Engaging Science, Technology, & Society

Left Button Picture, Right Button Bomb: Nature, Warfare and Technology in a Southern African Border Region




In this paper, we argue that the relationship between nature conservation and warfare was and continues to be actualized through socio-technical relationships and shared infrastructures. We historicize “green militari zation”—defined as the use of military techniques, technologies and partnerships in the pursuit of conservation (Lunstrum 2014)—showing that the partnership between military and nature conservation in Southern Africa has a long and violent history. Our paper accounts for the entanglements of war and nature through a shared technological infrastructure used in north-eastern Namibia during the Namibian War of Liberation (1966–1989). In particular, we focus on the Mirage IIIR2Z, an aerial reconnaissance and ground-attack supersonic jet which provided both the South African Defence Force and the civil administration’s nature conservationists with aerial photography and remote sensing data. The spatial information produced jointly by the military and the civil nature conservation department was used to produce strategic maps, but also to fight invasive plants and protect wildlife. Our reading of green militarization against this background sheds light on the long-lasting connections between warfare, conservation and ecology along Southern African border regions and contributes to a novel understanding of the contemporary “war on poachers” through a study of the techno-scientific networks that made it possible. Since there is nothing inevitable about the way technologies emerge or change over time (Bijker and Law 1992), this paper develops an empirically grounded and sustained analysis of technological change in the domain of green militarization through three interlinked concepts: “multiple” (Law 2002), “shifting down” (Latour 1994; 1999), and “firming up” (Bijker and Law 1992).


nature conservation; Namibian War of Liberation; Southern Africa; aerial photograph; green militarization

Introduction: Green Militarization

Late at night on July 27, 2012, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) shot two Namibian fishermen dead in their canoe as they were making their way from one side of the Chobe River to the other. According to a spokesperson of the BDF, the two men were hunting an elephant in Botswana’s Chobe National Park and were trying to bring back the tusks into Namibia. Later, an investigation led by an international team of journalists could not find any evidence of fresh ivory in the canoe. What they were able to uncover, though, were the forensic details of the shooting. The fishermen were shot from behind, and the weapons they were carrying—a 22-caliber rifle and a 12-gauge shot shotgun—would not have been big or accurate enough to shoot down an adult elephant (Ntibinyane et al. 2016).

Over the last twenty years the BDF has killed more than 50 people from Namibia and Zimbabwe because they were suspected of crimes against wildlife and hunting regulations, although human rights groups estimate the figure to be much higher (Global Witness 2021). The last incident, so far, happened in November 2020 when the BDF fatally shot a family of four in a canoe at the Namibian border, escalating tensions between the two countries (The Namibian 2020a). The situation was a result of Botswana’s “shoot to kill” policy. Map Ives, who was in charge of Botswana’s fight against rhino poaching, explained by interview to us in 2015, “Botswana’s president as a trained soldier has a no-bullshit tactic. We have laws and we enforce those laws. If you don’t obey the law, you can die. If you go to a national park with a gun you commit a violent crime, and the president as a soldier he will use violence against you.”

Near the site of the 2012 killings, but about thirty years earlier, a pilot of the South African Airforce (SAAF) flew a Mirage IIIR2Z fighter-reconnaissance jet over the bushland along the border region of north-eastern Namibia. His mission on this occasion was exceptional in that the pilot was not using the jet (called Vlamgat[1]) to bomb the camps of Namibian refugees living in Southern Angola, nor was he targeting hideouts used by the People’s Liberation Army[2] or Angolan MiG’s.[3] This time, the pilot’s mission was solely to take photographs for military reconnaissance and—more surprisingly—ecological surveying for South Africa’s civil local administration. Unlike in many other instances, no bomb was dropped in this deployment, and no one died directly from it. The capacity of these fighter jets to drop bombs and to take pictures emerged as a topic of interest from a statement made by a retired South Africa Air Force pilot while showing us inside the cockpit of a decommissioned Mirage IIIR2Z at the South African Air Force Museum in Cape Town. During our visit to the museum he pointed to the control lever and said “left button picture, right button bomb” [Visit 28.03.2014]. Both the killing of the fishermen at the border and the use of the Mirage for nature conservation were instances of green militarization, and the pilot’s statement epitomizes the relation between nature conservation and militarization.

