Splintered War Machines

Statification, in Foucauldian terms, is the production of regimes and modes of governance conferred directly through coercive and narrativistic means. The state, rather than being a monolithic structure produced through a proscribed centre, is a series of “incessant transactions”[1] that modify and destroy alternative social relations and agential structures, developing into a centripetal force that coalesces around a state-form ideological structure. The state is the representation of these transactions, the underlying unit of account that links them together, developing a semi-coherent narrative. In concrete terms, the state expanded as a primary social form through primitive accumulation and the organisation of warfare.

Primitive accumulation in Deleuze & Guattari’s schema goes beyond Marx’s definition of the initial accumulation of land and sees it as a foundational element of the state form. Through an “apparatus of capture”[2] that circulates around land rent, regulated and segmented labour institutions (particularly corvee labour, serfdom or slavery) and the taxation of particular flows (through the control of trade routes and/or markets), the state form begins to emerge as a concatenation of these various mechanisms as it allows for the construction of methods of inclusion and exclusion, developing membership centred around the expansiveness of control and the capacity to engender loyalty to its institutions

In Karatani’s concept of modes of exchange[3], different “regimes of violence”[4] are found within different exchange systems, pertaining to the primary method of control that predominates. Primitive modes of exchange were characterised by systems of reciprocity or gifting undergirded by intrafamilial tribal ties and weak interfamilial ties. In forager bands or early pastoralism, the extent of nomadic movement made regimes of violence weak at a macro-social level. Certainly, organised violence was possible, as arrowhead evidence from Crickley Hill (which showed evidence of a substantial open battlefield along the causeway ditch) and Ascott-under-Wychwood (which showed evidence of ambush attacks) demonstrate. But such violence was intermittent, characterised by guerrilla warfare tactics and sudden attacks (as seen at the Ascott site or from skull fragment evidence at West Tump that indicated arrow attacks from above[5]).

The lack of substantial organised violence comes from the greater capacity for exit that nomadism and resource abundance engender, as sub-tribal units could break away rather than devolving into civil conflict. Even in the case of protracted violence, intra-tribal mechanisms of exclusion and ostracism managed particular tribal members that were problematic, and the use of rituals, marriages and greater resource cooperation helped prevent inter-tribal warfare and instead cement cooperative relations. Indeed such dynamics led to Clastres characterising primitive societies as anti-state[6] in that they instantiated modes of governance that created interlocking obligations or debts through initiation rites. Such obligations prevented the emergence of a primary leader or commander, as such an individual was held in relations of indebtedness that held them accountable to someone. Warfare could of course occur, but regimes of violence were temporary and transigent, reliant on the respect a war leader could maintain rather than on a static status hierarchy. However the evolving monumentality of the Neolithic and Bronze Age does suggest the growth of stratifying and accumulative regimes of violence (the stratigraphies of a primitive war machine). While monuments like menhirs or cairns potentially demonstrate a more egalitarian social structure (one with weak associative ties reliant on confluence points for ritual rites and exchange, as with Gobekli Tepe) due to their simple construction, the development of henges, large stone circles, complex barrows and hillforts demonstrated greater societal complexity and the emergence of some form of status hierarchy that could control and direct such projects.

The imperial or Asiatic modes of exchange corresponds to a proto-statehood characterised by city-state structures, non-state bureaucracies[7] and civilisational gaps. The last of these is particularly important as it informed the extent of control and thus the structure of the regime of violence. Early civilisational forms (as in Mesopotamia or the Harappan civilisation, or through the general expansion or agriculture and pastoralism in the mid-to-late Neolithic) had significant gaps between the various centres of politico-economic power, dissipating along long-distance trade routes and within unconquered or partially-conquered lands. This mode of exchange’s apparatus of capture had a weak centrifugalism, creating many gaps. This even characterised later empires including the Chinese dynasties, the Roman Empire and the Alexandrian Empire. From this regime emerged the concepts of borderlands and barbarians, the latter acting as a control mechanism on populations as it made them reliant on the bureaucratic structures that maintained stability.

