- Chronicles of the Surveillance State
Ian Shaw, lecturer in human geography at the University of Glasgow, combines his research interests about the use of drones in US national security measures and technology’s ability to transform worlds, to produce an extremely detailed account of how the drone enabled the United States to become the surveillance state supreme. Thus Predator Empire joins the expanding body of literature that analyzes the proliferating use of drones in US military strategy, but shifts focus onto US surveillance techniques. Its aim is to discover what it means for humans to exist in an “era of dronified state violence” (5), as Shaw argues that the use of drones has transformed the geographies and infrastructures that construct us as human beings within society.
To begin, Shaw argues, after the American Revolution the United States shunned imperialism, the spatial expression of empires, and decided to set up trade markets instead. However, a century later, the United States started to pursue an empire of its own, and now the drone—the Predator drone, in particular—along with surveillance technology have offered a way to realize this control over space, which has always been important to US hegemony. Analyzing the path the United States has taken, Predator Empire’s four main chapters provide a well-researched historical and technical story of important events: the Vietnam War as the first “technowar,” the rise of drone technology, and increased surveillance carried out by numerous US institutions. Shaw methodically describes wars, weapons, military strategy, and political decisions to illuminate [End Page 132] how the United States came to impose a “full spectrum dominance” on the world.
Building on this extensive chronicle, Shaw asserts that a new military spatiality has manifested, making the term battle-field somewhat outdated. Previously wars were fought on land, at sea, or in the sky; now another arena has emerged because of the increased use of drones, a technical “droneworld.” This world shrinks military bases into a “technogeography” of endless fiber optics, satellites in the sky, and small control centers that possess a global reach, annihilating space between the military and its intended target. This new spatiality holds host to the United States’ new techniques of power: manhunting and aerial assassination. Consequently, US military control over the world is converted from boots on the ground to surveillance from a screen, as drone operators watch the every move of individuals who are deemed a threat and investigate whether their often mundane actions are a “strikable” offense.
This transformation of strategies of war and control leads Shaw to build on existing theories of necropolitics. Targeted killings by drone strike have become a common technique of US warfare and counterterrorism measures since the early 2000s, a strategy that has brought the prefix necro to the forefront of US politics. As Achille Mbembe explains, biopolitics is no longer a sufficient way to describe the “subjugation of life to the power of death” (2003: 39), because bio, “life,” is not the overarching narrative. This concept is examined by Grégoire Chamayou in relation to drone strikes, and he emphasizes that drone warfare reinforces a necro-ethics of “killing well,” by manipulating the principles of war to make a “criteria of acceptable murder” (2015: 163). Shaw builds on these notions, explaining that manhunting, along with aerial assassination, has allowed for “a necroforensics that digitizes life to produce death” (223). The digitizing of people’s lives that “consents” for targeted killings distinctively defines this “Predator Empire” as a vast spatiality that thrives in a political era of necropower, where individuals are put to death without asking questions.
Shaw’s most insightful theorization of how drones and their new geopolitical sphere affect political decisions, however, acts as bookends for the text’s main historical chapters. As a result, focus on the question Predator Empire sets out to answer—how is society affected by “dronified state violence”—is on occasion lost within the thorough historical account that discusses numerous dates, significant people, and...