Green militarization is defined as the use of military techniques, technologies and partnerships in the pursuit of conservation (Lunstrum 2014, 817). This concept has been influential in political ecology and in recent analyses of neoliberal conservation approaches (Ybarra 2012; Büscher 2016; Büscher et al. 2015; Dunlap et al. 2014; Lunstrum 2015; Massé et al. 2016).[4] Today, nature conservation policies in Southern Africa are often criticized for remaining deeply rooted in a colonial and apartheid past, despite—or even because of—the rhetoric of community-based and bottom-up development (Singh and Van Houtum 2002; Garland 2008; Mavhunga 2014). These continuities are more than just discursive and can be seen in diverse forms; amongst them the upholding of colonial and apartheid spatial configurations and land ownership regimes (Ramutsindela and Sinthumule 2017), the (re-)conceptualization of local people as part of a pristine nature, or the strong investment of apartheid financial capital in conservation NGOs (Spierenburg and Wels 2010). Other continuities include the important role that former military personnel still play in educating anti-poaching units, the promise of economic benefits for “local communities” to ensure they remain loyal, or the role of national and international donors and (weapon) companies in supplying and financing “wars” against alleged poachers (Lunstrum 2015; Spierenburg and Wels 2010; Marijnen 2017).

Against this background, we argue that the relationship between nature conservation and warfare was and continues to be actualized through socio-technical relationships and shared infrastructures. Our analysis is set geographically at the border region, between Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Botswana and historically in the period of the Liberation War (1966–1989). Using this case study, we add a historical layer to understanding the formations and linkages between the South African Defence Force and conservationists that are currently evident along Southern African border regions. To unpack our study, we discuss the entanglement of warfare with nature, as well as with the civil and military efforts to control nature using technologies that mediate spatial knowledge. The exact knowledge of the region’s nature was a crucial asset for all involved parties (Russell et al. 2004) and the important role nature played in the Namibian War of Liberation is even reflected in its common name, the “Bush War” (Hayes 2001; Dale 2014). The trope of fighting not only against a human animal but against a hostile and brutal environment is common in soldiers’ memories of war—in northern Namibia and beyond (Breytenbach 1997), notably during the Vietnam War (Marlantes 2009). In addition, there is also an entanglement between war and the effort to control nature, as our example of the fight against an invasive plant, Salvinia molesta, will show.

As the intersections between conservation and security expand, it is apparent that we need additional tools to comprehend how they come together and what their impact is (Lunstrum 2018, 1026). The social history of science and technology offers a means through which to contribute to the scholarship on the political economy of partnerships between conservation and military. In this article, we attend to the socio-technical relationships that shape and are shaped by heterogeneous groups and interests, as well as forms of evidence about this heterogeneity. In our case these are infrastructures that the South African Defence Force shared with civil administration, particularly for its nature conservation division. Such an interplay of military technology and civil administration—or more broadly technology and society—therefore provides a framework for understanding how sets of technological arrangements, such as fighter jets that produce aerial photography, are established and maintained (ibid., 8).

The integration of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and green militarization enriches both bodies of literature. While STS puts attention on the social construction of technologies and technological systems (ibid.), green militarization lends itself an analysis of the intersection of military technologies and techniques in the domain of the environment (Lunstrum 2014) which is part of a broader literature on the confluence of military interests and research technologies (Shinn & Bernward 2002), datafication (Edwards 1997), remote sensing (Bousquet 2018), and the production of spatial knowledge about the environment (Mack 1990). We employ this framework to account for a common infrastructure used by nature conservationists and military personnel on Namibia’s northern border between the 1960s and 1980s, an intimate constellation of heterogenous actors and artefacts that has continued to interact up until the post-colonial present. Whether fighter jets or drones, STS concepts help us unpack the processes in which artefacts and their inscriptions shape and are shaped by the interaction of society and technology shedding light on recent political debates about the use of military tactics, technologies and violence in wildlife conservation in Southern Africa.

In what follows, we first outline the historical context and explain the ecological issues that triggered a shared infrastructure. This state of affairs adds to an existing body of work in Science and Technology Studies (STS) that accounts for particular technologies and technological systems and how they move from the domain of military to public use (ibid.; Edwards 1997; Shinn & Bernward 2002; Bousquet 2018). The second part of the paper takes up concepts and terminologies from STS—such as “multiple” (Law 2002), “shifting down” (Latour 1994; 1999) and “firming up” (Bijker and Law 1992)—and applies them to the analysis of archival sources from the South African Air Force Museum in Cape Town. Our conclusion highlights the heterogeneous factors that gave rise to an infrastructure that was shared by nature conservationists and military personnel during the Namibian War of Liberation, offering both a unique approach to green militarization as well as to the social life of particular technologies and technological relations (ibid.). These histories, archival sources and theoretical approaches elaborate on green militarization as an alignment and convergence at the confluence of conservation, militarization, the state, and the economy (Massé et al. 2016, 123) that are mediated by technologies with multiple purposes (Law 2002) and networks of distributed action (Latour 1994).

In order to elaborate on the shared infrastructure between the military and nature conservation we develop a Latourian analysis of the dual use function of the Mirage IIIR2Z military reconnaissance jet through which to attend to the social and technical delegates that actualize its capacities to drop bombs or take pictures. Based on this account, mediated action is not the property of an individual person but of an association of entities which change each other offering new possibilities, goals and functions (Latour 1999, 188). However, while Latourian analysis makes visible the many delegates that stabilize a network across time and space, it lacks an adequate framework to account for the conditions within which technologies and technological arrangements emerge. Bijker and Law (1992) help widen the scope of analysis by arguing that technology—or technological arrangements—emerge from a set of relations. These relations be they social, scientific, economic, or organizational are (like technology) heterogeneous, emergent and contingent (ibid., 8). The notion of “firming up” therefore accounts for how technologies are stabilized within a network of relations and strategies which, when meshed together, form emergent phenomenon and objects of investigation—like for instance the Mirage. This framework leads us into larger discussions about the politics of nature conservation and the social relevance of technological change in the context of green militarization.

Nature and Militarization: South Africa’s Caprivi Strip

The geographical focus of this paper lies on the extreme north-eastern part of Namibia, the so-called “Caprivi Strip,” consisting today of the Zambezi Region and parts of the Kavango East Region.[5] The area was allocated to Germany in a contract with Britain in 1890, but the first permanent German colonial official was stationed there only in 1909. Six years later, German colonial authority was replaced by South African rule over Namibia and the declaration of martial law in July 1915. In 1920, the League of Nations accorded South Africa the mandate over what is today the territory of Namibia, including the Caprivi Strip. But implementing control over these areas in the extreme north-east proved difficult. High administrative costs and the prospects of meagre profit led to skepticism about the (economic) worth and viability of occupying the area. However, the parameters shifted in the late 1950s, once independence from British colonial rule gained significant ground across the Southern African region. Several factors contributed to turning the Caprivi Strip into a region of critical strategic importance to the South African regime and later into a battle zone against its liberated neighbors: Zambia’s independence in 1964, the beginning of armed resistance by the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) in northern Namibia and by the Caprivi African National Union (CANU) in north-eastern Namibia in 1966, the Angolan independence in 1976, and the instalment of Namibian resistance and refugee camps in Southern Angola (Lenggenhager 2018).

During the 1960s–80s, the Caprivi was a military frontier for both SWAPO’s armed wing—the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN)—and the South African Defence Force (SADF), making the small corridor one of the most heavily militarized areas in Southern Africa (Kangumu 2011). At the same time the Caprivi Strip became a symbolic trench for South Africa’s apartheid regime, which turned the region into a first line of defense, a training base for their armed forces (especially their special units), and a springboard for attacks on and the destabilization of countries adjacent to the frontier (ibid.).