With the emergence of statification as a distinct regime of violence, the proto-state evolves expansively, internalising the horde as subaltern populations that are controlled or excluded. The barbarian becomes the vagabond or criminal, removed from civil society but integrated into the judicial system as something modifiable, whether through religious conversions (as in the suppression of English Catholics) or oaths that tie the individual to the wider polity (whether in forms serfdom as pledges of loyalty to a landowner or through citizenship as a series of obligations to a nation-state). This also extended outward into technological power, with state surveys and territorial mapping segmenting land and classifying power structures (developing a form of transparency as obfuscation in a manner similar to technocratic methods of information transparency and provision that Krippner[8] notes regarding central banks). These superseded the use of more fluid border markers/stones (which were reliant on local knowledge through oral tradition) and access points, transforming into more codifiable forms of knowledge as freeholds and rights of way (respectively).

Other technologies of control and segmentation include the central clock tower as an organising force in the control of labour time, and the contract as an organising force to replace the complex overlapping systems of fealty characterising feudalism, presenting a simplified mechanism of loyalty that integrated all stakeholders and equalised them across a field of exchange, changing oaths to agreements as these relations became de novo voluntary yet retained the class dynamics of inequality and constrained choice. Guattari sees religious machines as another mechanism for the expansion of organised violence, instantiating a monolithic polity (Christendom) that both delineated its direct enemy (the barbarian hordes and later the unemployed vagabonds and/or heretical religious sects and individuals) and constructed rules of warfare through the Treuga Dei that limited and codified the machinations of armed conflict, centralising the dissipative tendencies of war.

“The birth of labour that can be exploited capitalistically was doubtless contemporaneous with the appearance of a new kind of war machine, a new kind of religious machine and a new system of linguistic and social segmentarity, starting in the eleventh century. Georges Duby insists on the role played by the religious machine in particular in this ‘normalisation’ of the right to pillaging by armed gangs, after the political, economic and semiotic collapse of the old territorialities and central powers inherited from the Roman and Carolingian empires. The fixing of an external objective – the repulsion of barbarian invasions, then the expansion of Christianity – thus contributes to the birth of a new warrior caste. 1 Instead of dispersing and exterminating the peasantry they will be savagely exploited, they will build castles and roads, they will relaunch a process of accumulation that will re-create the conditions for an urban, commercial and artisanal re-equipping. In thus succeeding in fixing the new rules of play, the Christian religious machine in some way substituted itself for the old imperial powers. But although its power is more ‘spiritual’, more deterritorialised, it is no less effective – quite the contrary in fact! Doubtless it is here that the first great mystery of the power takeover by capitalist flows resides. An abstract machine, the ‘Peace of God’, establishes its law and stabilises social segmentarity”. “Citizenship is deterritorialised here, it has absorbed something from the nomads and from the barbarian war machines of serf technologies, and has divided into two power formations: the ostentatious and arrogant formation of the feudal lords, and the hardworking but ultimately triumphant formation of the bourgeoisie. This dissymmetry and interdependence between the two social stratifications since the birth of feudalism, that is to say, the birth of ‘modern times’, goes beyond the simple framework of the putting into place of a new type of dependency of vassals and of the emergence of a social segmentarity surmounting the old, weakening political orders; it is, above all, the expression of the emergence of a new system of the economy of flows, of a new kind of society, a new way of living, thinking, and feeling the world”[9].

The emergence of the war machine comes through this development of coercive capabilities that construct the state form, integrating variable elements into a cohesive, coercively striated space. Warfare is a dissipative, destructive flow of emotional (desiring-machines) and material inputs expands through smooth space, disaggregating actants and limiting/inhibiting shared frames of reference. In organising warfare, war is moved into the striated space, creating a dynamic tension as the state-form controls the machinations for conflict (as through the construction of the Treuga Dei). The monastic-factory that Guattari describes is one of the social/ideological technologies that strains social conflict through particular ideological barriers, constructing an other that previously coexisted in a varied field of social governance. The exclusion and persecution of alternate religious orders during the Inquisition, or the limitation of rights given to different religious sects after the English Civil War, are examples of this conflict construction.

