ABSTRACT

Introduction: critical geopolitics While geographic formulations are key to contemporary geopolitics (Agnew, 2003), they are usually so obvious, so taken for granted, that they are not a matter for critical scholarly attention. Geographic specifications of political matters invoke entities, usually states, as though they are natural and eternal, rather than complex social processes with boundaries that are repeatedly contested (Fall, 2010). The globe is usually treated simply as a given, an entity divided into nation states that have relations with one another – ‘international relations’, in recent years extended through processes of ‘globalization’. Many diverse modes of critical scholarship have lately argued that such assumptions are no longer tenable as the premises for serious investigations either of politics or sovereignty, much less organized political violence (Agnew, 2009; Walker, 2010). Geography, it seems, isn’t as simple as the maps suggest; the construction of a world made of ‘spaces of security and insecurity’ is a crucial part of the processes that specify dangers that are used in political discourse to ‘require’ the use of military violence (Ingram and Dodds, 2009). Preparation for war is tied into the specification of ‘our’ state, or often simply ‘us’, as threatened by external foes. These often unremarked upon contextualizations are key to the practices of war making, and as such need to be part of any theorization of how contemporary militarization works. Nonetheless, implicit Westphalian assumptions of national spaces, of proximate virtue and distant threat, domestic identity and foreign peril, persist in the tropes of militarization. Despite the end of the Cold War and the collapse of geopolitical blocs (Kaldor, 2007), the political language of state rivalries and national military formations persists in many places. In the discussions of interventions, the responsibility to protect and the apparent necessity for the use of force, the implicit geographical designations of places have powerful political effects. Specifying places as having attributes, and constructing whole categories of geopolitical designations such as ‘failed states’, is key to the strategy of what Stuart Elden (2009) calls ‘contingent sovereignty’. Statehood is now contingent on performing according to standards of political conduct designated by the powerful; failure to follow these rules can result in the

suspension of sovereignty until such time as particular forms of political order are re-established, if necessary by external intervention. In Walker’s (2010) terms, sovereignty may now frequently lie with the system of states, or at least with those who take it upon themselves to specify the appropriate modes of conduct elsewhere in the system. The geography of danger is about how we who live ‘here’ are called upon to act in particular ways, to perform citizenship in particular territories (Cowen and Gilbert, 2008). It is about how ‘our’ violence is first and foremost rendered necessary precisely by how the geography of danger is specified. Our violence is a regrettable necessity while theirs is denigrated as uncivilized, threatening, and sometimes just plain evil (Gregory and Pred, 2007). Thus critical geopolitics is about interrogating the frequently implicit taken-for-granted contextualizations of the world in the language of international politics, contextualizations that require certain forms of conduct given that specification of the world in the first place (Dalby, 2010a, 2010b). In particular, as the rest of this chapter teases out, it is about challenging formulations of virtuous violence that are at the heart of post-9/11 militarization. This in turn requires consideration of wider popular culture, and of how danger is portrayed and virtuous violence invoked as a counter to numerous threats, real or imagined, in simple geographical imaginations (Dittmer and Sturm, 2010). As the rest of this chapter argues, geography matters greatly here in how dangers are invoked as requiring military preparation for actions in distant places. The ambiguities about how to correctly specify the locus of danger, the identities so threatened, and the appropriate responses to new looming threats to modernity are crucial to the discourse of contemporary militar ization. The point is not that cultural productions of identity, either in popular entertainment or in the news and talk-show genres of what François Debrix (2008) calls tabloid realism, are a superstructural imposition on a prior geopolitical reality, but that the political constitution of geopolitics is imbricated in the cultural specifications of danger (Ingram and Dodds, 2009). Military doctrine is written to deal with geopolitical threats that are prior to the strategies and forces built and trained to cope with them; as culture and networks become much more prominent in military thinking (Ansorge, 2010), so too do geographical representations of places of danger and violence (Gregory, 2010). This chapter comprises three main sections. It turns first to the geographical specifications of security and danger in the years after 9/11, and poses the question of the popular imaginations of danger and the discussion of whether the militarization of the war on terror was a matter of empire or not. While the practices of the Bush administration and its British ally very clearly specified the response to 9/11 as a matter of warfare, and hence an event requiring a military response, the geopolitical specification of the source of danger wasn’t at all clear (Dalby, 2003). Quite what the appropriate designation might be has been a key part of the subsequent discussion on the war on terror; and the military difficulties have been in part because the forces unleashed in South-West Asia were ill suited to the kind of military action they became involved in (Dalby, 2009a). The lack of

an appropriate doctrine, and the subsequent attempts to reinvent counterinsurgency strategies (Kilcullen, 2009), are tied into the debate about how the landscape of violence is to be understood and who inhabits that landscape. The second main section looks to popular culture, and poses the question of what endangers which where. While in the ‘real world’, American, British and allied troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, simultaneously in the world of entertainment, war and the destruction of people and places was being represented on screen in Peter Jackson’s reworking of J.R.R. Tolkien’s (1999) Lord of the Rings trilogy. Focusing all too briefly on this enormously popular movie trilogy, the militarized identities and the ethos of various warriors therein, the chapter poses the question of how marginal places are represented in the contemporary tropes of endangerment. The third main section of the chapter focuses on future dangers, specifically on how climate change as a potential cause of war and conflict in the near future has been interpreted through military lenses. The location of endangered virtue is also far from clear here, and the critical reading of The Lord of the Rings offers a way to interrogate the taken-for-granted geographies in the discussion of climate security. Once again a simple geography of metropolitan insecurity in the face of peripheral disruptions structures much of the discourse of danger in climate security formulations. This final case also suggests that the geographies of endangered virtue are very much more complicated than the simplistic takenfor-granted geographic entities frequently invoked in national discourses.