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An Excerpt from “Future Peace,” by Robert H. Latiff

Today’s militaries are increasingly reliant on highly networked autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and advanced weapons that were previously the domain of science fiction writers. In a world where these complex technologies clash with escalating international tensions, what can we do to decrease the chances of war? In Future Peace, the eagerly awaited sequel to Future War, Robert H. Latiff questions our overreliance on technology and examines the pressure-cooker scenario created by the growing animosity between the United States and its adversaries, our globally deployed and thinly stretched military, the capacity for advanced technology to catalyze violence, and the American public’s lack of familiarity with these topics.

War is ethically and morally problematic. Over the centuries and decades, after the introduction of new styles of conflict and new weapons, nations have seen fit to place restrictions on their armies. With time, a set of rules and standards emerged to limit the brutality and curb the excesses of combatants. Norms of behavior were established to protect the innocent and the use of inhumane weapons was outlawed. International laws, like the Geneva Conventions for example, or the prohibitions on chemical and biological weapons, have resulted. In light of the long-standing proclivities to war and the emergence of a new class of technologies for warfighting, it is imperative that we step back and consider again the moral and ethical implications of weapons employing these technologies and wars employing these weapons.

The tenets of Just War Theory and the Laws of Armed Conflict are dependent on the decisions of human beings. This is important. Topics of jus ad bellum (justice in going to war) require decisions about proper authority, right intention, just cause, last resort, and others that are just not in the purview of a machine. The idea of a machine having intentions or making judgments about justice is simply meaningless. Likewise, requirements of jus in bello (justice in war) cannot be decided by a machine. Decisions about military necessity, proportionality, legitimate combatants, and what constitutes unnecessary and superfluous suffering raise deep questions of fairness, human dignity, and morality and are the province of human commanders. The original just war concepts were developed in a time when limitations on war-making were constrained by the weapons themselves. The evolution to so-called modern war—and today’s hyperwar—in which technology has rendered those constraints obsolete, make the search for restraint ever more critical. 

The American public is dangerously uninvolved, and seemingly uninterested in, questions of the use of the military around the globe. Admittedly, there are sometimes good and valid reasons for military force, but data on deployments show that U.S. armed forces have been repeatedly used by presidents, often with questionable rationale. Why is the public not more critical? We must find ways to involve the citizens in issues of war and use of military forces and to identify ways of slowing the rapid resort to arms, raising barriers to political leaders who more often than not take the military route in lieu of doing the hard work of diplomacy. We must slow down the impulses to action and push back against them. 

Throughout history, statesmen, military leaders, religious leaders, and intellectuals have decried violence and argued against war. There were strong, respected voices of reason who spoke up through the media of the day and often resisted the calls for war. Today, few, if any, such voices exist and even when they do, are drowned-out by others in the press, on the Internet, and on social media. Thought leaders will have to adapt more quickly to this reality if they are to once again regain credibility. Voices of restraint must provide a rationale against military conflict and highlight the damage—which goes unseen by the public—it does to the country. 

But we cannot just rely on people. Changes to rectify this dangerous state of affairs must be both structural and technical. Resistors and capacitors are important elements in damping the sometimes wild and uncontrolled oscillations of electrical circuits and other physical systems. We must find a conceptual way of building such damping devices into the complex computer and communication networks of the military command and control system, as well as the upper levels of decision making, to tamp down the urge to action. We must deploy some speed brakes, both physical and human, into the system to resist the urges to violence and the propensity to act in the absence of rational thought.

The military is a vast, widely deployed, overstressed enterprise with highly complex systems. The world is a pressure cooker. There are numerous places and opportunities for the system to be thrown out of equilibrium, and our command and control system must be up to the task of preventing such an occurrence. Added to the situation is the fact that there are far too many urges to violence that push us toward war and away from peace. We must find ways to reduce the pressure, limit knee-jerk reactions, and resist the urges to war.

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