The Role of Technologies in Shaping the Future War
While purely military elements of the future of war are being analysed by the militaries of many countries (and in this regard there is both a certain vision of ongoing processes and a trajectory of where the evolution of warfare is headed), the political aspects of possible conflicts are far less studied.
Currently, two trends are developing in the world. One could be described as ‘post-nuclear disappointment’. International relations were for too long weighed down by the fear of nuclear weapons and associated risks. For decades, the dominant aim was to deprive the adversary of victory, with costs growing and major powers willing not so much to win as to not be defeated. Such a guideline implied a fundamentally defensive strategy, even if it involved a build-up of offensive weapons mostly meant for containment. Nowadays the thinking undergoes the transformation.
The focus is shifted: rather than deprive the adversary of a victory, states want to assure their own winning. This is explained by both a change in political moods in the world and the promising potential of incipient technologies. This trend implies aggressive military strategies and a corresponding reorientation of basic attitudes.
The other trend, speaks to the growing disappointment with balance of power. It was believed during much of the latter half of the 20th century that a balance of power created opportunities for agreements. Achieving a balance of power meant entrenching the status quo, sharing spheres of influence, and later engaging in the governance thereof. But the latter half of the 20th century also demonstrated that after achieving a balance of power and reaching a ‘nuclear stalemate’ (parity), states would veer into other areas of confrontation. Nonetheless, great power confrontation relegating to the periphery retains the aim of depriving the adversary of victory. Here these two trends converge.
The understanding that a balance of power does not lend itself to agreements makes to look up to asymmetric actions. In turn, asymmetric moves complicate the process of entrenching the balance of power to an even greater degree, which makes reaching agreements problematic. It is required to win the asymmetric conflicts in order to conduct great power confrontation effectively. The great powers end up in a situation when they are doomed to a rather lengthy period of confrontation without any chance to reach meaningful agreement without being committed to a balance of power. The question that arises, therefore, is how to win in this sort of rivalry. The impact on the pain threshold in the run-up to a war is seen as the issue of vital importance. So far technologies themselves are unlikely to influence the pain threshold since this concept is more closely associated with the idea of balancing political objectives and war costs. But the likelihood of major wars could diminish when automatic control and unmanned warfare technologies were to reach a truly advanced stage in spite of apprehensions that this might multiply associated risks.
Clausewitz’s idea of the dualistic nature of war as something rational and yet ‘elemental’ undermines political goals and inevitably prolongs warfare. Thus, everyone will benefit if at some point in the future technologies manage to sideline the human factor along with all the ‘elements’ identified by Clausewitz. Combat operations will become unnecessary because it will be possible to calculate their consequences with much greater precision, reducing warfare to staff exercises and computer modelling.
The rapid advance in reconnaissance capabilities is yet another argument in favour of this line of reasoning. Parties in possession of this resource will have essentially exhaustive information on the lay of the land in the enemy camp, thus making it easy for military planners to estimate risks and opportunities in each military operation and enabling better informed decision-making. But there is a risk that better positioned players will be able to consolidate their advantage and, being confident of victory, grow convinced of the logic of going to war. However, if the risks are recognized as unacceptable, the appetite for war may indeed wane.