Unlimited Robot warfare: Drones and their implications

In 1918 at the end of World War I the power structures that had stood for hundreds of years were swept away utterly, suddenly. Without going into too much detail let it suffice to say that even the victorious nations had their royal houses reduced to figurehead status and transformed into decorations rather than as ruling kings and queens.

It took a mere four years to unseat these power structures, that stretched back figuratively to Charlemagne. What was it that had accomplished this feat? It was the advance of many technologies airplanes, submarines, machine guns, poison gas, tanks, early radio communications, new forms of explosives. These items in and of themselves undid all the planning and calculations of the older power structures. I repeat: even the victorious of this war were reduced  into irrelevance.

The current day use of drone aircraft is a precursor to the much wider use of robots in all their forms, that have the potential to sweep away all existing power structures in our various nations, today and tomorrow, suddenly just as in 1914 (only more thoroughly).

The current debate about the use of drones is narrow and incomplete to say the very least. The establishment of the precedent that robots can be used to cross national borders and kill people without declarations of war can only be understood if we consider the full impact of what robotic warfare can mean in the very near future. (perhaps yesterday)

The idea, the doctrine that drone killings are legal and practical is a match for the German tactic of unlimited submarine warfare in World War I. The Germans took the position that they could sink anything that floated. (And of course submarines are capable of sinking anything that floats.) This particular tactic did not turn out very well for the Germans as they were defeated.

In World War II the Germans again took up the idea of unlimited warfare with rocket attacks on England using the V1 and V2 missiles. This tactic also did not play out very well for the Germans again as this is an utterly misguided policy with poor military usefulness. It guaranteed their defeat as did their other crimes.

The problem in World War I and World War II was not a small band of terrorists but the full might of the industrialized nations going at each other. The death toll is estimated to be something like 80 million people in these two acts of total world war. We can add to that far more injured and maimed and made into homeless refugees.

Philosophy is needed to examine the implications carefully. Though the area is not precisely philosophical, there is no point in learned discussion if we are dead. Philosophy is an important counter-measure to just allowing the popular debate to be conducted by idiots.

Teeny drone nano weapons, large drone missiles, drone torpedoes under the sea,  drones in space, drones that resemble tanks, drones that are bombs, drones that carry biological weapons, invisible weightless drones that are just software… all these and more are waiting in the wings. (see this quadrotor video as an example of what accelerated this)

There is an essential arrogance to the use of such power today against people who cannot respond in kind. Unfortunately this will not be for long. Drone and military robot research and spending across the planet  totals in the billions and billions of dollars and climbing.

Drone warfare in all its aspects has the potential to make into antiques aircraft carriers conventional tanks, conventional airplanes, conventional torpedoes, conventional submarines. Robot warfare has the full potential to reduce all military planning up to date into the same irrelevance as cavalry charges were made obsolete in World War I.

It is well to note that there were cavalry charges at the first of World War I led into the face of machine gunfire and poison gas attacks….  until the armies quickly  began to understand that this would no longer work and put away the horses other than to drag things around. (along with their Kings and Queens and Kaisers and Czars just as the war concluded)

The relative small cost of robots in comparison to the more massive conventional approach makes it all the more dangerous because it can be approached by a casual effort by let’s say a teenager rather than the Chinese military or some terrorist group.

Let us imagine the use of a single drone weapon inside America that manages to kill anyone and the resultant hysteria from what such an attack would reveal. Effectively no nation is safe anymore from all the permutations big and small of robot warfare.

Additionally there are surely things we cannot predict or imagine as aspects of unlimited robot warfare that should cause us more caution than what we do understand or expect in our worse case scenarios..

Drones do not have to be murder weapons. Drones could safely be used for surveillance. Drones could be used as toys or to deliver pizza. Drones could be used as communication devices or to transport medicine. But there is this unfortunate human tendency to move directly into the most lethal possible uses with no regard to the natural consequences.


Addendum: our dependence on the structures and flow of global trade and transport for our very lives is much higher than it was in 1914 and 1940. Disruption by robotic warfare thus has a supreme additional  impact that does not require targeting or massive use just disruption. Who this favors is no one at all. It is again outside the planning and calculations of the smart asses who think they are strategic thinkers in the governments and military and spy services today. They are an exact match to all the Kings (and Kaiser’s and Czar’s)  ministries before World War One….simply clueless.

A single act of robotic warfare could produce an effect out of proportion to the actual harm done. Today around 76 nations are actively pursuing robotic warfare programs. Subtract the 20 largest programs of the major nations and you still have scores of nations that might trigger off this unfortunate series of disruptions. The United States and their favorite targets terrorists in the Middle East is the least of it.

A survey I read today said 70 something percent of Americans approve of drone attacks on terrorists.  What is not considered is other possibilities, other implications. The US public is essentially being misled by its leadership into thinking this is all safe and containable. The harm to us could occur from two unrelated nations at war with robots, nothing to do with the US and terrorists with cloth hats.

I will not be irresponsible and describe likely scenarios that would allow this to get out of hand with minimal  cost and effort. Suffice to say that it is not the current use of drones that is the wider problem. A single use that strikes what I will not describe here is enough to stop the world in its tracks.

If that seems implausible remember the US was brought into World War One by the sinking of one cruise ship, the Lusitania by a German Submarine. The First World War itself was triggered by a single assassination of the Arch Duke Ferdinand.

America was drawn into World War Two by the attack on Pearl Harbor.  But the Second World war was begun by the German attack on Poland long before American involvement.

The current war on terror was begun by 19 terrorists in three planes on one day. And we have been drawn into an 11 year conflict to date here in 2013.

Single events have that potential and the arrogant assumption that we (the USA) own this and can control it is entirely false. We can put up overwhelming force but that tis not the criterion for unlimited robotic warfare. The unlimited part is not just in the large scale usage.  Unlimited in this more modern sense can mean unlimited in the sense of smallness.

I want to describe the likely scenarios that fit with Robot warfare but I dare not. It is just too easy, that is why it is happening already, not in the future. It is piling up across the world. The Midwest farm boys from America who went to World War One had no idea what was in store for them. They came from places with mules and kerosene lamps on to battle fields with water cooled machine guns, aerial bombs, poison gas and tanks. Those weapons were fashioned as they are today during the fragile peace before hell was provided.

2 Responses to Unlimited Robot warfare: Drones and their implications

  1. Every time there is a tech innovation in war, even if it’s more humane, people react negatively to it. Look at the terror famine Britain imposed on Germany in WWI; killed a heck of a lot more people than U-Boats, but the Germans were evil, using the new technology, and a food blockade had been done since Roman times at least. We need to rationally discuss these issues before they become issues, and so far, that has only happened in Science Fiction (e.g., “A Touch of Armageddon,” Star Trek)

    Kudos to you for helping the dialog.

    • floridaweather says:

      thanks for the comment…it is a weird subject, very science fiction but unfortunately coming into being as fact. I want to own the term “Unlimited Robot Warfare”. I take down my blog posts normally but this one I will leave as I did things to do with kids..and a few photos ..it reminds me to cleanup the blog now.

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