The everywhere war – Gregory

Here, we discuss ‘The everywhere war’ by Derek Gregory, The Geographical Journal, 177: 238–250. It’s available here. The piece is open access, so you can read it for free. Please let us know what you think of it, and if you agree/disagree with any of our thoughts.

This paper, along with Gregory’s blog, have become quite influential in social science discussion of drones, and post-9/11 conflict. Also having great impact is Chamayou’s ‘Drone Theory’, both of these are seen by some as the basis for analysis of the phenomenon of drone warfare and global US counter-terrorism. Indeed, it is difficult to find an article from the social science about either subject that does not reference Gregory’s work.

Without further ado, here is what network members think of the piece.

In this paper Gregory builds on Foucault and others reflecting that the battlefield is now much rather the ‘battlespace’, and there is a blurring of boundaries as technologies and methods of warfare change. I was quite interested in the postcolonial angle Gregory adopts here, pointing as he does to the blurring of the (colonial) distinction between ‘our wars’ and ‘their wars’, with ‘our wars’ being supposedly advanced, surgical and sensitive, though on occasion becoming much less so (239). However Gregory doesn’t really address that ‘their wars’ as it were (i.e. the terrorists) have never been surgical and precise – and surely that is the point, their deliberate MO, and something we still need to come to terms with both militarily and as a society.

One interesting point that did stick out for me in this paper was the emphasis on the CIA being created in the 1940s specifically as a civilian agency to counter-balance the influence of the military (241). But from its inception onwards, from the end of WW2 to Vietnam and now the modern day, its actions have been anything but ‘civilian’. Given the ever-present blurring of the distinction between soldier and civilian, we should ask why do we maintain this distinction at all? Is the distinction a legal and social anachronism?

On a related note, I would like to discuss the Hersh quote Gregory refers to towards the end of the paper where he asks ‘If the military is operating in cyberspace, does this include civilian computers in American homes?’ (247). This for me, seems to reach right into the heart of the military / civilian problematic. Is the internet a civilian or a military space? In one respect the internet emerged from military interests to preserve information in the context of a nuclear war, but has been turned over to the civilian. And yet if the military is operating in cyberspace, would that then suggest a kind of ‘martial law’? The problem here of course is that in a practical sense, martial law is something to be enforced by an authority with the power to deliver real violence (or the threat of violence). In cyberspace however, the military does not have the same asymmetric advantage that it has in the case of martial law. In the world of cyberspace, a lone teenager in a bedroom can hack into NASA and more often than not, can exercise more power than the largest of organisations. At what point then does the lone teenager become a military threat, and indeed a military target? To play devil’s advocate here: if every citizen is a potential guerrilla/partisan fighter, either acting on behalf of a State or indeed for their own personal motivations, should civilians ever be classed as illegitimate targets? Why do we maintain the facade that civilians and soldiers are ever separate entities?

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University


Gregory builds on an existing body of literature on the changing nature of warfare, discussing how the spatial and temporal delineations of warfare have blurred. In this paper he argues that US military operations are now being conducted in the “shadowy borderlands.”

The cases are very different, with varying causes, consequences, means and methods. Within each case, he references snippets of many different existing debates in those fields. This large variety of issues makes it very difficult to actually make any significant conclusions or assessments about the US operations, besides that they are conducted in the “borderlands.” That leads to the article providing limited explanatory value or new insight on the question of borderlands, as the variety of issues are too diverse to extract higher meaning.

Additionally, I find the inclusion of cyberwarfare highly questionable. Cyberwarfare is difficult to conceptualize within the existing frameworks of international security, and there are arguments to make about cyber being its own separate domain. However, in my opinion, it is mainly a technology, more than a location of military activity.

Finally, I have some problems with the methodology of the article. The different cases are very descriptive, with a lot of information adding little value to the narrative. Furthermore, as he is incorporating so many different academic debates, it ends up with highly selective sourcing. This is evidenced most clearly in the discussion of cyber, where he builds the argument on the opinion of one USAF colonel.

Maaike Verbruggen, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Gregory’s use of ‘borderlands’, and ‘grey-zones’ are present throughout this piece, and blend into each other. His conception of pace of the borderland makes me think of potential future operations for (semi-)autonomous weapon systems (AWS).

In literature on AWS, two broad categories of operations are highlighted, the ‘classic’ example of a system operating in an area that could only be a place for the enemy, when civilians are unlikely to be present, ala the Iraqi desert in 1991 and 2003 conflicts. Often, this is contrasted to the ‘complex’ example of terrorists/militants dressed in civilian clothes and fighting a terror campaign/insurgency in an urban environment, ala the Battle for Falluja, or Mogadishu.

For Gregory (and Duffield), such conflict would still both be ‘borderland’ wars, because the potential deployment of AWS is likely to be performed by technologically advanced Western powers. Indeed, it seems that the conception of the borderland here does not depend upon the amount of civilisation in the area of operations. International law scholars working on the issues of drone strike often talk of ungoverned spaces, i.e. those where territorial government has no control and no ability to prevent terrorist activities occurring – The Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan is a good example. This leads to states acting extraterritorially to protect themselves from foreign terrorists (known as unwilling/unable doctrine). Again, this links back to Gregory’s idea of the grey-zone between war and peace  – although legally a state using force on the territory of another state without invitation, consent, or UN security council authorisation has started an intentional armed conflict with the territorial state.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

After reading this article, I did not feel that anything ground-breaking was argued. However, this article was published in a geographic journal as opposed to a legal journal and therefore I can see why the points made in the article would be rather unique for that audience. Nonetheless, the suggestion in the abstract that “much of the discussion of 9/11 has debated its historical significance, but it is equally important to explore the geographical dimensions of the wars that have been conducted in its shadows” is misleading.

Firstly, the historical insignificance of 9/11 is not really debatable for a number of reasons and I doubt that much ‘discussion’ on the historical importance of the event has occurred because it seems totally unnecessary. Secondly, the global war on terror dominates so many international legal topics that it is totally incorrect to suggest that the geographical dimensions of counter-terror wars have not been explored.

One of the major concerns of the war on terror is that the US policy creates a global battlefield and the boundaries between war and peace are blurred. The fundamental argument within the article that the planet is increasingly militarised is one that has been made for a decade prior to the publication of the article.  This does not mean that Gregory cannot add to the arguments and bring new perspectives but the suggestion that the discussions about the militarisation of the planet are not ongoing seems to dismiss years of work that scholars conducted post 9/11.

Liam Halewood, Liverpool John Moores University

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2 thoughts on “The everywhere war – Gregory

  1. Hi Maaike — I agree with you about the sourcing. I find that a lot in academia actually. The idea of selecting evidence to fit a narrative. I’m also quite interested in this idea of cyberspace being a totally different domain. This comes back to an issue I’m particularly interested in, being the link between ‘technology’ and ‘use’. Here, you suggest cyber is primarily a technology, but as we know, technology can shape, and is shaped by its users. A gun is also a piece of technology — as is a drone. Are you saying then that ‘cyber’ is outside of the military sphere? Can the activity of hackers be described as ‘military’ in nature?


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