P.W. Singer, fully Peter Warren Singer

Singer, fully Peter Warren Singer

American Political Scientist, International Relations Scholar, Specialist on 21st century warfare, Author, Founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings, Founding Organizer of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum

Author Quotes

The practice of child soldiers is far more widespread, and more important, than most realize. There are as many as 300,000 children under the age of 18 presently serving as combatants around the globe. Their average age is just over 12 years old. The youngest ever was an armed 5 year old in Uganda. The youngest ever terrorist bomber a 7 year old in Colombia. Roughly 30% of the armed forces that employ child soldiers also include girl soldiers. Underage girls have been present in armed groups in 55 countries.

Ultimately, a successful reintegration is as much about whether the families and communities are prepared for acceptance, as whether the children have been properly rehabilitated. For instance, in one survey in Africa, 80% of adults did not want their children to mix with children who had once served as child soldiers. In an ideal world, after a conflict ends, a significant program of sensitization should therefore be put in place to prepare the local society to the challenges and difficulties of reincorporating ex-child soldiers. It is particularly difficult in places where the children may have committed heinous crimes against local civilians. Efforts must be made to overcome the stigma and stereotypes that surround ex-child soldiers and describe them as perpetrators. Rather, they should seek to reinforce the acknowledgement by society that the children were also victims in the process. Truth and reconciliation programs have been run to some good effect in places like South Africa, but programs more specific to child soldiers are needed. In Sierra Leone, for example, UNICEF set up an agreement with local media to promote reintegration and reconciliation, including even producing radio spots that sought to educate the local populace and keep them informed of related activities. More recently, Voice of the Children was launched. It is a UN-sponsored radio station, dedicated to children's issues. Another example is that children in Uganda are given a public presidential pardon for any activities they carried out while in captivity, providing an official sanction to societal forgiveness and reconciliation.

You don't have to convince a robot that they are going to receive 72 virgins after they die, to convince them to blow themselves up. But the ripple effects of this are going to go out into our politics. One of the people I met was a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ronald Regan. And he put it this way, quote, "I like these systems because they save American lives, but I worry about more marketization of wars, more shock and awe talk to defray discussion of the cost. People are more likely to support the use of force if they view it as costless." Robots for me take certain trends that are already in play in our body politic, and maybe take them to their logical ending point. We don't have a draft. We don't have declarations of war anymore. We don't buy war bonds anymore. And now we have the fact that we're converting more and more of our American soldiers that we would send into harm?s way into machines, and so we may take those already lowering bars to war and drop them to the ground.

Something big is going on in war today, and maybe even in the history of humanity itself. The U.S. Military went into Iraq with a handful of drones in the air, we now have 5,300. We went in with zero unmanned ground systems, we now have 12,000. And the tech term "killer application" takes on new meaning in this space. We need to remember that we are talking about the Model T4s, the Wright Fliers, compared to what's coming soon. That's where we're at right now. One of the people that I recently met with was an Air Force three star general, and he said, "Basically where we're headed, very soon, is tens of thousands of robots operating in our conflicts." And these numbers matter because we're not just talking about tens of thousands of today's robots, but tens of thousands of these prototypes, and tomorrows robots. Because of course, one of the things that is operating in technology is Moore's Law, that you can pack in more and more computing power into those robots. So flash forward around 25 years, if Moore's holds true, those robots will be close to a billion times more powerful in their computing, than today.

The result is that war in the 21st century is not only more prevalent, but more tragic. With children's involvement, warlords, terrorists, and rebel leaders alike are finding that conflicts are easier to start. In turn wars are harder to end, such that the wars drag on, consuming societies and childhood itself for literally hundreds of thousands of children. A particularly troubling aspect then is not only what happens during the fighting, but the legacy it leaves for children after the fighting is done. That is, recovery from the traumas of war is hard enough; it's all the more difficult when the soldier in question is a child.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq built up an entire apparatus in the 1990s designed to pull children into the military realm and bolster populace control. This included the Ashbal Saddam ("Saddam's Lion Cubs"), a paramilitary force of boys between the ages of 10-15 that acted as a feeder into the noted Saddam Fedayeen units that proved more aggressive than the Iraqi army during the invasion. During the invasion, American forces engaged with Iraqi child soldiers in fighting in at least three cities (Nasariya, Mosul, and Karbala). This is in addition to the many instances of children being used as human shields by regime loyalists during the fighting.