From the late 1960s, the SADF built up at least seven large camps and two major airports in the region (including Mpacha airbase in Katima Mulilo). It was also in the Caprivi Strip where the South African forces trained some of their infamous special units, such as the Reconnaissance Commandos, the “Buffalo Battalion” or later, “Koevoet.” However, the Caprivi Strip was not only a military outpost. In 1964 the Odendaal Commission proposed the establishment of homelands for Namibia, and as a consequence the Eastern Caprivi was turned into a pseudo self-governing South African “homeland” (Lenggenhager 2018).[6]

South Africa’s understanding of its military presence in northern Namibia during the later years of apartheid was reflected in a counter-insurgency approach known as the “total strategy,” which called for more than mere military occupation. It sought tighter control over all activities in the area by including “non-combatant” elements, such as political and economic measures, and increased surveillance. The SADF promoted these non-combatant aspects of its occupation as the Winning the Heart and Minds (WHAM) campaign. This was grounded in the basic doctrine of winning “the sympathy and support of the people upon whom the insurgents depend” (Eloff de Visser 2011, 86). Although the SADF had its own unit dedicated to this effort, the so-called Civic Action Programme, the civil administration had an important role to play as South African government officials or civil servants were less likely to be associated with the atrocities of the SADF. In north-eastern Namibia, it was the civil administration’s efforts managing the region’s nature, such as fishery and forestry, that was seen as especially helping to “win” the locals’ loyalty. In the late 1970s, the administration added numerous conservation efforts to these tasks, as conservation, forestry and the fishery were expected to become profitable for the homeland once the war was won (Lenggenhager 2018).

Knowing Nature to Win the War

The war in northern Namibia required both nature conservationists and the military to acquire intimate knowledge of the region. To this end, they deployed state-of-the-art machinery and gathered geographical and ecological information from local residents. The need to know the natural environment thus became a catalyst for establishing the relationship between the military, local communities and scientists—a relationship forged in a strategically named theatre of war, i.e. in what the South African administration and armed forces called “The Bush War.” A former member of the South African Air Force (SAAF) cut right to the chase of reconnaissance: “Knowing nature was and still is essential to win a war. Particularly in the Bush War, the bush was the only thing we shared with our enemies, for both of us, nature was enemy and ally.” (quoted in: ibid., 148). This quote echoes Edmund Russell and Richard P. Tuckers’ observation that nature “has long been an ally of peoples at war” to provide food, shelter, and raw material—while a lack of knowledge of or an enemy attack on nature always posed a “threat to armies” (Russell et al. 2004, 6).

The entrenchment of military operation, ecological research and later nature conservation included the use of shared infrastructure in the daily routines of nature conservation officers, researchers, and army and police personnel in the region’s administrative center of Katima Mulilo. The town was also used as a Defence Force military base. Situated far beyond the South African heartland, it emerged as a remote outpost, where a strong but isolated white community carried itself as the “anti-communist bulwark and bastion of white Western values” (Kangumu 2011, 155–156).

Even after Namibia’s independence in 1990, armed skirmishes related to the civil war in Angola and a secessionist movement perpetuated heavy militarization of the Zambezi region. In spite of this, the new government and private investors began to promote tourism and conservation as pillars of regional economic development. A few years after the end of the war in Angola, and the following gradual de-militarization of the region, the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza TFCA) was proclaimed in 2011, stretching over the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola and Zambia. This so called “Peace Park” is today part of a network of transfrontier conservation areas along many borders in Southern Africa, advanced by the South African Peace Park Foundation and supported by all Southern African governments.

