P.W. Singer, fully Peter Warren Singer

P.W.
Singer, fully Peter Warren Singer
1974

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 most interesting chapters for me were on autonomy ("Always in the Loop?") and international law and human rights ("Digitzing the Laws of War"), which to me at least are closely related. While right now it appears that goals and rules are communicated to robotic devices at a pretty low level, or are teleoperated by humans, that clearly won't always be the case. Since it doesn't look like Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics ? which you're careful to point out are fictional -- are likely to be the basis of high-level rules for robots, what might be instead? And who would decide? I can imagine a military officer thrilled with the idea of telling some unmanned weapons platforms, "take that ridge", but what he or she really means is, "take that ridge, but only engage obvious combatants, and destroy only the structures you have to, and make sure not to harm the nearby school or mosque." It's hard enough to do that with human soldiers, but it seem to be an order of magnitude harder with robots, even if they are able to comprehend the high-level orders.

This is what one Predator drone pilot described of his experience fighting in the Iraq war, while never leaving Nevada, quote, "You're going to war for 12 hours, shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants and then you get in the car and you drive home, and within 20 minutes you're sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework." Now the psychological balancing of those experiences is incredibly tough. And in fact those drone pilots have higher rates of PTSD than many of the units physically in Iraq. But some have worries that this disconnection will lead to something else, that it might make the contemplation of war crimes a lot easier, when you have this distance. "It's like a video game" is what one young pilot described to me, of taking out enemy troops from afar.

While we have this assumption of war being just men fighting for armies (and therefore fighting for states and patriotism), the reality of war is far different. Corporate warriors looked at how many are now fighting for profit and for businesses organizations rather than for governments. Children at War looks at how war now involves not just men, but increasingly children as well and that these wars too are rarely about politics. The general point is that if we think about war as the way we wish it were, then all our assumptions about it will be wrong and our solutions to it will fail. As Iraq illustrates, you rarely get the war you want. No, I've not come across any PMFs that use child soldiers. Many have fought them in places like Sierra Leone and elsewhere, but this is par for the course unfortunately in 21st century war. What a strange, sad world we live in where on one side of the battle are soldiers working for a company and the other children abducted to fight. By the way, my next book will look at another new actor in war and its implications. It will explore the increasing use of robotics and other unmanned systems and what they bode for politics and war in the 21st century. That is, what happens when science fiction becomes science reality.

Rehabilitation workers work with children to try to break this hold. They try to give them the coping skills they need to recover. There is no one exact means, but they might involve everything from talking with counselors to exercises where they make drawings that help exorcise the demons from the traumas they have seen and experienced. There is also a premium placed on trying to develop the skills they need in returning to community and also preparing the community for their return, as reintegration is the key to success.

The overall numbers of Iraqi children involved in the fighting are not yet known. But the indicators are that they do play a significant role in the insurgency. For example, British forces have detained more than 60 juveniles during their operations in Iraq, while U.S. forces captured 107 Iraqi juveniles determined to be "high risk" security threats, holding most at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

This spread is also continuing in terms of the domains that they fight in. In the air, the U.S. purchased more unmanned planes than manned planes last year, and that will continue to increase. And use of these systems are increasing on the ground and at sea. And then we're starting to develop these systems for space and even cyberspace.

While we may have Moore's Law in place, we still haven't gotten rid of Murphy's Law. So we have a technology that is giving us incredible capabilities that we couldn't even have imagined a few years ago, let alone had in place. But the fog of war is not being lifted as Rumsfeld once claimed absurdly. You may be getting new technological capabilities, but you are also creating new human dilemmas. And it's those dilemmas that are really the revolutionary aspect of this. What are the laws that surround this and how do you insure accountability in this setting? At what point do we have to become concerned about our weapons becoming a threat to ourselves? This future of war is again a mix of more and more machines being used to fight , but the wars themselves are still about our human realities. They're still driven by our human failings, and the ripple effects are still because of our human politics, our human laws. And it's the cross between the two that we have to understand.