You know, it's not just the major states that are using military robotics. There are 43 countries working on them -- rich states, poor states, big states, small states, you name it. Everyone from the U.S. to Pakistan and Iran to Belarus and on and on. And it's the same thing with the non-state actors. And the non-state actors range from Hezbollah to this militia group in Arizona to a bunch of college kids at Swarthmore. It widens the landscape of who can play in war. That's a pretty disturbing factor. One person's hobby -- such as the hobbyist who flew a homemade drone from North America to Great Britain -- can be another person's terrorist strike option.

Terrorism, it is said, is the 'weapon of the weak.' Thus, it should be no surprise that children are also present in this dark domain of modern warfare. As on the world's battlefields, children are increasingly present in terrorist groups. Many of these groups have long had "youth wings" to provide broader support in the populace, but now these youths are being used in actual operations to strike at targets behind the battle lines. This is for the same fundamental reasons that child are now on the battlefields, because children offer terrorist group leaders cheap and easy recruits, who provide new options to strike at their foes.

The second impressive aspect of this [robotics] is the new size and shapes -- the forms that these robots come in. There are these huge robots such as planes with wings the length of a football field that are designed to stay up in the air not just hours, not just days.... but literally for weeks, months, even years. So there you have incredible possibilities in terms of the roles they might play, where it's almost like a spy satellite in the sky. You can even contemplate it as a flying cell phone tower, a flying gas station... you name it. And then at the other end of the size and shape spectrum, they've got the teeny tiny robots. I saw one system that would fit on the tip of your finger. You can think of it as bugs with bugs -- insect-like and insect size, but carrying James Bond surveillance bugs.

Unfortunately, a Czech actor with an expressionless face isn?t all that helpful a definition for understanding robots. What follows is a broad guide to robots and how they work, not enough to create your own R2-D2, but enough to understand the basics.

The 9-11 attacks were a self-evident violation of all moral and religious codes of conduct, and in their wake the United States should have been able to isolate Al Qaeda from the broader public in the Islamic world, and thus cut it off from the support and recruiting structures that would allow it to thrive. But five years later we find ourselves the ones isolated, and inversely have seen the stature of bin Laden and Al Qaeda rise. While the U.S. and its allies have seized the some of Bin Laden's lesser lieutenants and assets, the movement remains vibrant and its senior leadership largely intact. More critical, though, is that its popularity is greater than ever, its ability to recruit individuals and affiliate organizations to its agenda unbroken, and its ideology spreading across a global network present in places ranging from Algeria and Belgium to Indonesia and Iraq. As the attacks from Bali to Morocco to Madrid to London reveal, its capabilities may even be growing . The primary threat has evolved in the five years from a specific organization that was fairly centralized to becoming self-organized, self-inspired and cellular. The 9-11 attacks were planned at the highest levels of the group in Afghanistan, over the course of almost 2 years, with bin Laden's hand in the tiniest of details. By comparison, bin Laden probably found out about the London bombings via watching on TV, while the only link that the 17 man terror cell recently rolled up in Canada had with al Qaeda was by reading about it on the web. We are witnessing the transformation of the threat of Al Qaeda to the threat of Al Qaeda-ism. Part and parcel of that is the worry that we have an entire generation growing up in the region, with few job prospects and living in authoritarian states, that only thinks of the US in terms of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. To steal a phrase from the soul singer Mary J. Blige, we may be seeing the rise of the "Hateration" in the Islamic World, a development which will haunt relations for the next 20-30 years.

The sum total of al-Qaeda's financial resources is thought to be roughly what the U.S. military spends in one hour in Iraq.

