Since the rise of civilization the world has been divided into areas which fall under the exclusive control of one gang or another. These areas defined within borders where the control of one gang ends and another begins have become known as states.
Traditionally there have been two types of armed enforcers for each state - the police and the army.
The role of the police is the control of internal enemies and the role of the military is for offence and defence against external enemies. The concept of a single global economic system attempts to eradicate these borders, encompassing all, and de marking the distinction between the enemy within and the enemy without. It will view all enemies as internal, dissidents opposing the imposition of economic imperatives as opposed to rival states attempting to gain control of resources. As the borders between nation-states weaken for capital and its elite, the borders between rich and poor are fortified.
Armies have existed for as long as societies have produced enough surplus to support their existence as specialized soldiers. Big political men have hired big physical men to carry out raids, invasions and occupations in the form of armies, and these armies became the enforcers of the state's will upon its enemies. The origins of police forces are less historically definable. The first modern police force is generally recognized as being the London Metropolitan Police set up by Robert Peel in 1829, with forerunners in Scotland and London docks. [Paris and other French cities had established local forces as early as 1667]
Prior to this local militias were employed by sheriffs to act as enforcers of domestic law, often employed casually to be authorized to act as the need arose. The emergence of modern police forces roughly coincided with the establishment of modern nation-states, and the monopolization of power within their borders became central to their construct. (1) A definition of The State could be the body that claims sole use of the right of force within a certain area. The birth of modern European nation-states in the nineteenth century also coincided with a rapid expansion of industry and the corresponding shifts in the class composition of newly industrialized societies. The cities were filled with masses of displaced rural workers looking for work, and desperate for the basic necessities of life now denied to them, they turned to robbery of the rich and others. This creation of an identifiable underclass as opposed to random bandits and social deviants led capitalist society to respond with the creation of its repressive opposite, a police force.
A capitalist society does not particularly desire the creation of an underclass of thieves and outlaws, but its logic does require the creation of a class of beggars and unemployed. The unintended creation of the former arose when rogue human elements came into play and people refused to quietly accept the shit that was dealt to them. In order to enforce its desired social structure, capital's managers were forced to create a counterforce to this unintended outcome of class division. This application of force to determine the outcome of complex social relations is of course crucial to the way things are. Subtler means of coercion including mis-education, profit sharing and so on may prove beneficial depending on the conditions, but force remains the ultimate threat.
Society is a human construct designed to predict and control human behaviour in favour of those who control it. In a capitalist society there is a very definite order in which masses of humans need to be arranged in order for the system to work in favour of those who control it. This idea of continuing action, reaction and correction could be applied to many aspects of what is termed progress. Progress could be seen as the increasing ability of humans to control and shape the natural world. However as life is a chaotic and often unpredictable force, what are initially hailed as advances in the fields of science and technology, etc. usually prove to have unexpected side-effects or outcomes when applied into the real world. As the scientist/doctor/politician formulates a new invention/medicine/law, unpredicted glitches/side-effects/social reactions arise after its introduction that require the implementation of secondary controls. As an example, the emergence of super bugs in recent years is a growing and worrisome aspect of modern medicine. Due to the massive use of antibiotics for decades to treat even minor ailments, extremely virulent and antibiotic resistant viruses are appearing (most notably MRSA), which results in more efforts to combat them and more strains of super bugs in retaliation. This is a vicious seesaw that is threatening to derail modern medicine systems by making hospitals inoperable by flooding them with viruses.
The outcome of the Second World War was the establishment of two rival economic blocs who posed against and threatened each other. Prior to the First World War, the individual nation-states of the developed world vied with each other for control of the world's resources in order to increase the wealth of the elite in these countries. This nationalist based version of capitalism resulted in massive death and destruction when things eventually came to a head with the outbreak of world war one. The Second World War was a finishing off of these grievances that left the previously powerful nations of Europe in the control of the two emergent superpowers of the US and the USSR.
