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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 16, 2015

The Entangled Sovereignties of Air Police: Mapping the Boundary of the International and the Imperial

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From the journal Global Jurist


The contemporary proliferation of drones and other forms of aerial interventions herald the (re)emergence of air policing as the principal modality for the fabrication of order in the global periphery. Air policing is predominantly framed by international legal analysis as merely ‘killing from above,’ yet this designation obfuscates the concomitant occupation of airspaces entailed by drones and other aerial technologies. Such occupations constitute an assertion of jurisdiction in nominally sovereign airspaces authorised by latent imperial legality. The history of air policing reveals a genealogy of ‘aerial imperial formations,’ enfolded within the abstract airspaces regulated by international law notions of ‘complete and exclusive’ sovereignty. Through a focus on the spatio-legal construction of airspace, this paper proposes a reframing of the nexus of sovereignty, jurisdiction and territory, and suggests that we conceive of the principle of indivisible sovereignty as propounded under international law as profoundly entangled with the conception of sovereignty as divisible that animates jurisdictionally complex imperial law.


I have greatly benefited from the comments and conversation at these events and from discussions with Tomaso Ferrando, Heidi Matthews, Saskia Sassen, Criag Jones, Benedikt Korf, James Eastwood, Mark Neocleous, and Tyler Wall. I am indebted to the two anonymous reviewers and to the insight and dedication of the editors. All errors remain my own.


Versions of this article were first presented at the ‘Law and Boundaries’ conference at Sciences Po, the ‘Royal Geographic Society/Institute of British Geographers Annual International Conference’ at the Royal Geographic Society, and the ‘Critical Legal Conference’ at the University of Sussex.

Published Online: 2015-6-16
Published in Print: 2015-7-1

©2015 by De Gruyter

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