(R)evolution in Military Affairs


Scientific and technological advances revolutionized the field of communications and information over the last twenty years, in the military and the civilian sectors. On the military side, high-technology advances are affecting how wars are being fought and won tDDAy. “It is a given,” said Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, “that command, control communications plus intelligence drives much of warfare. It is the application of modern technology that resulted in the use of the terminology ‘revolution in military affairs.’ ”

On the bright side of such developments is the potential for high technology to be used to distinguish between military and non-military targets, to promote verification of treaties, to monitor peace operations and compliance with ceasefires. On the dark side are the dangers of renewed qualitative arms races, the assumption of invulnerability of the State and the squandering of precious national resources for new generations of weapons. It is appropriate to ask under the circumstances what implications such a revolution in military affairs have on the issue of disarmament, eleven years after the end of the cold war. This is exactly the subject of the discussions under way in the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, a group of twenty eminent disarmament and security experts who gather twice a year to make recommendations on topical disarmament issues. To assist them in their study of the impact on disarmament and arms control of the revolution in military affairs, on 31 January 2001, the Department of Disarmament Affairs sponsored a lunchtime seminar with noted experts.

“The revolution in military affairs is not just a series of technologies,” explained Dr. Michael Clark of Kings College, London. It is the ability to integrate such technologies that gives these developments such added importance. Precision weapons, safer delivery methods through stand-off or stealth capacity, shorter targeting time, rapid communications and non-lethal weaponry make for a total system of technologies and “battle-winning potential.”

Dr. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, Washington, D. C., expressed more caution in labeling the changes taking place as revolutionary. While the advances being made in the area of integrating information and moving it around the battlefield quickly were promising and radical, from a historical perspective, others in respect of vehicles, that is, ships, warplanes and tanks, were more in the nature of evolution than revolution. In regard to arms control, he expressed some skepticism about the ability of new detector technology, for instance sensors for tracking and identifying weapons of mass destruction, to satisfy the needs of defence information gathering. Overall, he called for a more discriminating approach in defence, arms control and academic circles when it came to the application of new technologies.

The current revolution in military affairs is centred in the United States and its key allies, offered Dr. Ahmed Hasim of the organization Search for Common Ground. Even some allies were worried about the growing gap between them and the United States in conventional arms capacities, he added. Of more concern was the “yawning chasm” between various powers in the world. Some powers were so outside the competition that they might revert to options that range from the low tech asymmetric approach (e.g., terrorism) to the use of weapons of mass destruction. This will have a dramatic impact on the hierarchy of power, stressed Dr. Hasim, projecting that there will much opportunity for arms control in the future.

The statements of the three experts will be available soon on the DDA website. A DISARMAMENT Occasional Paper will also be produced shortly.