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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

I interpret the ‘war against terror’, declared following September 11 2001, as adopting concepts drawn from the work of Ulrich Beck, as a projection of world risk society. Despite its global character, war against terror is constructed through outmoded vocabularies of national security and sovereignty, within which the reasoned negotiation of risk is marginalized. This exclusion contributes to the intensification rather than reduction of terror and terrorism. In so doing the moment of violence inscribed within the concept of the political resurfaces in the constitution of war against terror, Homeland Security, and the identities and anxieties that they reproduce. Contrary to Slavoj Žižek's claim that risk society is incapable of resolving the dilemmas that it exposes, Beck's approach cuts across established ideological and methodological boundaries, anticipating key transformations of discourse required to address the prevailing global predicament through the vocabularies and logic of cosmopolitan risk, rather than those of absolute security, terror and war.

In his address at the close of the Azores summit on 16 March 2003, President G. W. Bush identified the global campaign against terror as the first war of the twenty-first century (Bush, 2003a). He did not acknowledge that it is also the first conflict that is distinctly a part of the second modernity, to adopt Ulrich Beck's term capturing the forces and transitions constituting the ‘risk society’ with which his name is synonymous (Beck, 1992). Just as war against terror is a global war, risk society is amongst other things a paradigm of globalization, and as such is particularly suited to the interpretation of the response to September 11 2001, and its effects.

The economies of discourse in general and those produced by the institutions, agencies and associates of the US administration in particular have, however, constructed war against terror in terms of a monolithic conception of national security. Dominated by this imperative, practices of evaluation, decision, negotiation and compromise, that is of the reasoned assessment of disparate and variously tractable risk situations, are inconvenient distractions. Instead, the task of eliminating perceived challenges to the integrity of the nation-state supplants the relational and heterogeneous risk problematic with that of absolute security and its constitutive other, terror. In the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003), for example, the opportunity to manage the present but containable risk posed by Saddam Hussein's regime through transnational institutions and instruments was bypassed in favour of pre-emptive, militarily effected regime change. In terms of global risk the level of threat posed by Iraq was marginal and manageable. From the perspective of absolute security, any danger associated with terror or terrorism demands eradication. Reasons advanced in justification of the campaign were, subsequent denials notwithstanding, produced in support of this underlying objective. A tripartite pattern, previously outlined in Kosovo and Afghanistan, is confirmed in Iraq and likely to be repeated over time in other locations that are initially labelled as rogue or failing states, then constructed as immediate threats to US (or, more broadly, ‘Western’) interests, and finally subjected to regime change.

This interpretation of war against terror is shaped by concepts appropriated from risk society, but proceeds in full awareness that the unfolding meanings and consequences of September 11 2001 and its aftermath are as multiple, contested and ambiguous as the events themselves were emphatic. No single theory or method can contain this multiplicity. The discussion begins by establishing the global credentials of risk society through a selective exposition of Beck's position, attending in particular to the treatment of the nation-state as a ‘zombie category’, and to the mutual vulnerability and equality of exposure that typifies contemporary experiences of risk. This equality was decisively demonstrated by the 2001 attacks, and subsequent sections consider the tensions engendered by the paradoxical attempt to address an acknowledged global problematic through the vocabulary of the nation-state. Both domestically in the guise of ‘Homeland Security’, and in military engagements elsewhere, the pursuit of war against terror inevitably compounds and reproduces the conditions and anxieties that it purports to address. These developments recall Henry Kissinger's cautionary observation that ‘[t]he desire of one power for absolute security means absolute insecurity for all the others’ (Kissinger, 1961, p. 148; 1964, p. 2). Under conditions of globalization, however, the predicament of insecurity applies without exception and Kissinger's maxim is amplified, not just echoed.

The critique of war against terror inevitably provokes questions concerning the provision of an alternative response. Contrary to Slavoj Žižek's assertion that risk society is incapable of resolving the dilemmas that it exposes, supplanting the logic and language of national security and inviolability with discourses oriented around risk and interdependence promises just such an alternative. Beck's initial analysis of ‘Globalization's Chernobyl’ (Beck, 2001) interpreted the events as a vindication of his critique of neo-liberalism that simultaneously ‘brought forth an era of globalized government’ in keeping with cosmopolitan aspirations present throughout his work. Cosmopolitanism is itself a developing and contested field, to which risk society contributes by offering an analysis of the nation-state that, conceiving terror and terrorism as risks demanding multilateral, co-operative responses, provides novel justification for reform initiatives by reconstructing established but outdated conceptions of national self-interest. The penultimate section considers this reconstruction in relation to institutions with the potential to act on a global scale in order to manage and mitigate risk.

Although developments since September 11 depart significantly from Beck's envisaged collective recognition of a ‘global sphere of responsibility’ (Beck, 2002, p. 36), world risk society challenges war against terror by addressing its underlying assumptions and their consequences. These assumptions substantially concern the perceived security and interests of the nation-state, and it is not coincidental that, as a theory of globalization, risk society is also a critique of this archetypically modern political formation.

Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

The transition within modernity from a first industrial stage towards a second, reflexive iteration is blurred and ambiguous. Absent a decisive rupture or break, characteristically modern themes and processes – most notably individualization and detraditionalization – are extended and intensified in a conjectured phase of development that is contiguous with its predecessor, as ‘modernization ... is dissolving industrial society and another modernity is coming into being’ (Beck, 1992, p. 10). Modernity itself undergoes modernization, a self-overcoming experienced across social, political, economic and personal life as novel forms of opportunity, vulnerability, possibility and, most distinctively, as consciousness of risk.