This balance of power and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction by nuclear war kept the two economic systems played off against each other for almost fifty years. The world has changed dramatically since the collapse of the USSR and the state-capitalist system it supported. Since then, capitalism has asserted itself as a global hegemonic system. This process of globalization has been written about extensively but basically constitutes an unchallenged assertion of free-market capitalist economics on a worldwide scale without any serious challenges to its ideology or its functionaries. With this cohesion into a single system of operating, it might be useful to conceive of the world as becoming a unified state, at least in economic terms if not practical local details. With this shift in the balance of power, there also occurred a shift in the military strategies of the main players on the world stage. If there is no longer an external enemy to be countered, that leaves only internal enemies - maladjusted areas which need to be realigned, the normal scene of policing operations. Another view could be of these actions as attempting to incorporate unproductive areas into the hegemonic system, a type of empire building, a traditional use of military force reminiscent of pre-nation state eras.
If we look at the military adventures of the leading economic powers since the end of the cold war we see examples such as Iraq, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, East Timor, Haiti etc. It's brutally obvious that these are nothing like the large-scale inter-European wars of the past between large economic powers vying for dominance. Almost all of these were co-ordinated operations involving groups of nations such as the UN or NATO, thus making the comparison even more ridiculous. These operations could better be viewed as large-scale policing operations where rogue areas need to be brought under control, a bigger version of the riotous housing project if you will.
The phrase 'policing operation' has become part of military terminology in recent years. With these new objectives, there are new rules of engagement. Less frequently is crude propaganda used to raise excitement for a bloodbath; instead the soldiers are painted as peacekeepers on humanitarian missions and are given directions to behave like so. Given the possibility of media leaks of unsavoury incidents that don't fit with the public agenda, great lengths are gone to minimize civilian casualties. This might seem a moot point to someone who's wedding party just got gate crashed by a wayward smart bomb. But compared to the carpet bombing of North Vietnam for example there is a massive qualitative difference in the level of death being doled out. With the installation of soldiers as policeman into insurgent zones, a new dynamic has been created where soldiers are being ordered to impose order on large numbers of civilians, both in volatile crowd situations and in the daily control of social behaviour. In order to do so they are being armed with less-lethal weapons and trained in crowd control techniques. Riots can be great excuses for massacres if that is what is required, and less sophisticated states frequently resort to such measures, but for the leading nations of the free world, a clean image is everything, and corpses must be kept to a minimum.
The flip side to this increase in armies engaging in policing operations overseas is the increasing militarization of domestic police forces. The image of police officers is a multi-layered one. They are to be portrayed to Mr. Average who works permanently and invests in his own property etc. as the good guys, defending property, stopping violence and arresting thieves and assailants. However they also need to be portrayed to the criminal class as a force to be feared and hated. Ostensibly the first image is portrayed though the usual channels - smiling from the pages of the local paper, teaching school kids how to be safe, directing lost tourists and walking casually along community patrols. The nasty side needs only be shown on need-to-know basis, on dark streets, in your home, up close and personal away from the lights and cameras. Let's not forget though, that the enemy has been found in broad daylight, killing in front of everyone, like the horrific public murder of Jean Charles de Menezes or Carlo Guiliani.
The past decade or so has seen a massive move towards the militarization of police forces in the most developed nations. Looking at old footage of protests from the 80's/early 90's it is eye opening to see how little riot gear and less-lethal weaponry was available to the forces of order. This militarization most visibly takes place on the streets. Ordinary officers with more gadgets hanging from their belts, action heroes with sub-machine guns loiter in public places for no discernible reason, gangs of men in blue overalls lurk in vans in less-salubrious neighbourhoods and robocop makes his appearance at every minor protest. Shiny shoes are replaced by paratrooper boots, silly hats with baseball caps, clean shirts are covered with flak jackets and ever-increasing numbers of helicopters circle overhead. Slowly the gadgetry is increased but compare the average officer to his counterpart of a decade ago and the changes are obvious. This visible tooling-up is accompanied by a massive increase in the use of surveillance technologies, information storage and retrieval, identification databases and so on.
