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How We Lost the High-Tech War of 2007

From the January 29, 1996 issue: A warning from the future.

Jan 29, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 19 • By CHARLES J. DUNLAP, JR.
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The following is the transcript of a secret address delivered by the Holy Leader to the Supreme War Council late in the year 2007:

IN THE NAME of The One Above, I offer greetings to my fellow warriors! Today, with His grace, I speak of our great victory over our most evil enemy, America. A little more than 10 years ago experts thought that what became known as the Revolution in Military Affairs would leave developing nations like ours incapable of opposing a high-tech power like the United States. With the help of The One Above, we proved them wrong. They were guilty, as those who defy the sayings of the divine usually are, of idolatry--though in this case they did not worship graven images, but the silicon chip. As though a speck of sand could defeat the will of The One Above.

At the heart of the "revolution in military affairs" were the amazing new technologies that Americans believed "would make cyberwar and information war the distinguishing feature of future conflict," as one of their experts, Richard Szafranski, put it in 1995.

American thinking about the revolution in military affairs was based on grand visions of long-distance wars--push-button conflicts against cybernetically inferior foes. Once again, the Americans neglected to study history's many examples of supposedly out-matched combatants prevailing over better-equipped rivals. And they took it for granted that their potential adversaries would accept the American interpretation of this "revolution." But America's most likely opponents were invariably unlike America and thus not beholden to the American interpretation. The late 20th and early 21st century saw the reemergence of what British historian John Keegan called " warrior" societies. Like us, they are "brought up to fight, think fighting honorable, and think killing in warfare glorious." A warrior in such societies, Keegan wrote, "prefers death to dishonor and kills without pity when he gets the chance." The Americans ignored a warning from one of their own, Maj. Ralph Peters, who wrote in 1994 that the "new warrior class already numbers in the millions." Peters wrote that:

"[America] will often face [warriors] who have acquired a taste for killing, who do not behave rationally according to our definition of rationality, who are capable of atrocities that challenge the descriptive powers of language, and who will sacrifice their own kind in order to survive."

Too many Americans assumed that warrior societies like ours lacked the sophistication to integrate new technology into a war-making doctrine that could defeat the United States. They neglected those, like Donald E. Ryan, who cautioned that "even technologically backward societies have a nasty habit of devising strategies to offset [America's] high-tech superiority."

Moreover, that "superiority" was never as great as the Americans hoped. The cyberscience that fueled the "revolution" did not require the mature infrastructures needed to produce traditional war-fighting platforms forms like ships, planes, and tanks. With such platforms the First World's military power once dominated global affairs. Information technology changed all that, because its requirements were far less demanding: Small numbers of people working with commercially available computers could perform more than adequate high-tech research and development.

Furthermore, Americans increasingly relied upon commercial, off-the-shelf cybertechnology. We could acquire the same products on international markets--and often more quickly than the bureaucratic Americans, lettered as they were by complex contracting rules and regulations. Though the Americans claimed that information technology would allow them to get inside an enemy's "decision loop," the irony was that we repeatedly got inside their "acquisition loop" and deployed newer systems before they finished buying already obsolescent ones. With the advent of off-the-shelf armaments, the American military no longer possessed a monopoly on the most advanced weaponry available.

Americans also underestimated the effect of rapidly declining cyber-costs--for, as George Gilder accurately predicted, in the year 2000 we could purchase silicon chips for $100 with as much power as the $320 million defense supercomputers of the early 1990s. The Americans discovered this when they sought to use information warfare to corrupt and destroy our command and control systems. The effort proved futile because many communications devices became so inexpensive and miniaturized that our armed forces could afford to make them ubiquitous and redundant. It was virtually impossible for cyber- assaults to negate them all. In the end, attacking these proliferating methods of communication typically made as much sense as using a laser-guided missile to disable the rifle of an individual soldier.