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Part 2: Technology Shapes Warfare

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- This is Part II in a Three Part Series -

This article originally published on our Home Page in June 2012

In this article we continue with the second of a series of three essays on technology and war. In our last article we analyzed the concept of ultimate weapons and their impact on war, this time we look into how technology shapes warfare. In our next essay we will bring these two together and look into how Human Agency when added to the mix of technology and warfare determines the outcome of war. Join us each time and feel free to send us your comments.


Three months ago on our April Home Page we took our government to task for not giving us Americans enough information before a war begins to allow us to assess the value of an upcoming war to our nation’s needs. What we were trying to express is our viewpoint that as things stand now most Americans are wholly unable to make an accurate assessment and understand the implications of an upcoming war sufficiently to fully understand what kind of commitment our country must make to that war if we are to win it. What spurred us to look into this area is the fact that the American public seems to consistently tire of each war we get into long before it is able to be brought to a proper end, with the result that our government and military leaders find themselves rushing to end a war and “get the boys home” before the public starts taking to the streets with pitchforks. Obviously, this sloppy method of ending the wars we fight contributes greatly to another problem we face: messy endings that leave the countries we fight in as basket cases stumbling along for the next 50 years as wards of society, or worse, as a continuing nemesis to our own country.

What we said the American people needed to know if they were going to stand behind a new war effort for “as long as it takes” was what the government and military leaders who would manage the war thought about how long the war would last, how much it would cost in terms of our nation’s treasure, how long our commitment as a nation must be for, what the final stage of winding down the war would look like, how long the final stage would last, what the final stage's cost would be, and what the world would look like when all of the stages of the war were over and done with and the world was at peace again.  Support Our Wars

Key among these is the latter point as it applies to any hypothetical new country we might be thinking of warring against. That is, what will that country look like when our happy warriors come home and we are no longer spending any money to support it? Will it be stable and prosperous, enjoying a new form of participatory government, or will it be an oozing, war torn abscess of a nation hanging on the rump of the world for the next 50 years… as North Korea is and it is increasingly looking like Iraq and Afghanistan may be too? 

As we said then, if we as Americans were to be so lucky as to actually be briefed on these kinds of things before a new war gets underway, and also lucky enough to actually have a President and Congress that has enough respect for the Constitution to declare a war instead of just segueing into it with the same insouciance that they apply to forming a budget, then we might be able to get into one of these wars, win it, and leave behind a successful, free, peaceful, prospering country, instead of the kind of mess we see the world being dotted with today. 

Moving from this point to one that runs parallel to it, in this month’s article we are concerned with how technology impacts these hot little wars. That is, what impact does technology have on the outcome of the kind of wars we are increasingly taking on today? If the American public is ever to know what to expect when America next goes to war, it needs to know more than just how many soldiers and how much money it will cost. It also needs to know how a war will shape up as it gets underway. And to know the answer to that, one must know of the impact today’s technology has on a war's effort, because in the end it is technology that shapes warfare.

Emerging Technology: MicromachinesWhy does the public have to know how our technology... more specifically how today's emerging technologies... affect warfare? Because the depth and breadth of pain the American public feels in any new war effort will be in direct proportion to the ability of the war fighters, on both sides, to leverage the technology they have access to to their benefit. Simply put: no pain, and the American public will let the military fight a war forever, until everyone is satisfied that it has been won the way it should be; too much pain in too short a time, and the American public will demand that the war be put to an end quickly and everyone brought home, regardless of whether we are winning or not. And just to be clear, in this case pain does not just mean the loss of America’s sons and daughters in combat. It also means the kind of damage to America’s national pride and image that a poorly conducted war effort can bring (think: Abu Ghraib).

Continuing with our thinking: in our view, more than any other force, the availability or lack of availability of technology has a dramatic impact on how a war is fought, who comes out on top, how long a war must go on before someone does come out on top, and how effective post-war governing leaders will be in helping their country return to peace. One need only look at the impact of drones on Afghanistan to see what we mean re. technology shaping war.