Robots are also helpful to the task at hand, beating the enemy. As one general warns, defeating an insurgency is not just about ?winning hearts and minds with teams of anthropologists, propagandists and civil-affairs officers armed with democracy-in-a-box kits and volleyball nets.? It still requires putting some people in the dirt. That is, killing insurgents doesn?t automatically lead to victory. But??Solving root causes is certainly easier with insurgent leaders and cadre out of the way.? And in the task of killing, robotics have been very busy.

The Packbots and Predator drones of today are the Model T Fords, the Wright Flyers, compared to what's coming soon. And, one of the people that I met with was an Air Force three star general, and he said we'll soon be at "tens of thousands of robots operating in our conflicts." So I thought that was a rather big deal, that something revolutionary was going on in war and technology, but yet no one was talking about it, mainly because it seemed too much like science fiction.

This will be a book [Wired for War] somewhat different from the normal look at either war or technology. It?s a product of who I am and the forces that shape me. I am the kid who played with Transformers who now consults for the military. I am a scholar who studied under Sam Huntington, one of he most distinguished political scientists of the twentieth century, and yet I am shamefully addicted to watching The Real World.

Wired for War is about how 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 7,000. We went in with zero unmanned ground systems, we now have 12,000. And the tech term "killer application" doesn't just describe what iPods did to the music industry. It takes on a whole new meaning when you are talking about robots armed with everything from machine guns to missiles.

Robots are emotionless, so they don?t get upset if their buddy is killed, they don?t commit crimes of rage and revenge. But ? 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 zeroes and ones.

The people who are building these systems are excited by the possibilities of the technology . But the field of robotics, it's a very young field. It's not like medicine that has an ethical code. It's not done what the field of genetics has, where it's begun to wrestle with the ethics of what they're working on and the ripple effects it has on the society. That's not happening in the robotics field, except in isolated instances.

To write on robots in my field is a risky thing. Robots were seen as this thing of science fiction even though they're not. So I decided to double down, you know? If I was going to risk it in one way, why not in another way? It's my own insurgency on the boring, staid way people talk about this incredibly important thing, which is war. Most of the books on war and its dynamics--to be blunt--are, oddly enough, boring. And it means the public doesn't actually have an understanding of the dynamics as they should.

With the U.S. now involved in a global war on terrorism, children's role in this aspect of war should take on added importance to Americans. Captured al Qaeda training videos reveal young boys receiving instruction in the manufacture of bombs and the setting of explosive booby traps. The result is that at least six young boys between the ages of 13 and 16 have been captured by U.S. forces in the war on terrorism. They were housed in a special wing of the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, entitled "Camp Iguana."

Some children choose to join an armed group of their own volition. However, to describe this choice as "voluntary" is misleading. Leaving aside that they are not yet of the age considered able to make mature decisions, many are driven into conflict by pressures beyond their control, usually economic in nature. Hunger and poverty are endemic in conflict zones and children, particularly those orphaned or disengaged from civil society, may volunteer to join any group that guarantees regular meals. The same factors may also drive parents to offer their children for combat service. Structural conditions may also oblige children to join armed organizations. If surrounded by violence and chaos, they may decide they are safer with guns in their hands. Revenge can also be a particularly powerful impetus to join. Lastly, some groups may take deliberate advantage of adolescence, a stage in life where identify is still defining. Through propaganda or media distortion, violence may be glorified or fictions created to induce children to self-identify with an organization. This took place in places ranging from Rwanda to Palestine. CS recruiters do so not merely because they are evil or mean spirited, but usually for a thought out reason. They view children as assets. They see children as cheaper and easier to recruit (they will also fight for causes that adults cant be convinced to, such as for a warlord), easier to force to follow your orders, and less costly to lose. Indeed, in many places (Congo and Myanmar for example) our research came across recruiters who preferred children as fighters because they would follow orders that adults wouldn't.

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.

Author Picture
First Name
P.W.
Last Name
Singer, fully Peter Warren Singer
Birth Date
1974
Bio

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