The Corner

Booting Atlantis

I’ve been a fan of EPPC’s technology journal, The New Atlantis, since long before I landed at EPPC myself.  Now The New Atlantis is offering a sneak preview of Max Boot’s article from the forthcoming fall issue.  Boot (who’s proposal for a military path to citizenship launched a discussion yesterday on The Corner) has got a book coming out called, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today, which this New Atlantis article previews.  So here’s a link to Boot’s piece, “The Paradox of Military Technology.” 

Boot’s central idea is that technology acts to enhance America’s military advantage, while simultaneously working to cancel it out.  I’ll let you read the technological good news on your own.  But to keep my gloomy hawk credentials burnished, I’ll post a bit of Boot’s bad news here:

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.”

….But in the final analysis, having the best technology is not enough to defeat the most committed terrorists armed with the deadliest weapons. Some of the most expensive weapons systems being purchased by the United States and its allies are irrelevant to fighting and winning the war against terrorism. And the combination of moral restraint and bureaucratic sluggishness that defines America’s military culture may leave the U.S. at a comparative disadvantage against nimble, networked, nihilistic enemies like al Qaeda, who will deploy whatever weapons they have with urgent brutality. To deal with the essential paradox of the information age—that the march of advanced technology may decrease our security in some areas while increasing it in others—we need not just better machines but also the right organizations, training, and leadership to take advantage of them. That’s where the U.S. has lagged badly behind; its industrial-age military bureaucracy remains configured primarily for fighting other conventional militaries, rather than the terrorist foes we increasingly confront. Changing the culture and structure of our armed forces—to say nothing of the CIA or State Department—is a far more daunting task than simply figuring out which weapons systems to buy. Yet even if we rise to that bureaucratic and political challenge, there will likely be times, tragically, when our military supremacy is no match for the technology-enhanced savagery of our inferior enemies.


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