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[] Phil Agre zu Infrastructural Warfare und Demokratie,
Der Text wurde schon am 14.9. geschrieben. Ich habe ihn gerade erst
entdeckt und finde ihn sehr lesenswert. Gerade, weil er schon am 14.9.
sehr wesentliche Punkte erkannt hat. RB

Imagining the Next War:
Infrastructural Warfare and the Conditions of Democracy

Phil Agre

14 September 2001
4300 words

     When political leaders refer to Tuesday's attacks in New York and
     Washington as "war", what do they mean?  It used to be that our
     concept of war was defined by a set of boundaries.  Nation-states
     fought wars to defend their borders.  They fielded armies, and
     those armies fought along front lines.  Soldiers were separate from
     civilians, and the military domain was separate from the civilian
     domain.  Soldiers ran the war from day to day; the civilian
     gave the big orders and sat back.

     Those boundaries no longer apply, as much evidence shows:

     (1) If you want to destroy someone nowadays, you get into their
     infrastructure.  You don't have to be a nation state to do it, and
     if they retain any capacity for retaliation then it's probably
     if you're not.

     (2) Because the fighting is all on television, the fine details of
     the fighting become political matters.  Soldiers complain bitterly
     about politicians' interference, not understanding that technology
     has eliminated their zone of professional autonomy.  The
     are *right* to be interfering.

     (3) The US military thought that the Republicans would save them
     the Democrats' boundary-breaching conceptions of the 21st century
     world, but Donald Rumsfeld's abortive reform efforts -- which are
     really attempts to transpose the traditionally narrow view of
     affairs into a science-fiction key -- have only clarified how
     the traditional conception of warfare really is.

     (4) During the campaign, George W. Bush harshly criticized the
     "nation-building" activities to which military personnel have been
     assigned in Kosovo and elsewhere.  The truth was that
     is a geopolitical necessity in a totally wired world, and that the
     soldiers themselves *like* serving in Kosovo -- they know that they
     are doing something useful for once.  The nation-building goes on.

     (5) In the old days, the industry that produced military equipment
     was almost entirely separate from the industry that produced
     equipment.  But economies of scale in the production of technology,
     especially information and communications technologies, have grown
     so great that the military must buy much of its equipment from the
     civilian market, even though the civilian equipment is not hardened
     for military purposes (or even, in the case of computer security,
     civilian purposes).

     (6) Even airplane hijackings have lost their old boundaries.  It
     is becoming clear that the people in the plane that crashed in
     Pennsylvania had extensive communications to the ground, and knew
     about the first attack on the World Trade Center.  Boundarylessness
     in that sense actually defeated the hijackers, at least to that
     degree.  We have become so accustomed to boundarylessness that we
     didn't find it even faintly odd that people in hijacked airplanes
     have complicated telephone conversations with people on the ground,
     saying good byes to their families, and so on.  The whole
     of airplane hijackings now has a new script, replacing the one from
     the 1970s.

     Thus far, however, we have not been compelled as a society to
     what we mean by "war" in this weirdly pervious world.  Of course,
     defense intellectuals have not been short on definitions.  Many of
     them claim to rue the loss of these boundaries, even as they
     a conception of military matters that includes absolutely
     War, on these expanded conceptions, no longer needs to be conducted
     between states.  Privately funded groups can wage war, "asymmetric"
     to be sure but destructive all the same.  Even lone individuals can
     engage in acts of "war", and the individuals who released the Code
     Red worms may have inflicted economic damage (at least according
     to reported estimates, and not including of course the damage in
     human terms) comparable to that of the people who attacked the
     Trade Center and the Pentagon.  The defense intellectuals have also
     expanded the definition of "war" to include many domains besides
     the mutual killing of soldiers and blowing up of ships and
     One speaks, for example, of "cultural war".  Some military experts
     even lecture on political opposition as a form of "war", explicitly
     treating nonviolence within the same doctrinal framework in which
     they talk about invasion and bombing.

     War, in this broadened sense, is everywhere and everything.  It is
     large and small.  It has no boundaries in space or time.  Life
     is war.  The soldier's zone of autonomy returns, but nothing else
     is left.  Notice, however, that the defense intellectuals'
     of boundaryless war is not the only one possible.  It holds no
     for example, for "nation-building" activities, or for the
     of political and military concerns that military officers complain
     about.  Far from replacing the traditional conception of the
     the new conception generalizes it.

