The Logistical State

“Logistics is the beginning of the economy of war, which will then become simply economy, to the point of replacing political economy”[1]. Logistics, the flow of goods, information and wealth beyond the space of the state and the temporality of the human. Constant movement emerging as an autonomous force that recircuits and undermines spatiotemporal institutions. Sovereignty, as the essence of spatiotemporal configuration through territorial contiguity and temporal-institutional solidity, is revolutionised and fractured into these flows. A duality emerges, concatenating in antagonism sovereign power and logistical flow.

This concatenation emerges in the force of modern imperialism. This is nominally represented in Western militaries and corporate-industrial powers that are usually American or European. However, these forces have no national allegiance, being transnational in their extensions of infrastructural and ideological power. “Logistics is not neutral, infrastructures are not apolitical: they facilitate some flows and prohibit others, and serve as instruments to influence competition among capitals and to be used against labor. Zones are generally conceived in terms of legal exceptions, but really their status is exceptional only from the perspective of the nation state. These zones are symptoms of the formation of Empire and its emerging global governance that rules over the constellation of varied legal and economic structures”[2].

Logistics, as an intercursive mechanism for information, is now itself a battlefield of modern geopolitics. The ideological extensions of Empire are the extensions of liberal economic orthodoxy and cultural homogeneity. “The sovereign decision shifts focus from the judgment of the enemy toward the design of active walls and partition”[3]. The enemy of logistics is itself ambiguous and ubiquitous. Whatever opposes the extensions of the partitions and zones of capitalist expansion and technocratic administration is the enemy. From terrorist networks and drug cartels to states with some degree of autonomy from logistical flows. Internal forces of populism and/or unsanctioned forms of democratic expression are also enemies. Logistical expansion and liberal imperialism are totalising forces. Any appeal to multipolarity or a rules-based international order are pure semantics, used only to legitimate its actions.

Within this new battlefield is a new landscape of warfare and sovereign decision, what Bratton calls the nomos of the cloud. This is a distinct governing framework compared to land, air and sea which are spatially limited. The cloud isn’t spatially limited, and transforms temporal horizons through the logistical mechanisms of JIT and supply-push production chains. The latter in particular produces its own demands, market desires concretised through advertising and globalisation. They work in feedback loops of financial market expectations, artificial consumer demands and constant movement (of trade and shipping).

Logistics as a development of sovereignty reflects the adaptation of capitalist forces that evolved from industrial production and Fordist control to post-Fordist, flexibilised production and circulation represented by the rise of non-military logistics to link disparate territories irrespective of existing borders or intermediaries. A dualism of power emerged between these logistical forces of chaos and sovereign power which attempted to maintain a semblance of control. Neoliberalism as a governing system first emerged in this context, directing new financial flows and debt instruments as the means to maintain prosperity and moving public institutions into either privatisation or technocracy, thus removing any formal accountability as well as fragmenting sovereign power as the power over the exception multiplied into different contextual variables. The exceptions related to inflation and working class autonomy were now held within independent central banks, international financial institutions like the IMF and shadow banking. The exception related to security fractured across a variety of intelligence agencies and a semi-autonomous military-industrial complex with international loyalties and interests. These are no longer American or European institutions or structures, but rather globalised and/or cosmopolitan ones.

However, the growing failures of neoliberalism due to both unsustainable debt bubbles and crises through climate change and political legitimacy have necessitated new evolutions to maintain the premise of globalisation in the face of systemic challenges and recast the ideological direction of the liberal empire away from the abstracted individual toward a politics of consensus. In the realm of climate change, this resembles the “climate leviathan” described by Mann & Wainwright[4] that directs the energies and activities of climate policy around a key set of international institutions (the COP, the EU and the OECD) with specific civil society and corporate actors represented as decision-makers and influencers. The semblance of individualism is removed in such contexts.

The logistical state is an emergence of neoliberal governance, but one that can move beyond it as the surrounding governing environment mutates and transforms, particularly in relation to coronavirus and climate change. The neoliberal state is a market state, in that it is intimately involved in the construction, design and maintenance of markets. The state is a primary vehicle of action, but its logics are dominated by market dynamics, particularly maintaining financial market credibility, preventing high inflation and limiting alternative collective institutions (trade unions, mutualised banking systems, national industry, etc.) which challenge a global, competitive market system. It is focused around the individual rational actor as the primary locus of policy, particularly the entrepreneur and the consumer.