Peace Park’s approach has been criticized as neoliberal and neocolonial; a top-down scheme that failed to live up to the promise of peace, economic stability and wildlife conservation (Ramutsindela 2007; Büscher 2013). As a matter of fact, many transfrontier conservation areas became instead sites of green violence and green militarization (Lunstrum 2015; Büscher et al. 2015; Lenggenhager 2018; Witter & Satterfield 2019), where public-private partnerships promote the development and transfer of technology to buttress a war against poaching.[7] These technologies include not only guns, but also drones, sound traps and other intelligence gathering equipment, which were used to extract ecological knowledge. In other words, the shared grounds of counterinsurgency and nature conservation in northern Namibia have drawn on what we wish to call “dual use” technologies, i.e. technologies that have transitioned from one domain to the other.

In the following section, we describe one instance of the conjunction of dispersed desires for reconnaissance, namely the control of an alien plant. On that occasion, soldiers and scientists closed ranks in order to harness knowledge and infrastructure against invasive others, humans and non-humans alike.

A Shared Enemy: Salvinia Molesta

Salvinia molesta, an invasive plant in northeastern Namibia, can be used as a lens through which we can look at the idiosyncratic relationship between nature conservationists and military personnel during the Namibian War of Liberation. The need to observe and control this plant provoked the constitution of a shared infrastructure and a common knowledge base. A focus on S. molesta also helps explain the particular epistemology of space established since the mid-twentieth century that engenders conservation in the region to the present.

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Figure 1. Map of S. molesta infestation, 1978. (National Archives of Namibia, CAF 2016).

S. molesta is an aquatic fern that has been found in the river systems of the Chobe, Liniyanti and Kwando rivers since the 1950s. The construction of the Kariba Dam in 1959 led to the spread of this species, which exploded in the Zambezi river and eventually covered large expanses of water and led to eutrophication.[8] The aquatic plant grows in open water sources very quickly, making it difficult to fish and nearly impossible to control boat traffic on and across rivers. For the military, S. molesta posed a strategic disadvantage as it made the surveillance of the river more difficult and could be used as cover by enemy fighters. The civil administration was particularly concerned with the negative consequence of S. molesta on the ‘development’ of fisheries and later tourism, since these were seen as rare economic potentials in the newly created homeland and a critical factor in maintaining loyalty to South Africa’s occupying power.

The survey and control of S. molesta, concurrently declared an invasive alien species and a threat to military operations and the profitable use of the region’s natural resources, became a domain in which the cooperation between military personnel and nature conservation officers materialized. In this particular task they shared the objective of keeping South Africa’s Namibian territory clear of enemies, both “terrorists” and “alien species.” Figure 1 shows one of several maps produced commonly by conservationists and military personnel, and it specifies the invasion of S. molesta along Caprivi’s borders.

The “fight” against S. molesta was chronicled in reports produced from the late 1960s up to at least 1978 and documented in frequent aerial surveys. Regional expert networks were also established, and the South African Airforce provided planes, pilots and aerial photography, as well as interpreters, who documented and analyzed the distribution of the alien plant (Lenggenhager 2015, 475; Bollig and Vehrs 2021). The relationship between conservationists and the military intensified in this period, establishing a shared infrastructure of new knowledge, tools, weapons and technologies that could be deployed in the fight of a literal and metaphorical common enemy.

Aerial Photography

Figure 2 labelled “Ngoma Bridge” exemplifies the concomitant visual epistemology that placed ecological features and, more specifically, the spread of S. molesta along the river in relation to strategic infrastructure which secured South African control of the border area.

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Figure 2. Ngoma Bridge. (Edwards and Thomas [1979] 2016, 20).

The image is part of an emerging scopic regime based on aerial photography for military reconnaissance and environmental surveying and mapping in the Caprivi during the Liberation War. The medium and technology was constitutive of a perception of space which engendered the establishment of nature conservation areas at the time, and which continues today. Aerial photography also facilitated the transformation of north-eastern Namibia from a military battleground into a domain for tourism and conservation, whereby it helped conceal the transfer of a military rationality into the civil realm. As Lunstrum has rightly pointed out, “once conservation practice is militarized, it stays militarized” (Lunstrum 2014, 825). Because conservation and war were so closely linked in the Caprivi, militarization never fully ceased, and military tools, strategies and personnel maintain a critical role in shaping nature conservation. This is especially evident, we wish to argue, in the assemblage of technologies through which the surveillance of space is enacted.

