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

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.

A 17-year-old may join the U.S. military upon their high school graduation. But, by the time they make it through boot camp and then skills training, they will have aged past 18. Even then, they are not allowed to deploy to combat zones until they become 18. This issue got much (somewhat needless in my mind) focus during the debate over the international convention on child soldiers, as the numbers we are talking about are miniscule (45 by one count) and didn't involve anything like abductions or atrocities. The coalition that focused on this got into a public battle with the Pentagon and in my mind, should have spent it limited political capital on battling the greater abuses (the LRAs and Tamil Tigers of the world).

Children are recruited through all sorts of means. Some are abducted. Typically, recruiting parties from rebels groups of the like are given conscription targets that change according to need and objective. Some, like the Tamil Tigers, even use sophisticated computerized population databases to direct recruiting efforts, so they target the communities that have the most children. All children are not automatically taken, but only those who meet certain criterion. Those judged too small are often killed in order to intimidate both the local populace and the new recruits. Once caught, children have no choice; usually they must comply with their captors or die. To maximize efficiency, both state armies and rebel groups target the places that they know children will be both vulnerable and in the greatest number. The most frequent targets are secondary schools, marketplaces, and refugee camps. Sudan is an example of where this happened. In many ways, these tactics echo the naval press gangs of the Napoleonic era that used to sweep through a harbor looking for able bodied men to seize. Now, its children. Another difference is that abductions are not just about building out one's force, but are also instruments of war. Abduction raids often link to rape and looting rampages.

In the last fifty years, the world population has grown more than the sum total of all the births in the previous four million years of human history.

A Raven drone, a hand held tossed one. For about 1,000 dollars you can build one yourself, equivalent to what the soldiers use in Iraq. That raises another wrinkle when it comes to war and conflict, good guys might play around, and work on these as hobby kits, but so might bad guys. This cross between robotics, and things like terrorism, is going to be fascinating and even disturbing. We've already seen it start. During the war between Israel, a state, and Hezboulah, a non-state actor, the non-state actor flew four different drones against Israel. There is already a Jehadi website that you can go on and remotely detonate an IED in Iraq, while sitting at your home computer. And so what I think we're going to see is two trends take place with this. First is you?re going to reinforce the power of individuals against governments. The second is that we are going to see an expansion in the realm of terrorism. The future of it may be a cross between Al Qaeda 2.0, and the next generation of the Unabomber.

Children now serve in 40% of the world's armed forces, rebel groups, and terrorist organizations and fight in almost 75% of the world's conflicts; indeed, in the last five years, children have served as soldiers on every continent but Antarctica. An additional half million children serve in armed forces not presently at war. The children are often abducted to fight and participate in all the full horrors of war; indeed they are sometimes forced to carry out atrocities that adults shy away from.

In the summer of 2004, radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr directed a revolt that consumed the primarily Shia south of Iraq, with the fighting in the holy city of Najaf being particularly fierce. Observers noted multiple child soldiers, some as young as 12 years old, serving in Sadr's "Mahdi" Army that fought pitched battles with U.S. and British forces. Indeed, Sheikh Ahmad al-Shebani, al Sadr's spokesman, publicly defended the use of children, stating, "This shows that the Mahdi are a popular resistance movement against the occupiers. The old men and the young men are on the same field of battle." A 12 year old fighter in the group commented, "Last night I fired a rocket-propelled grenade against a tank. The Americans are weak. They fight for money and status and squeal like pigs when they die. But we will kill the unbelievers because faith is the most powerful weapon." Coalition forces also have increasingly faced child soldiers in the Sunni Triangle as well. Marines fighting in the battle to retake Falluja in November 2004 reported numerous instances of being fired upon by "children with assault rifles." So one of the many, many difficulties of Iraq is the presence of children.

A robot is emotionless. But it also has no sense of empathy... no sense of guilt. It will see an 80-year-old grandmother in her wheelchair in the very same way it sees a T-80 tank. They're both just 0s and 1s in the programming language.

Employ PsyOps. Psychological operations should always be integrated into overall efforts against local resistance, including being specially designed for child soldier units. Their aim should be to convince child soldiers to stop fighting, leave their units, and begin the process of rehabilitation and reintegration into society. At the same time strategy should be developed that ensures that adversary leaders know the their violation of the laws of war is being monitored and the dire consequences they will face in using this doctrine. PsyOps should also seek to undercut any support for the doctrine within local society, by citing the great harms the practice is inflicting on the next generation, its contrast to local customs and norms, and the lack of honor in sending children out to fight adult's wars.

It is important to note, though, that neither terrorism nor children's roles in it are a uniquely Muslim phenomena. Just as there are a variety of terrorist groups across the world, whose members represent nearly all the world's religions, so too is there a broader set of terrorist groups that seek to mobilize children. For example, the "Real IRA," a coalition of dissident IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland, began to recruit boys in the 14-16 year old range in the late 1990s. The youngest reported terrorist was a nine year old boy, who was sent by the ELN in Colombia to bomb a polling station in 1997. Likewise, when Muslim groups began to use child suicide bombers, they were not actually breaking any new ground. Instead, they were following the lead of the Tamil LTTE in Sri Lanka, which has consistently been one of the most innovative of terrorist groups. The LTTE, which has utilized suicide bombers to kill both the Indian prime minister and the Sri Lankan president, is a master at the technique. It even has manufactured specialized denim jackets designed to conceal explosives. Some are specially tailored in smaller sizes for child suicide bombers.

All sorts of actors, not just high-end military , can access high-end military technologies...Hezbollah is not a state. However, Hezbollah flew four drones at Israel. Take this down to the individual level and I think one of the darkest quotes comes from the DARPA scientist who said, and I quote, "For $50,000 I could shut down Manhattan." The potential of an al-Qaeda 2.0 is made far more lethal with these technologies, but also the next generation of a Timothy McVeigh or Unabomber is multiplying their capability with these technologies.

Explain and Blame. Public affairs specialists must be prepared beforehand for the unique repercussions of such engagements. In explaining the events and how children ended up being killed, they should stress the context under which they occurred and the overall mission's importance. The public should be informed that everything possible is being done to avoid and limit child soldiers becoming casualties (use of non-lethal weapons, psychological operations, firing for shock effect, etc.). At the same time, the public should be made aware that child soldiers, although they are children, are just as lethal behind an assault rifle as adults. Most importantly, they must seek to turn blame on where it should properly fall, on those leaders that not only illegally pulled children into the military sphere, but also send them out to do their dirty work.

Its important to note that with the global deployment of U.S. force after 9-11, from Afghanistan to the Philippines, child soldiers are present in every conflict zone U.S. forces now operate in. Indeed, the very first U.S. soldier killed in the war on terrorism was a Green Beret killed by a 14 year old sniper in Afghanistan. At least six young boys between the ages of 13 and 16 have been captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the initial fighting and were taken to the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were housed in a special wing entitled "Camp Iguana." As the Pentagon took more than a year to figure out whether to prosecute or rehabilitate them, the kids spent their days in a house on the beach converted into a makeshift prison, watching DVDs (their favorites were Castaway and Call of the Wild) and learning English and math.

All?various robots were originally supposed to come together in the army?s $340 billion Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. Begun in 2003, the FCS concept was to transform the army of the twenty-first century into smaller, lighter, and more lethal units of manned and unmanned components, joined together by a massive computer network.

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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