New strategic contexts tend to drive the development of new concepts. Against the backdrop of an intellectual backdrop that falsely tried to classify warfare as fundamentally “new” (Kaldor 1999) 2001) war. The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center shaped the Bush administration’s failure to conceptually reflect on political violence when it collapsed the counter-terrorism and insurgency activities under the guise of a “war on terror.” The Obama Administration’s Turn to “Innovative, Inexpensive, and Small Format Approaches to Do This” [its] Security goals ”after the counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq (DOD 2012, 3) coincided, among other things, with debates about“ replacement ”(Krieg & Rickli 2018) and“ substitute ”(Waldman 2021) warfare. At around the same time, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its interventions on the cusp of open hostilities elsewhere, and Chinese activities in the South China Sea underpinned the debates on “hybrid” (Renz 2016) and “gray / gray area” (Hughes 2020; Rauta & Monaghan 2021) Warfare. Interest in the indirect intervention of external powers in the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars (among other recent conflicts) has similarly renewed scientific and practical interest in studying conflict delegation and “proxy war” (Rauta 2018, 2021a; Karlén et al. 2021 ). .
Contributors to these debates have sought to understand the importance of real events in our thinking about war, its implications for politics and society, and the political decision-making process. An unintended and often overlooked consequence of these efforts, however, was that the investigation of contemporary political violence has reached a place of “terminological and conceptual turbulence” (Rauta et al. 2019, 417). We remain “conceptually inadequately equipped to meet, let alone meet, violent political challenges” (Ucko & Marks 2018, 208). As the list of concepts grows, a worrying sense of redundancy has developed that pushes the study of war into a series of analytical silos.
These concerns formed the intellectual starting point for our recently published, co-edited special edition of the magazine Defense Studies. This exchange was organized to examine what, if any, analytical contribution the study of “remote warfare” can make to the debates on contemporary political violence. Based on aspects of this research, this brief article has three objectives. First, to give the reader a glimpse into the current state of ranged combat research by introducing some of the different meanings that have been given to the term. Second, to introduce the goals and contributions of our recently released special issue on ranged combat. And finally, to think about what our exchanges mean for the further development of the distance combat scholarship.
To sum up the argument developed both here and in our special edition itself (Biegon, Rauta & Watts 2021; Rauta, 2021b): As a “buzzword,” remote warfare has got people talking about a number of topics, among others on the role of technology in war, the use of various “light footprint” practices of military interventions, and the consequences of recent Western security and counter-terrorism policies. As is often the case with buzzwords, however, overusing them can be harmful. The expansion of the study of the term to include an ever-increasing number of security actors, practices, and cases raises questions about the analytical coherence and value of remote warfare. To put the study on a more secure basis, more attention should be paid to the conceptual foundations of ranged combat research.
Remote Warfare – One Term, Many Meanings?
Ranged combat is not a new term. It has been used since the 19th century to show the logistical challenges of wars over great geographical distances (Watts & Biegon 2021, p.511). Over time, however, the term has often been used as a short form to describe the use of various technologies in war. For example, during a debate in 1977 over funding for the B-1 strategic bomber, Democratic Senator Edward William Proxmire drew a line between advancement in the Air Force and long-range warfare. As Proxmire put it: “… technology” [has] offered us a bridge to another time of war – Ranged combat – Ranged combat by proxy, the era of standoff weapons ”(Congressional Record House 1977, 23537, italics added). During this time, the term long-distance war also developed a derogatory connotation, which repeatedly underscores its use by some critics of Western security and counter-terrorism policy. William Fitts Ryan, a Democratic Congressman and early critic of the Vietnam War, claimed in 1968 that it was “as if the Vietnam War had[d] become a permanent and inevitable fixture in American life, like the endless, Ranged combat predicted in Orwell’s 1984 ”(Congressional Record House 1968, 16675, italics added).
The term remote warfare continues to be used as a short form for studying various weapon technologies. The ethics, effectiveness and legality of drone attacks as well as the experiences of drone operators under the label Remote Warfare were examined (Chapa 2021; Theussen 2021; Vilmer 2021). The representation of drone technologies in various forms of popular culture was also questioned and lively debates about the “cultural entanglements, influences and consequences of long-distance wars” (Adelman & Kieran 2020, p.10). Others have urged ranged warfare to include the study of various “long-range” weapon technologies, such as cyber capabilities and autonomous weapons systems, on the basis that these technologies share with drones the characteristic of “enabling operators to use increasingly differentiated violence “. and at the same time further removed in time and space from the target of the military operation ”(Ohlin 2017, 2). This move has sparked a debate about what developments in artificial intelligence can mean for human decision-making about the use of force (Bode & Huelss 2021) and Western approaches to warfare (Rossiter 2021).
