The new world order
We’re now entering another stage of warfare. As usual, the change is driven by technology more than politics or ideology, although you could argue technological innovation is a product of the other two.
John Robb talks a lot about “open source warfare” on his blog Global Guerillas, and in many ways he is the von Clausewitz of our day, although the difference in their approaches and concerns speaks volumes about the differences of our ages. Conflicts are no longer primarily about nation states at war, although that is still a factor. Now battles are fought between avatars, stand-ins for ideological and technological processes — and even media processes, as the conflicting and evolving narratives about bin Laden’s death highlight. Baudrillard’s notions about war in the modern age are even more relevant now than when he first wrote them.
Our wars are now wars of spectacle, as 9/11 made clear to everyone. Victory is in the horror of the image, not the mathematics of the body count. The enemy, our enemy if you will, tries to create the spectacle in our homes, our minds. We try to make the conflict invisible by fighting in the lands of others, and by using mechanical avatars to do our fighting. Drones. We don’t care if we lose a piece of equipment. It is not the same as losing a human avatar. There is material loss, but no significant spectacle. We don’t care if Pakistani tribal fighters film themselves beheading a drone. It was probably old and out of fashion anyway. It’s simply an excuse to buy a new one, like the latest iPhone.
And so the enemy must respond to technological superiority with its own technological innovation. The skies will be filled with stealth drones and anti-drones and jamming and airborne viruses. And the more the conflict becomes abstract in terms of flesh and blood, the more the conflict will become abstract in terms of engagement and even causes. It will be the skies over the Battle of the Somme in bits.
When drones are fighting drones, when they are adapting their own code to respond to enemy threats, when they are developing their own logistics chains at the speed of light because it’s more efficient than having humans do it, when they are battling in symbolic spaces that recognize no national boundaries but only the ever-shifting boundaries of ideology and technology, then what will the conflicts of the future be like?
Will we even notice them?