“Throughout the 14th century, partic­ularly in the Flanders, cloth workers were engaged in constant rebellions against the bishop, the nobility, the merchants, and even the major crafts. At Bruges, when the main crafts gained power in 1348, wool workers continued to rebel against them. At Ghent, in 1335, a revolt by the local bourgeoisie was overtaken by a rebellion of weavers, who tried to establish a ‘workers’ democracy’ based on the suppression of all authorities, except those living by manual labor. Defeated by an impressive coalition of forces (including the prince, the nobility, the clergy. the bourgeoisie), the weavers tried again in 1378, when they succeeded in establishing what (with some exaggeration, per­haps) has been called the first ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ known in history”[10]. This shadow of alterity that was developing in Europe came on the back of the Black Death, with substantial labour shortages and greater mobility (to escape disease and find work) creating greater opportunities for class conflagration and peasant communities to form. Collective efforts to organise worker-led industries and refuse rent and taxes were strongly crushed in Ghent, Florence and Flanders (among other cities and regions) as shows of force against alternative consciences that questioned or delegitimised hierarchical structures and the emerging state form.

In this historical lineage, the war machine evolves as a modular structure of coercion, involving itself as a primary flow of social action within different social assemblages, from its limited affects in Clastres’ primitive societies to its growth as an organised mechanism in proto-states and empires, onto its full encapsulation as “organization, as territorial economy, as economy of capitalization, of technology”[11] in the state form. In the construction of hegemony, the intercursivity of war becomes a primary flow that must be both reterritorialised (so as to pertain to established structural constraints) and abstracted, allowing for both the growth of its contextual variety (as warfare spins out increasingly complex dichotomous narratives and new actants) and the capacity to maintain control.

In the modern context, the war machine is delineated and strained through various political and technocratic mechanisms, maintaining a striated character all while the forces of warfare evolve and revolt against this straitjacket. Since the end of the Cold War and the development of unilateralism, a situation of Globalitarianism has emerged. “The size of the battlefield, the length of frontlines count for nothing compared to the immediacy of the threat”[12]. The threat in this case is the dissipative nature of terrorism and its stigmergic organisational tendencies, as well as the growth of quasi-autonomous systems that go beyond the security state’s comprehension. In a globalised (or glocalised) context, the transversal becomes the plane of organisational capabilities, directly linking global with local in a turbulent environment. The nation-state as the primary mover of war is increasingly dislocated in favour of autonomous constituent agents and organisations, as well as shadow networks and distributed governance structures that complicate the battlespace. The immediate and the informational become the main vectors for battling for control, as the feedback loops of opposing security apparatuses accelerate in the amount of information they are required to process.

Paquet describes[13] globalisation as a dispersive process, “breaking down borders” (in the sense of organisational siloing) and requiring the speeding up of learning processes and styles so as to cope with the information overload of global flows (of production, information and technology). From this comes tangled hierarchies – where information isn’t processed linearly but transversally, with lines of communication moving away from command centres and toward on-the-ground contexts; switching mechanisms – the production of variegated rules/boundaries that process information differently i.e. the difference between operations in a planned/structured environment and crisis times, which demand different logics; and spectral actors – those with a “dispersion of identity” and multiple loyalties that exist within differential systems equally.