While some focus has been placed on the use of technology in warfare, another branch of the debate has pushed for remote warfare to be reimagined as a broader range of practices used in place of an engaging agent’s conventional ground forces. This understanding of remote warfare shifts the focus away from studying technology in war towards the challenges of working with (and through) local security forces and trade agents. The genesis of this broader understanding of ranged warfare can be traced back to Paul Rogers’ (2013) writings on “Security by Remote Control” and was developed by the Remote Control Project of the Oxford Research Group, which changed the Remote Warfare program.
In February 2021, researchers at the Remote Warfare Program brought together authors from various disciplinary and professional backgrounds and published a 15-chapter anthology on Remote Warfare with E-IR. According to these authors, remote warfare is “an approach used by states to counter threats remotely,” which may include, but is not limited to, the use of remote weapon technology (Watson & McKay 2021, 7). This broader understanding of ranged combat, which includes the use of military assistance programs, special forces, private military security companies, and the exchange of information, has led to a debate on a number of different analytical issues. These include the various human costs of recent Western counter-terrorism operations (Shiban & Molyneux 2021), their socio-political effects on Western states (Demmers & Gould 2021; Riemann & Rossi, 2021) and the geopolitical drivers of intervention from a distance (Biegon & Watts 2020).
In this and other ways, ranged combat is a single term with many meanings. The recent expansion of the study to include a growing number of technologies, practices, and actors has provided a framework for more creative thinking about some of the legal, political, and cultural implications of war in the 21st century. What is worrying, however, is that the use of the term remote warfare has far superseded previous efforts to take stock of where the debate is, how it got there, and where it is going (Watts & Biegon 2019; Watson & McKay 2021 ). Research to date has largely focused on expanding the cases and security practices examined under its umbrella, rather than specifying what remote warfare is and how it differs from other concepts in the debates about contemporary political violence. As Rauta (2021b) investigates in his contribution to our special issue, this inattention to conceptual questions raises at least two immediate problems.
First, the conceptual evaluation, like the grants for international relations in the broader sense (Berenskoetter 2017), has a major impact on the debates on contemporary political violence (Rauta et al. 2019; Rauta 2021a, 2021b). Introducing new concepts can be an important tool in creative thinking about war. It can help highlight shortcomings in the existing lexicon and provide insight into areas of debate that have been overlooked or marginalized (Ucko & Marks 2018). However, identifying and solving conceptual problems is an essential part of the sustainable development of any research agenda (Rauta 2021a). Ultimately, the study of Remote Warfare must build on strong conceptual foundations, because “through language one not only chooses a name for the observed phenomenon, but where it begins and ends, how it is understood and explained” (Rauta 2018, 451).
Second, and related to this, more work is needed to support the claim that remote warfare is a “definite form of military engagement” (McKay 2021a, iv). Some literature seems to suggest that remote warfare is used by almost every state, everywhere, throughout history (Watson & McKay 2021, 7-13). The problem here is that the analytical contributions remain unclear by examining already well-researched practices and cases of military intervention as ranged combat. Similarly, the rationale for using remote warfare is fuzzy versus other concepts that could also be used to study these phenomena. These ambiguities are important because, as examined in our special issue, they call into question both the usefulness of ranged combat as a separate category of warfare (McDonald 2021) as well as its overall contribution to the study of contemporary political violence (Rauta 2021b).
Remote warfare as a catchphrase
“A commitment to open dialogue and analytical reciprocity,” it has been argued, “remains essential if research on remote warfare is to continue to grow” (Watts & Biegon 2019). With this in mind, our special issue was compiled and co-edited. While Biegon and Watts (2020) find benefits in the concept of “remote warfare”, Rauta (2021) remains more skeptical. The lack of consensus on the conceptual and terminological value of the term does not preclude the possibility of a lively, insightful debate. What we agree on is that remote war research “should admit its past and present mistakes” (Rauta 2021b, 4). The concept should be subjected to the same scrutiny as others who have studied war in the twenty-first century.
As a starting point for this exchange, we set out to examine the “buzz” Remote Warfare has generated in certain academic circles, think tanks, and practitioners over the past decade (Biegon, Rauta & Watts 2021). This encouraged reflection not only on the current state of remote war research, but also on the complex and negotiated processes by which terms are introduced into debates about contemporary political violence. In our estimation, remote warfare fulfills all four common characteristics of buzzwords: it is an indication of current fashions or Trends; it has an inherent one vagueness; it has been associated with various actors who stretch its meanings in different contexts; and it is normativewhich plays a role in criticizing the political agenda. Although the idea of a “buzzword” is often used in a derogatory sense, our attempt to re-approach remote warfare in this way does not mean denigrating remote warfare as a serious subject of academic research, nor rejecting contributions from existing remote warfare research. In accordance with the overarching goals of our special issue, the conceptual question of this research project should be given more attention.
