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Conflict and Climate Mitigation of the Future: Sovereignty and Exception in 21st Century Capitalism

The question of this paper attempts to conceptualize new ways in which war and conflict in the 21st century is wagged. Such undertaking is not an easy one to carry out; with the broadening range of issues that perpetuate and normalize conflicts, the concept of war as such becomes more ambiguous, abstract and difficult to delineate. Issues that are likely to exacerbate rather than not in the near future include climate change, refugee movements, decreased food production due to increasing temperatures and draughts, the increasing advent of private military services to protect the security of private wealth1, along with advancing methods of cyber warfare and various advancing technologies such as biogenetics that open up new dimensions in which cybernetic, surveillant, and biopolitical power is exercised on humanity. The conceptual basis for attempting to delineate the so called normalization of war, conflict and exception—both, on the level of the Nation-State and private actors—will be borrowed from Agamben’s State of Exception (2005)2 which offers a conceptual framework that offers a conceptual ground on which the phenomena of sovereign exception can be conceptualized. Lastly, Climate Leviathan (2018) by Wainwright and Mann will offer a lucid account based on a political theory that serves a ground for conceptualizing the forms of political organization that may exist under the looming climate crisis—where war and conflict in under a state of planetary emergency become normalized in the notion of the state of exception as a form of management of the prevalent economic system based on global capitalism.

In the book Climate Leviathan3, Wainwright and Mann set out a conceptual ground on which the political theories of Hobbes, Arendt, Gramsci, Schmidt, Agamben, and others—in conjunction with economic and scientific facts—serve as a promising ground for establishing a conceptual ground for the form of politics that our planetary crisis might advance towards. Based on this exposition, the author investigate the implications of what these developments have on how to think of politics based on security and threat mitigation under this new potential kind of climate sovereignty. Given that politics where “the state of exception” becomes a normalized political measure carried out by sovereign action—the prime example of which, for Agamben, is sovereign exception of U.S in the War on Iraq, whose slogan was “war of terror”. Wainwright and Mann open up the question of how sovereign exception enacted by nation states may take up the slogan of a climate crisis, where the increasing number of draughts, climate refuges, food and water shortages, depletion of natural resources, increase in sea water and numerous other effects. Climate Leviathan opens a question of how might this form of “state of exception” can become a prime ground on which human lives can be managed and sacrificed in the name of a planetary crisis and climate mitigation. It is precisely on this ground that biopolitics can gain their rationale in justifying a form of neo-Malthusian measures along with various forms of utilitarian calculus based on mitigation and management of populations caused from displacement. Here, Wainwright and Mann turn to Agamben’s notion of “paradox of sovereignty” where the prospects for how a sovereign state possessing the powers to enact a “state of exception” could at the same time a undermine the very legislative procedures of the sovereign state itself.

The exertion of sovereign power over the territories of other nations has become a predominant phenomena among various EU countries in securing African borders. As expounded by Webber, First-world nations outsource and exert their sovereign power onto third-world countries, who are the primary origins from where migrations occur. In the case of EU, such power entails an “outsourcing of migration policy” through a solidification of agreements with oppressive regimes in Turkey, Sudan, Lybia, and Eriteria4. There are also cases where countries effected by refugee movements and foreign interventions seek help from first-world nations in maintaining their economic interests, while in return, first-world nations pursue their interests by offering migration-prevention by deploying their national military forces. Such cases include Tunisia, who is signing a cooperation agreement with Italy on migration prevention, committed to taking in migrants intercepted by the Italian coastguard, in exchange for military and strategic assistance with counteracting terrorism which pejoratively affects tourism in Tunisia5.

Even if the link between climate and conflict are poorly understood today6 linear and non-linear relationships can be observed nevertheless between an increasing number of armed conflict in places like sub-Saharan Africa and change in climate7. Such patterns also include increases in violence, suicide, interpersonal violence, along with various forms of social phenomena such as the so called “witch hunts” in Tanzania, where women are murdered based on accusations of being the cause of droughts8. Other empirical factors are better known, such as the agricultural evidence confirming that for every degree Celsius of warming, agricultural yields in Africa can be reduced by 10 to 30 percent9.

Although the ability of sovereign states to enact the state of exception in order to secure their interests through various motivations surrounding climate mitigation, the increasing role that private actors take would also become an observable phenomena. With the increasing level of social and economic inequality not only between poor and wealthy nations, but also among populations within wealthy nations10, the power possessed by private entities also has a stake in mitigating the climate crisis. With private entities playing an ever increasing role in providing the means by which military interventions, biopolitical power and migration-prevention are enforced by state entities. Such cases include the outsourcing by nation states not only of military services to private companies, but also threat assessment and risk consulting that plays an influential role in shaping security policies and military interventions of state actors11, in which the interests of private figures is also increasingly at stake. Other technologies such as iris scanners made by private companies used in U.S prisons are also used to identify and prosecute climate refuges12. The marketization of technologies developed by private entities is therefore another dimension that is at play which welcomes the consideration that climate mitigation and management of climate refugees would increasingly become an interests of sovereign and private actors. With the increasing issues associated with climate change, the increase of conflict and mitigation interventions will significantly influence how politics under the currently predominant framework of capitalism will confront a global crisis.

  1. Krahman, Security: Collective Good or Commodity?, p. 380. 

  2. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 

  3. Joel Wainwright, Geoff Mann; Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (New York: Verso Books, 2018). 

  4. Frances Webber, Europe’s unknown war, p. 36 

  5. Frances Webber, Europe’s unknown war, p. 45 

  6. Richard Akresh, Climate Change, Conflict, and Children, p. 51, 53. 

  7. Akresh, p. 52. 

  8. Akresh, p. 53. 

  9. Akresh, p. 54. 

  10. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press: 2014).

  11. Krahman, Security: Collective Good or Commodity?, p. 391. 

  12. George Joseph, “The Biometric Frontier” (The Intercept, Web), July 8 2017, URL=<https://theintercept.com/2017/07/08/border-sheriffs-iris-surveillance-biometrics/>.