Don't Techno for an Answer: The False Promise of Information Warfare

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Adams, James. The Next World War: Computers Are the Weapon and the Frontline Is Everywhere. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998. 288pp. $25

Arquilla, John, and David Ronfeldt, eds. In Athena's Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. Santa Monica, Calif: RAND, 1997.501pp.$20

Schwartau, Winn. Information Warfare: Chaos on the Information Superhighway. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1994. 432pp. $2.95

Shukman, David. Tomorrow's War. The Threat of High Technology Weapons. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996. 272pp. $26 THE U.S. VICTORY IN THE 1991 Persian Gulf War prompted widespread speculation about the future of warfare and the role of technology and information in the conduct of war. This has produced an ever-growing body of literature concerning the future of war and the implications toward U.S. policy. Unfortunately, that literature has gone from explanation to prediction with very little analysis in between.l The predictions that have been made need to be studied in light of some of the major works in strategic studies. On the whole, one finds ruminations about information warfare lacking in useful hypotheses toward generating theoretical frameworks for strategic thinking about future events.

By any measure the performance of U.S. weaponry in the Gulf War was impressive, even taking into account some overstatements made at the time. However, there is a profound difference between winning the war, on the one hand, and sound strategy and policy being aided by superior technology, on the other. At this point in history, it is important to keep in mind that technology and information are not the automatic solutions to every problem. From a strategic standpoint, we may have reached the point where technology and data complicate more than they clarify. Technology does not fix systemic organizational problems, but it does increase implementation costs in time and money, and thus it should not be seen as a cure-all. Most importantly, technology is a poor offset for unsound strategy and policy.2

The volumes reviewed here typify the tone of the literature regarding war in the information age. Taken together, they exhibit a preoccupation with technology and nonstate actors. Those two factors are not without consequence for strategic thinking, but these authors make little attempt to situate their claims in broader strategic thought, which would prove useful in sparking debates that would lead to theory building about information warfare (IW). In none of the works are theoretical frameworks presented for evaluating events, and thus the reader cannot find a basis for the development of sound strategy and policy regarding IW.

This is not to say that authors in this genre are incorrect in suggesting that technological advantages should be exploited or that they present dangers, but rather that their predictions of technological prowess translating into battlefield dominance have not been systematically established. Generally, the literature proceeds from observations to conclusions with insufficient attention to the component parts of society and war, and how they relate to one another.

To varying degrees these four books share two assumptions regarding information warfare.3 The first is that IW implies the rise of a new political-economic order that privileges nonstate actors because IW allows nonstate actors to threaten the security of Westphalian states. Second, technological dominance is the key to winning future wars.

Information Warfare (Schwartau) and Tomorrow's War (Shukman) present views based largely upon the first assumption. The Next World War (Adams) and In Athena's Camp (Arquilla and Ronfeldt) accept the first assumption but emphasize the second.

Barbarians at the Gate: Schwartau and Shukman. Winn Schwartau sounds an alarmist note in Information Warfare, highlighting the potential "computer Pearl Harbor waiting to happen."4 His concern is that IW will be part of the formation of a new political and economic order that will have dire consequences for individual, as well as American national, security. …