Pragmatic Libertarianism, Autonomous War Machines and International Relations: Part III

Decentralisation and Transversality

In taking a structural-materialist analysis that takes context as a primary variable for the formation of international orders (second anarchies), a libertarian ideology or commercial sovereignty must exist within the prevailing context of international relations, both shaping and being shaped by it. As previously noted, the autonomous forces of commerce and/or war are partial actants in their own right, with any ethical foundation only being achieved through the combination of forces to produce a stable order. Any order is only relative, and is only contingent, reliant on the maintenance of forces that may degrade and parts of assemblages that may dislocate. As Deleuze & Guattari noted with the war machine, the state apparatus’s co-optation of it creates instability, as the forces of war, that violence entrepreneurism, reshape and disperse the capabilities to control it. In contrast to Deudney, the developments of order from disorder do not developmentally scale upward to the ultimate second anarchy, a world federation or integrated international governance structure that finds itself with no established enemy, no periphery to which violence is externalised. Indeed, the actualisation of such a proposition would inevitably create instability, as the very forces of war contained within such a vast structure would turn inward, degrading it and causing it to decentralise and dissipate into its constituent elements. The development of order is thus cyclical and temporary.

Republican security theory attempts to construct an analysis of the modern context, seeing in nuclear proliferation the early means to move toward “federal-republican world nuclear government” premised on an international constitution[1], extending outward to become potentially an international security union. Ikenberry notes a similar dynamic in the expansion of American unipolarity after the Cold War. “The Bretton Woods agreements, the GATT and WTO, APEC, NAFTA, OECD, and democracy promotion in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and East Asia together form a complex layer cake of integrative initiatives that bind the democratic industrial world together”[2]. This integrative security order presents a context both of liberal institutionalism but also of imperialism, creating contradictory dynamics in unipolarity that have produced new security dilemmas.

The lack of an affective exit option due to unipolar governance has meant the creation of shadow orders, whether in the form of “civilization states”, a state premised on unitary culture rather than politics[3], or regional blocs (including the European Union, MERCOSUR, or the Eurasian Economic Union) that indirectly challenge and undermine unipolar power. As Frankopan notes regarding Eurasian and Chinese geopolitical power, both contain substantial oil and natural gas reserves, and both account for approximately 60% of grain production[4], thus forming the potential basis for resource monopolies that pose security problems beyond the nation-state structure. Here the war machine is feeding into regional blocs and imperial expansions based around resource capacity rather than those based on soft power and military expenditure. This creates a lack of legitimacy for a centralised international power, which then feeds into further disengagement as in the case of the United States. Since the failures of the Iraq War and Afghanistan, US foreign policy has focused indirect engagement, whether through targeted drone strikes, special forces operations or greater use of military contractors. US engagement in Syria and Biden’s announcement of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan are indicative of these steps.

In effect, Deudney’s prescriptive position of increased international federation fails to note the major security concern of the 21st century, the leakage of sovereignty outside the bounds of states. Transferring sovereign functions up to an international order does not resolve this, but potentially exacerbates it as alternate sovereign positions push for legitimacy both within the labyrinthine, multi-layered organisational forms of an international federation, and outside of it through terroristic action and the machinations of fourth-generation warfare. “Private transnational groups and religious fanatics can now, or will soon be able to, gain access to violence capability that previously only some powerful states could possess. This transformation might be called the ‘privatization of war’”[5]. Both the internationalisation of security toward distinct regional blocs and resource monopolies and the diffusion of warfare into non-sovereign entities presents a transversal field of international relations, one characterised by a “plurality of dominant logics” vying for control, producing “fuzzy systems” and network logics[6] that coalesce into a logistical sovereignty (which is defined by multiple scales of governance interacting with each other not through the prism of a nation-state but through the various interconnecting nodes of a network). In such a sovereignty, there is no central actor or referent, as the war machine disperses beyond the state’s bounds.