The emergence of Beck's theory coincided with a series of industrial disasters (including the Bhopal (1984), Chernobyl (1986) and Exxon Valdez (1989) incidents) that were readily interpreted to a public increasingly aware of and anxious about exposure to previously distant hazards. In so doing Risk Society (Beck, 1992) became a performative text, producing the cultural environment that an unabating stream of subsequent events (such as BSE/vCJD, SARS, and the collapse of Barings, Enron and WorldCom) continue to entrench. The culture of fear (Glassner, 2000; Furedi, 2002) of recent sociological vogue, which Beck regards as a pathological evasion rather than a rational engagement with risk (Beck, 1998, pp. 147–8; 1999, p. 2f) is an intrinsic but unfortunate aspect of this experience that is well illustrated in the behavioural response to the September 11 attacks, which prompted a decline in air travel and compensating increase in car use despite the fact that road accidents cause as many deaths per week in the US as terrorism did throughout the 1990s (Myers, 2001). Risk society helps to explain these responses, but also challenges them by locating risks in appropriately global and critical environmental, political and economic contexts.

Processes of modernization are approached from the outset in opposition to traditional boundaries of class, gender and, most significantly here, of the nation-state. Differences and limits that industrial modernity conceived, fixed and organized itself around are overwhelmed by hazards that expose vulnerability to manufactured risk as a universal condition. In Beck's own reduction, ‘poverty is hierarchic, smog is democratic ... [risks] possess an inherent tendency towards globalization’ (Beck, 1992, p. 36, emphasis original). This theme has remained a constant throughout subsequent work, where the nation-state features as a ‘zombie category’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. 206; Boyne, 2001, p. 47), a simultaneously obstructive yet ineradicable presence within dialogues concerning globalization, unaware of its status and like others of its kind ‘doomed to live out a twilight existence ... in the misty zone that divides life from death’ (Farson and Hall, 1978, pp. 59–60). Just as the second modernity develops from the first, zombie categories – with all of the affinities conveyed by that appellation – usefully convey the tensions and ambiguities associated with the transformation from within that reflexive modernization involves.

Defining globalization, Beck concedes, is ‘like trying to nail a blancmange to a wall’, but the phenomenon minimally entails ‘that borders become markedly less relevant to everyday behaviour’ (Beck, 2000, p. 20). In particular, the global communication infrastructure, ‘opens up the space of an unlimited public sphere, surmounting and undermining the national construction of “foreign” and “indigenous” ’ (Beck, 1997, p. 75). This blurring of boundaries is inevitably partial and contested. Nationalism, for example, persists in the form of balkanizing and irredentist movements, but such reactive symptoms of the ‘disappearing possibilities of maintaining and renewing alterity’ (Beck, 1997, p. 76), successively more fragmentary and marginal, should not be mistaken for a revival of or return to outmoded forms of organization and governance.

Traditional ideas of the geographical nation as the purpose and symbolic centre of the state similarly persist, but it is symbolic and nostalgic dimensions of tradition that increasingly predominate, masking a reality that no longer functions as the bounded container of an imagined homogeneous unity. The globalizing state is instead host to an overlapping diversity of multiply-sourced identities forging local, hybrid and hyphenated self-understandings, forms of association and ways of belonging, for which identification with the nation is partial or contingent rather than essential and defining. Moreover, as the state becomes increasingly incorporated within transnational institutions it too is transformed. Concerns that were routinely divisible into national and international categories become blurred and mediated within global processes of interdependence and exchange, and the nation as sovereign territory becomes progressively less determinant of its activities and preoccupations.

Conventional notions of the nation-state are inevitably undermined by this interplay of local and global forces and effects, but zombiedom is a subtle condition. Although the nation and its self-images are attenuated by remorseless interrogative processes, these images – especially where they depend explicitly upon borders, differences and oppositions – do not simply disappear. Relationships between states are vestigially constructed in vocabularies of boundaries and limits that, subjected to constant problematization, become points of instability and contingency rather than permanence and certainty. This appreciation of continuity and resistance within transformation precludes the inviting but premature declaration of the simple demise of the nation-state. Undead or otherwise, in its established modern form it is, however, an entity in transition. Nation and state co-exist in increasingly de-coupled modes and the latter, which remains a primary site of power, is active transnationally and, both epistemologically and territorially, constituted fluidly.

This de-coupling involves a parallel reconsideration of the ‘trumping’ political primacy of sovereignty claims. ‘The future’, Beck insists, ‘cannot be understood and withstood in the conceptual framework of the past’ (Beck, 1997, p. 14). Attempts to grasp the territorially unbounded character of contemporary conflict within realpolitik assumptions of the established international system are compromised from the outset, confirming the requirement for a revised lexicon of appropriately global concepts.

Within Beck's framework of reflexivity and risk the challenge posed by terrorism (and by weapons of mass destruction) is identified, long in advance of war against terror, as a threat where damage ‘loses its spatio-temporal limits and becomes global and lasting’ (Beck, 1999, p. 36). This falls short of a prediction of September 11, but does suggest how risk society can contribute to its interpretation and understanding. Firstly, the attack on globalization and its symbols (the commercial and military-industrial centres of the hegemonic power) was itself reflexive in that it exploited and was enabled by the very existence of global infrastructures of transport, mobility, communication and capital. Secondly, at least 2825 lives were lost of individuals from over 115 countries (Raines, 2002, p. 232) in the collapse of the WTC towers, sited at the centre of an unreservedly global city. Thirdly, although the events of September 11 were highly specific and particular in terms of location, they were simultaneously experienced and interpreted in a multitude of ways throughout the global village. The twin towers remain omnipresent in the public imaginary, in its archives and iconographies, and in conspicuous representations (such as the coda to Martin Scorsese's 2002 cinematic homage to the city, Gangs of New York). Every such appearance offers itself as a memorial, prompting interplays of absence and presence that place in stark relief the extent to which the exposure to risk of globalization's ostensibly favoured beneficiary is comparable to that of its weakest victim. The ‘new normal’ of life ‘in the shadow of no towers’ (Spiegelman, 2003) is hereby disclosed as a discomfiting condition where the distribution of terror is as democratic, and as unconstrained by the boundaries of the nation-state, as that of smog. In addressing this normality the US clearly recognised aspects of the challenge posed by this exposure. The doctrine of military pre-emption chosen to combat it is, however, an instrument of national security singularly ill-fitted to a problem of global risk.