These globalising dynamics are fragmenting the battlespace as non-sovereign or sub-sovereign actors complicate the distinction of friend-enemy, presenting multivalent governance processes and conflicts that splinter war machines. Freedman notes this with Gerasimov’s phrase that “wars were ‘not declared, but simply begin’”[14], turning peaceful areas suddenly into battlefields. The concept of the “Three Block War” encapsulates this, noting how armed forces can be engaging in resource provision and monitoring in one block, interfering in local conflicts and skirmishes in the next, and then be engaging in highly-dangerous armed conflict in the third. The feedback loops of warfare are accelerating and unravelling, as spectral actors that are difficult to track and easily slip between being a combatant and being a civilian (the archetypal terrorist) mean these scenarios grow in potential.

The conflicts in Syria, the Ukraine and Libya show such undercurrents, as they ebb and flow between heavy combat when enemy forces interact (as in Idlib or Donbass) and lighter skirmishes and low-level terrorist activity (suicide bombings, assassinations, etc.). Libya in particular shows these peaks in intensity, as tribal groups and militias both maintain their territory through limiting excursions and maintaining/growing supply lines, and then expand into the battlespace as enemy combatants weaken or opportunities present themselves for subversion/expansion. The two insurgencies have relied on weaknesses in the central government, and fluid compacts and alliances which mean group relations are increasingly fraught by temporariness and reliant on corrupt resource extraction and cronyism/clientelism.

They also present the limits of state knowledge when it comes to intervention. The farces in Iraq and Libya show the limitations that nation-building quickly devolves into, as Western political structures (constitutionalism and pluralism in particular) face up against clientelistic governance structures. Going back to Virilio’s Globalitarianism, it presents a paradox in that it represents the expansion of US cultural and military interests through unilateral methods (including bilateral agreements, trade activism and military expansion through a complex of interrelated security apparatuses, including autonomous intelligence agencies) and the localisation of conflict as it moves from the grand narratives of bipolarity and the stalemates of nuclear arsenals to the de-narrativised space of an exhausted, decadent US internationalist liberalism facing a multitude of multi-scalar opponents, from international terrorist networks and drug cartels to weaker intelligence agencies and sub-sovereign actors (Hezbollah, Hamas, the remains of Gaddafi’s forces, Baathist elements in Iraq, the Taliban, pro-Russian militias, among others) that complicate and fragment the governance functions of established nation-states. This is an expansion of the war machine and a contraction of its striated control, as this field of actors and spectralities expands beyond the feedback loops of the state form, increasing the entropy of governance structures. It also requires an in-kind transformation from these centralised governance structures, mimicking the stigmergic forms of civil combatants through the use of more targeted interventions and strikes. The growth of drone warfare is indicative of this (with its emphasis on targeted precision) as is the US’s conduct in Syria, relying on Special Forces operations and CIA links with various Syrian opposition organisations to provide intelligence and resources, rather than using an invasive military response. The US uses proxies, much as Iran does with Hezbollah and Russia does in Syria, in response the growing entropy of information and warfare.

So-called deep state structures are indicative of this entropic breakdown – for all the talk of centralised structures of the US state being all-powerful and concomitant with American governance, they struggled in competition with Trump’s presidential administration and became part of (as well as contributed to) tribalistic dynamics that questioned their innate automaticity. Waco and Ruby Ridge were precursors. As is the extent of inter-agency competition for funding and resources, which encouraged their quasi-autonomous character as they became reliant on alternate funding streams and donor networks (for example establishing partnerships with PMCs, involving themselves in the drug trade through shipping drugs for Noriega and the Contras, and developing their own lobbying functions in Washington). They are now seen as players in the game, rather than in the background. Political opinions based on one’s view of agencies like the FBI, CIA or NSA become tribal markers, thus setting the ground for different agential structures within governance systems and a limitation of their authority as technocratic arbiters.

The splintering of war machines presents the expansion war as its own intercursive flow, increasingly outside the control of statification as the modular potential of warfare codes itself onto new sovereign and governance structures, from the tribal structures of the Middle East or the narco-fiefdoms in Mexico to the growing civilisation states of Russia and China[15] and the emergence of distributed governance across telecommunication networks and social media as their own ideological meta-structure. As Jessop notes, “the many social forces and mechanisms that generate globalization put pressure on particular forms of state, which have particular state capacities and liabilities and different unstable equilibria of forces”[16].