The logistical state holds similar logics, but moves beyond a focus around market dynamics toward collibrative dynamics (an associative governance that equilibrates fields of action between different actors, including states as one such actant[5]). A governance structured around crisis management, interstate cooperation and the breaking apart of the nation and the state emerges. Key concepts here include the idea of stakeholdership i.e. the integration of all affected actors and groups into decision-making arenas where coordinated decisions can be made. This goes beyond the logic of the neoliberal/market state as the individual is no longer the key locus, with subgroups and associations (from neighbourhood associations to NGOs) becoming actors in their own right in policy-making structures. In some sense this a return to the logic of post-war party politics, with the mediating institutions of churches, clubs and unions informing the memberships of political parties. However such groups in a logistical state are now modernised and flexibilised to reflect the governing paradigm. The church is replaced by the neighbourhood assembly or council; the club by business associations and activist groups; and the union by the NGO and the social movement.

Such a change is reflected in the growing narrative of interconnectedness related to economic processes. This moves beyond the individual as the grounding of economics and instead sees processes and flows as the constitutive elements of socio-economic activity. “This could open a new window of opportunity to experiment, allowing us to generate ‘new normal’ narratives that do not ignore the far more existential climate and biodiversity crises any longer. A model that has been based on linearity, carbon, consumerism, and material growth and dominated the conservation phase of most supply chains might then shift. The cross-level linkages, both from the planetary level and from the supply chain level, may guide transformation toward something that builds on a circular, postfossil, servitized, and degrowth model”[6]. This logistical lens elucidated by Wieland is part of a wider narrative of post-neoliberal (or alter-neoliberal) globalisation that is emerging in the face of viral and climactic crises. It focuses on multi-scalarity as the mechanism through which sovereignty and the exception should be delineated. Logistical sovereignty then is the sovereign of the intermediary, more than a market state while maintaining a limited territoriality and a collibrative functionality.

As a result of this developing nomos, statehood evolves to maintain itself as a conduit between these liquid forces. State capacity alters, showing growing weaknesses within sovereign power as it is cut across by logistical, financial and informational flows that inhere new forms of sovereignty. The emerging logistical state becomes leaner and more diffuse. The direction in military spending and organisation has emphasised greater cooperation with private companies (both weapons producers and mercenary groups like the Wagner Group or Academi), wider technologisation as autonomous weapon systems and human-reduced OODA loops become central for battlefield objectives, and a leanness in the available standing forces, with greater use of special forces and operational partnerships. Within geopolitics, it is concerned with upholding a unitary international order and allowing for the free flow of goods and capital through supply chain logistics and international trading systems that push against traditional notions of state capacity i.e. the consolidation of territorial boundaries and an integrated internal market. Within the fiscal realm, it de-emphasises the taxation of property or tangible output in favour of individual taxation and light-touch regulation over international commerce. Many corporations, particularly those in the energy, banking and investment sectors, are effective partners with states and international organisations in the furtherance of economic goals related to infrastructure spending, digitalisation and social transitions.

Its governing logics thus orient toward intermediation between private and public forces, making their distinctions largely irrelevant as they continue to cooperate and intertwine in the expansion of logistical-imperial power. A technate[7] develops integrating private, public and international institutions into shared epistemic communities with both causal and principled beliefs[8]. This both moves ideological integration out of defined national and/or local contexts and creates epistemic norms that limit accountability. Krippner describes such a shift in the policy of the Federal Reserve where they published meeting minutes and openly declared policy shifts in the 1990s in contrast to a closed door policy in the 1980s[9]. However, such transparency was garbed in extremely technical language that made these documents difficult to decipher. Thus transparency was a continuation of the original opacity. Many such institutions involved in the construction and maintenance of logistical sovereignty follow a similar logic. None are truly closed off and have some forms of public accountability. But this is clothed in technocratic expertise which uses complexity as a shield. Only fellow experts can truly critically engage, and due to the shared norms inculcated in epistemic communities, many of these experts form part of a shared technate in the first place. Transparency-as-opacity is a legitimating framework that creates ideological homogeneity within particular groups/institutions while limiting answerability within localised forums (nation-states or electoral systems).

“Legitimacy requires an ideology. But individuals have to be able to coordinate on and share this ideology. This requires publicizing the aims and purposes of the state. Or it can hijack exiting legitimating values such as nationalism or religion. Nationalism has been a particularly effective ideology around which modern states have coalesced”[10]. And the legitimating ideology that has coalesced (loosely) the various units of logistical power has been a liberal imperial ideology concerned with the spread and concentration of market and technocratic forces within various contexts. The shock doctrine policies in Eastern Europe after the Soviet collapse, the integration of China into the WTO, and the expansion of military and trade regimes at nearly every scale of socio-economic activity (from the regional scale of the EU and the hemispheric scale of NATO to the international scale of the UN) are indicative of this liberal expansionism and has informed the various wars that have followed the Cold War.