Pre-emption, National Security and Terror

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

The US response to September 11 was direct and paradoxical: a recognition of vulnerability accompanied by the pledge to eradicate it without remainder. On the following day President Bush described the attacks as ‘more than acts of terror; they were acts of war’ (cited in Raines et al., 2002, p. 68) and declared war against terror on a worldwide scale. In so doing he simultaneously acknowledged the global dimension of the terrorist threat, and placed the distinction between acts of war and acts of terror on a continuum. Terrorism within the US had hitherto been predominantly treated as a law enforcement issue demanding investigation and prosecution according to prevailing standards of due legal process. The September 12 redescription, however, specified as global both the territory of the ‘new’ enemy and the space that US policies subsequently traversed, overturning in an instant the Kennanite norms of deterrence and containment that shaped US strategic thinking throughout the Cold War, and continued (in the form, for example, of no-fly zones and trade sanctions imposed upon Iraq) to exert a guiding role in the uncertain formation of the ‘hot peace’ that followed.

The apparent novelty of this approach resides in its adoption of pre-emptive force, a strategy more commonly associated with the aggression of rogue states against which the US previously defined its virtue, and with processes of terror itself. Indeed, effective acts of terror typically depend upon pre-emption as targets, for example, are unpredictably or arbitrarily selected, or attacked without warning or provocation. Neither the conduct nor outcomes of such acts are fully predictable or controllable, and as war and terror overlap and blur so too do distinctions separating civilian from combatant, collateral from non-collateral, and innocent from other victims. Moreover, by leveraging sentiments of uncertainty amongst target populations, pre-emption, like all mechanisms of terror, enlarges the impact of aggression, provoking fears that permeate the cultures thereby constituted and reproduced. This effect too is uncontrollable, and just as fear and terror can bring about compliance and acquiescence their outcomes inevitably include transgression and resistance.

President Bush's formulation of the pre-emptive strategy conjoined terror and war with weapons of mass destruction, to construct a shifting category of enemy located:

... at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology ... even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power ... and we will oppose them with all our power. Deterrence ... means nothing ... Containment is not possible ... the only path to safety is the path of action ... our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for pre-emptive action (Bush, 2003b, p. 269).

Significant questions – in particular regarding the simultaneous disavowal of imperial ambition, affirmation of the universality of American values, and determination of good and evil – arise here but exceed the scope of the present discussion (see Johnson, 2002). Three points of immediate note are, however, prompted by this doctrinal formulation. Firstly, pre-emption overturns both the longstanding formal convention of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states, and the UN-backed norms and laws that legitimate the use of force only under specific situations justifying self-defence against actual rather than merely possible threats. Criticism of its unilateral pursuit (see Annan, 2003) notwithstanding, that pre-emption was readily acknowledged as a principle of action testifies to both the pervasive influence of the US and the rapidity of the transformation of the international order as globalization and its consequences are encountered in intense contemporary forms. Secondly, the depiction of the vaunted threat is entirely, but pathologically, of a piece with Beck's depiction of risk society as ‘not a revolutionary society, but more than that, a catastrophic society. In it the state of emergency threatens to become the normal state’ (Beck, 1992, pp. 78–9, emphasis original). The vocabulary of peril, catastrophe, anticipation and resolution invoked in Bush's speech enunciates the contours of the new normality, and aspects of its manifestation as ‘Homeland Security’ are considered below. Thirdly, in addressing any and all threats, both potential as well as actual, the doctrine responds to global conditions by abandoning conventional norms of space, time and restraint. This radical globalization of legitimate violence engenders a temporally and territorially unbounded cycle where the ‘enemy’, always in the process of becoming, is identified and eliminated on the basis of predicted and phantasized future events rather than demonstrable intentions, actions and capabilities. The rationale underlying the initiative, affirmed in the subsequent National Security Strategy (NSC, 2002, pp. 15–16) was directly proclaimed by the President himself. ‘If we wait for threats to fully materialize’, he explained ‘we will have waited too long’ (Bush, 2003b, p. 269).

In each specific instance the detailed process of pre-emption is not wholly foreseeable, but inevitably traces the logic of absolute security and terror, exhibiting patterns that establish and regulate the doctrine, the acts that it authorises, and the reactions provoked. The criteria for inclusion on the list of rogue states susceptible to pre-emptive force, for example, are uncertain but available for interpretation using the template of labelling and construction identified in the case of Iraq. Indeed, initial perceived progress in Iraq led to speculation concerning the existence of a ‘laundry list’ of potential targets including Iran, Syria and Pakistan (Bush, 2003c; Rice, 2002; Glass, 2003). The possibility of defeat in conventional military terms is eliminated in advance by the asymmetry of forces confronting any target of US military force, and in the absence of meaningful opposition there can be no conflict bar a short process of destruction and surrender. The element of surprise within terror conceded by the scale of deployment is re-established in the use of ‘smart’ weaponry targeting civilian and urban locations, exacerbating the fears of the population that their liberators might attack invisibly and unpredictably at any moment. Justification, as Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz inadvertently conceded over Iraq, is a matter of the cultivation and management of public perceptions and ‘bureaucratic reasons’ (Wolfowitz, 2003). Finally, although the immediate outcome of any particular operation is never in doubt, the totality of the stated objective of war against terror, which ‘will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated’ (Bush, 2001) is specified in terms that are rendered unsatisfiable by the manner of its conduct.