The changing character of warfare opens up new possibilities and trajectories for sovereign projection and an increasing instability. War is changed from a format predominated by states toward a multi-actor arena that includes non-state and non-human actors. Warfare, as with other trends, produces complexities and new battlegrounds that overdetermine the strategies of states, nullifying them in ways that flattens the general battlefields of combat, as well as expanding the definition of those battlefields beyond a simplistic ally-enemy dichotomy. The development of cyber-warfare, planetary-scale computation, collective intelligences and swarms in social media and P2P networks, resource wars, new generations of warfare that expand beyond 4GW, and new governance strategies such as platforms, mega-cities and telecommunication networks rewrite our modern geographies, and by extension rewrite the definition of what constitutes a battlefield, a combatant and a civilian. Warfare in these instances is liminal, providing multiple directions for alterity to flow down as new strategic combinations cohere into new sovereign forms, thereby increasing spatial/territorial instability.

“An assessment of the OE’s (operational environment) trajectory through 2050 reveals two critical drivers — one dealing with rapid societal change spurred by breakneck advances in science and technology and the other with the art of warfare under these conditions, which will blur the differences in the art of war with the science of war. These drivers work along a continuum beginning in the present in a nascent form, and rapidly gaining momentum through a culmination point around 2050. First, the trends referenced above will create an OE marked by instability, which will manifest itself in evolving geopolitics, resurgent nationalism, changing demographics, and unease with the results of globalization creating tension, competition for resources, and challenges to structures, order, and institutions. Instability also will result from the rapid development of technology and the resulting increase in the speed of human interaction, as well as an increasing churn in economic and social spheres. A global populace that is increasingly attuned and sensitive to disparities in economic resources and the diffusion of social influence will lead to further challenges to the status quo and lead to system rattling events like the Arab Spring, the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Greek monetary crisis, BREXIT, and the mass migrations to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa, many of which will come with little warning. Also, the world order will evolve with rising nations to challenging the post-Cold War dominance of the U.S.-led Western system. New territorial conflicts will arise in places like the South China Sea, compelling us to seek new partnerships and alliances, while climate change and geopolitical competition will open up whole new theaters of operation, such as in the Arctic”. This leads to “multi-domain threats; Operations in complex terrain, including dense urban areas and even megacities; Hybrid Strategies / “Gray Zone” Operations; Weapons of Mass Destruction; Sophisticated anti-access/area denial complexes; New weapons, taking advantage of advances in technology (robotics, autonomy, Al, cyber, space, hypersonics etc.); The relationship and trade space between precision and mass; Information as a decisive weapon”[17].

This opens up domains for non-human warfare, or purely informatic conflicts as the acceleration of feedback loops’ capacity to integrate information requires greater levels of computational power and greater use of AI to provide risk assessments, battleplans and command decisions as they can better interpret the masses of data modern battlespaces present. Simulation is one such field for the abstraction of war beyond human or institutional capacity. Palantir exists as a case study[18] here in its ability to both act as bulwark for understanding decentral warfare through shadow networks and hacker groups both connected to and disconnected from states, as well as in the capacity for particular hacker group to reroute central control as in the case of Palantir’s idea of using information warfare to discredit WikiLeaks being exposed by Anonymous who leaked their communiques. Other examples are Russian bots and troll farms, again connected to an increasingly nebulous and uncontrolled Russian governmental environment that combines quasi-autonomous intelligence agencies (FSB, GRU) with criminal networks using these tools for effective profit as well as to simply create simulated political chaos. This then goes back to the original point, that abstracted warfare goes beyond institutions, sucking them into a general chaosophy of uncontrollable dynamics.

