Tag Archives: military

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

 

Drones for wildlife: the securitization of conservation?

By Helen Pallett

Drone_Flying_Eye

Image credit: Flying Eye (CC SA-BY)

We have come to know drones as one of the newest technologies of warfare and surveillance, a weapon central to how the war on terror is now being fought: remotely and increasingly through the use of computerised devices or robots. But another perhaps surprising use for drones has been developing in parallel, perhaps explaining why the World Wildlife Fund has been a major supporter of drone research since 2012.

On the same day last week the Guardian newspaper published two separate reports on drone usage. The first described how drones are going to be used in Kenya’s national parks in an effort to prevent poaching, whilst the second reported that in Germany drones will be used to protect young deer from being injured by combine harvesters.

These developments raise challenging questions about the development of new technologies. Do the intended purposes of a new technology matter when it is used for something different? Should we be interested in who the funders of technological research and innovation are? Can we assess and understand the uses of drones in wildlife conservation and, increasingly, research without understanding the use of drones as a technology of violence and surveillance? Is this the latest step in what some have referred to as ‘the securitzation of the environment’?

A recent themed section of The Geographical Journal, edited by Michael Mason and Mark Zeitoun, focuses on the issue of environmental security, both as a driver and consequence of increasing anxiety and apocalyptic accounts of the environment. In their introduction the editors argue that such fears about dangerous climate change or species extinctions work rhetorically to justify certain actions as urgent or emergency measures, from solar radiation management to crack downs on human behaviour and liberties.

Whilst few would doubt the seriousness of the threat from poaching to elephant and rhino populations in Kenya, by treating recent population depletion as an emergency scenario or a matter of security the Kenyan Wildlife Service and other conservationists may be serving to legitimate the use of a highly questionable conservation method. The use of drones for surveillance in Kenyan national parks represents a new method for policing ways of acting and being in a national park. The appropriate usage of national parks has long been a matter of controversy, not least because during the creation of many national parks, human populations had to be forcibly removed or regulated. Drones will potentially collect data not only concerning suspected poaching, but also other activities within the national park; all national park users can now be watched and surveilled. This may result in the management not only of poaching in the national parks, but also much more ambiguous activities such as attempts at settlement or the use of other resources.

Whilst it may be convenient to tell a simplistic story about ‘evil’ poachers and ‘good’ conservationists, such narratives can mask the more complex realities and the many negative implications the creation of national parks had for affected communities. Individual poachers may often be acting out of desperation, for example the lack of an alternative source of livelihood. Furthermore, poachers rarely act alone but rather are part of often transnational networks of capital, connecting them to infrastructures and markets for the sale of goods such as elephant and rhino horn.  So surveillance may be unlikely to act as a deterrent on its own.

The Kenyan drones project has been jointly funded by the US, Netherlands, France, Canada and Kenya, and also includes supplies of other military equipment such as firearms, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment. In the Kenyan national parks, drones are to be used in areas considered too risky for surveillance by manned aircraft, already a common practice. In the context of such efforts to radically reduce the risks faced by wildlife rangers in the field and the increasing panic about the loss of elephants and rhinos, how long will it be before it is acceptable to shoot suspected poachers on sight? Furthermore, once the infrastructures for drone use are in place it would be relatively straight-forward to substitute surveillance drones for armed drones, and this could be justified as a further means of protecting national park employees.

