Tag: modern warfare

The Long Peace

Global Trends 2030 has a virtual roundtable on the “Long Peace” and whether or not it will persist. As Allan Dafoe notes in his introduction: “we live during an era of historically unprecedented peace. Whether we look over timescales of decades or centuries, wars have become less frequent.” He continues:

To probe the persistence of this Long Peace, it would be helpful to know what factors have made the world more peaceful, and the extent to which these factors are likely to persist into the future. Potential causes of the peace include increases in trade, democracy, the difficulty of coercing wealth, global empathy, Great Power stability, the empowerment of women, and the deterrent effects of nuclear weapons. Global Trends 2030 identifies a number of other factors pertinent to the future probability of war, including power transitions, declining US military superiority, resource scarcity, new coercive technologies (such as cyberweapons, precision-strike capability, and bioweapons), and unresolved regional conflicts.

Wars are rare, but when they occur they alter the course of history. Any projection of what the world will be like decades into the future needs to evaluate the probability and character of war, and especially Great Power war. This week we can look forward to a set of eminent scholars sharing their thoughts about whether the Long Peace will persist. Contributors include: Erik Gartzke, (UC San Diego), Benjamin Fordham (Binghamton), Joshua Goldstein(American), Steven Pinker (Harvard), Jack S. Levy (Rutgers), Richard Rosecrance (Harvard), Bradley Thayer (Baylor), and William Thompson (Indiana).

Emerging Technologies, Material and Social

Recording Casualties and the Protection of Civilians from Oxford Research Group (ORG) on Vimeo.

As the lone social scientist in a room of lawyers, philosophers and technicians last week, I was struck by a couple of things. One was the disconnect between descriptive and normative ethics, or rather questions of is versus ought. Everyone was speaking about either norms and rules, but whereas the lawyers treated existing norms and rules as social facts the philosophers treated them as questions of ethics that could and should be altered if necessary on their ethical merit. Another was the disconnect between material and social technologies. Engineers in the room seemed especially likely to assume that material technology itself evolved independent of social facts like laws, ethical debates, or architectures of governance, though they disagreed about whether this was for better or worse.
I suspect, to the contrary, that there is an important relationship between all three that bears closer investigation. To give an example, an important thread seemed to unite the discussion despite inevitable interdisciplinary tensions: that both material technologies (like weaponry or cyber-architecture) and social technologies (like international laws) should evolve or change to suit the demands of human security. That is, the protection of vulnerable non-combatants should be a priority in considerations of the value of these technologies. Even those arguing for the value of lethal autonomous robots made the case on these terms, rather than national security grounds alone.

Yet it bears pointing out (as I think the video above does quite well) how difficult that very factor is to measure.
How do we know whether a particular rule or law or practice has a net benefit to vulnerable civilians? How does one test the hypothesis, for example, that autonomous weapons can improve on human soldiers’ track record of civilian protection, without a clear baseline of what that track record is? Knowing requires both material technologies (like databases, forensics, and recording equipment) and social technologies (like interviewing skills and political will).

And make no mistake: the baselines are far from clear because our social technologies on casualty counting are lacking, because nothing in the existing rules of war requires record-keeping of war casualties, efforts to do so are patchy and non-comparable, and the results are data that map poorly onto the legal obligations of parties to armed conflict. Hence, an important emerging social technology would be efforts to standardize casualty reporting worldwide. Indeed such social technologies are already under development, as the presentation from the Oxford Research Group exemplifies. Such a governance architecture would be a logical complement to emerging material technologies whose raison d’etre is predicated on improving baseline compliance with the laws of war. In fact without them I wonder if the debate about the effects of material technologies on war law compliance can really proceed in the realm of descriptive ethics or must remain purely in the realm of the philosophical.

Anyway. These kinds of “emerging social technologies” or what scholars like me might call “norm-building efforts” received relatively little consideration at the workshop, which was focused primarily on the relationship between emerging material technologies (robotics, cyberspace, non-lethals, human augmentation) to existing governance architecture (e.g. the law of armed conflict). But I think – and will probably write more on this question presently – that an important question is how emerging material technologies can expose gaps and irregularities in social technologies of governance, catalyze shifts in norms, as well as (possibly) strengthen enforcement and adherence to those norms themselves if put to good use.

The Aussie Military Accepts GI Janes into the Ranks


While the US and UK continue to debate the ways that women impact cohesion and combat effectiveness, effective immediately, the Australian military will allow women to participate in combat roles. Australia joins a small group of countries that have removed combat restrictions for women, which includes Canada, New Zealand, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Serbia, Israel and Switzerland.