As the cycle inaugurated by the doctrine of pre-emption progresses, its completion is indefinitely postponed as one vanquished target produces another. In the formative stages of war against terror, for example, a tangible increase in terrorist activities throughout North and East Africa, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the Indian subject-continent and the wider Gulf Region occurred. By responding to terror in this manner, the US and its allies incorporate its logic as the basis of their actions, and in so doing, wittingly or otherwise, become its begetters as well as its opponents. This dilemma, that responding to terror in its own terms deepens rather than eradicates recurrent violence, recalls Kissinger's dictum concerning the pursuit of absolute security which, however sincerely undertaken, cannot but result in its opposite. Kissinger, that most subtle of realists, has voiced cautious support of the Bush doctrine when ‘issues of ultimate national security such as Iraq’ (Kissinger, 2002) are at stake. As David Hendrickson (2002, p. 9) observed, it would behove both the former Secretary and his latter-day successors to retrieve and reinterpret his abandoned maxim in a manner befitting the transformed contemporary environment.

Irrespective of long-term outcomes, pre-emptive regime change in Iraq has fuelled regional disturbance on a massive scale. It is not yet possible to assess Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's prediction that ‘instead of having one bin Laden, we will have 100’ as a consequence of Operation Iraqi Freedom (quoted in Black and McGreal, 2003). It is nevertheless evident that as presently constituted the campaign accepts and incorporates terror as its own modus operandi, and through the identification of threats prior to their materialization functions as a mechanism that perpetuates its own basis in the form of terror, resistance and insurgency. This is an inevitable effect of the adoption of pre-emption, a doctrine bearing a logic that applies to the United States and its partners just as it is applied by them. The fading of the boundaries separating internal national and external international concerns also ensures that its effects are felt within as well as without even more acutely than in earlier conflicts.

Identity, National Security and the Homeland

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

The endorsement of pre-emption and concomitant ambition to eradicate terror, although ostensibly innovative developments, are not without precedent. Indeed, for commentators such as Noam Chomsky (2003) and Gore Vidal (2003) the declaration of war against terror is both predictable and consistent with US interventions and undertakings since the republic turned towards empire following the Second World War. Its recent manifestations are, from this standpoint, merely accelerated by developments within terrorism. Such criticisms, although unquestionably acute, are incomplete and univocal. Their mode of opposition to the US is as unshaded and binary as the Bush administration's separation of the world into good and evil, terrorist and anti-terrorist, friend and enemy. They do, however, call attention to the role of the past in the interpretative production of the present, and to ‘the residue of founding violence ... an archaic form of irrationality’ erupting in periodic outbreaks that are ‘inscribed in the very structure of the political’ (Ricoeur, 1998, p. 98).

It is not the case that the US became an agent of terror in responding to the September 11 attacks, rather that the response exemplifies the violence that inheres within the state as a political form. In addition to Iraq and elsewhere, this archaic excess is prominently elaborated at Guantanomo Bay, where deterritorialization and pre-emption are materialized in a legally determined limbo beyond the reach of civil and international law. Although US Supreme Court decisions of 28 June 2004 granted the pre-emptively detained captives at Camp Delta the right to a hearing, this was held to require a limited combatant status review tribunal (Dworkin, 2004) and fell short of extending protected legal status under the Geneva Conventions to the detainees. The long-term consequences of the Court's rulings await clarification in an ongoing series of decisions and appeals. The process of suspension and deferral is, independent of ultimate legal outcomes, emblematic of the new normality. Some ninety miles away, in a vivid conjunction of the local and the global, its restrictions and violations are subtly replicated within the disciplines and practices of Homeland Security.

It is far from accidental that ‘Homeland’ replaced ‘Fatherland’ as the politically correct rendering of Patrie. The Jacobin terror, prefigured by the Declaration of 11 July 1792 of ‘le Patrie en danger’ [the Fatherland in danger] began as a means of asserting the authority of the nation-state. ‘Let us be terrible so that the people will not have to be’ declaimed Danton, as the initial assembly of a Committee of Vigilance (Comité de Surveillance) was succeeded in April 1793 by the Committee of Public Safety (Schama, 1989, pp. 624, 706–7). Just as war against terror is waged in the name of peace, so Homeland Security, the latter-day incarnation of the Comité, is established in the name of freedom (Ridge, 2003). The ‘domestic’ facet of the global campaign against terrorism, Homeland Security incites and precipitates a condition of anxious conformity throughout the population. Within the society of catastrophe it is a key mechanism through which the state of emergency becomes institutionally established as the norm.

As with the persons and communities that comprise and inhabit them with varying degrees of enthusiasm, reluctance, solidarity and resentment, states are sites of identification incorporating an unstable and overlapping patchwork of narratives, myths, traditions, inventions, oppositions and discriminations. The reproduction of these multiple meanings is an ongoing process of articulation establishing identity over time in terms of variously dense and sedimented, or contested and contingent, commonalities and differences (Taylor 1989, pp. 19–24; Connolly 1991, pp. 64–8). In Washington and New York as surely as in Paris, terror recurs throughout these discourses and the symbolic order that they establish and sustain.

The detail of this presence is exposed in David Campbell's reading of the US state as a site of fixity and order defined in opposition to a panoply of dangers, each an instance of the ‘other’ that, as difference, determines its enduring identity as a secure (enclosed, self-sufficient, distinct) entity. Harbingers of disorder and ambiguity against which security is written into the symbolic order variously include communism, drugs, alien immigration and sexual deviance, as well as more opaquely subversive and ‘un-American’ activities. Cultures of fear and moral panics invoking these dangers (such as McCarthyism, the ‘war on drugs’, and anti- feminist moral majoritarianism) function in turn to consolidate the nation-state as the site of stability (for example Campbell, 1998, pp. 141–7, 172–4, 185–7) and bind the patriotic citizen to it.

Terrorism features within this discourse as one of the dangers against which the impress of security is applied, and is present in multiple registers within the repertoire of significations through which identities achieve articulation and recognition in public space. The impact of September 11 is confirmed in this context as a refiguration, rather than a wholesale transformation, as terror came to prominence as the other against which stability and order are defined, and terrorism as the label applied without discrimination to behaviours and identities experienced as disturbing to or incompatible with the orthodoxies thereby prescribed. Before the attacks agents of terror, a feature of American experience (Hewitt, 2003) from the Ku Klux Klan to Timothy McVeigh, were marginalized within the master- narratives of the nation's self-image, values and norms. Transnational terrorism was comparably banished to ‘an external and anarchic environment’ (Campbell, 1998, p. 8), of which the territorial US did not imagine itself to be a part. Following the attacks the fiction that the ‘other’ was without rather than within, along with the boundary sustained by the distinction, was exposed, and terror became prominently and rapidly normalized within processes of identity formation. Most Americans were ‘spectators to the event and participants in the suffering’ (McInness, 2003, p. 173) but this suffering extends beyond the travails of mourning and remembrance. It is also experienced in the everyday demands of Homeland Security, a set of performances that establish, reproduce and consolidate the identity of inhabitants of the new normality, and of the state that enacts its realization.

The principal text of and commentary upon Homeland Security is provided by the USA Patriot Act and the responses that it precipitated. The Act has been widely challenged, in particular regarding its allegedly unconstitutional extension of powers of surveillance, detainment and expulsion (American Civil Liberties Union, 2002; Cole, 2003). The critique from the perspective of civil liberties and immigrants’ rights importantly monitors and resists the spread of a soft despotism in the expanding activities (such as the Orwellian monitoring (Harris, 2003) of library users’ borrowing records) of the state and its agencies. The apparatuses of panopticism long predate the declaration of war against terror, however, and the tendency to polemically depict their extension as part of an undeclared war waged by the US against its own citizens (Vidal, 2003, p. 101) obscures the more subtle and penetrating effect of which they are a part – the institutionalization of a psychology and subjectivity befitting the logic of security and terror.

Mike Davis offers a summary of this effect that outlines its variation on the now familiar pattern of pre-emption: ‘law enforcement is being restructured so that the FBI can permanently focus on the war against terrorism ... The globalization of fear thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy’ (Davis, 2002, pp. 17–8). The difference with Homeland Security is that the pre-emptive pattern of labelling, construction and transformation is ‘domesticated’, assuming a prophylactic guise of vigilance, anticipation, and relief. Within this cycle uncertainty is cultivated but remains unresolved as the act that completes the sequence – the event of terror – is defined in such a way that, although inevitable, its occurrence is always deferred into an unpredictable future rather than the foreseeable present. Like the war against terror of which it is a part, completion of the cycle is indefinitely postponed.

This postponement is expressed in routines that inform the everyday experience of Homeland Security, a preoccupation throughout mass media, commerce and civil society as well as the state. The sources contributing to the production of its subjectivity are therefore multiple, but mainstream channels of information and exchange typically follow the agenda and practices established by the state and most succinctly communicated in its mantra of vigilance and preparation. The official website, http://www.ready.gov, is presented under the title ‘Be Ready!’ with a sound bite from founding Secretary Tom Ridge proclaiming that ‘Terrorism forces us to make a choice. We can be afraid. Or we can be prepared’. This is, however, a false opposition, as readers are warned in alarmist terms about threats that are simultaneously real but unknowable and inevitable but unpredictable. The injunction to prepare thereby anticipates its own object, and in a now familiar manner contributes decisively to its production: rather than assuaging fear, Homeland Security incites and reinforces its own spurious necessity. This in turn is transmitted, reproduced and disseminated throughout discourses of citizenship. In daily briefings and Internet updates, for example, the current threat situation is simplified into vague and disturbing categories of danger graded from green to red. Carefully orchestrated drills, rehearsals and simulations maintain security and terror at the forefront of public awareness, supplemented by exercises, such as port closures and flight cancellations, suggesting a more proximate but still intangible threat to the nation-state and its borders. The outcome of this frenzy is an ever more prominent anxiety located within a space of epistemic vacuum, stimulating a condition of suspense and unease of which the subject is constantly reminded.

Terror is thereby insinuated within the structures of the social world, part of the background of prejudgements, assumptions and understandings that shape the reception, experience, and reproduction of everyday life. This process was infamously demonstrated when a recommendation that windows might be rendered airtight against biological agents through the application of plumbing tape and plastic sheeting led, in a self-supporting cultural circuit of media hype and public panic, to reports of unprecedented demand, stockpiling and shortages (Hindo, 2003). States of alert function here as indices of terror, internalized by the self-disciplining, fearful and prepared subject of Homeland Security, the identity and satisfactions of the patriot combining with acts of consumption and contributing to the economy of fear in all senses of the term.