When Afghanistan first got underway effective drone technology was in its infancy, with many military leaders seeing it more as a defocusing video side game than a useful piece of armament to have in their basket of tricks. Now, 11 years later, drones have become more relevant to the war effort than ISAF itself. The same might be said for Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the myriad other social network platforms that let the enemy get their word out in ways that Ho Chi Min could have only dreamed of. Think back to the viral way in which the Abu Ghraib photos spread around the world in less than an hour, or the burning of the Korans in Afghanistan led to over 3 million tweets in 24 hours, and you will see our point. Technology has a great impact on warfare, even non kinetic technology. [1]

Technology, more than any other outside force, shapes warfare. In trying to figure out how effective America will be in fighting any war then, one must take into effect how well we use technology … both kinetic and non-kinetic… to fight a war, as well as how well our enemy uses it.

Bear in mind here that when speaking of technology we are not talking of the old traditional forms of technology such as those used for communication interception and the like. Those forms have been around since the very first recorded war ever fought—between Sumer (in modern Iraq) and Elam (a region that is now part of Iran) in 2700 BC. Instead we are talking about emerging technologies, of the kind mentioned earlier. These emerging technologies… like those used in drones, or those used by Bradley Manning to leak military secrets to WikiLeaks, are what we are speaking of. Emerging technologies… the kind that not only shape how a war is fought, but are also shaped by it.

Note again the last part of the previous sentence. Strange though it may seem, the unique thing about technology is that while it has a dramatic impact on a warfare, conversely it is war itself that shapes technology. One more time: war itself shapes technology, not warfare. Clarifying this point then; among the three—technology, warfare and war—technology shapes warfare but not war, while on the other hand war shapes technology but not warfare.

Technology opens doors to warfareIf this is true, then we can also say that military technology is not deterministic. In other words, just because a particular military technology was instrumental in winning a war in the past, you can’t assume that the inevitable consequence of an improvement to this antecedent form of technology will cause the state of affairs today to result in another win. Military technology in and of itself is not deterministic. Rather, it opens doors as to what can be. Because of this, emerging technologies that are based on successful antecedents will not open any more doors for the managers of war than a form of technology that has not yet proven itself useful or successful. Regardless of a technology's past history and evolution, there is no way to determine whether it will intrinsically spawn a successful form of usage when applied in a wartime environment. What does determine the success of a technology is how many of the doors that technology opens man decides to walk through. Thus, the more doors a technology opens to possible means and methods of use, the greater the availability of and larger number of paths there will be to wartime success.

The relevance of all of this to our discussion of the impact of technology on war is that not knowing where emerging technologies have their greatest impact can be dangerous to a war leader; dangerous to the point of making it possible to lose a war if one is not careful.

One can see a bit of this happening in the use of drones in Afghanistan. Clearly, military leaders now know that a) the plan is that everyone be out of Afghanistan and home by 2014, b) with only two years to go, the last thing the American public will stomach is a large loss of life at this stage of the war, so if the desire is to wrap it up quickly you might as well scratch combat operations off the list, c) in a couple of years there won’t be anyone left in Afghanistan to fight this war with, and d) in spite of all of this, and regardless of whether we are there or not, the war will go on for at least another 7 – 10 years anyway, and likely result in something future historians will classify as another “Vietnam style defeat” for America.

With this in mind, how can anyone blame today’s military leaders from turning to drones as their surrogate fighting force? After all, pretty soon it'll be all they have left.

This latter point aside, whether they are blamed or not, unfortunately, drones—or any other form or combination of emerging technologies for that matter—won’t help our commanders win the war in Afghanistan. Depending on technology to solve what couldn’t be solved with boots on the ground creates in a leader a false chimera not worthy of his carrying the title Combat Commander.

Why? Because technology shapes warfare, not war, and especially not its outcome. War, on the other hand, as we said above, shapes technology.

The important point here is to distinguish between war and warfare, and the impact technology has on both of these.

That technology shapes warfare not war is easier to see today than it was back during WWII, and certainly much easier than it was during WWI.

