Militarism in the Age of Trump, Part I

Part I of a post based on a paper I am co-authoring with Bryan Mabee, Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. Bryan is the author of Understanding American Power (Palgrave, 2013), The Globalization of Security (Palgrave, 2009) and co-editor with Alejandro Colás, Mercenaries, Pirates, Bandits and Empires (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2010).  The paper is being prepared for “Militarism and Security,” a workshop organized later this month at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg by Anna Stravianakis (for her latest appearance on this blog see The Dissonance of Things No 3) & Maria Stern.

Update: Part II added on 18/03/17.

With Donald Trump as the president of the United States, militarism is once again becoming a hot topic. Trump’s appointment of right-wing generals to senior posts in both the White House and his cabinet legitimate militaristic policy discourses and positions, as do the president’s pronouncements about the need to “modernize” the country’s nuclear capability, put America’s enemies “on notice,” massively “rebuild” the military, hold “more military parades” in American cities, deploy the national guard to “restore order” (and possibly “hunt illegal immigrants”) and “streamline” U.S. defence exports.

And all of this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For one thing, the Trump presidency merely empowers an already deeply militaristic and militarized American culture, one that is forever in love with guns and prisons and forever reticent to acknowledge the inherently racialized dimensions of both. For another thing, Trump’s top advisor is the “ethnonationalist” Steven Bannon, who is so influential in the White House that some describe him, tongue only halfway in cheek, as the actual president of the United States. Apparently, Bannon reasons that war between the U.S. and China is likely, given the thorny nature of international disputes in the South China Sea. One could in fact say that beneath the visible iceberg lie powerful and long-standing militarized realities—most of which have been ignored, temporized or marginalized in the earlier, ‘normal’ periods.

ABC News

Can Critical Security Studies (CSS) help us illuminate militarism in the age of Trump? On one level, yes. Militarism is central to the field’s go-to framework on securitization—meaning, the scrutiny of the ways in which constitutional or ‘normal’ politics are transformed, via speech acts, into ‘exceptions’. The above image, Trump signing the Executive Order banning immigrants, dual nationals and US residents with citizenships from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, suspend refugee admission and bar all Syrian refugees indefinitely, can be said to capture ‘exceptionalist militarism’ at work. Yet, beyond theorizing this one form of militarism, CSS has mostly been silent on the ‘classic’ concern of the literature on militarism—its sources, consequences, and the changing character.

In this two-part post we build on insights from historical sociology to develop a typology of militarism that CSS schools could consider as they try to make sense of political violence today.

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‘You are fired!’ Towards the Hegemony of Neoliberal Hypermasculinity

This is the final post in a series of posts by several guest authors  for The Disorder Of Things symposium on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. In this post, Ali Bilgic responds to the previously published posts and makes some concluding remarks. The full series is collected here.


He is signing a document. Men standing behind him are all serious, looking over the shoulder of the one who he is performing the ceremony, a TV show par excellence. One of them passes the black folders; one after another, one signature after another. When he signs, his eyebrows rise a little, probably to see better. In this moment, it is possible to notice the blankness in his eyes that complements the expressionless face of the new Commander-in-Chief: there is no sign of affect in them, a staunch wall, like the one to be built on the border with Mexico, or the one in Palestine/Israel.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 23, 2017.
Trump on Monday signed three orders on withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, freezing the hiring of federal workers and hitting foreign NGOs that help with abortion. / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

One expects he would abruptly say ‘You are fired’; one wonders whether he has learned and practised this masculine emotionless performance during his years in the world of entertainment: in a reality show where young men and women wildly competed against each other to prove themselves to the neoliberal finance capitalism. Otherwise, they are fired, they vanish, do not exist anymore, neither for the audience nor for the market. This kind of decision requires rational thinking; in other words, a solid emptiness, a wall.

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Of Malls and Mosques

This is the fourth post in a series of posts by several guest authors The Disorder Of Things on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. The full series is collected hereAida A. Hozic is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Florida.


