Human, not too human: a critical semiotic of drones and drone warfare




Vasko, Timothy

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Taking as its starting point Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s theses on liberalism and war, and Dillon and Reid’s extensive engagement thereof, this thesis offers a critical conceptualization of drones and drone warfare. I argue that deployment of drones specifically over and against bodies and communities in conflict zones in and between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and until recently, Libya, is the material practice of a legal and political doctrine and precedent that has been established and policed most prominently by the United States and its military and intelligence apparatuses since the end of the Cold War. This novel precedent, however - due to its necessarily mutually constitutive relationship with a perceived danger said to be emerging from specific spaces, bodies, and communities in the decolonized and still-colonized worlds - locates its ontological and thus political genealogy in the anthropological knowledge that legally justified the (in)humanity of peoples and communities in these spaces during the era of high imperialism that lasted roughly from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. I theorize this as a mode of political, tragic nihilism through a reading of some key theories of Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, and Nietzsche and specifically, their import to the field of critical security and international relations theory. I demonstrate that the semiotic image of the drone is a highly pertinent point of departure through which we can understand these political stakes of strategic discourses enunciating the imperatives of both the Revolution in Military Affairs as well as recent global counterinsurgency/counterterrorism operations, specifically as they relate to claims about what it is drones are said to productively offer such militaristic projects. Ultimately, I argue that it is through the semiotic image of the drone as a clean, precise tactic that furthers the strategic goals of counterterrorism to target specific bodies that we can begin to politically theorize a particularly malignant political nihilism symptomatic of contemporary liberal societies. However, I also suggest that it is through Nietzsche’s politics of nihilism that we can begin to think about radical critical interventions that resist such a dangerous mode of politics.



International Relations Theory, RBJ Walker, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Friedrich Nietzsche, Violence, Postcolonial Theory, Political Theory, Colonialism, Anthropology, Semiotics, Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), War on Terror, State Terrorism, Human Rights, Nihilism, Tragedy, World Politics, International Politics, Barack Obama Administration, UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, International Ethics, International Law, Genealogy, Materialism, Weapons