[Reader-list] Ctheory Interview With Paul Virilio [on Kosovo War...]

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Mon Oct 15 01:05:04 IST 2001

Ctheory Interview With Paul Virilio

The Kosovo War Took Place In Orbital Space

Paulo Virilio in Conversation with John Armitage
Translated by Patrice Riemens

Paul Virilio is a renowned urbanist, political theorist and critic of 
the art of technology. Born in Paris in 1932, Virilio is best known 
for his 'war model' of the growth of the modern city and the 
evolution of human society. He is also the inventor of the term 
'dromology' or the logic of speed. Identified with the phenomenology 
of Merleau-Ponty, the futurism of Marinetti and technoscientific 
writings of Einstein, Virilio's intellectual outlook can usefully be 
compared to contemporary architects, philosophers and cultural 
critics such as Bernard Tschumi, Gilles Deleuze and Jean Baudrillard. 
Virilio is the author, among other books, of Bunker Archeology (1994 
[1975]), Speed & Politics: An Essay on Dromology (1986 [1977]), The 
Information Bomb (2000 [1998]) and, most recently, Strategie de la 
deception (1999). His analysis of the Kosovo War is the subject of 
his conversation with John Armitage below.

John Armitage: Professor Virilio, to what extent does your 
intellectual and artistic work on the architecture of war, and 
architecture more generally, inform your thinking in Strategie de la 
deception? Is it the case that, in common with other so-called 
'postmodern' wars, such as the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the 
architecture of war, along with architecture itself, is 
'disappearing'? How did you approach the question of the architecture 
of war and its disappearance in Strategie de la deception?

Paul Virilio: Well, let me put it this way, I have always been 
interested in the architecture of war, as can be seen in Bunker 
Archeology. However, at the time that I did the research for that 
book, I was very young. My aim was to understand the notion of 'Total 
War'. As I have said many times before, I was among the first people 
to experience the German Occupation of France during the Second World 
War. I was 7-13 years old during the War and did not really 
internalise its significance. More specifically, under the 
Occupation, we in Nantes were denied access to the coast of the 
Atlantic Ocean. It was therefore not until after the War was over 
that I saw the sea for the first time, in the vicinity of St Nazaire. 
It was there that I discovered the bunkers. But what I also 
discovered was that, during the War, the whole of Europe had become a 
fortress. And thus I saw to what extent an immense territory, a whole 
continent, had effectively been reorganised into one city, and just 
like the cities of old. From that moment on, I became more interested 
in urban matters, in logistics, in the organisation of transport, in 
maintenance and supplies.

But what is so astonishing about the war in Kosovo for me is that it 
was a war that totally bypassed territorial space. It was a war that 
took place almost entirely in the air. There were hardly any Allied 
armed personnel on the ground. There was, for example, no real state 
of siege and practically no blockade. However, may I remind you that 
France and Germany were opposed to a maritime blockade of the 
Adriatic Sea without a mandate from the United Nations (UN). So, what 
we witnessed in Kosovo was an extraordinary war, a war waged solely 
with bombs from the air. What happened in Kosovo was the exact 
reversal of what happened in 'Fortress Europe' in 1943-45. Let me 
explain. Air Marshall 'Bomber' Harris used to say that 'Fortress 
Europe' was a fortress without a roof, since the Allies had air 
supremacy. Now, if we look at the Kosovo War, what do we see? We see 
a fortress without walls - but with a roof! Isn't that disappearance 

John Armitage: Let's talk about your theoretical efforts to 
understand and interpret the Kosovo war in Strategie de la deception. 
Is the campaign in the air the only important element that other 
theorists should pay attention to?