These conflicts are premised on a purely ideological friend-enemy distinction that moves beyond the binary of the American-Soviet conflict to a unitary attempt to control a multipolar world that is increasingly uncontrollable. Thus the contradiction at the heart of logistical sovereignty – the attempt to forge control and intermediation over globalised flows through the use of institutions and mechanisms borne from these very flows. “Legitimacy, security and economics will be inextricably tangled, as military subsidies are disguised as economic development assistance and subversion of foreign States camouflaged as foreign-subsidized political development. Even minor conflicts will be accompanied by forum-shopping among international institutions— the UN, the CSCE, the World Court—by televised debates between opposing sides, by pseudo-events staged for the global media, by elaborate legal and constitutional disputations. Clashes like the Gulf War will be less typical than conflicts like the Nicaraguan civil war”[11].

Informational flows, the nomos of the cloud, are the primary battlespace. Forum shopping shows the ideological primacy of legitimacy not for purposes of justice but for purposes of spectacle. Such spectacle is filtered through televisual and media complexes (that usually contain similar ideological homogeneity[12]), presenting a unitary vision for geopolitical events. Sovereignty, as the traditional means of expressing a particularistic view and entrenching an independent perspective in the geopolitical arena, is sidelined and diminished. Lind’s citation of the Nicaraguan civil war shows exactly this. It was a conflict entirely directed by the military-industrial complex through Oliver North and the CIA. The Contras were mostly a spectacle. Made up of unpopular elements from the Somoza regime (including that regime’s death squads and security services), it was implanted into Nicaragua with the backing of drug cartel funds[13] and illegal arms sales. There is no sovereignty here, neither American nor Nicaraguan. This is a production of an international complex, a technate of military and media force aiming at the extension of a liberal international order irrelevant of those population’s requirements.

Logistics, as the extension of military and economic power to prevent independent spheres of socio-economic activity, goes beyond geography in geopolitics, with sovereignty becoming a patchwork variable in imperial expansion. Gray asserts that while the informational realm may be influential, “even in the age of CNN there are – to simplify – Russian, German, British, American, and Polish preferred ‘ways’ in international security behavior and relevant habits of mind”[14]. However, what meaningful sovereignty and decision-making do these entities have. Their “ways” are conditioned by military-economic activity beyond their control at a supra-national and imperial level. Thus localised conflict in the Donbass influenced by Ukrainian and Russian “ways” is now an international conflict where Eastern Ukraine is the latest front for imperial expansions and blocs. Sovereignty as the geographic control of a contiguous territory with internal stability is meaningless in this context. Instead, these various “ways” are now logistical components for imperial control. The extent of NATO and American military bases across the globe is testament to this. As is the extent of administrative-technocratic governance as a ruling system which take it beyond the accountability of any one citizenship or demographic. Americans can no more question the supremacy of the military-industrial complex and liberal imperialism than can its victims in Iraq, Libya or the Donbass.

“No country will be able to exist outside of this system of global trade with its freedom, rule of law and democracy. Every country, whether it wants to or not, will of necessity be implicated in the construction of this world empire”[15]. This world empire is ideological, producing new forms of power beyond national sovereignty. The very idea of sovereignty itself is destabilised as it becomes anachronistic. What sovereignty does the EU or Japan have in relation to the USA or China. Both are militarily subordinate and economically integrated with these larger powers. Most so-called nation-states have no meaningful power for independent policy-making and collective determination in independent blocs. Such efforts are usually subverted by US-backed colour revolutions or elite co-optation (as with China in Vietnam and Singapore).

Lind’s concept of the catalytic state presents this emerging sovereignty as states networking themselves amongst sub-sovereign entities. Lind sees this as an evolution of sovereignty in the face of globalisation and border liquefaction, where states are still the primary locus of geopolitics with international institutions and technocratic systems complementing sovereignty and even extending national power. But logistical power also contains a trans-ideological character that goes beyond sovereignty as an integral system to one of sovereignty as a bricolage of varying elements that is capturable by transnational actors and “technological complex(es)”[16]. Concomitantly there has been an evolution of American imperialism into a liberal imperialism that integrates NATO, the European Union and other international institutions into interlocking security and financial pacts with an ideological purview not necessarily related to a national position or population.

