Changes in the nature of warfare profoundly shape both the manner in which the state is organized and the law itself. An obvious example of this is how the adoption of gunpowder warfare and the emergence of small standing armies helped to produce the absolute monarchies of the 16th and 17th centuries. In turn, the levee en masse – the mass mobilization of conscripts – by Napoleon’s revolutionary armies helped spell the beginning of the end for those monarchies. The need to raise and maintain ever-larger armies also required the creation of the apparatus of the modern state such as a census, universal taxation and basic education.
Today we are at another major inflection point, one in which technology is reshaping the way wars are fought. The future of warfare will be shaped by the role of ever-smaller drones; robots on the battlefield; offensive cyber war capabilities; extraordinary surveillance capabilities, both on the battlefield and of particular individuals; greater reliance on Special Operations Forces operating in nonconventional conflicts; the militarization of space, and a Moore’s law in biotechnology that has important implications for bio-weaponry.
Consider a few examples:
Just as the U.S. government justifies its CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen with the argument that it is at war with terrorists such as al-Qaida and its affiliates, one could imagine that China might strike Chinese Uighur separatists in exile in Afghanistan with drones under the same rubric. Similarly, Iran, which claims to have armed drones, might attack Iranian Baluchi nationalists along its border with Pakistan.
Yet the Pentagon, with characteristic short-term thinking that focuses too much on “readiness” and not enough on “preparedness,” seems lately to be shying away from fully embracing drones, cutting spending on them while continuing to devote billions of dollars to manned warplanes.
A cyber-siege isn’t won or lost based upon singular battles. Instead, we have to think about how we’re bolstering defenses writ large – something that the United States is not doing. Instead, the U.S. focus is disrupting small networks of cyber-criminals. If the United States really wanted to protect the country and the privacy of individuals from what’s next, we’d be thinking in terms of standardizing and “hardening” computer systems for everyday products (cars, appliances, home-security systems, etc.); compartmentalizing data (to prevent grabbing huge amounts of customer data at once); disclosing when breaches occur (to acknowledge weaknesses and shore up defenses); and protecting consumer data (whether health, banking or social networking).
The scientific manufacture of life, the proliferation of drones and increasing opportunity of cyber-siege are just the tip of the iceberg. The evolution of surveillance technologies, space weapons and autonomous unmanned systems of all sorts are also transforming warfare.
New technologies have also democratized mass violence, enabling non-state actors to use and threaten lethal force on a scale previously associated only with states. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shattered the comfortable assumption that the United States faced only conventional state adversaries. Since Sept. 11, the United States has fought conflicts of various types against a variety of networks of nontraditional combatants, such as al-Qaida and its allied groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
Taken together, recent changes both in the technological drivers of warfare and the enemies we face have erased the boundaries between what we have traditionally regarded as “war” and “peace,” military and civilian, foreign and domestic, and national and international:
And so on. As historian Charles Tilly observed, “War made the state, and the state made war.” If war is changing, then the state will change, and so will the non-state organizations that increasingly challenge those states and the international organizations that seek to channel state behavior. What these changes will look like is hard to predict, but they are likely to be as profound as the shift from the pre-Westphalian world to the modern world of nation-states.