Paul Virilio: Let me emphasise the following points about the Kosovo 
War. First, while the United States (US) can view the war as a 
success, Europe must see it as a failure for it and, in particular, 
for the institutions of the European Union (EU). For the US, the 
Kosovo War was a success because it encouraged the development of the 
Pentagon's 'Revolution in Military Affairs' (RMA). The war provided a 
test site for experimentation, and paved the way for emergence of 
what I call in Strategie de la deception 'the second deterrence'. It 
is, therefore, my firm belief that the US is currently seeking to 
revert to the position it held after the triggering of atomic bombs 
at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1940s, when the US was the sole 
nuclear power. And here I repeat what I suggest in my book. The first 
deterrence, nuclear deterrence, is presently being superseded by the 
second deterrence: a type of deterrence based on what I call 'the 
information bomb' associated with the new weaponry of information and 
communications technologies. Thus, in the very near future, and I 
stress this important point, it will no longer be war that is the 
continuation of politics by other means, it will be what I have 
dubbed 'the integral accident' that is the continuation of politics 
by other means. The automation of warfare has, then, come a long way 
since the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Needless to say, none of these 
developments will help the plight of the refugees in Kosovo or stop 
the actions of the militias operating there. However, the automation 
of warfare will allow for the continuation not only of war in the air 
but also of the further development of the Pentagon's RMA in the form 
of 'Global Information Dominance' (GID) and 'Global Air Power' (GAP). 
It is for these reasons that, in my new book, I focus for example on 
the use of the 'graphite bomb' to shut off the Serbian electricity 
supply as well as the cutting off of the service provision to Serbia 
of the EuTelSat television satellite by the EU. And, let me remind 
you that the latter action was carried out against the explicit 
wishes of the UN. To my mind, therefore, the integral accident, the 
automation of warfare, and the RMA are all part of the shift towards 
the second deterrence and the explosion of the information bomb. For 
me, these developments are revolutionary because, today, the age of 
the locally situated bomb such as the atomic bomb has passed. The 
atomic bomb provoked a specific accident. But the information bomb 
gives rise to the integral and globally constituted accident. The 
globally constituted accident can be compared to what people who work 
at the stock exchange call 'systemic risk'. And, of course, we have 
already seen some instances of systemic risk in recent times in the 
Asian financial crisis. But what sparked off the Asian financial 
crisis? Automated trading programmes! Here, then, we meet again the 
problems I noted in earlier works with regard to interactivity. 
Moreover, it is clear that the era of the information bomb, the era 
of aerial warfare, the era of the RMA and global surveillance is also 
the era of the integral accident. 'Cyberwar' has nothing to do with 
the destruction brought about by bombs and grenades and so on. It is 
specifically linked to the information systems of life itself. It is 
in this sense that, as I have said many times before, interactivity 
is the equivalent of radioactivity. For interactivity effects a kind 
of disintegration, a kind of rupture. For me, the Asian financial 
crisis of 1998 and the war in Kosovo in 1999 are the prelude to the 
integral accident.

John Armitage: How does your description above of the chief 
theoretical aspects of the Kosovo War map on to the important themes 
of your previous writings? I would like to start by charting your 
theoretical and architectural interest in questions concerning the 
two concepts of military space and the organization of territory. For 
example, even your earliest research - into the 'Atlantic Wall' in 
the 1950s and 1960s - was founded on these two concepts. However, 
before we discuss Strategie de la deception and the war in Kosovo in 
some detail, could you explain first of all what you mean by military 
space and the organization of territory and why these concepts are so 
important for an understanding of your work?

Paul Virilio: These concepts are important quite simply because I am 
an urbanist. Thus the whole of my work is focused on geopolitics and 
geostrategy. However, a second aspect of my work is movement. This, 
of course, I pursue through my research on speed and on my study of 
the organisation of the revolution of the means of transportation. 
For me, then, territory and movement are linked. For instance, 
territory is controlled by the movements of horsemen, of tanks, of 
planes, and so on. Thus my research on dromology, on the logic and 
impact of speed, necessarily implies the study of the organisation of 
territory. Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of 
territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and 
foremost a matter of movement and circulation. Hence I am always 
concerned with ideas of territory and movement. Indeed, my first book 
after Bunker Archeology was entitled L'insecurite du territoire 

John Armitage: In Speed & Politics: An Essay on Dromology, you write 
of the military and political revolution in transportation and 
information transmission. Indeed, for you, the speed of the 
military-industrial complex is the driving force of cultural and 
social development, or, as you put it in the book, 'history 
progresses at the speed of its weapons systems'. In what ways do you 
think that speed politics played a role in the military and political 
conflict in Kosovo? For instance, was the speed of transportation and 
information transmission the most important factor in the war? Or, 
more generally, for you, is the military-industrial complex still the 
motor of history?