This expands right into the domain of the political as the reterritorialising apparatus of the war machine. Within the planning of destruction we see the movement of accelerated development rip apart the simplistic platitude of the political as friend-enemy dichotomy as the distinction falls into a morass of competing claims, spectral actors and informational gridlock. The all-knowable landscape that allows for the implementation of fully-thought out strategies and plans for the coming fall of one’s enemies is being outstripped by resilient infrastructures and the developments of hyperwar. On hyperwar itself as Berger describes, “if escalating decision-making and behavior through OODA ‘loop’ competition is an evolutionary model of learning-to-learn, then the intelligence optimization that is, by extension, unfolding through hyperwar will be carried out at a continuous, near-instant rate. At that level the whole notion of combat is eclipsed into a singularity that is completely alien to the human observer that, even in the pre-hyperwar phase of history, has become lost in the labyrinth. War, like the forces of capital, automates and autonomizes and becomes like a life unto itself”[19].

War, as one affect or element of conflictual developments, is increasingly removed from the human sphere as AI and machine learning compress the loops of conflict-related decision-making, creating a distinct machinic time that humans cannot keep up with. The mass of military-industrial complexes, while responsible for developing research and laying groundwork for parts of these technologies, cannot manage them anymore than they manage the increasingly fragmented conflicts of post-modernity as seen through 4th generation warfare and cyber-terrorism. The effects of machine learning and the potential development of evolutionary survival instincts will mean computerisation moves war into developments that are machine-vs-machine, as well as human-vs-machine. This will be in the realms of both soft and hard conflict, as evidenced by the use of troll farms and bot accounts on social media by hackers, companies and governments. The battlefield will thus present new means of governance and new forms of resilience on the part of machines and humans, such as the development of pre-machinic infrastructure and stronger cryptographic means of holding information to prevent soft-war hacking and the dissemination of information through troll farms and bots. New hierarchies develop that allow the dissemination of information that is either true or false, while paradoxically creating level playing fields within these hierarchies as information dissemination is never mouldable to one platform of thought or action (becoming transversal).

Governance and the production of conflict is thus always moving in multiple directions, as different governing formations can rely on producing information to remove trust and viability in competing structures. Information and hacking becomes akin to marketing and Bernaysian advertising as information flows become indiscernible but at the same time useful for forms of governing as well as means of exit. In relation to machine conflict, the advances in AI mean not just autonomous warfare but the production of survival instincts which mean not so much hyperwar as a grand conflict, but a kind of machine 4GW as different infrastructures produce their own policies and decisions on conflict. Machine consciousness and deep learning mean that machines through their OODA loops may well opt for conflict-limitation and the production of coded agreements between different machinic structures and forms.

Effectively, the acceleration and autonomisation of warfare leads to new possibilities for both conflict-resolution and governance forms, as well as for the potential of incredibly destructive fallout. “Hyperwar-as-deterrence”[20] presents choice architectures between increasing decentralisation and spectrality, and increasing centralisation and greater codification of the war machine.


[1] John Protevi, Edges of the State

[2] John Protevi, Edges of the State

[3] Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History

[4] John Protevi, Edges of the State

[5] Martin Smith & Megan Brickley, People of the Long Barrows

[6] John Protevi, Edges of the State

[7] David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years

[8] Greta R. Krippner, The Making of US Monetary Policy: Central Bank Transparency and the Neoliberal Dilemma

[9] https://my-blackout.com/2018/03/04/felix-guattari-the-capitalist-revolution/

[10] Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch

[11] Paul Virilio, Pure War

[12] Paul Virilio, Pure War

[13] Gilles Paquet, The New Geo-Governance

[14] Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: A History

[15] https://www.noemamag.com/the-attack-of-the-civilization-state/

[16] Bob Jessop, The State: Past, Present, Future

[17] https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/mad-scientist/m/visualizing-multi-domain-battle-2030-2050/200203

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palantir_Technologies

[19] https://disubunit22.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/hyperwar/

[20] https://disubunit22.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/hyperwar-2-further-thoughts/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s