The six other articles in our special issue took up this call in a variety of ways. No consensus was reached on how remote warfare should be designed. Some suggested re-addressing remote warfare as a family resemblance of legitimacy issues related to military capabilities (McDonald 2021). For others, ranged combat has been studied as a set of practices that have a common core – the desire to achieve military results without large ground operations – but which are implemented differently on a case-by-case basis, particularly with regard to the political / strategic objectives that Tactics are involved, and the resulting benefits ”(Stoddard & Toltica 2021, p. 448). Attention was also paid to exploring the constitutive “remoteness” of remote warfare, both as a means of working towards a clearer sense of the conceptual utility of remote warfare (Watts & Biegon 2021) and a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between remoteness and Concealment in ranged combat practices (Trenta 2021). Based on ontological security theory, Riemann and Rossi (2021b) examined the role of self-identity as a driver of remote warfare. They advocated understanding remote warfare as an “attempt to restore order and hierarchy in order to keep threats at a distance, establish routines and stability and (re) build a coherent autobiographical narrative” (Riemann and Rossi 2021b). In line with the overarching goals of this special issue, space has been created for a detailed conceptual criticism of Remote Warfare (Rauta 2021b). This move to open remote warfare research to a dissenting stand requires a number of particularly timely interventions. It underscores the need for those working in the field to pay more attention to the definition of remote warfare and its constitutive features, to clarify the analytical value of the term, and to dispel doubts about its conceptual “competitiveness” in the broader study of contemporary political violence.
Conclusion: from catchphrase to research agenda?
What are the consequences of our analysis for researchers who want to make their own contribution to ranged combat research? A broader discussion of a new research agenda must be left to future research. Nevertheless, the arguments developed in our special issue underline the need for a stronger focus on the conceptual foundations of ranged combat research.
The most recent calls to study serve as a starting point for the discussion ‘Non-Western approaches “to remote warfare through” research into the use of ranged combat by Russia, Iran, China or the Gulf States “(McKay 2021b, 241) would benefit from a certain restriction. As Stoddard and Toltica (2021) point out in our special issue, the study of the use and strategic logic of “remote warfare” by states other than Britain and the United States – the main empirical focus of most existing literature – can encourage clearer thinking about remote warfare than one Set of practices. However, Chinese, Iranian, and Russian remote intervention practices are already being extensively explored under other conceptual umbrellas, including hybrid, gray area, and surrogate warfare (Renz 2016; Krieg & Rickli 2019; Hughes 2020). Instead of the further empirical expansion of ranged combat research as end per se; Approaching such studies as means Developing a clearer understanding of the analytical usefulness and differentiation of the term could help dispel skepticism towards his contributions to the study of contemporary political violence (Rauta 2021b).
Associated with this is the call for ‘Watchful eyes on technology ”(McKay 2021, 241-243) through further investigation of autonomous weapon systems would also benefit from a reformulation. Continuous technological advances in these and related areas should not be excluded from ranged combat research, especially given the widespread use of the term to discuss various weapon technologies. At the same time, however, one should avoid the temptation to endlessly expand the practices studied under its umbrella, without equally taking into account the properties and characteristics that bind and bind them all together. Those working in these areas would do well to heed Rauta’s (2021b) invitation not only to “develop a more robust description of its constituent properties and how these are meaningfully configured”, but also to develop a clearer sense of “what that Concept is “. not’.
What specific analytical contributions does the investigation of contemporary political violence under the umbrella of long-range combat make? Which properties can reasonably be understood in order to combine advanced weapon technologies such as autonomous weapon systems on the one hand and military assistance with directly fighting partners on the other? At what point (or point in time) is “remote war” no longer “remote”? To what extent can policy makers shape and influence the “distance” of remote warfare? How can the study of remote warfare as a legitimacy problem (McDonald 2021), a means of identity formation (Reimann & Rossi 2021) and as a set of practices (Stoddard & Toltica 2021) be further developed? The Ranged Fellowship would benefit from further research in these areas.
These demands for greater analytical coherence in ranged combat research should not be misunderstood as an attempt to “discipline” or “gate” this rapidly growing field of study. The research company often develops in a messy and unstructured manner. Despite its definitional and conceptual ambiguities, remote warfare research has invited creative thinking on many different conflict topics and from a range of academic, practical, and think-tank perspectives. The “intellectual and professional pluralism of ranged combat research is one of its greatest strengths” (Watts & Biegon 2019). Making room for more critical perspectives gives tangible meaning to such claims. By taking advantage of the plurality of voices that contribute to the debate, we can better deal with the complexities of political violence in the 21st century..
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