Disruptive Technologies to Upend Rules of War.

Author:Rablcin, Jeremy
Position:Book Excerpt

Economists call it "creative destruction."

Robots are replacing factory workers. Online news sites are displacing newspapers. Passengers are abandoning taxis and summoning part-time drivers with cell phones. Household appliances and security systems are operating on home networks.

New technologies are having an impact beyond the workplace and household. Presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, for example, have ordered robots to kill individuals with precision-guided missiles from the sky. Unmanned aerial vehicles are leading the way for even greater technological innovations in war. The same high-speed computer systems can accelerate financial markets or disrupt national economies. Robotics and precision mapping can automate transportation, even passenger cars. They can also control pilotless aircraft that strike specific buildings or individuals. The same technologies that can assemble and deliver a book, a piece of furniture, or a sophisticated appliance to a customer within days are also enhancing military "productivity," which means fewer soldiers can kill or incapacitate more of the enemy at lower cost.

Technologies often transcend their original purpose. The cell phone initially freed people to make voice calls without the physical tether of telephone wires. Engineers next added cameras and data communications to the handheld phone. Users could now record and send pictures of controversial police actions, repressive crowd-control measures, or riots. Phones can now distribute these pictures to millions of strangers before a journalist on the scene could write an eyewitness account.

Users can also receive, as well as transmit, a stream of text, data and information that is rearranging social relationships, consumer activity, travel and entertainment. A world that is wired allows a vastly wider and more consequential range of communication than telephone calls.

So it is with war. Instead of ending armed conflict, technological advances have expanded it. World War II came to an abrupt end shortly after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Many concluded that science had created a weapon so devastating, rational statecraft could never use war as a tool again.

"Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative," said even Gen. Douglas MacArthur, no pacifist he, on the deck of the USS Missouri during the Japanese surrender. "We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system...

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