The future of war

Posted on Tuesday, July 27th, 02010 by Kirk Citron
link Categories: Long News   chat 0 Comments

The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

At a recent Long Now seminar, Ed Moses mentioned in passing that we now produce enough bullets each year to kill every person on the planet — twice. We are a violent species; we hunt, we organize in gangs, we go to war. Today the U.S. is prosecuting two wars, and there are hotspots around the world from Darfur to Mexico.

At the same time, global defense spending is rising by 8% a year. We face unquantifiable threats from nuclear, biological, and robot weapons. And, of course, there will almost certainly be new conflicts over food, water, and other resources.

And yet —

Over the long term, it’s possible that war may actually be on the decline. The UN defines a “major war” as an armed conflict which causes more than 1,000 violent deaths a year. Just ten years ago, the world had fifteen major ongoing wars. Today there are seven.

In fact, Steven Pinker has argued that if you’re a young man (the group most likely to bear the burden of soldiering), your chances of dying in an armed conflict are lower than at any time in history: “If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.” His essay is a few years old, but it’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it before: A history of violence.

Here are some other recent news stories and opinion pieces about the future of war (somewhat U.S.-centric, as the U.S. accounts for nearly half of global military spending, and most “advances” are taking place here):

1. Money and the military:

2. Ironically, even as we eliminate nuclear warheads:

3. High-tech combat:

4. War, what is it good for:

We invite you to submit Long News story suggestions here.

  • Roy McDonald

    It seems likely that the US and China will wind up in conflict at some point this century: two highly successful social systems with conflicting values like “human rights” vesus “social order”, and democracy versus central planning. Considering how rapidly technology and manufacturing capacity are advancing in China, by the time this happens the US may be not only 3x smaller in population but with weaker weapon systems, too. I'll predict we avoid outright war but that the Chinese model gets pushed a lot of places the US doesn't want it, going way beyond Taiwan, because China holds economic AND military power advantages when push comes to shove.

  • Zander

    In the high-tech combat category I think there could be a nasty reconning when other nations begin using robot warfare against the US. A determined high tech manufacturing country like China could achieve very dramatic results with robotic warfare…

    Another point brought up in PW Singer's Wired For War that I still think about is how tele-presence changes the targets in lawful combat. We usually think about it in terms of how lethal it is in other countries. However if a soldier who operates a Predator drone were to walk out of his control trailer in Nevada and go to the mall with his family that evening in uniform, he is a legal wartime target.

  • vanderleun

    We accept your pre-apology for it being “somewhat U.S.-centric” and look forward to the day when it is China centric.

  • Luc Leblanc

    I don't understand the big fuzz surrounding China. The country is nothing but a Communist dictatorship. They need the army to maintain social order! If China is to engage in a war, they will need to move troops away from many hotspots. When you got Tibetans and Uyghur ready to form a fifth-collum of millions, starting a war is a peril by itself.

    Besides, the whole “U.S. in Peril” scenario is nothing new. Anyone remembers Japan in the '80? With their electronics, Zaibatsus and their mutant sararimen ready to work 25 hours/day, 8 days a week? They went the way of the Dodo when the bubble popped a decade later. I think China might take the same road. I might be wrong; please inform me when China will have a homemade nuclear aircraft carrier and we will discuss all of this (The U.S. Navy got a dozen of them).

    This being said, the operation “Cast Lead” is a perfect example of the war of the future when pin-point accuracy can be used in real time. If my numbers are correct, the Gaza population only suffered 0.1% of deaths over their whole population (militants and civilians included). This is an amazing number compared to any offensive made during World War II. So this will be the wars of the future; fast, clinicaly precise and fought at distance via video monitors.

  • cinndave

    Some very contradictory messages in the links. The New Republic is right: the world is more peaceful and war is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of cause of death. Globalization and free trade promote peace. The more countries do business with each other, the more they stand to lose by waging war.

    Luc Leblanc: China's military is modernizing very quickly. Their military budget is typically 3 to 5 times larger than what they say it is. I don't know about a supercarrier, but they are building a better air force, including a stealth fighter similar to the F-22 using secrets they have stolen.

    As for Japan, they went into stagnation because they had a massive bank failure in the 90's similar to today. The difference? They didn't bail out their banks, so the country stalled for 15 years despite interest rates being near 0% ever since. Bless Barack Obama for learning from that. tangent over.

    I'm getting a little tired of futurists saying that wars will be fought with robots. They won't. It will be the USA and a few wealthy nations using robots in very specialized roles same as they are today, while our enemies just keep using and sacrificing humans. Life is cheap to them anyway. UAV's won't have a role much bigger than they already do either. They often fail, crash, and require dangerous missions to recover sensitive material.

  • SteveM

    Sadly, the US Defense budget does not contain the true cost of military and homeland security. Discounting the US national police forces, and some service components, but adding in intelligence, military spending in other budgets (NASA, DOE, DOT, SocSec, etc), financed cost of prior wars and prior financed military spending, the US spends well in excess of $1 trillion per year while exporting the means to war and state sponsored terrorism in ever increasing doses. So the deaths in Guatemala, El Salvador in the 1980s were not listed as wars, but 250,000 died anyhow. I think the potential for war is great now – the US would have been in more under Bush Jr if Chaney had his way. And I think that if you live on the Pakistan border, you think there is a US Pakistan war, because civilians are dying in ever increasing numbers. Please no rosy appraisal. There may have been more wars in the 13th century, but swords, spears, and errors would not wipe out humanity the way nukes, weapons grade biologicals and chemicals can.

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