Republican security theory fails to adequately deal with the challenges that are moving international relations into a first anarchy, as these challenges present a transversal and stigmergic challenge to the established liberal order, constituting new logistical orders that are not wholly integrated but instead exist across a flattened plane of multiple sovereign possibilities. This links back to the geo-informatic order I described, one of a Pax Indeterminatum where the concepts of public and private become blurred. The power of a private platform with loyal members develops contiguous identities with nationality and citizenship. Even the so-called civilisational states are themselves integrated into relations of tension and cooperation with what Bratton calls the nomos of the cloud, or more generally an emerging information order of governance logics that exist in a stack of variable possibilities. These emerging first anarchy logics do not then necessitate the development of a wholly integrated international federation that can adequately deal with problems through a united front. Besides the impracticability of actually achieving such a federation, its actual functioning would require such levels of decentralisation and transversal coordination that the idea of a centralised governance function (surrounding security and warfare) becomes practically redundant.

New geographies, related to transversal relations and international regulatory cooperation, as well as subversive mechanisms through cyberspace activities, are emerging. These include agglomerative city networks, stigmergic social movements and terrorist groups, international criminal networks, as well as supra-state international structures that both integrate public and private forums. The growth of metropoles as conflagrations of socio-economic power and human capital is an indication of this trend. “Florida reasserts his belief in the importance of location, paying particular attention to the geography of patents. Patents require invention and innovation and the vast majority of patents originate in just a few of the world’s major urban centers. The continuing growth of large metropolitan areas stems from the knowledge externalities that are created when people co-locate, and these agglomeration economies should therefore be one of the key factors that account for the movement of both people and capital”[7]. Cities, with their unique agglomeration effects which pull in substantial investment and include long-distance infrastructural links (airports and seaports), have dynamics semi-independent of the states they’re contained within, creating substantial inequalities and cultural differences between major urban centres and the rural and peripheral parts of the nation they’re both within. The coastal cities of America compared to the American interior and the huge levels of investment directed toward London and Paris compared to the UK and France respectively show this.

Spikiness is creating a new set of geographical constraints, moving national borders as networks of cities produce their own integrating functions that revolve around “increases in the mobility of people, goods, and capital”[8]. And it’s not just in city networks that this international/transnational geography is emerging. The European Union too is moving toward a super-sovereign position, consolidating a supra-constitutional structure that further delineates and constrains the powers of its member-states. In defining a “EU citizenship”[9], the EU is consolidating not just a regulatory position vis-à-vis national economies but also a socio-cultural one too, where loyalties become polycentric depending on the scale of governance in question. Habermas intimates that citizenship will be national in cases of national competence but will become European in transnational cases. However it is this multipolar identity that then limits the cultural-economic power of transnational structures, as identity becomes multi-scalar and increasingly illegible, with citizens flitting between national and European identities that creates conflicts of interest and messier forms of negotiated politics. The clear separation that Habermas supposes is nothing of the sort, as the increasing nationalist tone of countries like Poland and Hungary show. They still see themselves as members of the European community while also demonstrating a strong, closed national identity.

Beyond this, the emergence of networked warfare as Carson describes as well as the international character of international crime and terrorist networks presents a world of both greater decentralisation (as there is no legible centre for reference, no central Pax) and greater integration across scalar levels. Such glocalization presents challenges that nation-states are struggling to combat, as the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, the Ukraine and even within Western nations attests too. The legitimating narratives of the liberal nation-state are crumbling in the face of challenges of various identitarian groups and transnational social movements. The chaos seen during the summer of 2020 shows that while states project a veneer of coercive control, their internal mechanisms of order are fraying. The inability or lack of desire to police riots and extra-judicial activities (whether through autonomous zones or the actions of militias) shows a breakdown in the coercive mechanisms of control within Western countries. Black Lives Matter, the Gilets Jaune and the alt-right are manifestations of a glocalization of social action, perforating borders as the messages of these movements metastasises from America into Canada, the UK and Europe.

The institutionalisation of criminal networks also show the limits of state sovereignty as the war machine variegates on the edges of conflict zones and on the peripheries of states, in zones that range from Northern Mexico and Colombia to Pakistan and the Golden Triangle in Burma. But these are not simply peripheral to the international economy or the functioning of trade, but instead integral elements that feed into financial networks and profit margins. “Illegal and unrecorded trade was not haphazard but institutionalized, operating according to a system of rules known to all participants. Examples included the standardized equivalences observed for barter transactions, the set rate for paying border guides, the arrangements set up for the terms of clientage, and the reciprocal obligations of other personal ties”. Thus, “informal economies (small-scale subsistence), large-scale gray and black markets (from arms through luxury items to oil and freon), and state industries and personnel (from sanctions-breaking technology to corrupt customs officials) are more interrelated than neoclassical theories suggest”[10]. This has evolved into separate theological and ideological assemblages[11], encompassing more than just criminal networks but a narco-governance that challenges the cultural precepts of nation-states.