As we have seen with the military uses of drones, robots can make mistakes and claim innocent lives. Photos too can frequently be ambiguous and misleading, without other supporting evidence. Furthermore, these potential developments would further circumvent the justice procedures upheld by all the countries financially supporting the drones programme. In the context of albeit justified hysteria about the fast depletion of certain endangered populations, do we risk sanctioning an equally unpalatable solution? Claims of 96% reductions in poaching in some of the Kenyan drone pilots, alongside the circulation of horrifying images and statistics about the effects of poaching, also mean that other potential methods for conservation and poaching management may increasingly be ruled out and foreclosed.

books_icon Michael Mason & Mark Zeitoun 2013 Questioning environmental security, The Geography Journal, 179 (4): 294-297 (Open Access)

60-world2 Google cash buys drones to watch endangered species, BBC News, 6 December 2012

60-world2 Kenya to deploy drones in all national parks in a bid to tackle poaching, The Guardian, 25 April 2014

60-world2 Germany deploys drones to protect young deer from combine harvesters, The Guardian, 25 April 2014

The Digital Gravestone: Technology, Temporality and Memorial

By Jen Turner

Less than a week ago, people across the world remembered events of 9/11 in all manner of ways, ranging from simple recognition of the date to a minute of silent reflection.  Two days later, Google illustrated a different take on memorialisation by displaying a tribute to German composer Clara Schumann, in the form of their infamous ‘Google Doodle’. 

A recent article in The Guardian considers how humans have always harnessed the latest technology to develop ingenious methods of memorialising people and events.   Here, Melanie King discusses the wealth of new enterprises available to the discerning mourner, including the transformation of cremated remains into diamonds or tattoos.  King also describes how age-old traditions have been dragged into the 21st Century using “hi-tech gimmickry”.  One Dorset-based funeral home offers the service of attaching a QR (quick response) barcode to a gravestone or memorial plaque.  This can then be scanned by a Smartphone, bringing “the deceased digitally to life” in the form of a full obituary and photographs at a cost of £300. 

Similarly, the BBC reported last year of the prevalence of tribute pages on sites like Facebook, particularly in cases where young people die suddenly.  Their report commented that, “with so many people having an online life, it seems appropriate that they are given a form of online funeral when they die”.  Online media has also stimulated other kinds of remembrance, such as the Twibbon Royal British Legion’s official poppy, which can be added to Twitter user pictures to commemorate war deaths.  As accessible and versatile as these technologies now are, King highlights an important criticism.  The advancement of technology means that today’s innovations may become obsolete tomorrow.  The digital gravestone relies on the continuity of the QR code, which could easily be replaced by something more ingenious.  What will then happen to those obituary memories and photographs trapped behind that barcode?

The temporality of memorials is discussed in a recent Area paper by Jenkings, Megoran, Woodward, and Bos (2012).  Here, focus is upon the processes of memorialisation in the English village of Wootton Bassett, which emerged as a site to honour British military personnel killed in action.  Located near to RAF Lyneham, cortèges carrying repatriated service-men and -women passed through the town, greeted by assembling masses of silent people.  The paper pays particular attention to the town as a place where contemporary engagements with militarism and the meanings of war are negotiated.  In contextualising this, Jenkings et al discuss the end of commemorative services following the repatriation of personnel to a different air base – highlighting the town as another ‘temporally variable’ space of death. 

Considering this in relation to the technological advancement of memorial practice, we can question the impact of creating memorial attachments to changeable objects and spaces. 

Jenkings, K.N., Megoran, N., Woodward, R. & Bos, D., 2012, Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning, Area 44.3 356-363

Remembrance in the internet age, BBC News, 11 November 2011

The digital gravestone, The Guardian, 9 September 2012

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (22nd June 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Commentary

Static imaginations and the possibilities of radical change: reflecting on the Arab Spring
Federico Caprotti and Eleanor Xin Gao
Article first published online: 19 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01110.x

Original Articles

Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning
K Neil Jenkings, Nick Megoran, Rachel Woodward and Daniel Bos
Article first published online: 15 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01106.x

Airspace Across Spatial Scales

by Caitlin Douglas

The recently imposed no-fly zone in Libya has brought to our attention the topic of sovereign airspace. A country’s airspace is interesting in that although it is less tangible and invisible in comparison to other military installations (such as Navy dockyards) it has an important role in both military training and geopolitical power projection. This topic is discussed by Alison Williams in her timely article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Britain first declared sovereignty over its airspace in 1911, and The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation in 1944 granted all signatory states sovereignty over the airspace above their land and maritime territories (and remains the most influential treaty today).