Paul Virilio: I believe that the military-industrial complex is more 
important than ever. This is because the war in Kosovo gave fresh 
impetus not to the military-industrial complex but to the 
military-scientific complex. You can see this in China. You can also 
see it in Russia with its development of stealth planes and other 
very sophisticated military machines. I am of course thinking here 
about new planes such as the Sukhois. There is very little discussion 
about such developments but, for me, I am constantly astonished by 
the current developments within the Russian airforce. And, despite 
the economic disaster that is Russia, there are still air shows 
taking place in the country. For these reasons, then, I believe that 
the politics of intervention and the Kosovo war prompted a fresh 
resumption of the arms race worldwide. However, this situation has 
arisen because the sovereignty of the state is no longer accepted. 
This is also why we are witnessing states rushing forward in order to 
safeguard themselves against an intervention similar to the one that 
took place in Kosovo. This is one of the most disturbing, if 
indirect, aspects of the war in Kosovo and one that I discuss at 
length in my new book. Of course, one of the most disturbing features 
is the fact that while we have had roughly a ten year pause in the 
arms race where a lot of good work was done, this has now come to an 
end. For what we are seeing at the present time are new developments 
in anti-missile weaponry, drones, and so on. Thus, some of the most 
dramatic consequences of the Kosovo war are linked to the resumption 
of the arms race and the suicidal political and economic policies of 
countries like India and Pakistan where tons of money are currently 
being spent on atomic weaponry. This is abhorrent!

John Armitage: Before we turn to consider the aesthetic aspects of 
the 'disappearance' of military space and the organisation of 
territory in Kosovo, I would like to ask why it was that in the late 
1970s and early 1980s you first began to consider the technological 
aspects of these phenomena? What was it that prompted you to focus on 
the technological aspects at that time?

Paul Virilio: Because it was from that time onwards that real time 
superseded real space! Today, almost all-current technologies put the 
speed of light to work. And, as you know, here we are not only 
talking about information at a distance but also operation at a 
distance, or, the possibility to act instantaneously, from afar. For 
example, the RMA begins with the application of the speed of light. 
This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of 
time. As I have said many times before, the speed of light does not 
merely transform the world. It becomes the world. Globalisation is 
the speed of light. And it is nothing else! Globalisation cannot take 
shape without the speed of light. In this way, history now inscribes 
itself in real time, in the 'live', in the realm of interactivity. 
Consequently, history no longer resides in the extension of 
territory. Look at the US, look at Russia. Both of these countries 
are immense geographical territories. But, nowadays, immense 
territories amount to nothing! Today, everything is about speed and 
real time. We are no longer concerned with real space. Hence not only 
the crisis of geopolitics and geostrategy but also the shift towards 
the emergence and dominance of chronostrategy. As I have been arguing 
for a long time now, there is a real need not simply for a political 
economy of wealth but also for a political economy of speed.

John Armitage: But what about the cultural dimensions of 
chronostrategy? For instance, although modernist artists such as 
Marinetti suggested to us that 'war is the highest form of modern 
art', Walter Benjamin warned us against the 'aestheticization' of war 
in his famous essay in Illuminations (1968) on 'The Work of Art in 
the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. Additionally, in your The 
Aesthetics of Disappearance (1991 [1980]), you make several 
references to the relationship between war and aesthetics. To what 
extent do you think that the Kosovo War can or should be perceived in 
cultural or aesthetic terms?