Slavoj Žižek goes so far as to suggest that by cultivating a condition of perpetual readiness, ‘the US is deliberately fomenting the fear of impending catastrophe, in order to reap the benefits of the universal relief when it fails to be realised’ (Žižek, 2003). The ‘enemy’ is a phantasy made real in order to underwrite the extension of the state's activities. This insight certainly identifies one mechanism at work within Homeland Security, but confuses intention and effect. This confusion is also present in Žižek's second, avowedly paranoid, suggestion that ‘the real target of the “war on terror” is the disciplining of the emancipatory excesses in American society itself’ (Žižek, 2003).

Whilst it is impossible to establish the veracity of this judgement, to the extent that it has taken place, any curtailment of protest is charitably viewed as a welcome side effect of the response to September 11 rather than a guiding aim. Even more welcome, however, is the impact upon the wider population. Polling data (American Broadcasting Corporation, 2003) suggests that two thirds of Americans broadly support the erosion of their rights, regarding the Patriot Act and subsequent institutionalization of Homeland Security as warranted intrusions. The production and normalization of the psychology of fear is thereby willed by a receptive citizenry that participates in its construction, and whose compliance sustains it. The extent of this effect is only apparent at the stage when the state of emergency and the anxiety that attends it assume an appearance of permanence, with the associated erosion of rights similarly rationalized, reconciled and justified, and the logic of security and terror thoroughly integrated within the habits and customs of the new normality.

Homeland Security thereby reinforces the insecure subjectivity that is its prerequisite. As the state is increasingly presented – and its actions justified – against the ‘other’ of terror, it simultaneously inculcates and diffuses these identifications. This subjectivity is of course incomplete, and its simplicity occludes beliefs, affinities and commitments that complement, complicate and exceed the conventions of patriotic allegiance. This limitation notwithstanding, insofar as it amplifies the impact of terror, the disciplinary politics of Homeland Security is effective as a means of shaping the beliefs and anxieties of malleable, self-regulating subjects who associate citizenship with conformity and patriotic duty. In so doing the paradoxes of absolute security and pathologies of war against terror are replicated upon the domestic stage. As with the strategy of pre-emption, the fixation of Homeland Security upon an increasingly obsolete conception of the bounded nation-state renders it inadequate to the complex interface of globalization and risk.

Globalization and Cosmopolitanism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

The explanatory efficacy of themes drawn from Beck's framework invites the question of whether an analysis embracing risk, which at the strategic level is all but excluded from the discourse shaping war against terror, supports alternative responses to the consequences of globalization. Žižek suggests that it cannot do so because risk society founders upon a paradox of its own:

The ultimate deadlock of the risk society lies in the gap between knowledge and decision, between the chain of reasons and the act which resolves the dilemma ... the situation is radically ‘undecidable’; but we nonetheless have to decide ... . (Žižek, 1999, p. 334)

Where Homeland Security seeks to cover the breach between information and knowledge with an unsustainable dualism of preparation and fear, the lacuna specified by Žižek between knowledge and sufficient reason appears, superficially, equally unbridgeable. Žižek's provocative critique is, however, incomplete and the deadlock he identifies far from ultimate. That Žižek believes this to be the case is attributable to his own standpoint, a radical, idiosyncratic universalism located firmly within the fading first modernity (for example Žižek, 2001, pp. 169–73) and its assumptions. Žižek's posited impasse also presupposes a probabilistic, calculative and utilitarian model of risk (see Gigerenzer, 2002, pp. 26–8) in contrast to the globalized understanding that is fundamental to Beck's theorization. This inadvertently underlines the significance of the invitation of world risk society to reconsider the political order in a cosmopolitan form shorn of illusory claims to territorial sovereignty and monopoly of violence. Žižek's deadlock is thereby addressed, and the chasm between decision and action potentially at least bridged by the recognition of mutual vulnerability and interdependence that a reflexive understanding of globalization and risk underwrites.

This transition in reasoning, to reiterate, does not depend upon the implausible disappearance of the nation as category, but does conceive of the state as an institution that is, increasingly, transnationally and co-operatively constituted. Although the residue of violence inscribed within the concept of the political is ineradicable, the condition exposed on September 11 does not invite the US to assume the mantle of global leviathan. Such a response is reflexive in the crudest sense – a knee jerk characteristic of an earlier period rather than a considered response to the actuality of prevailing circumstances. Security, to the extent that freedom from Hobbes's (1991, p. 89) ‘continual fear, and danger of violent death’ is attainable, is an inexorably conditional and transient by-product of co-operative endeavour that is never absolute and, under conditions of globalization, only incidentally national in form. From this perspective September 11 can be appropriated as an unlikely catalyst. The immediate and spontaneous declarations of solidarity by transnational institutions (including NATO, the UN and the League of Arab Nations) following the attacks demonstrates, contrary to the ambitions of its protagonists, that ‘global terrorism ... has pushed us into a new phase of globalization, the globalization of politics, the moulding of states into transnational co-operative networks ... the rule has been confirmed that resistance to globalization only accelerates it’ (Beck, 2002b, p. 46).

This prognosis has been largely disappointed by subsequent developments, in Beck's view due to the persistence of outmoded concepts, a ‘silence of language’ (Beck, 2002c, p. 1) in facing the event that underlines the veracity of its critique. It also attests to a continuing confusion of leadership and dominion, as the US seeks to determine the course of globalization rather than participate in its construction in a consistent and equitable manner. The outcome is an unstable, oscillating multilateralism where retreat towards moribund self-interest is maintained as the option that becomes inevitable whenever the hegemon's immediate will is thwarted or questioned.

