Sunday, October 03, 2010

Push Button War

Word that the CIA has been given some drones to make the job of killing "insurgents" hiding out in Pakistan adds a chilling new dimension to modern warfare. Unmanned and missile-carrying, the weapons are controlled by operators back in the US. It's an expensive toy, but it's also one that doesn't expose any American troops to direct risks.

This "push-button war" isn't just restricted to unmanned drones, however. Apparently, the US has also decided to get into cyberwarfare as well, as this article from Germany's der Tagesspiegel suggests.

A cyber attack involving the virus “Stuxnet” infected 30,000 computers at Iranian nuclear facilities. Rumor has it that this was a “digital first strike.” Targets of the attack were obviously the Bushehr nuclear power plant and the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. All indications bear the fingerprints of Western intelligence services. Founded four months ago at Fort Meade, Maryland, the United States Cyber Command (CyberCom) will oversee and direct cyber warfare initiatives. It reports to the Pentagon, employs about 1,000 personnel and is responsible for the security of some 15,000 computer networks at 4,000 military installations in 88 countries. Unofficially, it is also responsible for exploring offensive capabilities, for which read: cyber weapons.

The pushbutton war: Tanks, machine guns and fighter jets will exit the stage; the battlefield of the future is digital. American troops have already left Iraq and the search for plausible exit strategies in Afghanistan has been ramped up. The neo-conservative belief in forcibly exported democracy has proven illusory. Besides, traditional warfare has become unpopular and terribly expensive. It is no wonder that the American government, above all, is turning more and more to high-tech. Regarding the Stuxnet virus, an expert is quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as saying, “This is what big countries do when a failed alternative might cause a real war.”
[Emphasis added]

Whether in fact the attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities actually took place and came from the US as a warning to that country is hard to pin down. It may, as this article points out, just be a carefully planted rumor. If it didn't happen, it's clear that it might, and probably will, happen sometime soon.

This is what the future holds, and while it won't involve the kind of carnage we associate with war, it will still be as destructive. Hundreds of thousands of civilians will still be harmed, governments will be toppled, economies ruined by the simple push of a button by a human drone who will not actually see the victims of his/her action.

I take no comfort in this latest scenario.



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