Paul Virilio: First of all, if I have spoken of a link between war 
and aesthetics, it is because there is something I am very interested 
in and that is what Sun Tzu in his ancient Chinese text calls The Art 
of War. This is because, for me, war consists of the organisation of 
the field of perception. But war is also, as the Japanese call it, 
'the art of embellishing death'. And, in this sense, the relationship 
between war and aesthetics is a matter of very serious concern. 
Conversely, one could say that religion - in the broadest sense of 
the word - is 'the art of embellishing life'. Thus, anything that 
strives to aestheticise death is profoundly tragic. But, nowadays, 
the tragedy of war is mediated through technology. It is no longer 
mediated through a human being with moral responsibilities. It is 
mediated through the destructive power of the atomic bomb, as in 
Stanley Kubrick's film, Dr Strangelove.

Now, if we turn to the war in Kosovo, what do we find? We find the 
manipulation of the audience's emotions by the mass media. Today, the 
media handle information as if it was a religious artefact. In this 
way, the media is more concerned with what we feel about the refugees 
and so on rather than what we think about them. Indeed, the truth, 
the reality of the Kosovo War, was actually hidden behind all the 
'humanitarian' faces. This is a very different situation from the one 
faced by General Patton and the American army when they first 
encountered the concentration camps at the end of the Second World 
War. Then, it was a total and absolute surprise to find out that what 
was inside the concentration camps was a sea of skeletons. What is 
clear to me, therefore, is that while the tragedy of war grinds on, 
the contemporary aesthetics of the tragedy seem not only confused 
but, in some way, suspicious.

John Armitage: Almost inevitably, reviewers will compare Strategie de 
la deception with your earlier works and, in particular, War and 
Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (1989 [1984]). Indeed, the very 
first chapter of the latter book is called 'Military Force is based 
upon Deception'. Could you summarise the most important developments 
that, for you, have taken place in the relationship between war, 
cinema, and deception since you wrote War and Cinema?

Paul Virilio: For me, Sun Tzu's statement that military force is 
based upon deception is an extraordinary statement. But let us start 
with the title of War and Cinema. The important part of the title is 
not War and Cinema. It is the subtitle, The Logistics of Perception. 
As I said back in 1984, the idea of logistics is not only about oil, 
about ammunitions and supplies but also about images. Troops must be 
fed with ammunition and so on but also with information, with images, 
with visual intelligence. Without these elements troops cannot 
perform their duties properly. This is what is meant by the logistics 
of perception.

Now, if we consider my latest book, Strategie de la deception, what 
we need to focus on are the other aspects of the same phenomenon. For 
the strategies of deception are concerned with deceiving an opponent 
through the logistics of perception. But these strategies are not 
merely aimed at the Serbs or the Iraqis but also at all those who 
might support Milosevic or Saddam Hussein. Moreover, such strategies 
are also aimed at deceiving the general public through radio, 
television and so on.

In this way, it seems to me that, since 1984, my book on the 
logistics of perception has been proved totally correct. For 
instance, almost every conflict since then has involved the logistics 
of perception, including the war in Lebanon, where Israel made use of 
cheap drones in order to track Yasser Arafat with the aim of killing 
him. If we look at the Gulf War, the same is also true. Indeed, my 
work on the logistics of perception and the Gulf War was so accurate 
that I was even asked to discuss it with high-ranking French military 
officers. They asked me: 'how is it that you wrote that book in 1984 
and now it's happening for real?' My answer was: 'the problem is not 
mine but yours: you have not been doing your job properly!'

But let us link all this to something that is not discussed very 
often. I am referring here to the impact of the launch of the 
television news service CNN in 1984 or thereabouts. However, what I 
want to draw your attention to is CNN's so-called 'Newshounds'. 
Newshounds are people with mini-video cameras, people who are 
continually taking pictures in the street and sending the tapes in to 
CNN. These Newshounds are a sort of pack of wolves, continually 
looking for quarry, but quarry in the form of images. For example, it 
was this pack of wolves that sparked off the Rodney King affair a few 
years ago in Los Angeles. Let us consider the situation: a person 
videos Rodney King being beaten up by the cops. That person then 
sends in the footage to the TV station. Within hours riots flare up 
in the city! There is, then, a link between the logistics of 
perception, the wars in Lebanon and the Gulf as well as with CNN and 
the Pentagon. But what interests me here is that what starts out as a 
story of a black man being beaten up in the street, a story that, 
unfortunately, happens all the time, everywhere, escalates into 
something that is little short of a war in Los Angeles!