Several individuals within the Australian Defence Forces I’ve spoken to over the last year have indicated that this policy change has been a long-time coming. Defence Minister Stephen Smith came out several months ago indicating his support for the policy change– even in the face of national concern and criticism. Despite warning signals from the department of defence, several national media outlets and opposition leaders are calling the policy a gimmick and an attempt to distract attention from recent sex scandals associated with the military, including the now infamous ‘skype scandal’ involving the un-consented broadcasting of a sexual encounter within a military academy. Neil James of the Australian Defence Association said that the policy ‘jumped the gun’ and warned that there could be more female casualties if women were allowed to serve in all combat roles.

One former naval officer told ABC radio that she didn’t expect many women to meet the physical requirements for some of these positions but that “it just has to be done, and I think Australia’s very brave to do this.”

The impact this policy change will have on the Australian military and its ability to recruit and retain women can only be measured in time. But if other military’s experiences of gender integration are any indication, this policy will largely be forgotten in a few months and women who meet the physical requirements will enter these roles with little fanfare. Perhaps this renewed debate will spark attention back in the US, where policy-makers and the US government still cling to weak arguments about the need to keep women out of combat.

After Wikileaks; or, the next phase of Diffused War

In Diffused War, Andrew Hoskins and I argued we’ve entered a new paradigm of warfare. The wikileaks stories seem to confirm much of this account. War is mediatized, we wrote, as the institutions of war and those affected by war take a form governed by continual media recording, display and archiving. This creates diffuse causal relations between action and effect, since mediatization can amplify or contain the cognitive and emotional response any action generates in ways not dependent on the initial action itself. Militaries, NGOs, insurgents, journalists – none can predict the outcomes of their actions or the display of their actions. US and UK military practitioners did not envisage their communications going public, but their institutions allowed those records to exist. And as my Duck colleague Charli Carpenter notes, they’ve started shredding documents. This is to counter the greater uncertainty now faced by those conducting war. While who sees what, when, and where is usually largely controlled (most people still rely on mainstream media), the potential for surprises is permanent and unavoidable, such that the worst case must always be built into decision-making.



In contrast to the splutterings of military chiefs, for my students wikileaks is already the norm. So what should we expect to see next? Where might novelty lie? Let’s take a risk and look briefly at some ideas in contemporary art, which has long dealt with mediatization and how it reconfigures human relationships and our ideas of the image and representation. Nicolas Bourriaud recently wrote that, in our ‘control+S’ culture of instant archiving of all political and social life, ‘an insistence on the “here and now” of the artistic event and a refusal to record it are a challenge to the art world’.  What is notable now is what goes unrecorded or is not made public. He discusses Brian de Palma’s 2003 Iraq war film Redacted, which pieces together soldiers’ blogs, cameraphone footage and other media from the war to produce a style of ‘organized proliferation’ that is now common in TV and movies generally. Pushed to its limit, Bourriaud suggests, ‘the degree of spatial (and imaginary) clutter is such that the slightest gap in its chain produces a visual effect’. In other words, we now expect the depiction of war to amalgamate several media recording technologies, a chain of styles, textualities and episodes edited into any single news summary or Hollywood movie. And if a gap occurs, something is wrong. If no citizen-generated content emerges, that is surprising. If footage from the helicopter gunship’s point of view is absent from the news report, and we now know such a perspective is continually recorded, then at least a few members of the audience might begin to ask why there’s no footage. 


We’d expect the next phase of military media management to employ the full range of textual styles to which audiences are now accustomed. Its a question of credibility, and studies show audiences are far more savvy than military practitioners assume. With that in mind, instead of shredding documents and looking like you’ve something to hide, perhaps a truly pre-emptive PR agent would deliberately create a full, convincing range of leaks for wikileaks such that a controlled version of the worst is already on show. It would then appear there are no surprising gaps. 

Not getting enough of real war?


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has just been released. According to the BBC:

Analysts believe the game could sell as many as 5m units globally on its first day.

It is the sixth installment in the Call of Duty series and gives players the chance to be a member of a military strike force that takes on a Russian ultra-nationalist terrorist group.

It sees the combat team traveling to Russia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Brazil and into orbit, in an attempt to thwart the terrorists.

I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently one level has the player joining in a massacre of civilians at an airport. I’m not sure how to read the idea that the developers thought it appropriate to include participating in war crimes as part of the experience.

This level and intensity of violence has led to public feud between two British MPs — one a critic and the other a defender of gaming. The defender is now taking to Facebook to defend Modern Warfare 2 and the gaming industry.

All of which should help sales….

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