     Referring to the attacks on the east coast as "war" gives
     to our emotions about them, and feels proportional to the magnitude
     of the atrocity.  But if the definition of "war" has shifted
     us, then a declaration of war is an even graver matter than it used
     be.  Let us take a moment, then, to ask what we are getting
     into.  The Bush administration started using the language of "war"
     well before they were willing to say who they thought was
     for the attacks.  That in itself is probably not unprecedented; the
     idea of something mysteriously blowing up is hardly new.  What is
     precedented is the lack of any clear suspect who was either a
     nation state or a domestic organization.  Suspicion from the
     has fallen on a man named Osama bin Laden, and reasonably enough
     his involvement in earlier attacks.  But even to assign
     to this one man is entirely misleading, since bin Laden, at best,
     operates at the center of a far-flung and loosely-knit network of
     individuals who are united more by philosophy than by organization.
     They are certainly not a hierarchical military along the
     lines -- lines that Western militaries have themselves long
     for many purposes.

     The problem posed by this nontraditional terrorist "enemy" has
     often been understood in purely military terms: how do you destroy
     something that has so little connective tissue?  If you blow it up,
     it just grows right back.  The United States has plenty of
     fighting loosely organized opponents, for example in Vietnam, and
     experience is not good.  Nor was the Russian experience in
     any better.  But the new situation is even worse, and in several
     ways.  We are not going to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers
     to Afghanistan.  I'd be surprised if we send hundreds.  And
     we do, every step will be on television.  Everyone involved will
     have cellular telephones.  We will be doing the messiest thing in
     the world, and we will be doing it in the most visible possible

     But we should also understand the problem in political terms.  What
     does it mean as a *political* matter to declare war on a network?
     This, it seems to me, is the greatest danger of all.  The only
     justification for war is to preserve the conditions of democracy.
     Revenge is not a sufficient motive, except insofar as it preserves
     the conditions of democracy by serving as a deterrent.  Otherwise
     matter should be treated as a crime and handled by the institutions
     of the police and criminal courts.  Are the conditions of democracy
     in fact under threat?  It is possible that they are, and I would
     expect the government to present enough evidence of such a threat
     before placing the country in a condition of war.  The question of
     justification is particularly important in the present case given
     the dubious conditions under which George W. Bush assumed the
     of the president.  His continued rule is also a significant threat
     to the conditions of democracy, even though his methods were

     Let us say, then, that George W. Bush commences a war against Osama
     bin Laden, or even against the greater abstraction of "terrorism".
     What happens then?  A state of war is a serious thing.  States of
     war have routinely been used to justify censorship, the curtailing
     of civil liberties, and the repression of dissidents.  States of
     are also understood to require the opposition in the legislature to
     moderate its otherwise essential functions of criticism.  Calls are
     issued to stand behind the political leadership and to display
     with the implication that the enemy is watching and that failure to
     unite is tantamount to treason.  These are not healthy conditions
     a democracy; indeed, they are the opposite of democracy.

     War in the old conception was temporary: the idea was explicitly
     the state of war would end, and that the normal rules of democracy
     would resume once their conditions had been reestablished.  Civil
     liberties and the institutions of democratic government are not
     entirely eliminated during wartime; rather, they are reduced in
     scope while retaining their same overall form.  Even in conditions
     of total war mobilization, clear boundaries between the military
     civilian sides of society are maintained.  But war, we are told, no
     longer works that way.  No such boundaries are possible.  It
     therefore, that "war" in the new sense -- war with no beginning
     or end, no front and rear, and no distinction between military and
     civilian -- is incompatible with democracy, and not just in
     not just temporarily, but permanently and conceptually.  If we
     conceptualize war the way the defense intellectuals suggest, then
     declare war is to destroy the conditions of democracy.  War, in
     new sense, can never be justified.

