A Preliminary Comment on the Predatory State
One is compelled to comment on the feeling that there is an upsurge of invasions by States and quasi-States which has muscled its way into the Western media. Invasions are State military offensives aggressively entering the territory of another State to retaliate, establish control, divide the country being attacked or gain concessions or resources. What do invasions gain? How do such short shock tactics accomplish long term goals?
Fitting awkwardly with the hegemonic discourse of Western supremacy and its global security, recent invasions and border conflicts appear as an unravelling of the mosaic of States. This was mostly created by European powers in the early to mid 20th century and then later sustained by American military force and corporate dominance. Often this “Pax Americana” has founds its limits, particularly in confrontations with China and PRC proxies in Korea, Myanmar and most prominently defeat in Vietnam. However, stalemates and withdrawals from Asia from the 70s to the 1990s did not prompt as strong a sense of the fraying of the edges of a globally accessible space created by this geopolitics. The defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan allowed US elites a certain compensatory satisfaction for their loss in Vietnam. Above all, the implosion of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s also allowed political elites in the West to imagine themselves victorious and legitimated as though the result of a divine order or natural selection. The magical thinking was almost palpable in the triumphalism that ran from Francis Fukiyama to Barak Obama (1989-2019).
This hegemony, or “cultural formation,” was strongly anchored by a predictable geopolitical environment which allowed not only trade but international mass tourism to flourish, perhaps reaching a peak around 2010. Memes of these global flows and mobilities included the figure of the long duration backpacker in Asia, the cruise ship and the rise of Dubai and Doha as Middle Eastern air travel hubs. In effect, we see a global-scaled social spatialisation, not uncontested, but a predictable enough set of relations and images and identities of places and regions that international corporate investors literally “could take to the bank” as the English saying goes (meaning it was a dependable, fixed verity). Anomalies, transgressions, and exceptions could be dismissed as such, as “risks” rendered manageable and palpable through the statistical resort to probability and insurance markets.
The enforcement of this hegemonic spatialisation by American force was highlighted in extreme responses to challenges, particularly threats to the supply of oil and to the sense of hegemony itself: thus Venezuela and Iran were sanctioned; Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded by American coalitions. The former for demanding (with force) an independent position in relation to US dominance over Gulf oil production and US dollar valued oil markets (which have guaranteed the ever-increasing demand for and thus value of the US dollar through the necessity of procuring dollars for oil purchases and settlements). In the latter case, although they had played a decisive role in defeating the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban implemented a populist and militant Salafist cultural alternative which excluded women from public and included destroying historical landmarks, which insulted the tourist-site style of cultural inclusiveness of the global order.
Border conflicts, disagreements and zones of uncertainty nothing new. particularly in abutting coastal areas where the direction of the border stretching out from shore is often the source of debates. However, recent State-to-State conflicts feature military action not only across borders (China-India). This is in addition to State governments’ border paranoia (US Mexican border) and its manipulation as nationalistic xenophobia in populist rhetoric and to fund spectacular demonstrations of “ bordering ” and dividing with walls (Israel-Palestine, US Mexican border). In 2023 there were also military assaults to redraw borders or change their functional attributes (Azerbaijan and Armenian Ngorno Karabakh; Hamas with Israel and subsequently Israeli invasions of the quasi-States of Gaza and the West Bank; a foreshadowed invasion by Venezuela’s resource-driven claims on half of Guyana (once British Guyana).
It is almost as if there is so much power concentrated on maintaining the old border stalemates of the last half-century (e.g. North and South Korea, PRC and Taiwan) that other incursions and take-overs over the last 20 years were dismissed. A full list is below with estimates of civilian casualties (For 1945-2001, see the useful list maintained on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_invasions). Some of these invasions have led to annexation, others to occupation or to the installation of puppet governments and finally others have remained as unstable and unpredictable zones of conflict between occupiers and local forces. These zones of uncertainty were “spaces of exception” within the global spatialisation we have just identified, more than any national spatial order. This separates the notion of “state of exception” zones or spaces of exception from sovereign laws within a State to a different and broader transnational context that is governed less by sovereign legislation and more by custom, negotiated legal norms and institutions and by realpolitik.
2023 invasion of Gaza (Israel)
2023 invasion of the West Bank (Israel)
2023 invasion of Israel (Hamas and allied militias and movements)
2022 invasion of Ethiopia (Al-Shabaab militia)
2022 invasion of Ukraine (Russia)
2018 invasion of Socotra, Yemen (UAE)
2017 invasion of the Gambia (Senegal Nigeria and Ghana)
2016 invasion of Syria (Turkey)
2014 invasion of Gaza (Israel)
2014 invasion of Ukraine (Russia)
2011 invasion of Somalia (Kenya)
2008 invasion of Gaza (Israel)
2008 invasion of Georgia (Russia)
2008 invasion of Anjouan, Comoros Islands (State of Comoros)
2006 invasion of Somalia (Ethiopia)
2006 invasion of Lebanon (Israel)
2004 invasion of Gaza (Israel)
2003 invasion of Iraq (US coalition)
2002 invasion of West Bank (Israel)
2001 invasion of Afghanistan (US coalition)
Each of these invasions has been accompanied by thousands of civilian deaths, which I invite the reader to tabulate. States are in these instances lethal to both foreign and their own citizens – more and more, the dead are children. The perversion and inversion of the Welfare State is the Predatory State.
Borders have not only been stalemates, situations of a negotiated but also divisions between life chances and economies. Globalisation, the system of what John Urry called ‘off-shoring’, also allowed the arbitrage of labour costs. Low wages allowed goods to be assembled and sold across a border to others paid high enough wages to afford the products at a premium price.
How do invasions change these functions? Borders continue to be important, as Anssi Passi has reminded us. State invasions across borders may be intended to reinforce the financial, trade or migration effects of a border. However the loss of respect leads to a melting of the solidity as well as the dependability of borders as frontiers and as norms. We are in a moment where while borders have been hardened for citizens (for example, expanding customs formalities), they are also increasingly violated by States and would-be States. Predator States.
-Rob Shields (Univ. of Alberta)