chapter  3
18 Pages

Neoliberal political economy and the Iraq war: A contribution to the debate about global biopolitics


The recent debate about biopolitics in International Relations (IR) theory may well prove to be one of the most provocative and rewarding engagements with the concept of power in the history of the discipline. Building on his arguments concerning the architectonic role played by the concept of security in the genealogy of nineteenth century liberal government, a good number of IR scholars are now arguing for the relevance of Foucault’s theories of biopolitics and governmentality for understanding the Global War on Terror (GWOT).2 Indeed, they suggest that it is now possible to use Foucault to talk about the emergence of a genuinely global regime of security (Connolly 2004; Morton and Bygrave 2008; Dillon and Reid 2001; Lipschutz 2002). Others have criticized this idea, however, arguing that Foucault’s intellectual project was focused on the paradox of power under conditions of freedom within domestic contexts. As such, the critical concepts of his repertoire cannot be ‘scaled’ to give purchase on the specific empirical problems that define the international. Marxist critics in particular have objected that the enduring grip of the structure of capitalism over the relations between nation states serves to ward off the sorts of liberal regimes that Foucault studied, thus rendering his methods ineffective. Moreover, by erroneously trying to force Foucault’s methods to apply to this domain, ‘biopolitical’ analysis exposes its complicity in supporting what are in essence ‘reworked and reworded liberal accounts of international politics’ (Selby 2007: 324-25). Given the continued role played by capitalist imperialism as a constitutive force in world order today, theorists of global biopolitics would be better advised to devote their energies to explaining the dynamics of its reproduction and, better yet, how it might be combated (see, for example, Joseph 2010; Bruff 2009; Barkawi and Laffey 2002).