     In reality, the problem here does not originate with technology
     and the military doctrines that respond to it.  It is in the nature
     of democracy that its conditions are contested.  The conditions
     of democracy are institutional, first of all, and institutions are
     human things.  They live nowhere but in people's minds, and in the
     language, artifacts, and practices by which people deal with one
     another.  Democracy, like every institution, is something that
     collectively learn to do.  It is a skill.  Its central conditions
     intellectual: people continually reproduce the skills of democracy
     if they continue to believe in it.  Democracy rests on beliefs. 
     the beliefs at the foundation of democracy are themselves
     They are reargued most visibly when prominent legal controversies
     come before constitutional courts.  But they are also reargued
     time that the institutions themselves are used.  Democracy is an
     institutional framework for the conduct of disputes among organized
     interests, and the groundrules that this framework provides must be
     interpreted and applied in the case of each dispute that comes

     The ideal of formal democracy as dispute within an agreed framework
     of rules is taught in school, but in the real world of democracy
     combatants have fundamentally different visions of what that
     should be.  Democrats believe that the people can and should govern
     themselves, and that all institutions should be reformed to provide
     a high degree of access and participation to the people whose lives
     they affect.  Conservatives, by contrast, believe that society
     be organized hierarchically and directed by a narrow elite, and
     institutions should be invested with a high degree of authority to
     which the people reflexively defer.  Conservatives differ on the
     question of whether the formal institutions of democracy are
     and should be retained, but their main emphasis is on
     those institutions in both their processes and their powers.

     Conservatism has come in recent centuries to be overlaid with a
     liberal philosophy whose keyword is "freedom", and the conservative
     movement must continually renegotiate the borderlines between
     authority and freedom as organizing principles of society.  But the
     freedom that conservatism dictates is first and foremost the
     of the market.  And conservatism in actual practice rarely conforms
     to idealized pictures of the free market, given that large business
     interests tend to be central to any conservative political
     The longstanding tradition of business rent-seeking under
     rule reasserted itself from the opening days of the Bush
     in the guise for example of subsidies to the oil industry to
     energy development that the market was already providing for, and
     we can expect that rent-seeking to intensify in the conditions of
     intimate government-industry relationship that characterize war.
     Business managers, after all, have a fiduciary responsibility to
     return profits to their stockholders by whatever means, whether
     legitimate commerce or lobbying, represents the best return on
     investment, and undermining the conditions of democracy has proven
     solid investment over many years.  Libertarians who join
     coalitions are simply trading one form of government interference
     the market for another.

     The almost inherent crisis of democracy, and the actual nature of
     conservatism, become clearest in conditions of war.  The conditions
     of war are almost identical with the social vision of conservatism,
     and it is no surprise that conservatives are so eloquent when the
     possibility of war arises.  Conservatism has always been profoundly
     opposed to the popular exercise of reason, supposing it to lead
     inevitably to tyranny, and wartime is ideally suited for the
     polarized, us-and-them forms of thinking that are the opposite of
     rational thought.  In this sense, democracy as such is profoundly
     threatened by an absolute evil such as Stalin's regime in the
     Union or the attack on the World Trade Center -- not because of the
     military danger it poses, real as that may be, but because of the
     danger that it poses to the collective reason of a democratic
     Indeed, the depth of the danger was already clear before the
     for example in Rush Limbaugh's astonishing argument that the leader
     of the democratic opposition, Tom Daschle, resembled Satan simply
     because he opposed all of George W. Bush's policies.  And it has
     become clearer since the attack in the argument by many prominent
     conservatives that the coming wartime condition will require a
     diminution of civil liberties.

     The new military doctrine of war as a total phenomenon -- war
     boundaries -- is nothing except conservatism.  It is conservatism
     expressed in different language, rediscovered starting from
     concerns, but it is the antithesis of democracy in the same way
     conservatism is.  Yet military officers in democratic countries are
     often ambivalent about the new doctrine.  They understand that the
     legitimacy of the military as an institution rests on its claim to
     preserve the conditions of democracy, and they understand more
     than most civilians the potential for institutional catastrophe
     can never be far from the surface in a society with a standing
     That is why it is especially unnerving that the United States
     in recent years has developed a culture that sees itself as
     from, and morally superior to, the supposedly decadent society that
     it supposedly defends.  Conservatives have energetically reinforced
     this tendency, portraying democratically minded governments as
     toward the military and encouraging the military in its tendency to
     become a rent-seeking interest group like any other, to the point
     the officer corps now skews very strongly Republican compared to
     twenty years ago.

     The danger of "total war" against the spectre named Osama bin
     then, is that it will reinforce the worst tendencies in our
     and that far from preserving the conditions of democracy it will
     undermine the cultural and institutional foundations upon which
     democracy rests.  It will be war without end, without boundaries,
     without even a coherent conception of itself save as the expression
     of an impulse to vengeance.  Far from the Gulf War image of
     war as a morbid video game, it will be what the defense
     call infrastructural war, and in the most general possible sense:
     that reaches into the finest details of daily life, re engineering
     most basic arrangements of travel and communications in a time when
     everyday life in a mobile and interconnected society is
     organized around those very arrangements.

     The main precedent for this looming war is the boundaryless
     against communism, and yet the precedent is misleading.  The Cold
     was a war of the mind at home and a war of the jungles in the
     locales where conflicts were conducted by proxy.  Its foundation
     the intellectual control that, for a time and to a remarkable
     still, prevented those proxy wars from registering in the minds of
     a populace that otherwise was fairly free.  Infrastructural war is
     something quite different.  The Cold War promoted a paranoia of a
     quite abstract sort: the hidden traitors that supposedly lay behind
     the social ideals of reformers.  Infrastructural war promotes a
     paranoia of a different kind: the ramifying maze of blind spots in
     the security arrangements of a technological society which a highly
     skilled enemy might exploit.  Thus the uncanny sense of violation
     that compounds the sheer violence of the attacks on the east coast,
     and thus on a less dramatic level the myth-making around security
     vulnerabilities in "cyberspace".

     The Cold War's most misleading legacy is an ideology that totally
     misconstrues these dangers.  The great drama of the Cold War was a
     supposed conflict between two organizing principles: centralization
     and decentralization.  Never mind that the Cold War societies of
     First World were in fact highly centralized both in their
     structure and in the central role of their permanent-war
     despite this, the end of the Cold War is supposed to have
     a system of self-organizing decentralization that is robust against
     dangers of many types.  In reality, the infrastructure of our
     technological society is centralized in many ways.  There are three
     economic reasons for this: economies of scale, which tend to
     monopolies; economies of scope, which tend to reorganize products
     institutions in terms of successively more generalized layers; and
     network effects, which tend to create uniformity through the need
     everyone in an interconnected society to be compatible with
     else.  In reality, the decentralization that truly is one component
     technological society rests upon an institutional and
     framework that is necessarily uniform in many ways, and that is
     suited to the kinds of decentralized administration that the
     of the Cold War would promote.  The more sophisticated our society
     becomes, the more complex and all-encompassing this framework gets.

     So what to do?  First we need a new concept of war.  This is not
     partly because the world has changed, but also because our concept
     war is intimately tied to our concept of democracy.  It follows
     we can't get a new concept of war without getting a new concept of
     democracy, and the process of getting a new concept of democracy is
     dangerous in itself.  The military intellectuals' new concept of
     is flawed because it starts from the military and simply follows
     logic of interconnection until the military domain encloses
     else.  Instead, we need a broader conception of security that has a
     number of dimensions, and that incorporates the dialectical
     between the military and political domains that is inherent in a
     without clear boundaries.  Instead of permanent, total war,
     under rules that subordinate democracy to an authority that draws
     legitimacy from the absolute evil of its foe, we need a conception
     permanent, total security, conducted under rules that keep the ends
     squarely in view.  Those ends are the preservation, indeed
     of the conditions of democracy.

     Total security, however, does not mean total control of society by
     "security forces".  In an infrastructural world, security cannot be
     force, something exerted from the outside, a lid kept down or a
     put up.  Instead, security is a matter of design.  Infrastructure
     is something designed, in the sense that it is a human artefact,
     the infrastructure that our society possesses right now has not
     designed with anything approaching a full conception of its
     to a democratic order.  When infrastructure is designed to serve a
     narrowly technical set of requirements, or, worse, when it accretes
     haphazardly in layers like the software code that we suddenly had
     to decompile en masse with the approach of Y2K, it becomes riven
     blind spots, with vulnerabilities that, in the long run, only
     the chaos that technology had always been thought to solve.  The
     is, our current infrastructures are profoundly insecure.  This has
     been documented over and over, and it is entirely absurd that we
     learned to tolerate the worms that swarm continuously over the
     networked computers, trashing information and randomly broadcasting
     sensitive files.  These worms have not killed anybody yet, but the
     shoddy security systems in the country's airports are another
     The catastrophe at the World Trade Center provides an opening for a
     period of real design -- design that adopts as its requirements
     of the conditions of democracy: the closing of security holes and
     the protection of civil liberties.  The necessary designs are
     technical and partly institutional.  The current arrangement of
     the airlines pay for the security personnel at airports, for
     has been comprehensively discredited, and even the strictest of
     opponents of centralized government appear to appreciate the need
     to federalize a system whose incentives have heretofore been set up
     exactly backward.

     But secondly, the conception of security that our democratic
     needs must take seriously the all-encompassing nature of modern
     industrial society.  A technological society must be democratically
     legitimate, above all, because it cannot afford to have an outside.
     The people who conduct terrorist actions against the United States
     fundamentally driven by a need to make us feel their pain.  Along
     natural human sympathy and outrage, the people in many countries
     responded to the attacks in New York and Washington by observing
     at last, the United States knows what it's like.  Media
     in the United States have often asserted, no doubt without
     that the magnitude of the recent attacks has been without precedent
     in history.  This could not be more false, as the people of
     London, Dresden, or Hiroshima could explain, or those of Hanoi,
     Baghdad, or Dili.  The United States' consciousness has been shaped
     its geographic isolation, but now infrastructural warfare has
     an attacker of a way of piercing that isolation, and thus of
     that consciousness, forcing upon the people of the United States
     consciousness of a people who must fear, at one level or another,
     they will be invaded and killed.

     Americans' imaginative distance from the rest of the world has been
     one reason why it has been so easy to keep from American public
     consciousness the nature and magnitude of the atrocities in which
     the American government and its close allies have unquestionably
     been culpable.  A large portion of the population of East Timor,
     for example, was slaughtered by the genocidal regime that ruled
     until recently in Indonesia with the active approval and support of
     the United States.  Counterinsurgency against a small and primitive
     peasant rebellion in Guatemala in the 1980s was conducted through
     a deliberate policy of simply killing large percentages of the
     population, with the active support of an American government that
     ridiculously claimed to have little knowledge of what was happening
     and no power to stop it, even as prominent religious conservative
     organizations in the United States praised the Guatemalan
     for its claims to be acting in the name of God.  Israel constantly
     takes people's land away from them and treats them as second-class
     citizens in their own land, and no amount of bad behavior by them
     or their coreligionists in other countries can justify many of the
     Israeli policies, nearly all of which the United States supports
     financially and diplomatically.

     None of this mitigates the attacks on innocent people in the World
     Trade Center, or even the attacks on military personnel in the
     Pentagon.  The people who conducted those terrorist attacks are
     entirely responsible for what they did.  They are evil, and they
     made themselves evil by choice.  Nearly as evil are the religious
     authorities who provided the ideological basis of this terrible
     self-making with their spurious justifications for suicide
     Yet the call to war is precisely a call for us, formerly citizens
     of a democracy, to remake ourselves in the image of that evil -- to
     ignore all evil deeds of our own, and instead to project all of our
     own failings into an enemy who grows ever bigger, ever more
     with every exaggeration of the extent of the danger and the need
     revenge.  The call to war is not legitimate: it is not capable of
     delivering what it claims to deliver.

     Should we go out and get the people who blew up our buildings?  Of
     course we should.  If we can't get them nonviolently law, should we
     start dropping bombs on impoverished countries?  Maybe we should,
     it will actually achieve the stated goal.  A world that has
     beyond the traditional conceptions of war may not be able to avoid
     military action, regrettable as it always is.  Evil is real,
     excuse it might present.  The important thing is to draw a
     between military action, as the exercise within a framework of
     international law of the power of a legitimate democratic state,
     war, as the imposition of a total social order that is the
     of democracy, and that, in the current technological conditions
     of war, has no end in sight.  We can reorganize our infrastructure
     along more intelligent lines, and we urgently should.  But more
     fundamentally, war will end only when the rest of the world enjoys
     the same institutional conditions of justice and freedom that we
     do.  We can hasten that day by supporting civil society, education,
     reconciliation, institutional reform, Internet connectivity, and
     nonproliferation throughout the world.  Or we can retreat into a
     conservative conception of war as a way to live our lives.  That is
     our choice now, in our policies and in our hearts, as we decide how
     act on the pain that we feel.

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