We're giving more and more autonomy to the robots in terms of things like target-recognition software. These are the counter-sniper devices that basically -- when a sniper shoots at a soldier, it targets that sniper's location in an instant. So we are not yet at the point in the Terminator movies where you've got robots out there completely operating on their own, making all their own decisions. But we're certainly already in a space where few imagined we would be. And then, secondly, we are working on those more Terminator-like systems.

Not all is well with the revolution, however. The first problem turned out to be the business assumptions upon which the whole movement was based. Battlefields are not the same as corporate boardrooms. The stakes are higher, the measures of victories and defeat different, and, while a company can selectively invest only in markets it could succeed in or shut down business units that don?t turn a profit, a military can?t always choose when, where, how and who it will fight ? the enemy gets a vote. Plus there?s that little matter of violence. As one critic put it, ?No one is shooting at the Coca-Cola Company.?

The early successes [of RMAs- Revolution in Military Affairs] in Iraq seemed to indicate once again that the network-centric way of war had changed everything. The previous RMA ?gold-standard? of invasions had been the German blitzkrieg in 1940, in which the Nazis took over France in just forty-four days, ?at cost of ?only? 27,000 dead soldiers.? For the United States to seize Iraq in 2003, it took half the time, at .005 percent the cost (161 US soldiers lost during the invasion, many of them actually killed by ?friendly fire?).

The system that's been most incredibly lethal in terms of consequences on the battlefield so far if you ask military commanders is the Predator. They describe it as the most useful system, manned or unmanned, in our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eleven out of the twenty al-Qaeda leaders we've gotten, we've gotten via a drone strike. Now, dangerous can have other meanings. The work on evolutionary software scares the shit out of me.

We're living in an era where the application of the laws of war aren't clear-cut. They're difficult. You know, it's not simple, like "Never shoot at noncombatants." It's "What do I do in a situation where I have a terrorist leader shooting at me from a house that also has women and children in it? What if I have an insurgent group that's using an ambulance and I'm not supposed to shoot at it because it's got a red cross on the side of it, but they're using that ambulance to move explosives around." These are really tough questions that we could spend lengthy periods debating, and we would never come to a resolution. The computer isn't going to be able to resolve those kinds of questions any time soon.

Note that "nuclear isomer" is not equivalent to "nuclear isotope", although particular isotopes would undoubtedly be involved in any instance of creating and triggering the decay of a nuclear isomer. Note also that this is essentially battery technology, not an energy source. If triggering could be used to accelerate the natural decay of one isotope into another, that might be an energy source.

The future of war is also going to be a YouTube war. That is, our new technologies don't merely remove humans from risk, they also record everything that they see. So they don't just delink the public, they reshape its relationship with war. There's already several thousand video clips of combat footage from Iraq, on YouTube right now, most of it gathered by drones. Now this could be a good thing, it could be building connections between the home front, and the war front as never before. But remember this is taking place in our strange weird world, and so inevitably the ability to download these video clips to your IPod or your Zune gives you the ability to turn it into entertainment. Soldiers have a name for these clips, they call it war porn. A typical one that I was sent, was an email that had an attachment of video of a predator strike, taking out an enemy site, missile hits, bodies burst into air at the explosion. It was set to music, it was set to the pop song "I Just Want to Fly" by Sugar Ray.

The third impressive aspect [of robotics] is their ever-greater intelligence and autonomy. We've gone from having systems where we remote controlled every single thing that they could do to systems where the human role is more managerial or supervisory. We're slowly pushing ourselves outside of the loop. For example, the Global Hawk is a drone that's the size of a plane. It's a replacement for the U-2 spy plane. It can take off on its own; fly 3,000 miles on its own; carry out its mission on its own; turn around and fly itself back 3,000 miles on its own, and land itself. So it's not so much being piloted as it's being supervised or managed.

