Global social movements contest the militarisation of East Asia

By Sasha Davis, Keene State College, USA

The news out of East Asia is currently filled with stories of political rivalry, nationalist antagonisms and military stand-offs. Regional tensions run high as China extends claims in the seas around Asia, Japan considers a more assertive military stance, the USA shifts more of their military forces to the Pacific, and North Korea threatens stability with nuclear tests, missile launches and blustery rhetoric. Geographers have long studied these kinds issues – in Asia and elsewhere – and have produced many insights on the ways governments regulate spaces, deploy military power, and manoeuvre for geopolitical advantage. These understandings of political geography are useful for analysing the current situation in Asia, but it is also important to recognise that governments are not the only actors trying to shape the region.

A recent article published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers examines a frequently overlooked group of political actors: social movements. Focusing on activists contesting the construction of new military bases on the island of Okinawa, the article examines how local protesters articulate with global social movements to affect local projects as well as the political landscape of the whole region. Activists in Okinawa are concerned about the potential damage a new base could bring to their community through the destruction of wildlife habitat, environmental contamination, danger from unexploded ordinance and live-fire training, increases in incidents of sexual violence by stationed troops, occupation of large tracts of lands, and continued colonial political relationships with Tokyo and Washington DC. In addition to these local concerns, however, these social movements are also attempting to affect the larger political scene in the Pacific by promoting an agenda of demilitarisation and forging links of solidarity with groups on other islands throughout the region.

Through an analysis of the direct action ‘occupation’ style protests in Okinawa – and the way these kinds of tactics are circulated among activists from places as far away as Puerto Rico, Guam, Korea and Hawaii – this research suggests that protests like the ones seen in Okinawa are not ‘isolated’ or ‘local’ at all. Instead, they are supported and coordinated in quite complex ways across space. Drawing on perspectives from philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, as well as insights from the burgeoning research on social movements in geography, sociology, women’s studies and anthropology – this article contends that these social movements behave across space, and try to manifest power in place, in much the same ways as governments. Even though their aims, ethical positions, and organising structures may be quite different, transnational social movements – like governments – use tactics of operating in networks across space and setting up ‘archipelagos’ of places were their ethics can hold sway. The significance of this is that social movement occupations should not be viewed as ineffective ‘small’ protests. Instead, the article encourages us to look for the hidden connections and the links of mutual aid that binds these groups together as they aim to change international politics.

About the author: Sasha Davis is Assistant Professor of Geography at Keene State College. 

books_icon Davis, S. 2016 Apparatuses of occupation: translocal social movements, states and the archipelagic spatialities of power. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi:10.1111/tran.12152

60-world2 McCurry J 2016 Thousands protest at US bases on Okinawa after Japanese woman’s murder The Guardian Online19 June 2016

60-world2 McCurry J 2016 Japan defence ministry seeks record budget to counter Chinese threat The Guardian Online 31 August 2016

60-world2 Reuters 2016 in Tokyo Japan warns China of deteriorating relations over Senkaku Islands The Guardian online 9 August 2016

 

One thought on “Global social movements contest the militarisation of East Asia

  1. stgialis

    very interesting piece indeed, congratulations… my country, greece, has a very strong background of opposing military bases across various communities. I am afraid that the article is more optimistic than it should be regarding the ability of protests and social movements to oppose the will of powerful armies (like the US one). Also it is not making any reference to the role of imperialist power and structures

    Reply

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