John Armitage: In The Vision Machine (1994 [1988]) you were concerned 
with highlighting the role of the military in the 'contemporary 
crisis in perceptive faith' and the 'automation of perception' more 
broadly. Has the Kosovo War led you to modify your claims about the 
role of the military in the contemporary production and destruction 
of automated perception via Cruise missiles, so-called 'smart bombs' 
and so on?

Paul Virilio: On the contrary. The development and deployment of 
drones and Cruise missiles involves the continuing development of the 
vision machine. Research on Cruise missiles is intrinsically linked 
to the development of vision machines. The aim, of course, is not 
only to give vision to a machine but, as in the case of the Cruise 
missiles that were aimed at Leningrad and Moscow, also to enable a 
machine to deploy radar readings and pre-programmed maps as it 
follows its course towards its target. Cruise missiles necessarily 
fly low, in order to check on the details of the terrain they are 
flying over. They are equipped with a memory that gives them bearings 
on the terrain. However, when the missiles arrive at their 
destination, they need more subtle vision, in order to choose right 
or left. This, then, is the reason why vision was given to Cruise 
missiles. But in one sense, such missiles are really only flying 
cameras, whose results are interpreted by a computer. This, 
therefore, is what I call 'sightless vision', vision without looking. 
The research on vision machines was mainly conducted at the Stanford 
Research Institute in the US. So, we can say that the events that 
took place in the Kosovo War were a total confirmation of the thesis 
of The Vision Machine.

John Armitage: Let us turn to vision machines of a different variety. 
To what extent do you think that watching the Kosovo War on TV 
reduced us all to a state of Polar Inertia (1999 [1990]), to the 
status of Howard Hughes, the imprisoned and impotent state of what 
you call 'technological monks'?

Paul Virilio: There can be no doubt about this. It even held true for 
the soldiers involved in the Kosovo War. For the soldiers stayed 
mostly in their barracks! In this way, polar inertia has truly become 
a mass phenomenon. And not only for the TV audiences watching the war 
at home but also for the army that watches the battle from the 
barracks. Today, the army only occupies the territory once the war is 
over. Clearly, there is a kind of inertia here. Moreover, I would 
like to say that the sort of polar inertia we witnessed in the Kosovo 
War, the polar inertia involving 'automated war' and 
'war-at-a-distance' is also terribly weak in the face of terrorism. 
For instance, in such situations, any individual who decides to place 
or throw a bomb can simply walk away. He or she has the freedom to 
move. This also applies to militant political groups and their 
actions. Look at the Intifadah in Jerusalem. One cannot understand 
that phenomenon, a phenomenon where people, often very young boys, 
are successfully harassing one of the best armies in the world, 
without appreciating their freedom to move!

John Armitage: Jean Baudrillard infamously argued that The Gulf War 
Did Not Take Place (1995 [1991]). Could it be argued that the Kosovo 
War did not take place?

Paul Virilio: Although Jean Baudrillard is a friend of mine, I do not 
agree with him on that one! For me, the significance of the war in 
Kosovo was that it was a war that moved into space. For instance, the 
Persian Gulf War was a miniature world war. It took place in a small 
geographical area. In this sense it was a local war. But it was one 
that made use of all the power normally reserved for global war. 
However, the Kosovo War took place in orbital space. In other words, 
war now takes place in 'aero-electro-magnetic space'. It is 
equivalent to the birth of a new type of flotilla, a home fleet, of a 
new type of naval power, but in orbital space!

John Armitage: How do these developments relate to Global Positioning 
Systems (GPS)? For example, in The Art of the Motor (1995 [1993]), 
you were very interested in the relationship between globalisation, 
physical space, and the phenomenon of virtual spaces, positioning, 
or, 'delocalization'. In what ways, if any, do you think that 
militarized GPS played a 'delocalizing' role in the war in Kosovo?