What do we do with things like unmanned slaughter? What is unmanned slaughter? We've already had three instances of Predator drone strikes where we thought we got Bin Laden, and it turned out not to be the case. This is where we're at right now. This is not even talking about armed autonomous systems with full authority to use force, and do not believe that that isn't coming. During my research I came across four different Pentagon projects on different aspects of that. And so you have this question. What does this lead to issues like war crimes? Robots are emotionless, so they don't get upset if their buddy is killed. They don't commit crimes of rage, and revenge. But robots are emotionless, they see an 80 year old grandmother in a wheelchair the same way they see a T80 tank. They're both just a series of zeros and ones. And so we have this question to figure out, how do we catch up our 20th century laws of war, that are so old right now that they could qualify for Medicare, to these 21st century technologies. In conclusion, I've talked about what seems the future of war, but notice that I've only used real world examples, and you've only seen real world pictures and videos. This sets a great challenge for all of us, that we have to worry about well before you have to worry about your Roomba sucking the life away from you.

One thing that struck me with all this automation is that if going into battle starts to become only marginally more dangerous than, say, driving on the freeway, wouldn't that tend to make it easier to resort to force. Why bother with the complexities of non-violent solutions when force can be used so quickly, effectively and safely?

The implications of this training and involvement in military activities by large numbers of Iraqi youth was soon felt in the guerilla war that followed. Beaten on the battlefield, rebel leaders sought to mobilize this cohort of trained and indoctrinated young fighters. A typical incident in the contentious city of Mosul just after the invasion provided a worrisome indicator of the threat to come. Here, in the same week that President Bush's made his infamous aircraft carrier landing proclamation, an Iraqi 12 year old boy fired on U.S. Marines with an AK-47 rifle. Over the next weeks and months, incidents between U.S. forces and armed Iraqi children began to grow, to the extent that U.S. military intelligence briefings began to highlight the role of Iraqi children as both attackers and spotters for ambushes. Incidents with child soldiers ranged from child snipers to a 15 year old that tossed a grenade in an American truck, blowing off the leg of U.S. army trooper.

The tragedy that went on in Liberia. Liberia has seen two waves of wars over the last decade, much of it driven by this child soldier phenomenon. First, Charles Taylor seized power at the head of a mainly youth rebel army in the early 1990s. he recruited kids both through abduction and trickery, for example telling kids he would give them computers and Mercedes Benz cars if they fought for him, basically taking advantage of their gullibility. Soon, he won the war. By the end of the decade, Taylor faced new foes in the LURD and MODEL, rebel groups who also used child soldiers to eventually topple him in 2003. The UN estimates that some 20,000 children served as combatants in Liberia's war, up to 70% of the various factions' fighting forces. The war is now over, but the danger is what happens with many of these ex child soldiers if they don't get proper aid and assistance. Children return from these conflicts scarred by the violence they have either seen or been a part of, and have to wrestle with the demons of the past. They often find their homes or villages broken and are faced by family and neighbors that often do not know them, or treat them with suspicion, meaning they must not only recover for themselves, but must to regain the trust of those that should love them. They must rebuild the skills they need to survive, while at the same time battle the various temptations that threaten to pull them back into a world of violence. Their stories can be ones of turning tragedy into triumph, such as Liberian kids who returned to school and now support their families. Or, they can be of tragedy building upon tragedy; In Africa, one can find bands of former child soldiers that now travel across the continent in search of more wars to fight in. Liberian kids ended up fighting as far away at as in Congo.

What is the message that we think we are sending with these machines, versus what is being received in terms of the message. One of the people that I met was senior Bush administration official who had this to say about our unmanning of war, quote, "It plays to our strength. The thing that scares people is our technology" but when you go out and meet with people, for example in Lebanon, it's a very different story. One of the people I met with there was a news editor, and we're talking as a drone is flying above him. This is what he had to say, quote, "This is just another sign of the cold hearted, cruel Israelis and Americans, who are cowards because they send out machines to fight us. They don't want to fight us like real men, but they're afraid to fight. So we just have to kill a few of their soldiers to defeat them." The future of war also is featuring a new type of warrior. And it's actually redefining the experience of going to war, you can call this a cubicle warrior.

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Singer, fully Peter Warren Singer
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American Political Scientist, International Relations Scholar, Specialist on 21st century warfare, Author, Founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings, Founding Organizer of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum