Workshop 1 - Michael Dillon ‘Warfare as Experiment’

Michael Dillon (Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University) opened his presentation by pointing to the two main assumptions that his approach is based on. Firstly, he argued that (modern, western, liberal) war is an experimental practise, explaining that war and experiments in science share a similar history. Secondly, Dillon pointed to the fact that war and experimentation not only go together and but are a logical formation – war is the extension of politics by other means and experiment is an extension of war by other means.

Concomitantly, with a use of this quote Dillon compared experimental practises to combat emphasising how in the 20th century war became masiffied: ‘... as in the muon and gyromagnetic studies, laboratory practices will reveal themselves not only through positive results obtained, but often by way of the myriad of false leads and technical difficulties that arose in the course of the work.’  (Galison, How Experiments End).

Dillon then compared experimentation and war drawing on the two themes:

  • If, ‘in the historical branch physics the regularities of nature could be expressed in terms of dynamical laws,’ the same could be said of the historical theorisation of war form the 18th to the early 20th century
  • If ‘in the statistical science of atoms constancies of behaviour could only be captured in the “sums of large numbers”’, the same could equally be said for the 20th century industrialisation and massification of warfare. (Adapted from Peter Galison, How Experiments End)

Consequently, Dillon pointed to the ends of war and experiment:

  • The end of war and the end of experimentation has been impacting gross properties of matter, making effects show themselves and silencing others.
  • Wars and experiments begin and end in a ‘matrix of beliefs some metaphysical, some programmatic yet others no more general than a formal or visualisable model’
  • The end of a war is, however, like the end of an experiment. Neither signals the end of either, as an institution constitutive of, and therefore necessary to, modern forms of life.

Following, Dillon made a series of connections relating to family resemblance and shared history of war and experiment:

  • Truth Telling
  • Demonstration
  • Effect/Result
  • Witness, Observation, Data
  • Instruments
  • Expertise
  • ‘The real’ questions experimentation
  • Experimentation questions ‘the real’
  • Theory/Practice
  • From the heroic to the institutional
  • From the national to the multinational
  • The referent object of each is both Self as well as Other
  • Shared history, mirror one another
  • Transformation of ‘the real’

Dillon also pointed to the shared complexities of the two practises:

  • Base assumptions are built into the apparatus itself (instruments/kit, dispositif)
  • Base belief recreates itself in scientific and military instrumentality alike
  • Neither is rigidly rule-governed or entirely arbitrary
  • Neither war or experiment is purely capricious
  • Experiment and war – particularly war in the guise of experiment – confront no single hypothesis, law or truth, but a complex web of primary and auxiliary beliefs, suppositions and practices.

Dillon then made a number of propositions in relations to his argument. Firstly, he argued that modern war is avowedly experimental (‘Effects Based Operations’ (EBO)). Secondly, Dillon stated that modern experimentation has long been implicated in war-making, moving onto his third point that their shared end is transformation of the material world. Finally, he proposed that war is the extension of experiment by other means and experiment is the extension of war by other means.

Then, using a quote from Galison: ‘...for Maxwell experiments involved the macroscopic transportation and transformation of energy that was detected when it displaced a constrained system of ponderable matter over a macroscopic distance.’ (Galison: 27), Dillon explained that almost precisely the same could be said of the established theorisation and practice of war from the late 18th century through to the end of the Cold War. After 1989 war became progressively informationalised and biologised and even more explicitly experimental if in novel ways.

Dillon argued that experimentation always leads to some sort of transformation:

  • The issue becomes, HOW? And with what effects?
  • Change in ‘the real’: Action governed by the properties of material, space and time to change the properties of material, space and time understood as complex adaptive and emergent
  • Biologisation through informationalisation
  • Transformation of established categories: Peace/War; Civil/Military; Security/Insecurity
  • Futurally orientated
  • Thus: Experimentation to Transformation
  • Experimentation for Transformation.

Consequently, Dillon presented transformation as a strategy and endless process: “…while we might point to a beginning of transformation, we cannot foresee the end.” (Foreword, Elements of Defense Transformation, Office of Force Transformation, US Department of Defense, October 2004)

Finally Dillon explained how these process can lead both to political and self transformation, ending his presentation with Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote:

‘As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know,

There are known unknowns.

That is to say,

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don't know

We don't know.’

(Donald Rumsfeld, Department of Defense ‘News Briefing’. 12th Feb. 2002)