Liberation Technology?

Every new advance in technology is touted for its revolutionary potential. The washing machine was supposed to liberate the housewife. The computer was supposed to liberate the data technician.

Now, according to the Pentagon, the latest generation of landmine will liberate the military from all those messy civilian casualties that have so upset the international community. When tripped, the new “networked munition system” sends a signal to a soldier on the home team who then can detonate the landmine or not, depending on whether an enemy’s foot or a child’s hand has triggered the device.

But as FPIF analysts Scott Stedjan and Matt Schaaf argue in their new commentary, the new landmine is no step forward. Even if this Rube-Goldberg killing machine worked as hyped, a built-in switch allows the army to put the landmine on old-fashioned automatic so that it can be as indiscriminate as before. With its “new and improved” technology, the Bush administration is simply looking for a detour around the 1997 landmines treaty.

This old landmine in new packaging is part of the Pentagon’s “revolution in military affairs” (RMA), which has applied computer and communications advances to the technology of killing. As a result, the army, navy, and air force can presumably respond more quickly, attack more accurately, and wage war more efficiently. Is this good news? When the Grim Reaper buys a new scythe, few people stand up and applaud.

If RMA has launched War 2.0, peacekeeping remains bogged down in its beta version. What would a similar “revolution in peace affairs” look like?

To keep up with relentless innovation of war making, as well as the persistence of traditional methods of bloodletting, the United Nations needs a rapid reaction force. FPIF analyst Don Kraus argues in his new commentary for a UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS). Such a standing force of 12-18,000 military personnel, civilian police, legal experts, and relief professionals from various countries would deploy within 48 hours of UN authorization. The fragile ceasefire in Lebanon might have been stronger and the renewed violence in Sudan might have been averted if UNEPS were already in place. (If the latest technology has increased rather than decreased your workload, check out the 60 Second Expert version of the UNEPS piece).

On the issue of the Lebanon ceasefire, FPIF analyst Dan Smith points out in “ Bunch of Losers” that no side can rightly claim victory in the short, bloody conflict. FPIF’s Conn Hallinan ascribes the myriad failures to a set of illusions about the Middle East that date back at least to 1095.

Also this week in FPIF, we have a new strategic dialogue on the issue of food aid, a commentary on Iraqi oil by Greg Muttitt, an Americas Program commentary on the center-left’s narrowing chances in the Mexico elections, and a pair of Right Web pieces on Iran by Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe. Just published from FPIF co-partner, the Institute for Policy Studies, is Executive Excess, a report on how richly defense and oil executives have made out in the war economy.

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