Humanising Militarism: On the Tactical Polyvalence of Human Rights Discourses.
In the lead-up to the Chicago NATO summit in May, Amnesty International found itself embroiled in a controversy that burst and ricocheted across social media like a cluster bomb. As NATO leaders and anti-war protestors prepared to converge on the city, its bus shelters displayed striking posters of Afghan women shielding young children in the draping fabric of their burqas. The headline, ‘Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan’ was the standard fare one would expect from a human rights organisation like Amnesty International. The controversy arose from the bold message addressed to those who have been occupying Afghanistan for more than a decade: “NATO: Keep the Progress Going!” While groups like Amnesty formulated a new politics of human rights that trades on a moral transcendence of politics, this new politics has since become a central to the framework of global governance. This paper considers this transformation in light of what Michel Foucault termed the “tactical polyvalence of discourses.” Foucault famously warned that we should not imagine the world as divided into dominant and dominated discourses, but instead recognize the extent to which discourses are enmeshed in multiple and diverse strategies of power. This paper traces the migration of human rights discourses from their original role in contesting state power to a central place in the legitimating strategies of state militarism, and critically examines the new humanitarian militarism that results from it.