Logistical sovereignty that runs through liberal imperialism then has characteristics of a trans-ideological conflagration of transnational structures, ideological complexes that contain no true centre. “Since globalization will have caused the planet to close in on itself like a ripe fruit, how can we envisage the geopolitical development of French territory at the heart of continental Europe in twenty years’ time, when the (interactive) metropolises of telecommunications will have extended the reign of real time and the totality of the distances of real space will have finally given out in the face of the lack of delay of proliferating interaction?”[17] In other words, the primacy of national sovereignty cannot compete with the informational realm, except as a partner and intermediary to these informational and logistical flows. The centrality of French citizenship or any national forum is extinguished as informational complexes can quickly and easily circumvent their control.

The way these conflagrations interact with national populations (that nominally legitimise and comprise the sovereign character) is evident in their lack of centrality upon them. Whether in the American security state (financialised and technologised) or the Chinese security system (culturalised and medicalised) we see a logistical sovereignty in multi-scalar form, from the localised interactions permeated by credit systems (both social and financial) to transnational security complexes producing ideological homogeneity. Emerging trends in governance (whether represented by elite projects like the Great Reset and Net Zero or so-called resistances like Brexit and electoral populism) are converging on this point not of a catalytic state with distinct sovereign power but a series of complexes held together through trans-ideological homogeneity.

The integral nature of a transnational security apparatus remains fundamental as states become catalytic and logistical. In contrast to Lind’s analysis of greater imperial breakdown (as states under the control of the American or Soviet security blankets became more independent), we see instead the primacy of American military power strained through a variety of transnational institutions, complexes and ideological groups that have no meaningful demographic or national component but instead are floating variables with loyalty to shared ideological positions. Just look at reactions to populist movements in Western countries and the imposition of undemocratic mandates and lockdowns during the COVID pandemic. These are ideological predispositions shared among elite actors and groups. Or look at attempts for non-aligned states to develop their own spheres of influence against liberal imperialism, whether in Russia or India or in states developing energy independence. They are not treated as ideological differences to be negotiated, but as pariahs to be crushed and/or isolated.

The trans-ideological character of security complexes can be seen in American interventions through both the National Endowment of Democracy, which props up favoured dictators who can further these complexes’ military-industrial interests and implements colour revolutions with varying ideological backgrounds, and covert actions like Operation Gladio that supported sub-state terrorist and criminal actors in Europe or more recent activities like CIA funding for Islamist groups in Syria and American aid to far-right militias in Ukraine. Like the Nicaraguan civil war, these are spectacular interventions not for the purpose of implementing democracy or making the world safer (the usual justifications) but to maintain the flows of goods, services and ideological systems into the peripheral areas of the liberal empire. It must be remembered that the liberal moniker of this empire is not one focused on the development of constitutional norms. The idea of a rules-based international order is not that the rules are for the flourishing of the individual and the development of human rights. The post-Cold War interventions demonstrate this amply, as the various actors engaged with to implement American or Western objectives on the ground have been Islamist, fascist and/or authoritarian. However, what these forces do is maintain openness in their respective economies (for example ISIS facilitated the movement of oil into Turkey) and encourage instability within the empire’s enemies. The maintenance of flows and the disruption of the enemy, these are the primary concerns of imperial expansion and warfare.

Specific instantiations of logistical sovereignty can be seen in both challenges to its legitimacy as well as its extensions into modern crises. As climate change becomes the defining crisis for modern governance, the emergence of narratives around a Green New Deal in America and international net zero targets show a technocratic nature that limits accountability. The EU’s Green Deal[18] uses the language of stakeholdership and dispersed governance in the mechanisms of producing climate resiliency and moving toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. It focuses on maintaining international partnerships and preventing the disruption of the liberal economic and social order. Everything is filtered through various committees with different forms of membership but with limited citizen contact. The emphasis on education shows such a technocratic nature, as EU citizens are be re-educated in their goals and commitments and “assess knowledge, skills and attitudes on climate change and sustainable development”. There is no questioning of corporate power in this framework nor is there is a meaningful drive for energy independence. While it talks of making supply chains more resilient, it still fundamentally relies on resources being funnelled through them. As shutdowns in China and Russian sanctions show, such supply chains are not necessarily reliable, particularly when it comes to energy security, agricultural production and plastics consumption. The extent of the EU’s (or member states’) sovereignty is curtailed. They have no control over their resource inputs beyond supply chain resiliency and their energy independence is hampered by short-term green policies (like the phase out of nuclear power in Germany) and a chronic lack of infrastructural investment. The European Green Deal is the essence of logistical sovereignty in that the EU cannot formulate true autonomy, constrained by commitment to the international connectedness of supply chains and maintained integration in a rules-based order (which limits the extent of corporate accountability the EU can exercise).

