This pace seems to represent assurance, but this is always paradoxical. Pace no longer represents competence; now, it is a reversal. New destabilizers constantly emerge to confound the stability of the nuclear age. The signs of safety continually appear as accompaniments of chaos, and the inherently chaotic (the nuke) raises possibilities of a more managed society than anyone had ever imagined. Reagan’s well-known inability to understand how our “defensive” capabilities could appear obviously “offensive” to the Soviets is only a symptom of a larger tendency that pervades nuclearism. As Gary Willis has explained, resources will inevitably be confused with intentions; resources become the sign of intentions, and the reality of the sign is continually overestimated, perhaps more so when the stakes are higher.
Naturally, the enemy’s intent and willpower are less visible than his resources; so we overestimate them in much larger degree – this is called the “worst-case” scenario. If we must presume the worst in order to be prepared for anything, then the slightest increase in enemy resources must be read as part of a larger design being implemented. Even a cutback in one area will be read as an economy called for by greater expenditure elsewhere.
Transposed into the reverse logic of deterrence, the consequence is that assessments of enemy strength – a more or less routine affair in peacetime – become permanent destabilizers when the balance of terror is institutionalized. The rationalistic management that modern nuclearists proclaim as their achievement will continually threaten to produce aggression and unbalanced terror. In such a strange setting, as Deleuze and Guattari explain, desire will stage breakouts along all sorts of unexpected lines. Chaloupka, William. 1992. Knowing nukes. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press. 76-77.
The block quotation (that I have marked in bold) from Chaloupka here is a citation from Gary Willis’ Critical Inquiry 1982 article. As a combination of security studies and rhetoric this is an important book for me. What I remember not being adequately dealt with by Chaloupka is the break in thinking which supposedly occurred with the development of nuclear arsenals. I tend to think people were always nuclear a la Latour’s “we have always been modern.”
People have always known their lives are fragile and may come to a sudden end beyond their control. The advent of a nuclear arsenal overseas did not change this. There is the risk of a sudden cessation collectively. The immediate move into the remainder-less world might now be a new concern ushered in by nuclear weapons, but how this has wide reaching changes in signification I am not sure. Regardless, the passage above is important, especially to-day.
The new destabilizers to-day are easy to see: terrorism and their mechanisms such as email, cell phones, and porous borders. The signs of safety that accompany these destabilizers are border patrols, the National Security Administration and their Predator program, the Patriot Act and military commissions just to name a few. It is hardly contentious that these mechanisms have led to a more managed and manageable society.
The contentious part is the Gary Willis block quotation. The Bush Administration has become the ultimate peddler of the worst-case scenario. According to statements we are to believe that not only Iraq but also that al Qaeda was/are nuclear threats. The lack of evidence proving the nuclear threat is spun to mean that al Qaeda is not seeking nuclear weapons because they (here we will find carefully inserted words such as ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘possibly’, but the message is the same: be afraid) have nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario then becomes a lens through which al Qaeda is viewed. If there is movement from Afghanistan it means al Qaeda is leaving and taking the offensive. If there is silence it means al Qaeda is preparing for a spring offensive.
This lens will produce a ratchet of violence. Tensions will always be escalating and the other will see every action one side takes as aggressive. This is easily seen in the bin Laden assessments. Initially he was just a Saudi critic, but his threat assessment has gradually ramped up, sometimes as a result of a violent action and sometimes not. For example we can look to his early statements, which have now been entirely discounted. Initially bin Laden claimed to want the US out of the Kingdom (the Kingdom is not just Saudi Arabia, but also the holy land of Mecca and Medina.) Those claims are now dismissed (whereas his more radical and catastrophic claims are uncritically accepted as truth) by our administration as lies to make him seem more moderate and appealing to others. Signs of moderation are seen as recruitment attempts. Is this not the perfect example of Willis’ “even a cutback in one area will be read as… greater expenditure elsewhere”?
Iran is another illustration. Not only does Bush fall into this pattern when looking at Iran, but it is this very pattern that allowed Ahmadinejad to be elected. Iranian aid to Shiites in Iraq is seen as an anti-US gesture, when it may possibly be merely a means to protect a minority, which faces violent persecution. The US media, Bush is not alone in this error, links Iraqi insurgents into one anti-US group. There are places in Iraq where the Shiite insurgents and the US troops are fighting the same enemy and Iran might possibly be helping US forces.
What was the threat to US interests when the Iranian revolution occurred? Why was it treated with such disdain? Our response was to arm Iraq and the Baath party; Saddam Hussein was our preferred weapon against Iran. And now we are bogged down in Iraq trying to clean up that mess while Iran has reacted to our hostilities and moved into a new tier of US threat assessments. The Iraq war is misnamed. This is all the same battle of the US versus Iran, which is really a battle of modern forces versus conservative forces. It is odd that the preferred weapon of the US to fight these conservative forces is an evangelical President that has celebrated his disavowal of nuance. Instead of focusing on killing the conservative forces, maybe we ought to instead focus on converting those forces. The real question then becomes the one Chaloupka finds begged by Deleuze and Guattari: what is the desire of modernity, which keeps staging breakouts in all these unexpected lines?