Aerial photography was applied in the Namibia–Angola war zone as part of a sophisticated infrastructure built to conduct reconnaissance and attack flights into enemy territory in Angola and Zambia. As a technical and cultural by-product of warfare, it also served to produce ecological data on the region which was shared with nature conservationists. The SADF used aerial photographs to garner geographical and cartographical information to describe the distribution of material objects and natural features across the surveyed landscape, especially enemy camps. Yet the same images served nature conservationists in their endeavor to gather accurate information on wildlife, fish populations and vegetation, among them S. molesta, which posed a strategic threat to both the military and civil administration.

The smooth transition of aerial photographic images between military and civil domains and their legibility in both fields, was predicated on the fact that it was an element within a technological assemblage of practices, devices and institutions (Rizzo 2019). There are therefore specificities to the production of the Caprivi maps and images, that link them to a “shared infrastructure.” This infrastructure shifts our attention to different social and technical agents including the South African Air Force and the Department for Native Affairs as well as the technologies used; such as planes, cameras, theodolites and stereoscopes which are all parts of the “complicated material, institutional, and technological networks within which aerial photographs were produced, circulated, and deployed” (ibid., 160). The emergence of aerial photography had two broad functions in South Africa, first, for use in soil erosion debates in the 1920s and then second, for mapping in the 1930s through which the state could engage with agricultural transformation and engage with space. Both instances carried political and ethical issues, and the dominant actors using aerial photography were within the state apparatus, namely the military. Shortly after, the ability was transferred to experts and academic institutions (ibid.).

The production of aerial photography in South Africa exposes the profound interests in space harbored by both the military and civil administration, which is the focus of the next section. We accomplish this by attending to one of the many devices that mediated aerial photography, the Mirage IIIR2Z.

Technical Mediation: The Mirage IIIR2Z

The first production standard of the Mirage III (2019) was built in 1963 by the French aviation company Dassault and was armed with an assortment of missiles (Brindley 1971, 177). Its versatile design was soon adapted to a variety of roles as a training unit (IIIDZ), bombers (IIIEZ) and ground attack version (IIICZ). In addition, a number of dedicated reconnaissance variants of the Mirage III were developed and produced under the general designation of Mirage IIIR. Compared to the other models, the IIIR had a nose with several glass apertures for medium format cameras, housing up to five OMERA cameras.[9] Later versions of the IIIRs were fitted with British Vinten cameras and an extra panoramic camera at the most forward nose position, along with Doppler radar and other avionics including an infrared line scan or a side looking airborne radar (Jackson 1993, 132–133).[10]

Variants of the Mirage III formed the bulk of the South African Air Force’s fleet. The planes were built in France and shipped to South Africa, where they were initially received by the No. 2 Squadron at Waterkloof which later relocated to Hoedspruit while the SAAF and SADF were involved in operations against neighboring southern African countries. In the early 1970s, some planes moved to the No. 3 Squadron and the No. 85 advanced flying school at Pietersburg, performing operations in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Mozambique. More extensive ground attack operations were conducted against forces in Angola during the Namibian War of Liberation and the Angolan Civil War (Jackson 1985, 59). For these purposes the Mirage fleet were typically flown from Mpacha Airbase near Katima Mulilo.

The Mirage IIIR2Z—a variant of the Mirage IIIR— was capable of producing aerial photographs and remote sensing data, and was also used for tactical strikes and reconnaissance. It had improved photo reconnaissance equipment plus a higher performance engine, the Atar 9K–50, manufactured with exact specifications for the South African Air Force by Dassault. The Mirage IIIR2Z is considered to have been the fastest fighter jet which the SAAF ever used (Lord 2008). In the 1970s and 1980s it was involved in reconnaissance flights over the Caprivi, Zambia and into Angola as well as in ground attacks on military and refugee camps including the brutal strike on the Cassinga refugee camp in southern Angola that killed hundreds of civilians in 1979 (Williams 2015). The dual functionality of the Mirage IIIR2Z blurs the boundary between a war machine and a scientific instrument, offering both surveillance and tactical response capabilities which were ultimately effective in defining and controlling space.

