Towards an Atlantic police state? (10) Militarising repression

Already in the 1990s, the problems associated with controlling sprawling slums was brought home to the US military when local militias in Mogadishu (Somalia) inflicted casualties in US forces in 1993, forcing them to withdraw (‘Black Hawk Down’); the Iraq occupation taught comparable lessons. Four years later a joint training programme was initiated for the different US armed services to prepare for Third World street fighting. The RAND Corporation at that point warned of an ‘urbanisation of insurgency’. 

As the surplus population seeks to migrate from conditions of unemployment, civil conflict over resources, and overpopulation/ecological exhaustion, it further complicates issues associated with controlling labour, even organised labour. A respectable French magazine defines the threat to the country as composed of ISIS (the Islamic State) and the CGT, the militant trade union. Riots such as the revolt of the banlieues in the cities of France in 2005, which led the Villepin government to proclaim a state of exception, the comparable explosion in London in August 2011, spreading to 12 other cities and frequent unrest across the United States, usually triggered by police actions perceived as racist, bring ‘Mogadishu’-like situations also to the wealthy West. 

As a result, besides the external enemy as a concern legitimating defence, the emphasis moves back to the ‘internal enemy’. From the early 1990s this has led to the emergence of a new concept of security in which strictly military defence is enlarged by border and riot control, also in metropolitan settings.

Controlling the globe’s surplus humanity and establishing what has been called the ‘Global Matrix of Control’ to deal with the world’s poor and marginalised, relies on the US and Israel. These two outclass all others in terms of experience with militarised securitisation: the United States as the world’s policeman protecting the global capitalist economy as well as keeping its own black population under control, and Israel, ‘the predominant authority on securitization and prolonged pacification’. This applies not only to the actual militants, because in both the cases of US blacks and of the Palestinians, only a tiny fraction is actively resisting (‘terrorists’); most people are simply destitute and their desperation is one focused on survival. Indeed an Israeli specialist on population control plays down the priority given to terrorism and stresses instead that criminality and terrorism merge into each other. It is the existence of a restless underclass as such that must be confronted.

The expansion of the security concept and the business opportunities it offers, has brought a range of large corporations on board who would not immediately be recognised as defence firms. SAIC, Booz Allen Hamilton, RAND Corp., Cisco, Human Genome Sciences, eBay, PayPal, IBM, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, the BBC, Disney, General Electric and others are attracted to the surveillance and next-generation security fields. In Europe the new market opportunities accrue to companies like Thalès, Airbus, or Finmeccanica, but also to Israeli corporations like the defence conglomerate, Elbit, which realises 16 percent of its turnover in the EU. In France alone the defence industries have effectively doubled their market by moving into the new security fields.

In the relations between native European populations and the newcomers, the attitudes belonging to the colonial relationship persist. The politics of fear, evoked by the association between the ‘illegal immigrant’, the ‘dangerous classes’, and the new surplus population packed together in the slums of the big cities, reproduces this relation, especially since the third generation of immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and elsewhere, no longer can hope to improve their lot. Instead of combating this by creating education and job opportunities, governments often encourage mistrust among the mainstream population instead.

Surveillance is a key asset in controlling the restive suburbs and slums both in the developed and the underdeveloped world. As one aerospace publication puts it, the urban setting creates a ‘battlespace environment that is decreasingly knowable’. Incomplete knowledge mixes with the use of double agents and provocation; in the process, the state’s opportunistic and authoritarian attitude fosters state terrorism to deal with terrorism. The low-intensity war against domestic enemies undermines state authority to the point where the army degenerates into a collection of armed gangs similar to those in revolt, with the inhabitants becoming exposed to both. Even in the most stable societies, people must expect to have their identity checked and their persons searched at every turn. The real ‘War on Terror’ is the low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor.

Kees van der Pijl

For a complete text with full references see Surveillance Capitalism and Crisis

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