As with other aspects of repression it's not a voluntary movement; it is in response to changing social conditions. It is in the interest of capital to create as friendly and co-operative an image as possible. It means everyone is on the same team and creates an illusion of social stability. If there are heavily armed men in uniforms walking the streets then obviously something is amiss. The veneer of social cohesion is cracking. Many point to the terror attacks of September 11th and others in Madrid, London and elsewhere as being the excuse the elite needed to implement these measures, and to a large part this is true. Another smaller factor was the series of violent anarchist-led assaults on the tea-parties of the rich that enabled police chiefs to demand and receive funding for huge amounts of crowd-control technologies, lest the local elite lose face with its inability to deal with troublemakers while their mates are in town. It has largely been a case of the police responding to greater periods of class conflict and other moments of unstability.
The LA riots were a key point in the moment of policing in the United States, they were totally unprepared for the strain on their communications, fire-power, mobility, after the riots had susided there was a tremendous rush to get not only the LA cops but the rest of the pigs in the United States up to speed in terms of not only technology and resources, but minimum fitness and intelligence standards. These American methods of policing have been pushed all over the world. The carnivalistic riot which happened on June 18th 1999 in Londons financial district was a key moment for the resurgent anti-capitalist / anarchist movement, and also for how the state dealt with it. The planning for the day had inexplicably escaped the monitoring gaze of the British state despite being hyped for a year before hand across the country. This led to a sound-system riot of beautiful proportions and an after effect of widespread clampdown and surveillance of grass-roots political organising. The UK Police 'Forward Intelligence Team' (teams of cops who profile and harass activists) and the 'National Extremist Tactical Coordination Unit' (NETCU) are one part of this.
Of course once acquired, new technologies and police units are usually never relinquished and must be maintained and updated regularly. Whatever the crowd-control technologies bought to counter large-scale protests, the militarization is a much bigger deal than fancy-looking robocop outfits. It is in its applications in daily policing that its true essence is revealed, not in the extraordinary circumstances of the occasional rowdy demo.
Terror attacks were the excuses used to implement or speed up these changes. A common analysis of this project is that it is used to create an image of security to counter the fear created by outside attacks, while at the same time creating fear of the potential attacks by reminding you constantly of their possibility. A double bluff to make you trust your dear leaders with your safety. However another side to this is reflected in the same basic dual-image of good cop/bad cop mentioned earlier, and that's to scare the shit out of the underclass. Speaking from experience it's a lot more nerve-wracking to be searched while someone trains a machine-gun at your head than if it's just Officer Dickwad with his hard little stick. The increasing visibility of police power can be seen as recognition by the ruling elite that the social fabric of western democracies is coming unravelled. As capital continues along its merry way, the social order is stretched wider apart with ever-expanding wealth gaps. Increasingly polarized societies create increasing numbers of underclass bandits, marginalized and struggling working poor communities and more gated communities and glitzy high-rises.
Globalized economics are not just to blame for increasing misery in the third world; they are also creating more and more third-world areas in the advanced industrial and post-industrial nations. A trip to Brazil would show you no lack of wealth, flash cars, gold-plated banks, and also no end of deprivation, glue-addled street kids and a cheapness of life that's hard to stomach. This is the increasing reality for G8 and EU nations albeit on a much smaller scale so far. The social safety nets of unemployment payments, affordable health care and pensions are being stripped away as the world's resources get ransacked.
The increased police measures are needed for a simple reason. The numbers of dispossessed in the bellies of the beast is growing, and as the numbers go, so they are becoming more and more restless and ungovernable.
Social upheaval in French ghettos burned out of control for two weeks in late 2005, and had a knock-on effect when more politically motivated demonstrations paralyzed the country a few months later in response to legislative attacks on young workers. Now the banlieues are in flames again, with widespread accompanying industrial action and sabotage due to the neo-liberal policies of Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Everywhere the police patrol the cities train and bus stations armed with high power weapons, checking documents and repressing the people. Massive uprisings in Bangladesh and Mexico have had their events mirrored in some ways in outbreaks of social upheaval such as sports riots and ghetto upheavals in the more prosperous nations. Just as the medical researchers race to try and beat the continued and growing attacks by super bugs, so do capital's managers try to plug the holes in its ship with technological fixes and draconian legislation. The increased reliance on technological policing devices throws open their susceptibility to sabotage and misdirection. The massive increases in surveillance, policing, and penal institutions just reflect the fact that they're increasingly worried about it all coming apart. If they weren't getting worried that we could sink the fucker they wouldn't bother keeping such a close eye on us.
Be the virus.