The implications of emerging technologies for just war theory

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Technological evolution and military activity have been linked throughouthistory. The relationship is not, however, straightforward. The existential challenge to society represented by warfare, combined with the immediate advantage that new technology can deliver, tends to accelerate technological innovation and diffusion; the inherent conservatism of military personnel, the emphasis on tradition and culture that marks many military organizations, and the high costs of experimentation in conflict environments serve as a powerful brake on technological evolution. Similarly, the relationships among military and security technology systems and consequent institutional, cultural, and social changes are profound, complex, unpredictable, and often subtle. Many technologies of sufficient power to be of interest militarily have at least the potential to be deeply destabilizing to existing economic, social, and technological systems, especially as they are introduced into civil society. As military radio frequency identification (RFID) and sensor systems, and robots and cyborgs at many different scales, are shifted from theatre intelligence and combat to civil society environments, for example, the implications for privacy, and for the balance between national security and civil rights, could be substantial. Technologies that can accelerate the development of human varietals within the overall population could be very effective for warriors, but raise difficult issues for social stability (many cultures, after all, do not deal very gracefully or equitably with the race, gender, and sexual preference differences that have long been part of the human story). Equally important, emerging technologies are likely to have similar destabilizing effects within the military as well, potentially affecting not just operations, but military culture and organization as well. A military leadership class that has developed in traditional combat environments will not have the same values, nor behave in the same way, as a military leadership class selected for its ability to play video games in high school (an issue that Singer points to as the US Air Force leadership, 4 at present consisting almost entirely of pilots, is affected by incoming gamers who are proficient at flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)). A military that prizes physical and mental toughness in marines and special operations forces will have a difficult time embracing and retaining the computer geeks and nerds necessary for effective cyberconflict operations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Applied Ethics of Emerging Military and Security Technologies
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781351894838
ISBN (Print)9781472430038
StatePublished - Dec 5 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering
  • General Social Sciences


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