Wired for War?

January 7, 2010

Wired for War, by P.W. Singer

An interview with author P. W. Singer which first aired in early 2009 was rebroadcast on National Public Radio this week.  I happened to catch it on the second (or third or fourth) time, but not the first.  Singer is a technological warfare expert who wrote “Wired for War”. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99663723

The premise of the book and the focus of the rebroadcast conversation is the capability we have to resort to sanitized warfare through the increasingly sterile use of killing machines.   Our advanced technology can provide a better way to overcome our enemies.  Pilotless drones are an example of the technical capabilities we now possess to wage war with less risk to our own military personnel.  A “pilot’ in Nevada can fly a heavily armed drone into a target in Pakistan using a computer screen and a joy stick much like a computer game.

This is a civilized way of conducting war and can serve to end its pernicious effects more promptly, right?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  According to Singer, the disengaged warrior may be prolonging, rather than expediting, war through advanced technology.  Warfare analysts like Singer point out that wars conclude when people lose the desrie to fight them.  Winning the hearts and minds of people is as important as winning on the battlefield.  Without boots on the ground creating relational trust in dealing with the civilians affected by war, the reasons to resist military conquest only increase.  When the will of the people to wage war subsides, wars end.  High technology applications of military power without personal engagement has the tendency to heighten the will and the resolve of insurgency, according to Singer.

I’m no military strategist and cannot offer a reasoned opinion on Singer’s perspectives, but the interview made me think about our exclusive use of force as a means of peacemaking.  Coercive outcomes seldom last.  People forced against their will to behave in ways not of their own choosing, may briefly comply, but are not convinced to continue to do so.  We can all quickly find the means of avoiding, circumventing or defeating the coercive influence others choose to force us to acquiesce to their power.

In short, without the ability to build, maintain and enhance relationship, does mere power over others accomplish anything of lasting value?  It would seem that in war as in all other forms of relational transformation, unless we spend the time, invest the resources and commit to build trust among our adversaries, merely forcing them to do as we demand will simply forestall the potential for peaceful outcomes.  Certainly, the use of force may be necessary to avoid exploitation or change the leverage between adversaries.  However, drones alone will not win the war.