By 2006, there were more than 2,500 IED (improvised explosive device) explosions each month, and were the leading cause of casualty amongst American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Wow. What a way to start off, right? That’s how PW Singer does it; just slaps you with some knowledge from the get-go. Who is PW Singer? Mr. Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. There, he researches what the future of war holds and foreign policy. As a well-known writer of books and essays, he is able to link modern day events and news and comment on impacts of the future of military.
Back to the video. Singer starts us off with a chilling “scene of war” and was immediately able to capture the attention of the audience. He goes on to explain the growing importance of EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams. Their ability to diffuse up to 2 IED’s a day puts a $50,000 bounty on their head. That is incredible. But seeing how important the enemy views them shows the path of warfare is heading towards less soldiers and more machines. The idea of machines being in war has always been a staple of sci-fi thrillers and futuristic video games, but it is becoming a reality. The idea of war is changing as we know it. More and more drones are being deployed to do a foot soldiers job, and there seems to be a sort of distancing from the realities of war. Singer seems to believe we are at a revolutionary period in warfare, much like the period of the atom bomb. The experience and identity of a soldier is changing, and they are being referred to as “cubicle warriors.” We went from thuggish men with a thirst for blood being the ultimate warrior, to that kid from your freshman hall who dominates Call Of Duty. But how will this change war?
Singer had a chilling quote during his presentation: “When a robot dies, you don’t have to write a letter to its mother.” That is a really heavy line. Without soldiers, there are only broken “toys” in the line of duty. When drones are ordered to carry out attacks, the act of war is way less personal and the mental and emotional toll from the murders carried out by machine is cushioned by the thousands of miles that separate the party. Singer mentions there will be a new sort of mental and emotional situation that takes place. Now, soldiers will be expected to “go to war” for 12 hours, and then head home to the wife and kids to eat a meal and talk about what SpongeBob did today. The constant switch of emotions could lead to problems at home. The other aspect of robotic warfare that will forever change is the concept of accountability. Who is accountable for the actions of the machine? Is it the man who gave the orders? Is it the dude who controls the thing? Is it the company that invents the technology? I would argue all three of these parties feels less accountable for what happens at war than if they were there themselves. This diffusion of accountability would make it easier to pull the trigger from thousands of miles away. “You don’t have to convince a robot that they’ll get 72 virgins when they blow up.” All it takes is one click from a room in Nevada and BOOM! It seems easy and doesn’t seem like it would have the same effect as blowing something up on your own while you are there. War will eventually evolve towards technology; it seems inevitable. But how will it affect the world? Will there be more or less causalities? It is hard to say. What is easy to say is that the US is at the front of technological advancements for warfare, but Singer wisely mentions that there is no real fixed position at the top of technological advancement. We have to stay on top of technology if we want to maintain our strength as a country. Not only will warfare change, but so will terrorism, and it is that idea that can get scary. Strikes from anywhere are possible and it can be done by anyone at any moment.
So I leave you with the seemingly inevitable future of technological warfare. What other aspects of our lives at home or at war do you feel will be affected by this revolutionary change towards technology? What will the future soldier look like? Will we be able to protect ourselves domestically from foreign threats? Domestic threats? Let me hear where you think the future of war is going and how we will be changed as a result.