From the Inside Flap
During the cold war, the nuclear arms race made war increasingly unthinkable. Today, in contrast, many argue that arms races in robotics and computer technologies are making war increasingly thinkable. Remotely piloted "hunter-killer" drones, for example, make it far easier to launch an attack without the military or political risks of putting boots on foreign soil. But technology can also make wars less deadly.
Low-tech fighting has often turned into blood-bath wars of attrition, as the Napoleonic campaigns, America's civil war and the first world war attest. With modern technology, however, fighting forces can wage "system against system" war. Destroy enough elements of an enemy's system—kit and infrastructure, or specialists needed to operate it—and the force cannot keep fighting. With air power, for example, an attacker can wreck critical equipment behind enemy lines without needing to shoot its way through troops on the ground.
What matters, then, is to ensure that military know-how leads not to the nightmare of mass or nuclear destruction, but rather to fewer and less deadly conflicts. This book explores the technological developments that have given rise to what has become one of the biggest challenges of today.
The book is organised in five parts, as follows:
Land and sea
Designing, and countering, new weaponry
Upgrades for combatants
Powering up, differently
New materials, new capabilities
Air and space
The computer factor
Intelligence and spycraft
Identifying, and killing, the quarry
Finding what's hidden
Getting to know you better
The road ahead
From the Back Cover
The Panzerfaust 3, a German shoulder-fired heat-seeking anti-tank missile, can punch through a metre of solid steel. An Israeli precision bomb, the MPR-500, can hammer through several storeys of a building and explode on a chosen floor. Russia's Sizzler, a manoeuvring anti-ship missile, can fly 300km and then sprint at three times the speed of sound. Satellites can be blown up. Software can be scrambled with "cyber-missile" computer viruses. Data-mining computer programmes fed by unmanned spy planes can reveal terrorist or insurgent activity.
Technological one-upmanship fuels arms races and will make wars easier to start. Crucially, however, wars are apt to be smaller and less deadly than the horrific conflagrations of the last century. Technological underdogs will benefit from "asymmetric" weapons such as formidable makeshift bombs and "munitions of the mind" for psychological warfare. Some powers will benefit from complex weaponry, such as an aircraft-carrier-killing ballistic missile being developed by China. Much weaponry will most benefit the West, in part by harnessing its cultural strengths of individualism and innovation. All of it is profoundly reshuffling balances of power throughout the world.
The five parts of this book—land and sea, air and space, the computer factor, intelligence and spycraft, and the road ahead—present a selection of the best and most revealing of The Economist's writing on how startling innovations are reshaping armed conflict and the quest for peace.