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The New Rules: Drones and the Re-symmetricized Battlefield

Monday, June 15, 2009

The skyrocketing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has generated intense debate about how useful they are against insurgent/terrorist networks. Some prominent counterinsurgency experts have decried the "siege mentality" among non-combatant locals caused by collateral damage from the drone strikes. But despite the charge that drones represent a technology (i.e., a means) in search of a strategy (i.e., end goals), there's no question that: 1) drones are here to stay, and 2) they're truly re-symmetricizing the battlefield in a much-needed manner.

Over the past generation, warfare has dramatically downshifted, from the Cold War's system-level rivalry/standoff to the strong focus on regional rogues across the 1990s and then, following the attacks of 9/11, to non-state-actor networks. As an example of the change, when I got into this business nearly 20 years ago, the dominant threat scenario was a nuclear weapons launch killing millions in the process. Now, the most compelling operational standard centers around using a UAV to kill a single bad actor on the other side of the world. Both involve roughly the same scant minutes of response time. ...

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