To note just three familiar examples, the benefits of free trade are recited liturgically by a US administration that routinely imposes tariffs and distributes subsidies in order to perpetuate asymmetries of power that developed during the first modernity but cannot survive the scrutiny of the second. The perceived interests of the advanced post-industrial economies are thereby protected from the effects of the global marketplace (for example Stiglitz, 2002, pp. 172–3) that they avowedly espouse. Comparably, the National Security Strategy extols the virtues of global co-operation but rejects the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (NSC, 2002, pp. 30–1), the most significant development towards the establishment of global judicial standards of the post Cold War era. Thirdly, in his speech marking the first anniversary of September 11, President Bush provocatively asked the United Nations General Assembly whether it ‘will serve the purpose of its founding or will it become irrelevant?’ (Bush, 2002). Operation Iraqi Freedom offers one response to that rhetorical question, as does a wide-ranging joint statement calling upon ‘all nations to join together in common purpose ... to recognise our responsibility to work for the common good in the world’ made without reference to the UN (Blair and Bush, 2003). Yet these stances too are qualified by ongoing participation within UN structures and processes, not least the diplomacy that produced the anaemic but symbolically significant Security Council Resolution (USC 1511 [2003]) on the reconstruction of Iraq.

This metronomic pattern was again in evidence in the aftermath of President Bush's 2004 electoral success, when his acknowledgement that ‘we have common duties: to protect our peoples, to confront disease and hunger and poverty in troubled regions of the world’ was devoid of reference to the development of, or role of the US within, institutions dedicated to those very tasks. The President did suggest that he ‘would continue to reach out to our friends and allies’ (Bush, 2004b), but the dominant and predictable pledge was to expend newly acquired political capital – obtained in no small measure through an election campaign that relentlessly invoked thematics of Homeland Security – upon war against terror, which ‘we will fight ... with every resource of our national power’ (Bush, 2004a).

These briefly observed abridgements of principle and practice are far from novel. Every such ambivalence marks an anxiety of transition between the modernity of the nation-state and its emergent globally oriented successor, the atavistic impulse to ‘pour formless global threats into old territorial bottles’ (Ó Tuathail, 2000, p. 174) enacting nostalgia for a fondly imagined (and hence unimpeachable) era of stability, authenticity and self-assurance. Risk society confronts this melancholy and the diminished certainties that provoke it, reconstructing the idea of national interest within a global and collective framework: ‘[t]ransnational co-operation [is the only solution] ... in order to pursue their national interest, countries need to denationalize and transnationalize themselves’ (Beck, 2002b, p. 48). The state already contains the resources as well as the contradictions that provide the basis of its development, globalization requiring the recasting and relocation rather than abandonment of priorities and prerogatives, including security, that are no longer simply national in form. This aspect of continuity between formations of modernity is easily obscured by the prominence of misleading distinctions – between national and international, inside and outside, domestic and foreign – the efforts required to police and maintain boundaries between them, and the tensions thereby produced.

For Beck (2002b, pp. 51–3), cosmopolitanism presents itself as a methodological programme with sweeping objectives – the reconstitution of society and sociology – fully in the tradition of grand social theory. Within any such scheme the part and the whole are only precariously divisible, and this discussion does not seek to endorse the wholesale disciplinary reinvention of which the interpretation of war against terror and its consequences is but a part. This part is nonetheless a significant one, shifting the terms of political discourse away from the consuming obsession with absolute security and terror. In so doing a re-orientation towards coping rather than dominating, where the exclusive claims of the nation-state give way to a collective understanding of globalization as both formative environment and site of political response, is enabled.

This site is not of course singular, and involves a rethinking of established orders where the ‘sub-politics’ of local and transnational awareness, advocacy and protest disturbs established boundaries of governance. The sub-political crucially cultivates the political consciousness without which cosmopolitanism remains an unrealized theoretical conjecture, but is not sufficient in and of itself and must be paralleled by institutional and policy innovation (Beck, 1999, pp. 14, 37–9, 91–108). A view of transnational institutions, including the WTO, ICC and UN as well as NGOs, political coalitions and protest movements, as agencies of reflexive modernization, susceptible to reforming agendas consistent with the diagnosis supported by risk society, is thereby advanced.

Instead of distancing itself from such institutions, or perpetuating the debilitating inconsistencies of present practice, the option of undivided co-operation within transnational processes affords an opportunity to address the patterns of and vacillation and indecision exposed in the course of this discussion. As Stiglitz (2003) argues in respect of the WTO, reform ‘is imperative – if we want a better and more equitable world, or even if we just want a safer world’. This observation is as relevant to justice and co-operation as it is to economics, and the notion that the reconfiguration of existing relationships requires unrealistic altruism or sacrifice by traditionally dominant powers towards the less advantaged is a fanciful remnant of the ‘methodological nationalism’ (Gane, 2004, pp. 143–6) that presupposes all interests to be national in form. Redistribution, for example, already occurs on a scale as vast as it is irrational. Setting aside the limited contribution of aid programmes, the $1.9 trillion estimated economic impact of a decade-long engagement in Iraq (Nordhaus, 2002, p. 76) suggests the extent of potentially available resources. The proposal that investments of this scale be directed more constructively and imaginatively is ultimately a modest one. Although the costs of cooperation may be less readily accountable than those of military adventures, the potential benefits accruing are unquestionably greater and, insofar as they resolve difficulties attending the attempt to pursue global politics in the language of the nation, normatively compelling.