The publication of Ali Bilgiç’s book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy in 2016 could not have been more timely. There are few historical moments in our recent history when politics of gender and race have been so forcefully pushed to the front and center of global conversations. Conflicts, refugee flows, uprisings, coups and counter-coups, populist blowbacks and rising authoritarianism – all seem to be written through, with, and over racialized, gendered bodies of men, women and children, justifying the persecution of some and advocating protection of others. Turkey, as the events (and the trail of bodies) of the last few years tragically confirm, sits at the crossroads of all these trends; civilizational cliché that it is the country where “East meets West” can no longer suffice to explain (and perhaps never could) multiple fissures and violent contradictions of its polity.

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Turkey, Power and its Eastern Others

This is the third post in a series of posts by several guest authors The Disorder Of Things on Ali Bilgic‘s new book Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy, released in late 2016. The full series is collected hereClemens Hoffmann is a Lecturer in International Politics at Stirling University, UK.


Ali Bilgic’s book is a timely and sophisticated contribution to the analysis of Turkish foreign policy as well as gender theory in IR. It combines a convincing analysis of the puzzle that is Turkish Foreign Policy (TFP) through an analytically as well politically original lens: that of gender. It identifies and problematizes practices of gendering underlying the relationship between the ‘West’ and the ‘Non-West’, of which Turkey is held to be a part. Apart from its rich and sophisticated historiography, its major contribution lies in analysing a ‘non-Western’ society from within, offering a rich and original narrative, which, no doubt, will benefit future generations of Turkish foreign policy and feminist IR scholars alike.

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What We Talked About at ISA: The Climate for Women in International Relations and Politics

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Yesterday, The Guardian reported on the level of sexual harassment in British universities. Based on Freedom of Information requests (and for this and other reasons necessarily a partial insight into the incidence of harassment) the investigation nevertheless notes the combination of allegations from students against staff, and from colleagues against each other (roughly 60% and 40% of the total allegations respectively). Perhaps the most high profile media story on sexual harassment in universities so far, The Guardian piece nevertheless follows from a series of stories and controversies, most notably Sara Ahmed’s documentation of specific cases at Goldsmiths (covered in posts on the initial harassment conference, on the nature of evidence, on discovery and speaking out, and on resignation as a feminist issue).

Many of the same concerns have been raised in International Relations (IR) and politics. Individual stories of harassment have long circulated (and been collected anonymously at sites such as Everyday Power and Privilege in IR). At this year’s International Studies Association conference in Baltimore, ten panels were convened on marginalisation, discrimination and violence in professional contexts. Due to a gap in the programme, I was asked to contribute. I opted to describe – and now report in blog form – an experiment in addressing discrimination and bias against women in academia, and to draw some comparisons with IR and politics.

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A Faustian Special Relationship

Donald Trump has a thing for rebuking America’s democratic allies and their leaders—his latest target being Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The UK appears to be an exception to this trend. In his first interview with the British press as president-elect, Trump explained that the UK has a “special place” in his half-Scottish heart and pledged to support a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal. Reportedly a big fan of Winston Churchill—and of Boris Johnson’s Churchill Factor—he also asked the UK government to loan him a Churchill bust that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush kept in the Oval Office.

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“Global Britain”: Theresa May’s Ersatz Vision

A guest post by Seán Molloy, Reader in International Relations, University of Kent

Now that the contours of post-Brexit UK foreign policy are clearer following the Prime Minister’s ‘Global Britain’ speech, the time has come to ask the most critical question: is the project feasible? The central thrust of Theresa May’s pitch is that freed from ‘inflexible’ Brussels mordant grip the UK will soar to new heights. ‘Global Britain,’ May confidently asserts, will be a trading dynamo.

Nobody who lived through the referendum campaign could agree with the Prime Minister that the vote on June 23 was a declaration of Britain’s determination to build a “truly global” Britain. Insofar as the depiction of Britain as an economic titan destined for global greatness once free of the EU featured in the referendum it was a distant also-ran compared to immigration, the fabled £350m per week to be lavished on the NHS, and the restoration of British sovereignty. These objectives were all domestic in nature and not consistent with the Prime Minister’s characterisation of Brexit as the expression of a confident, thrusting nation about the take the commercial world by storm. The electorate voted with its eyes open, but its gaze was primarily fixed upon the perceived domestic consequences of EU membership and other grievances related to the operation of globalisation rather than an insistence upon seizing external opportunities.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster House in London

If what was genuinely at stake in the referendum eluded the Prime Minister, the full scale of its effects also seem to be absent from her articulation of the policies her government is poised to enact.

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