Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Paradox of Military Technology

Max Boot, author of War Made New, on “The Paradox of Military Technology”:

“Irregular” attacks carried out by tribes, clans, or other non-state actors are as old as warfare itself; they long predate the development of modern armed forces and the nation-state. The religious fanaticism which animates so many of today’s terrorists and guerrillas is equally ancient. But technological advances have made such attacks far more potent than in the distant past. The progeny of the second industrial revolution—assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers, landmines, explosives—long ago spread to the remotest corners of the globe. Fighters who a century ago might have made do with swords and muskets now have access to cheap and reliable weapons such as the AK-47 capable of spewing out 100 bullets a minute. More advanced technologies, from handheld missiles to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, give even a small group of insurgents the ability or potential ability to mete out far more destruction than entire armies could unleash just a century ago. And thanks to modern transportation and communications infrastructure—such as jumbo jets, the Internet, and cell phones—insurgents have the capability to carry out their attacks virtually anywhere in the world.

September 11 showed the terrifying possibilities of such unconventional warfare. It is easy to imagine that in the future super-terrorists will be able to kill hundreds of thousands, even millions, with effective weapons of mass destruction. All of the materials, as well as the know-how needed to craft such devices, are all too readily available.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons has the greatest ability to trump U.S. military hegemony. The atomic bomb is more than sixty years old. It belongs to an age of rotary-dial telephones and fin-winged cars. It is a miracle that it has not been used by maniac dictators or political radicals since 1945, but that streak won’t last forever. And while information age technology offers a reasonable chance of stopping a nuclear-tipped missile, there is much less probability of stopping a terrorist with a nuclear suitcase. There is little in theory to prevent al Qaeda from carrying out its oft-expressed desire to create an “American Hiroshima.” In the words of Eugene Habiger, a retired four-star general who once ran antinuclear terror programs for the Department of Energy, “it is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”


Read his entire essay here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

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