Universal Conscription as Technology Policy: In a World Where Battles Are Increasingly Fought by Robotic Vehicles and Computer Malware, National Security May Not Be Well-Served by a Small, Culturally Homogeneous Military. Is It Time to Bring Back the Draft?

By Allenby, Brad; Hagerott, Mark | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Universal Conscription as Technology Policy: In a World Where Battles Are Increasingly Fought by Robotic Vehicles and Computer Malware, National Security May Not Be Well-Served by a Small, Culturally Homogeneous Military. Is It Time to Bring Back the Draft?


Allenby, Brad, Hagerott, Mark, Issues in Science and Technology


When the broad citizenry delegate the defense of their country to others, whether a small elite or a mercenary force, the nation often suffers. Rome fell in part because the Roman citizen no longer saw it as his duty to fight for his country, and after increasing internal instability and weakness, the external "barbarians" conquered. Machiavelli attributed part of the decline of 15th-century Italian city-states to the rise of mercenary armies: City residents were willing to pay others to fight for them but not to assume the responsibility of becoming citizen soldiers. In the early 19th century, small professional armies, isolated from their citizenry, fell on the battlefield before the citizen armies of the new French Republic.

This historical trend today intersects with even more significant challenges. The industrialized nations are witnessing a military technological revolution of profound importance, one that increasingly shifts power from the human to the machine. At the same time, there is no shortage of high-profile strategic challenges: What is the appropriate strategy to stabilize the Middle East? Will the rise of China and concomitant shift in U.S. geopolitical status be peaceful or violent? How will the global shifts in supply and demand for strategic natural resources influence geopolitics and future conflict? For those concerned about the national security of the United States, these are important questions, but we believe that the attention they receive crowds out even more fundamental ones. How can the nation provide ethical and effective military, defense, and security capabilities in a period of unpredictable and foundational technological and social change? How can we train the technical work force necessary to perform these functions and develop the institutional capabilities to shape and manage the weapons of a technological revolution that will rival the nuclear age in the depth and breadth of consequences?

The nation must address the problem of the rapid evolution of emerging military and security technologies, such as cyber- and robotic systems. This trend, when placed in the context of its reliance on a professional military made up of a relatively small number of specialists and experts to deploy and operate these powerful systems, combined with a growing cultural gap between civilian society and the professionalized military. This trend matters because the growing complexity of the resulting military and security techno-human systems makes them less and less transparent to a democratic society and its institutions, that at least in principle have the ethical and rational responsibility for the management and deployment of the tools of warfare.

In particular, we believe that the interplay between technological evolution and the shift to a professional military creates a deeply troubling dynamic. Most people already know they will not be exposed to the risks of conflict, given the professionalization of the armed forces. Now combine the absence of conscription with technological evolution that increasingly replaces humans on the battlefield with increasingly autonomous warfighting machines, and a fundamental social calculus--when to shift from diplomacy to war--may be altered in unprecedented ways. War should always be a last resort: Lowering the political and cultural barriers to initiating conflict is a dangerous development, all the more so if it emerges not from explicit and thought-out policy choice, but social and technological changes that no one is monitoring.

To be sure, hand-wringing about the trajectory of the military profession has occupied the energies of many a sociologist and historian, from Samuel Huntington to Morris Janowitz; indeed, the relationship between civilian and military leadership is a theme dating back to Sun Tzu. Theorists such as these have long pointed to the risks of a military growing more technocratic and distant from "the people' But with the acceleration of technological advance and the dramatic increase in the complexity of modern conflict and the geopolitical context in which it occurs, a profound change is afoot, a change in both the nature of warfare and the relationship between U.

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Universal Conscription as Technology Policy: In a World Where Battles Are Increasingly Fought by Robotic Vehicles and Computer Malware, National Security May Not Be Well-Served by a Small, Culturally Homogeneous Military. Is It Time to Bring Back the Draft?
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