bullet-scared outdoor cinema in at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul

Afghanistan: Chronotopia       Simonnorfolk.com

Afghanistan: Chronotopia



Casualty statistics are notoriously difficult to verify and the fatalities from drone strikes and targeted killings are especially fraught with complications, both methodologically and politically (how do we get the data?; how do we know who was killed and why? how do we represent the data?, etc.). The well known sources for targeted killing casualty statistics are, of course, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (who also and importantly name the dead), the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation. I say ‘of course’, but I am still struck by how little publics in (at least) the U.K., U.S., Canada and Israel  know about these strikes beyond war’s borders…

In January 2013 – very nearly a year ago – the Council on Foreign Relations released a report that “called on President Obama to reform U.S. targeted killing policies in non-battlefield settings.”  That report included a chart that estimated the number of strikes, total fatalities, and civilian fatalities from the first U.S. targeted killing on November 3, 2002, through the end of 2012. Today, CFR’s Micah Zenko writes with news of an updated chart which shows statistics through to the end of 2013 (that is, if the CIA and Obama  don’t get up to anything in the next few hours).  The statistics are an average taken from the estimates of those sources listed above and although they do not settle the debate on ‘how many?’, the chart perhaps  represents a growing consensus that the casualty count, especially the civilian count, is much higher than the Obama administration (and, for that matter the Pakistani government) would have us believe.


Drone Strikes Aggregate


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