Defence IQ Library: "Wired for War", by PW Singer

Neil Waghorn

Peter Singer’s Wired for War provides an intriguing, and at times humorous, introduction to ‘robotic revolution and conflict in the 21st century’. The book provides an overview of the development of robotics (with chapter titles such as ‘Robotics for Dummies’ and ‘Always in the loop? The Arming and Autonomy of Robots’) and their current uses in warfare, i.e. Predator Drones in the skies over Afghanistan. Wired for War then moves on to examine the potential future use and development of robotics, as well as braving the technology’s darker side (fratricide). It takes on the herculean task of exploring the ethical implications of these new technologies when deployed in the modern battlefield – not to mention the issues of "trying to apply international law written for the Second World War to Star Trek technology." Singer has managed to cover a wide spectrum of topics without losing this reader.

Wired for War has managed to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers, rather than just myopically catering to military history geeks, particularly by falling back on cult references and anecdotes. The sheer number of these references (Halo, Blade Runner, The Terminator and Predator) put Wired for War almost on par with the cult British television series Spaced. Spaced, written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, is famous for its continuous references to all things geeky, ranging from Close Encounters of the Third Kind through to The Shining, Tron and Star Wars (without mentioning the prequels).
SWORDS TALON system allows soldiers to operate small arms via remote control
[image: UK MoD/ © Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
These cult references are linked to more traditional classical strategists like Thucydides and Douhet to illustrate the changes to warfare - and then hammer them home. A perfect example of this is illustrated in the way the text moves seamlessly from Clausewitz and the exploitation of human weakness through to discussing Master Chief, the futuristic super-soldier, from the Halo games. This masterful blending of traditional and cult references is, for me, one of the key strengths of Wired for War as it exposes a modern readership to classical strategists, all within a context that they will (presumably) find interesting and will understand – a noteworthy achievement.

All praises aside, Wired for War is not without its distinct flaws. In fact, it has a pretty major structurally integral one…. its referencing system. It is, to say the least, different. Where citations occur (and they do), there is no forewarning – no endnotes, no footnotes, no reference of any kind until the very end of the work when the reader, believing he or she is finished, finally discovers a 40-page ‘Notes’ appendix. Here, Singer references everyone from Aristotle to WALL-E, with little thought given to order, readability or MLA, Chicago or BBC style guides. In effect, it means that, in places, it is hard to distinguish between the author’s opinion and those of other people. The constant flipping back and forth during my read really aggravated my carpal tunnel syndrome (I’m joking . . . no seriously, it still hurts a little bit). This unusual referencing style means that using the book for any academic purpose is frustrating… to say the least.

Wired for War poses some extremely thought provoking dilemmas on how technological developments are going to change - not only the way in which wars of the future will be fought - but also how society will come to view these wars. The ethical dimensions and moral issues that come hand-in-hand with these developments need not be sidelined for discussion at a later date. They are absolutely germane – and Singer shows no timidity in taking them on. Will wars be fought by cyber-genetically enhanced super-soldiers like Master Chief or by armed robots like TALONs? Will these weapons of war be autonomous? How will the laws of war govern these technologies? Will the separation of combatants from the front line lead to detachment or lower the criteria for foreign intervention? Singer doesn’t go as far as to give a definitive answer to these questions (which would be quite hard as half the technology doesn’t exist yet!), but he does provide enough information and context to provoke the reader to leave the book with an open mind in a thoughtful mood.

The issue with the referencing style aside, Singer’s Wired for War portrays a future world where technology akin to that from The Terminator and The Matrix is the stuff of day-to-day occurrence. In his mind, fighting wars has radically changed. In short, a book that I would recommend to anyone and everyone, from the academic, to the serving soldier, to Joe Blogs on the street.