Given the variety of roles, we can look at the Mirage IIIR2Z not only as an object, but also a multiplicity—for instance in wing shape, speed, military roles, and political attributes (Law 2002, 2). The plane can therefore be considered as many and quite different things. It is not a single object but many parts of a single object (ibid., 14–15). In other words, the warplane is a whole assortment of various machines, which are orchestrated differently using different strategies and mechanisms that coordinate its disparate elements, from the mediation of violence to the leaving of cartographic traces. This multiplicity is maintained by a whole series of associations between technical and institutional “delegates” (Latour 1994; 1999): the plane, the engines, the camera, the bombs, the control lever, the pilot, the engineers, airports, bases and even centers of command in Pretoria.

In order to understand how the Mirage IIIR2Z fits within the conservation–military nexus, we need to address the whole chain of associations that are involved in order for the plane to mediate violence, aerial photographs and the collection of ecological data. Employing the terminologies of Bruno Latour’s account of “technical mediation” (1994; 1999) helps us understand the background associations that went into forming aerial photographs, which emerged out of the shared infrastructure of military and scientists. Agency is distributed within this network—which, when working in cooperation—makes possible the choice of a particular pilot to either press the left button to take a picture or the right one to drop a bomb. The crux of the matter is that when these many delegates mediate the production of an aerial photograph used by nature conservationists, they become part of the social assemblage we can identify as green militarization. The shift of perspective makes the range of technical artefacts and expertise assembled to produce aerial photographs visible for analysis.

As a product of coordinated activity between silent actors working in the background to make mediation possible, the Mirage IIIR2Z is what Bruno Latour calls an “object institution” (ibid., 189–192), which is a frame of reference that decenters the actions of any one individual, turning analytical attention to the coordinated activity of all actors in the network working together as a heterogeneous assemblage of humans and technical objects. In this frame of reference, it is not the pilot who flies the plane, takes pictures of “alien plants” or drops bombs on refugee camps but rather a whole network and infrastructure that includes planes, pilots, dark rooms, institutions, departments and even propositions. In Latour’s words: “Flying is a property of the whole association of entities that includes airports and planes, launch pads and ticket counters. B–52s do not fly, the U.S. Air Force flies. Action is simply not a property of humans but of an association of actants” (ibid., 35). Similar to Latour’s point about the B–52s, it is not the pilot alone taking an aerial photograph but—at the same time—a whole network of people and things that produce a particular photograph taken from the Mirage IIIR2Z.

“Shifting Down”

The ability to produce an aerial photograph was not the property of the Mirage IIIR2Z nor the pilot, but the outcome of an assortment of technologies and people (see figure 3 and figure 4). By “shifting down” through all the frames of reference that have been assembled into a single picture of the landscape, we gain insight into its production which was made possible by many silent actors and technical delegates (ibid., 188–193). In other words, many actors were indispensable when it came to putting planes in the sky so that it could either take a photo or drop a bomb. Behind the production of the aerial photograph is the act of flying, which can be shifted down to planes, engines and pilots. The planes included a whole network of engineers, air traffic controls and equipment, all acting through institutional and technical delegates whom—although distant in time and space—were constituted as an association of entities involved in accomplishing a particular inscription (the aerial photograph).

“Shifting down” means that the photograph can be linked to actions long past and long disappeared. At this stage, we no longer focus on one object—the Mirage IIIR2Z—but now see people gathered around an object, with particular associations to one another and with similar or divergent programs of action (ibid., 188–9). As a combination of absences and presences of people, shifting makes visible the skills and objects that occupy a crucial function but are invisible in the final result. In terms of our understanding of green militarization, this form of analysis gestures toward a more micro-historical perspective on the practices in which particular interlinkages between military and nature conservation were enacted, by whom and through what socio-technical assemblages and shared infrastructures.