Today’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “More Drones, Fewer Troops” looks at the policy behind the increasing use and reliance on drones, but it misses an essential point: unmanned warfare’s impact on public opinion and public diplomacy. While the technical and budgetary advantages of unmanned systems are front and center, their impact on foreign policy are often an aside, usually in the context of meddlesome by-products of using “drones.” We have seen, if not acknowledged, the powerful impact of human intervention (e.g. SEAL Team Six) over the powerful impact of robots, either remote controlled or autonomous. Leaving the issue of the public diplomacy of these activities on the margins of planning is short-sighted and unwise.
In my article “The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare” (June 2008), I explored the impact of ground robots, intentionally avoiding flying drones because since World War II, flyers and targets were largely anonymous from each: death rained from above. Today’s communication environment and technical advances are removing the “air gap” between the ground and the flyer, or drone in this case, allowing for direct links between policy and the people on the ground.
This topic requires a deeper discussion. Public diplomacy and strategic communication must be on the take-offs of drones, not just the landings, crash landings or otherwise. In lieu of an organization that could look at this, I invite comments and articles on the subject to be posted at MountainRunner.us.
See also Unintended Consequences of Armed Robots in Modern Conflict from October 2007.
Modern conflict is increasingly a struggle for strategic influence above territory. This struggle is, at its essence, a battle over perceptions and narratives within a psychological terrain under the influence of local and global pressures. One of the unspoken lessons embedded in the Counterinsurgency Manual (FM3-24) is that we risk strategic success relying on a lawyerly conduct of war that rests on finely tuned arguments of why and why not. When too much defense and too much offense can be detrimental, we must consider the impact of our actions, the information effects. The propaganda of the deed must match the propaganda of the word.
Giulio Douhet wrote in 1928,
“A man who wants to make a good instrument must first have a precise understanding of what the instrument is to be used for; and he who intends to build a good instrument of war must first ask himself what the next war will be like.”
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has said that there is too much spending geared toward the wrong way of war. I find this to be particularly true in area of battlefield robots. Much (if not all) of the unmanned systems planning and discussion, especially with regards to unmanned ground combat vehicles, is not taking into account the nature of the next war, let alone the current conflict.
Last year I posted an unscientific survey that explored how a ground combat robot operating away from humans (remote controlled or autonomous) might shape the opinions of the local host family. The survey also explored the propaganda value of these systems to the enemy, in the media markets of our allies, Muslim countries, and here in the United States. The survey results weren’t surprising.
Serviam Magazine just published what could be construed as an executive summary of a larger paper of mine to be published by Proteus later this year. That paper is about four times longer and adds a few points with more details. In the meantime, my article that appeared in Serviam, “Combat Robots and Perception Management,” is below.
Continue reading “The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare”
Robots will figure prominently in the future of warfare, whether we like it or not. They will provide perimeter security, logistics, surveillance, explosive ordinance disposal, and more because they fit strategic, operational, and tactical requirements for both the irregular and “traditional” warfare of the future. While American policymakers have finally realized that the so-called “war on terror” is a war of ideas and a war of information, virtually all reports on unmanned systems ignore the substantial impact that “warbots” will have on strategic communications, from public diplomacy to psychological operations. It is imperative that the U.S. military and civilian leadership discuss, anticipate, and plan for each robot to be a real strategic corporal (or “strategic captain,” if you consider their role as a coordinating hub).
Source: my article “Combat Robots and Perception Management”, published in the 1 June 2008 issue of Serviam Magazine. The magazine’s website is no longer available, so it is reposted here: The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare.