P.W. Singer
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
05:20

P.W. Singer on Open-Source Warfare

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The author describes what happens when state and non-state actors use the same technologies.

P.W. Singer

Peter Warren Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is the youngest scholar named Senior Fellow in Brookings' 90-year history. In 2005, CNN named him to their "New Guard" List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. Singer has also been recognized by the Financial Times as "Guru of the Week" for the thinker that most influenced the world that week and by Slate Magazine for "Quote of the Day." In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the Obama-08 campaigns' defense policy task force.

His first book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry pioneered the study of the new industry of private companies providing military services for hire, an issue that soon became important with the use and abuse of these companies in Iraq. His next book, Children at War explored the rise of another new force in modern warfare, child soldier groups. Dr. Singer's "fascinating" (New York Post) and "landmark" (Newsweek) work was the first book to comprehensively explore the compelling and tragic rise of child soldier groups and was recognized by the 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book of the Year Award.

His third book, Wired for War looks at the implications of robotics and other new technologies for war, politics, ethics, and law in the 21st century. Described as: "An exhaustively researched book, enlivened by examples from popular culture" by the Associated Press and "awesome" by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show,  Wired for War made the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in its first week of release. It has already been featured in the video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot, as well as in presentations to audiences as diverse as the Air Force Institute of Technology to the National Student Leadership Conference.

Prior to his current position, Dr. Singer was the founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings. He has also worked for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, the Balkans Task Force in the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Peace Academy. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Transcript

Question: What is open-source warfare?

Singer:    Open source warfare is one of these things that’s taking place right now in the 21st century where you have a wide variety of actors out there.  War is not just limited to large states.  Just like with the software industry on open source, it’s not just limited to the control of a couple of large companies, but rather you have multiple players out there.  So, for example, in the military robotics realm, it’s not just the US military that’s building and using this system, 43 other countries are building and using them.  And they’re from large states like China or Russia to weaker states like Pakistan.  Iran’s working on them.  But the other thing is that it’s not just states, it’s non-state actors.  So in terms of non-state actors, you’ve had, for example, Hezbollah during its war with Israel in 2007, it wasn’t just a state taking on a non-state organization but it was also revolutionary because both sides used unmanned drones against each other.  You have Jihadi websites where you can remotely detonate an IED sitting at your home computer.  And what we’re getting out here is that multiple players can enter this realm.  For a thousand dollars, you can build a drone that’s basically has the same capabilities that the US military raven drone has.  This is the handheld drone that the soldiers use in Iraq.  For thousand dollars, you can build it with a do-it-yourself kit.  And so, what you have is sort of the flattening of the realm of war.  And that has to scare us in a certain way because it means that these trends of the empowerment of smaller and smaller organizations but all the way down to individuals can continue.  And one of the people that I interviewed for the book was Richard Clark, who was the government official who famously warned about 9/11 before it happened, asked him about, you know, where do you see this trend of robotics new technology and conflict going, and he said, “It’s not just the concern over all these organizations starting to use robotics and how it empowers them, how an Al-Qaeda can do a lot more things with a drone than it could without.  It’s also that it might cause new sparks of conflict new [IB], people who are so upset about change that they take out violence to try and prevent change.”  Another way of putting it is he saw the future as being a mix between Al-Qaeda 2.0 and the Unabomber.

Question: How can the US adapt its foreign policy to confront open-source warfare?

Singer:    As Dr. Phillip say you can’t be in denial and that’s where we are at right now.  We are in denial.  The sands are shifting underneath us and that’s true whether you’re talking about large [meditrends].  Like we’re finally starting to accept, for example, that global warming is happening, but we have to take it to the next step.  What are the implications of that on international security?  So what does it mean, not just the Arctic is melting, but what is the world look like when you have competition over those resources.  The same thing when it comes to these new technologies.  We act as if robotics are just mere science fiction or we have 5,000 drones in the air and 12,000 on [man ground] systems, and this is where we are right now.  If you speak to a Three-Star Air Force General said to this… Sorry, [let me] roll back on that chunk…  A Three-Star Air Force General said to me, “Look, where the trends are taking us very soon is to tens of thousands of robots fighting in our conflicts.”  That’s the reality right now.  And so you can either have your head in the sand or you can face it.  And so, you’ve got to figure out all of the challenging questions that surround it in terms of your politics, in terms of your law, in terms of your ethics, you have to catch up to it.  Because, otherwise, we’re going to repeat the same mistake that we made in past revolutions, in past times of great transitions.  The atomic bomb will be a great example of that where it was something that we kept in the realm of science fiction.  In fact, the atomic bomb was something that H. G. Wells first came up in a story called “World Set Free”.  And the science of today said no, no, no, this could never happen.  You can never have a bomb that was made out of radioactive materials and used the chain reaction as he called.  That’s crazy.  Well, guess what, it did happen and, in fact, his story was inspirational to the people behind the Manhattan Project.  But, it was like Pandora’s Box.  We only waited to deal with it until after the fact and all the ways that it was going to ripple out on our politics and our society.  And the same thing is happening right now with robotics, and we often sort of laugh at it, because you know what, it’s things like “The Terminator,” of “Battlestar Galactica”.  And I’m not saying here that you have to worry about the Governor of California showing up at your door.  That’s not the robotics revolution that’s ongoing.  It’s a revolution in warfare.  It’s a revolution that’s having a ripple effect out on to how we fight and who fights at the most fundamental level.

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