Paul Virilio: GPS not only played a large and delocalizing role in 
the war in Kosovo but is increasingly playing a role in social life. 
For instance, it was the GPS that directed the planes, the missiles 
and the bombs to localised targets in Kosovo. But may I remind you 
that the bombs that were dropped by the B-2 plane on the Chinese 
embassy - or at least that is what we were told - were GPS bombs. And 
the B-2 flew in from the US. However, GPS are everywhere. They are in 
cars. They were even in the half-tracks that, initially at least, 
were going to make the ground invasion in Kosovo possible. Yet, for 
all the sophistication of GPS, there still remain numerous problems 
with their use. The most obvious problem in this context is the 
problem of landmines. For example, when the French troops went into 
Kosovo they were told that they were going to enter in half-tracks, 
over the open fields. But their leaders had forgotten about the 
landmines. And this was a major problem because, these days, 
landmines are no longer localised. They are launched via tubes and 
distributed haphazardly over the territory. As a result, one cannot 
remove them after the war because one cannot find them! And yet the 
ability to detect such landmines, especially in a global war of 
movement, is absolutely crucial. Thus, for the US, GPS are a form of 
sovereignty! It is hardly surprising, then, that the EU has proposed 
its own GPS in order to be able to localise and to compete with the 
American GPS. As I have said before, sovereignty no longer resides in 
the territory itself, but in the control of the territory. And 
localisation is an inherent part of that territorial control. As I 
pointed out in The Art of the Motor and elsewhere, from now on we 
need two watches: a wristwatch to tell us what time it is and a GPS 
watch to tell us what space it is!

John Armitage: Lastly, given your analyses of technology and the 
general accident in recent works such as Open Sky (1997 [1995]), 
Politics of the Very Worst (1999 [1996]) and The Information Bomb 
(2000 [1998]), what, for you, is the likely prospective critical 
impact of counter measures to such developments? Are there any 
obvious strategies of resistance that can be deployed against the 
relentless advance of the technological strategies of deception?

Paul Virilio: Resistance is always possible! But we must engage in 
resistance first of all by developing the idea of a technological 
culture. However, at the present time, this idea is grossly 
underdeveloped. For example, we have developed an artistic and a 
literary culture. Nevertheless, the ideals of technological culture 
remain underdeveloped and therefore outside of popular culture and 
the practical ideals of democracy. This is also why society as a 
whole has no control over technological developments. And this is one 
of the gravest threats to democracy in the near future. It is, then, 
imperative to develop a democratic technological culture. Even among 
the elite, in government circles, technological culture is somewhat 
deficient. I could give examples of cabinet ministers, including 
defence ministers, who have no technological culture at all. In other 
words, what I am suggesting is that the hype generated by the 
publicity around the Internet and so on is not counter balanced by a 
political intelligence that is based on a technological culture. For 
instance, in 1999, Bill Gates not only published a new book on work 
at the speed of thought but also detailed how Microsoft's 
'Falconview' software would enable the destruction of bridges in 
Kosovo. Thus it is no longer a Caesar or a Napoleon who decides on 
the fate of any particular war but a piece of software! In short, the 
political intelligence of war and the political intelligence of 
society no longer penetrate the technoscientific world. Or, let us 
put it this way, technoscientific intelligence is presently 
insufficiently spread among society at large to enable us to 
interpret the sorts of technoscientific advances that are taking 
shape today.

Ecole Speciale d'Architecture, Paris.

CTHEORY editors would like to thank Paul Virilio for participating in 
this CTHEORY interview, John Armitage for conducting and editing the 
conversation, and Patrice Riemens for translating the interview.

John Armitage is Principal Lecturer in Politics and Media Studies at 
the University of Northumbria, UK. The editor of Paul Virilio: From 
Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond (2000), he is currently 
editing Virilio Live: Selected Interviews for publication in 2001 and 
Economies of Excess, a forthcoming issue of parallax, a journal of 
metadiscursive theory and cultural practices.

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