However, such things aren’t a direct challenge to the existing liberal order. A Pax Indeterminatum is not a successor system or a new second anarchy, but a conceptual field for the development of new orders to emerge. So-called challenges to the established liberal international order from re-emerging nationalisms or civilisational states is at best a veneer of opposition. Such dynamics are either entirely enfolded within liberal concepts of sovereignty, as in secessionary moves like Brexit, or limited changes that are part of a dispersed logistical sovereignty, as in the developments of Chinese growth and expansion. The latter, while ostensibly representing a nascent anti-liberal hegemony, still consists of a quasi-constitutional and juridical framework centred around market expansion and encompassing citizenship. Looking at the revaluation of Hong Kong’s security laws, we see an enveloping concept of sovereignty focused on maintaining security and limiting foreign incursion. This is part of the playbook of Eurocene methods of security expansion. Similar edicts informed the Japanese concentration camps in America or the censuring of Irish politicians during the Troubles by the Thatcher government.

This juridical-constitutional expansiveness simply represents an evolution of liberal security governance, shoring up a larger border and encompassing Hong Kong (as well as Macau and eventually Taiwan) as the extent of a constitutionally-defined state. Far from a classical irredentism, this expansion is couched in the language of practical citizenship, economic integration and internal security (much as Westward expansion in the US developed similar logics when dealing with Mexican and Native populations). In the case of Brexit, this is little more than a liberal desire for greater market freedom and outward expansion (in an economic sense through reconnecting with the Commonwealth or developing a “Global Britain”). Brexit represents a particular market logic that sees regulatory competition as a greater means of innovation and creative destruction than the legal/spatial integration entailed within the expanding EU juridical field. Both so-called challenges to liberal hegemony are part of wider evolutions in their international dispersal, representing to varying degrees what I call logistical sovereignties.

Logistical sovereignty is the expansion of transversal actors in the fields of trade, security and international relations. These are both above and below states, being in competitive-cooperative relations with them depending on the policy field and geographic constraints. The expansive redefinition of Hong Kong’s security law is as much a recognition as a partial reconstitution of a logistical principle defined as “two systems, one country” – in other words the variable integration of a sub-sovereign actor with independent cultural and economic policies into a transversal relation with the CCP’s polity, both integrating through security cooperation but maintaining soft distances through separate politico-economic jurisdictions (that inevitably intertwine as both are each other’s major trading partners).

Brexit also represents logistical principles of variable integration, as Britain’s exit requires the redefinition and reconstitution of relations with the EU, both re-emphasising the closeness and separateness that is desired by both parties. There is no separate sovereignty from the EU’s juridical field, and nor is there a simple mechanism for legal-economic extraction from this field. Instead, there is the spectre of constant negotiations and renegotiations as trade and security priorities change and adapt depending on internal policies and external constraints/developments. Looking at existing independent sovereignties that surround the EU (Switzerland and the EEA in particular) shows exactly this logistical mechanism at play, of constant sovereign redefinition and contestation that moves and dissipates the totality of different sovereignties when interacting and exchanging with each other. And this moves beyond the nation-state, as transversal regulatory systems integrate differing polities, from the local to the international.

[1] Daniel Deudney, Bounding Power

[2] G. John Ikenberry, Power and Liberal Order: America’s Postwar World Order in Transition


[4] Peter Frankopan, The New Silk Roads

[5] G. John Ikenberry, Power and Liberal Order: America’s Postwar World Order in Transition

[6] Gilles Paquet, The New Geo-Governance

[7] David Emanuel Andersson, Polycentric Democracy and Its Enemies

[8] David Emanuel Andersson, Polycentric Democracy and Its Enemies

[9] Jurgen Habermas, The Crisis of the European Union in the Light of a Constitutionalization of International Law

[10] Carolyn Nordstrom, Shadows and Sovereigns


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