Williams uses UK airspace as a case study to illustrate how airspace can be perceived as a multiple and complex geopolitical zone.  Williams’ argues that airspace should be referred to as airspaces as the region is actually composed of vertical and horizontal overlapping and intersecting sub-sections and should therefore be appropriately referred to in the plural form. What makes Williams’ article so interesting is that it illustrates how the entity of ‘airspace’ is dependent on the scale at which it is examined. At an international scale airspace is a single homogeneous entity of a specific country whereas within a country, as Williams argues, it is much more heterogeneous. In this way a country’s airspace is far more complex than previously regarded.

Williams, A. 2010. Reconceptualising spaces of the air: performing the multiple spatialities of UK military airspaces. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36 (2): 253-267.

China Rising

Mapby Michelle Brooks

Mounting tensions reached boiling point this week off the Korean peninsular. In a seemingly unprovoked attack, North Korea shelled the tiny island community of Yeonpyeong which lies on the disputed maritime border between North and South Korea. The Northern Limit Line (NLL) was drawn by the then United Nations Command following the 1950-1953 Korean War and is a line that South Korea must not transgress. However whilst this was agreed between South Korea and it’s allies, mainly the United States, it was contested by a then severely beleaguered North Korea.  The NLL which is a curved line (see map above) effectively maroons five (South Korean) islands in the coastal waters of North Korea. This effectivly renders the islanders as the ‘outsiders within’ a perilous life to say the least where ‘within’ is North Korea. Much has been written in human geography about the externalisation of people who whilst holding citizenship of one nation, are geographically positioned in the hands of another, often adversarial neighbour (see work by Alison Mountz). Mountz’ work is in the context of state fear of immigration however the processes of externalization reveal the use of island communities in bearing the burden of wider political sabre rattling.

Additionally, the Korean islands lie amidst some of the worlds richest fishing stocks of hermit crabs, a commodity fought over by America, Japan, and France and jealously guarded by China and North Korea in the past. For a country that has seen food aid from South to North Korea reduced to a trickle since the new administration took charge, devastation to farming from recent floods, and crippling aid sanctions from the west, North Korea has the opportunity to take a meagre portion of moral high ground and has done so at a strategically important time. The incident took place amidst planned joint naval exercises between the U.S. and South Korea near the disputed border just a few miles to the north; the political temperature then climbing further with the arrival of the U.S. (nuclear) aircraft carrier USS George Washington leading to accusations of ‘gunboat diplomacy‘ by America. North Korea has promised ‘a merciless military counter-attack’ should there be any transgression of the territorial boundary (whilst clearly acting without mercy towards the residents of Yeonpyeong prior to any such transgression).

Unfortunately for the small fishing communities on the islands all of this has meant many nights spent in reinforced military bunkers on top of this weeks fatalities and obliteration of property. The presence of the elite South Korean military command post has not had a deterrent effect and arguably provides North Korea with a proximate and hence cheap military target. China has indicated it’s annoyance at the military exercises and is calling for diplomatic engagement with North Korea, refusing to condemn the actions of Kim Jong-il.

China is the single biggest provider of aid to North Korea and Beijing has kept dialogue open despite a plethora of violent and threatening outbursts from Pyongyang over the last few years. Importantly, for China, North Korea is a buffer zone between it and the western-allied South Korea. The question is whether Beijing is prepared to continue walking on egg shells to keep dialogue open with North Korea in the face of pressure from the west to  ‘get tough’ with the Jong-il administration. Whatever the strategy, the world is no longer in any doubt that peace on the prevailing Korean fault-line, lies undoubtedly in the hands of China.

globe1Read about the spatiality of contentious politics for the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

globe1Read about the NLL

globe1Well-being indicators in North Korea

globe1 Read article  by Alison Mountz for the journal Government and Opposition