Like the air we breathe and the water we drink, it is unfortunate but true that for as long as Homo erectus has been around, so hasn’t war. It is timeless and universal. The fact that our species has used it as a tool to impact society’s development for over 1.6 million years, since we first started walking upright, makes one wonder if all of the cries for peace coming from the liberal left isn’t just one big waste of time? Does anyone really believe that the mere act of wanting a world at peace is going to bring one? Does anyone really think that if one element of society gives up war, all the others will too? Haven’t the wars stemming from religious intolerance made the case that man has found a way to usurp even the most beautiful part of man’s thoughts—belief in a good and peaceful God—such that rather than religion being a cause for good, it now has become a cause for war? Let’s face it, war is here to stay.

If so, then what of technology’s impact on it?

Ahhhh… we got you. You see, that’s a trick question. It’s a trick question because if one looks at the graphic below, one will see that technology has no impact on war. Instead, it’s impact is on warfare.

Technology, Warfare, and WarWhat’s the difference, you ask? Consider this: our current President is busy trying to reduce America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. He’s also busy shelving the research Reagan started into ways and means of shooting down ICBMs and other offense postured missiles (especially during their boost stage) and satellites. If our premise here that war impacts technology, and technology impacts warfare, and warfare impacts war is right, then doing away with nuclear weapons or missile defense shields isn’t going to do a darn thing when it comes to stopping or preventing war. All it is going to do is impact our ability to fight it when it inevitably comes.

Look at the graphic and you can see that being without nukes or missile defense systems won’t deter an aggressor from attacking… to the contrary, it might even incent one to attack sooner. But it most definitely will impact how we fight any such war that an aggressor might start. A weak military posture invites strong actions against us by those who oppose us. And if we toss our best technology into the scrap heap of history, all this will do is multiply the strong response by those who oppose us by a factor of five or more. The increase in the strength of their response will be exponential folks, not linear.

To be clear, by warfare we mean the conduct of war. In other words, the broil and scrimmage of arms in the field, or the deployment and management of armed forces in the exercise of conflict. Warfare entails what we learned of in OCS as operations, whether or not it involves engaging opposing forces directly, or via some other organized form of violence, kinetic, or non-kinetic action.

War on the other hand is little more than a condition. It is the condition of circumstance that a state or government finds itself in. While warfare (i.e. the physical activity conducted by armed forces in the context of war) can determine the final condition of circumstance that a government may be saddled with when a war is over, the fact that a country or people are in a state of war cannot determine the mode of warfare that is used to impact the final result of the conflict. Only technology can do that.

So, in the end, if a country wants to have control over the final state it finds itself in when a war ends, then it has to develop a credible means to conduct warfare. And if the desire is to be able to use warfare in a credible manner to impact the end state of a war, then that same country needs to master the use of technology to underwrite its mode of warfare… emerging technology in particular.

By now our astute readers will ask, What about diplomacy? Can’t it be used to win a war or affect its outcome? Why only warfare?

U.S. DiplomacyClearly, the answer is yes, diplomacy can impact the final state of a war. However, unlike von Clausewitz, we would not say that “war is an expression of politics by another means,” instead we would say that politics (i.e. diplomacy) is an expression of war by another means. In other words, diplomacy, or what von Clausewitz calls politics, is in reality just another method of warfare. Our point then being that warfare is the overarching entity that determines society’s advance, not politics.

We say this because in our view the methods of political control over people that have come and gone through the ages have had less of an impact on society’s advancement than warfare has. Everything from dictatorships, monarchies, empires, and strange things like the old Hanseatic League through to internal revolutions, anarchy, democracy, communism, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Mao Tse Tung's thought, the teachings of Che Guevera, and much, much more has been tried. And one by one they have all fallen by the wayside or failed at giving people what they want. The only thing that has remained consistent throughout time has been the use of warfare to gain for a society that which it could not gain by political means. Unlike politics, warfare has proven its enduring ability to either protect or restore to a people the form of society that they wish to live in. Don’t mistake what we are saying here. We are not saying that war is good, only that if one looks again at the "Cause Of Effect" graphic above one will easily see that diplomacy, politics, and the state a country or society exists in are all impacted by technology.