The WEF’s great reset uses similar language as governance mechanisms in a post-COVID world that moves beyond neoliberal limits (particularly in price and wage interventions through central bank QE and government subsidies). What become important are the relevant stakeholders working together in global networks, producing soft regulatory frameworks that integrate across national borders, going beyond the state into the bowels of modern governance, particularly semi-autonomous governing agencies, think tanks and NGOs (both in policy formation and in legislative implementation). The rollout of COVID policies and vaccines followed this governing logic, filtered through GAVI and effectively controlled by supply agreements with Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Similarly, the climate change policies coming out of COP further a stakeholdership model akin to the European Green Deal, with corporate lobbying and civil society action taking centre stage.

Brexit is a different method of logistical sovereignty, integrating elements of a cultural populism but in the transitory mechanics of a liminal trading situation. Brexit is presented as a challenge to the legitimacy of the international order, with the British public’s desire to have greater control over law and borders going against the grain of global integration. However, the UK in a post-Brexit world is a liminal trading space between Europe and America, both freed from overt regulation but constrained by tacit norms and standards that have informed EU-UK trade since the UK’s initial membership (with specific constraints coming from single market-based regulatory accords concerning environmental, agricultural and employment standards and customs constraints that now split the UK from Northern Ireland). Britain’s cultural sovereignty is constrained and diffused by external logistical sovereignties that make the power of British statehood significantly curtailed. The Political Declaration agreed between the UK and EU confirms this constraint, affirming a commitment to preventing “erosion of the rules-based international order”[19].

British sovereignty is fully anachronistic, as decision-making over economic policy (particularly related to state aid and internal market control) is limited by commitments to maintain economic integration with the EU as well as by the requirements of trade agreements (such as hypothetical ones with the US) to open up agricultural markets and public tendering processes. Post-Brexit Britain is thus fully integrated and controlled by logistical power. The populist challenge of Brexit is meaningless in the context international supply chains that govern energy usage, food production and the capacity for economic autonomy. “The multiple border crossings of goods and services also mean that modern supply chains are particularly vulnerable to changes in trade barriers, as has become salient during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Brexit is another example where the cost of border crossings is likely to increase between the UK and the EU”[20]. Making your own laws does nothing to challenge this liberal imperial consensus. Indeed, many of the protagonists of the Brexit debate are open about making the UK a vassal to these logistical forces.

Logistical sovereignty is becoming the locus of geopolitics for the 21st century. As crises delegitimate neoliberal governance, the central importance of international supply chains and the maintenance of a unitary world order founds new ideological justifications and forms new epistemic communities. The logistical state itself is oxymoronic, as logistics diminishes and undermines national sovereignties, making them part of an international patchwork of integrated economic and military complexes that produce homogeneity in their governing logics and ideological attitudes. The challenges to this order appear piecemeal, easily co-opted through covert military intervention or curtailed through the creation of chaos. Informational flows are producing a unitary geopolitics that is integrated. However, as the climate and coronavirus crises have shown, it is also fragile and vulnerable to disruption and has struggled to subvert semi-independent polities like Russia as well as terrorist groups and internal civil conflict. Like preceding international orders, its rule remains contingent.


[1] Paul Virilio & Sylvere Lotringer, Pure War

[2] Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Assembly

[3] Benjamin Bratton, The Stack

[4] Geoff Mann & Joel Wainwright, Climate Leviathan

[5] Andrew Dunsire, Manipulating Social Tensions: Collibration as an Alternative Mode of Government Intervention

[6] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jscm.12248

[7] https://unlimitedhangout.com/2022/02/investigative-reports/technocracy-the-operating-system-for-the-new-international-rules-based-order-1/

[8] Volker Rittberger & Bernhard Zangl, International Organization: Polity, Politics and Policies

[9] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40213578

[10] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0014498316301966

[11] https://www.jstor.org/stable/42896803

[12] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2020/04/04/intra-competitive-networks/

[13] Gary Webb, Dark Alliance

[14] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0030438796900630

[15] https://www.readingthechinadream.com/jiang-shigong-empire-and-world-order.html

[16] https://www.jstor.org/stable/42896803

[17] Paul Virilio, Open Sky

[18] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2019%3A640%3AFIN

[19] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/new-withdrawal-agreement-and-political-declaration

[20] https://www.lse.ac.uk/business/consulting/reports/vulnerabilities-of-supply-chains-post-brexit

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