Many initiatives directed towards the reform and extension of transnational agreements and institutions after September 11 (Archibugi and Young, 2003; Held, 2004, p. 148) are consistent with world risk society, but do not originate with or depend upon it. The equality of vulnerability that is fundamental to Beck's framework, and the democratic potentials that inhere within it, creates novel incentives and invigorated motivations to revisit the fears, resentments, inequalities and failures of recognition that contribute to the reproduction of terror. Rather than a vehicle of pax americana, in a world exceeding the mastery of even its most powerful occupant, an adequately achieved globalization must be cosmopolitan in the fullest post-national and post-hegemonic sense.

Cosmopolitanism is of course far from unproblematic, and is the subject of flourishing multidisciplinary debate (Brown, 1992; Held, 1995; Archibugi, 2003). Rather than offering a simple solution to the permanent crisis of the nation-state, it is a set of processes and possibilities contributing to a developing politics of global governance. Its universalism is prospectively thin and fragile, and its tolerance of alterity constantly placed in question by forms of life and norms of conduct that test the limits of any pluralism. In this context Beck (2002a, p. 36) writes of the possibility of multiple cosmopolitanisms, rather than a single prospectively homogenizing model with which permissible social forms must render themselves commensurate. Europe, with all of the tensions and contradictions inherent within its union and institutions, is offered as an unlikely paradigm of cosmopolitan practice. It is, he claims ‘a unity of diversity’, the denial of which ‘misses that this is already also true of the nations that make it up’ (Beck, 2003, p. 32).

The sense conveyed – that as the sources of cosmopolitanism are abundantly plural, so must their container be – is superficially plausible. The relationship of the one and the many is, however, left conveniently and optimistically open. Extending the boundaries of cosmopolis raises concerns regarding monistic associations and origins of the term, and its capacity to cope dialogically with differences and conflicts that are as constitutive as shared ideals and collective ambitions. As a framework for collective decision-making and risk-sharing, it inevitably generates boundary tensions as its own limits are exposed and tested, and is not a panglossian solution in which any and all conflicts can be dissolved. Pace Kant, risk society projects a cosmopolitan purpose without a universal history and, as Beck candidly concedes, involves a ‘ruse’ where vagueness and equivocation ‘stands for openness to the world ... there is no substantial founding principle’ (Beck, 2002a, pp. 36–7). Cosmopolitanism is not therefore a utopian project or a teleological inevitability, its progress contingently bound up with the critical development of a globalization that seeks to make its institutions and practices more transparent and accountable. This thin foundation has yet to be thoroughly tested (Beck, 2002a, p. 24), and Beck's ruse may in time be exposed as a bluff. Its avowed openness does, however, promise to accommodate proliferating relationships, affinities, dependencies, differences and antagonisms – including those connected with terror and terrorism – that surround globalization and resist solution in terms that posit and naturalize the nation-state as the original and primary unit of political analysis.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

A more complete account of the causes and effects of contemporary terror would, minimally, incorporate eschatological, petrochemical, postcolonial and neo- conservative elements beyond the scope of this discussion. Even within its limited deployment here, however, world risk society supports an understanding of war against terror and its contexts that is simultaneously critical and constructive, challenging the calcified assumptions of national security with alternative vocabularies and norms of mutual risk, vulnerability, dependence and responsibility. Kissinger's paradox – that absolute security for one entails its opposite for the rest – implies that the security ambitions of modern nation-states are at best confused and at worst self-defeating. Overcoming this conundrum, and with it the deadlock specified by Žižek, is significantly enabled by a perspectival shift from national security towards cosmopolitan risk.

This transition is immanent rather than inevitable. The normative purchase of any theory upon the world that it interprets cannot be gainsaid or guaranteed, and as yet the language of global risk has not decisively informed the response to September 11. The ever-decreasing circle of difference and repetition inscribed within identity-forming discourses by the institutions, practices and disciplines of war against terror and Homeland Security is, however, inevitably incomplete and open to challenge. World risk society contributes to this contestation by identifying within processes of modernization both sources of prevailing discontents, and resources that address them in innovative forms.

Nostalgia for a fondly imagined era of the nation-state is a homesickness that cannot be resolved by the optimistic invocation of obsolete conventions. Equally, ‘[e]veryone is wrong about the future’ (Kundera, 2002, p. 5, p. 143), especially those tempted to pre-empt it. As the fortunes of war against terror demonstrate, the desire in the name of security to dominate terror rather than negotiate risk serves only to proliferate that which it aims to extinguish. Overcoming a paradox often requires the displacement of entrenched habits of thought and action by less constrained or predictable alternatives. In this regard, world risk society forcefully gives voice to an ethos befitting cosmopolitan forms of governance, making possible a transforming engagement with the problems and opportunities surrounding globalization in general, and with global security and terror in particular, that is otherwise likely to be eclipsed in the pursuit of a forlorn absolute.

Note

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2004 PSA Annual Conference at the University of Lincoln, and at the Political Theory Workshops hosted by the Department of Politics at the University of York, where I benefited in particular from the searching comments of Sue Mendus, Matt Matravers and Tim Stanton. In addition I am grateful for the advice received from the anonymous reviewers for this journal, and for additional feedback on the draft kindly provided by Jan Rockett and by Catherine Wynne.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Modernization, Globalization and the Nation-State
  4. Pre-emption, National Security and Terror
  5. Identity, National Security and the Homeland
  6. Globalization and Cosmopolitanism
  7. Conclusions
  8. About the Author
  9. Note
  10. References
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