This moves us to our next point: understanding what the impact of technology is on warfare.

Since wording is important in our making our case, let us say with specificity what we mean by the impact of technology on warfare. Here we mean that technology defines, rules, restricts, and demarcates how a war is fought. It presages how warfare will take place, and once warfare begins it (i.e. technology) becomes the instrument of warfare.

If forced to distill all of this into one word, the greatest impact technology has on warfare is that it alters it. Referring back to our discussion above about politics and diplomacy, one can see that if diplomacy is just another form of technology, then as it evolves it too can impact how a war is fought. That is, thinking of a new form of diplomacy as merely an emerging form of an existing technology, one can see (and even hope) that perhaps it might be able to take the rough edges off of the conduct of a given war… perhaps even to the point of resolving the war in an end state that the people of both sides can approve of. But, if this new “diplomatic technology” proves unable to win the war, then the combatants had better hope that their “other technologies” are up to the task… or else one side or the other will find itself in the position of the Third Reich at the end of WWII.

All in all then, technology both provides and is the chief source of military advancement, i.e. the advancement of warfare. And yes, we include diplomacy and politics within the term “military.” Technology impels changes in warfare more than any other factor, but it does not determine warfare. Underneath it all, warfare is impacted and greatly enabled by technology, but without technology warfare will continue to exist. The reason is that what we commonly refer to as the “principles of war” exist regardless of whether technology evolves or doesn’t… or for that matter even exists, and in the end it’s the principles of war that determine warfare. What do we mean by the principles of war?

In our case the term principles of war refers to the body of knowledge that a commander needs to know to conduct warfare. Strategy and tactics are included here, as are those elements that comprise a commander’s understanding of how to wage warfare. Among these are included the concepts of friction, the fog of war, chance, violence, intelligence, use of terrain, the element of surprise, maneuver, maximum advantage, planning, critical mass, economy of force, intelligence and communication security, concentration of force, overwhelming force, convergent attacks, command and control, unity of command, and much, much more. From this we can see that technology defines warfare, but it does not determine how it is fought. It presides in warfare, but it does not rule warfare.

So what does rule warfare and determine the outcome of war? For that answer, we are afraid you will have to come back next month when we continue our discussion with the Effect of Technology on Human Agency. Clearly, from this little hint you can see that in our view Human Agency, brought to bear on warfare, determines both the sate of and outcome of war. How well it does this is in great measure determined by how well Human Agency utilizes the emerging technologies at its disposal to modify and implement a more effective mode of warfare

Next Month: Human Agency And Technology Create Winning Warfare


- - -     Epilogue     - - -

Raphael's "Prime Mover"

As Raphael demonstrated in 1509, Causal Power is intrinsic to “Prime Mover” status. In the world we live in today, having Causal Power is an ontological feature of being human. Restating this, one could say that in many cases human beings hold Causal Power and therefore are able to exercise it in ways able to change the existing world. One such way is by acting on technology to become its Prime Mover. Much as early believers in 1509 thought God did when setting the universe first in place and then in motion, people today use Human Agency as the Prime Mover force to leverage technology to alter the heavens. Not by filling them with stars, but with society-altering armament.

Human Agency, acting on technology, allows the creation of new forms of warfare, which have the capability of affecting and altering the end condition of war.

Adding to this theory of critical realism is the opposing axiom that regardless of the number of society altering arms one set of Prime Mover's can place in the heavens, other Prime Movers will be able to leverage technology to defeat their utility... if, that is, they understand that technology shapes warfare, and they have used every mode of emerging technology that they can get their hands on to open as many doors to Human Agency as possible.

With this in mind, it makes one wonder: how much wisdom is there in reducing the size of a nation's nuclear arsenal, or shuttering its missile defense shield research, merely to make the rest of the world feel better?

Energy Field


Click to read the next two articles:                           Article I                               Article III 

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This page originally posted 1 June 2012 


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